One Question Quiz
cartoon images of trains buses and bikes
Most people drive to the airport, rather than biking or using public transport Image: Tina Tiller

PoliticsMarch 21, 2023

Why is it so hard to combine biking with public transport in Auckland?

cartoon images of trains buses and bikes
Most people drive to the airport, rather than biking or using public transport Image: Tina Tiller

There are plenty of practical ways the city could make multi-modal transport more accessible – but have they all been consigned to the too-hard basket?

How can Auckland start mitigating its impact on the climate crisis? Our biggest city’s sustainable solution must start with transport, its number one source of emissions. To do so, Auckland’s public transport (PT) system needs to be greatly improved and expanded, because, as professor Timothy Welch argues, electric cars alone are not going to save us

One little discussed part of this conversation is how people get to the bus, ferry or train. In the Netherlands, a bastion of planet-friendly transport in the western world, half of all train passengers arrive by bike – equating to half a million people daily. Combining more than one form of transport is known as multi-modal transport. If more Aucklanders biked to PT it would help unlock the latent potential of sustainable transport in the city, being a relatively cheap and fast way to get to the PT stop and back home. Could the city of sails follow the Netherlands’ lead? Currently the answer is no. 

Bikes are allowed onboard commuter ferries (except West Harbour) but are subject to space availability, meaning cyclists often aren’t allowed on and miss their ferry. This is particularly true for the busy inner North Shore services, especially around peak times. Making matters worse is that bike parking on ferries is wildly inconsistent from service to service. Some ferries have internal bike parking on the bottom floor amid passenger seating; others use their back decks, which range from spacious and simple to tight and terrible for bike parking. Taking your bike on an Auckland ferry is truly a lucky dip.

A common sight for cyclist-ferry commuters, not enough accommodation for bikes.
A common sight for cyclist-ferry commuters, not enough accommodation for bikes and being forced to get in everyone else’s way (this time of the toilets and exit). (Image: Tommy de Silva)

Taking your bike on a train is also subject to space availability. Three-carriage trains have one bike-accessible section, and the six-carriage variants have two. But these sections aren’t only for cyclists, with bikes sharing space with mobility devices, scooters, prams and luggage. Folding bikes are always permitted onboard Auckland trains, but Auckland Transport (AT) suggests not bringing your regular bike onboard during peak times, a policy enforced by staff and passengers. Speaking of folding bikes, the only bicycles permitted on buses in Auckland are compact folding bikes, with no accommodation for full-size variants available. Auckland’s only inter-city commuter train, Te Huia, can fit six bicycles per train. All this means that bike-PT trips are difficult in Tāmaki, with peak-time commuters particularly hard done by. 

The situation is starkly different in other parts of the motu, however. In cities like Christchurch, Hastings, Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth and Wellington, most if not all buses are fitted with racks, typically carrying two bikes. I’ve heard of Wellingtonians who cycle downhill into town and catch the bus back up the steep slope with their bike strapped on. There are even examples of buses accommodating bikes within wider Auckland. Waiheke Island buses have bike racks, and the privately operated Warkworth-CBD Mahu City Express stores bicycles onboard. 

So why is Auckland an outlier? AT told The Spinoff that bus bike racks are not coming any time soon, citing studies that suggest the racks could pose safety risks – apparently there would be issues with rack-equipped buses fitting into existing stops. Rectifying the safety issues would be expensive and time-consuming, so AT is instead focused “on providing more quality cycling infrastructure”, to encourage people to bike to PT. 

University of Auckland student Ryan Nichols is a passionate but often disgruntled sustainable transport user in Tāmaki Makaurau. He tries his best to primarily use PT and biking, but its not all that easy. He says that constructing cycleways that connect to PT hubs would promote multi-modal transport – but where should bikes go once their riders hop onboard a bus, ferry or train? Nichols thinks we need more bike parking at the point of embarking PT. 

Auckland Central MP Chlӧe Swarbrick would like to see combined bike and PT use made easier in her electorate, also pointing to the need for more space for bike parking at public transport stops. “Bike parking and cycling [infrastructure] integration extends public transport catchments beyond typical walking range and comes at a much, much lower cost, carbon footprint and space hog than park-and-ride facilities for cars.”  

One Amsterdam station recently opened almost 11,000 bicycle parks. Could some of Auckland’s plentiful car parks be converted into bike storage? Since 2020 AT has installed 500+ bike parks, with a particular focus at PT hubs. But as of 2021, AT alone – not to mention private providers – had 6,649 CBD car parks, many of which are a stone’s throw from Britomart’s PT nexus. In the same area, there are barely 400 bike racks. Some racks can squeeze two bikes onto them, but even if they all could, there would still be roughly eight times more parking for cars than bikes in the CBD. Although this parking imbalance reflects the status quo of Auckland’s car dependency, it does not reflect the city’s ambitions to reduce emissions. Part of that ambition is “supercharging” cycling, which is impossible without connective-tissue infrastructure like parking and cycleways. 

Swarbrick summed up the impact of sustainable transport, saying, “if we want vibrancy, freedom, disintegration of gridlock, cleaner air and climate action in Tāmaki Makaurau, one of the easiest and cheapest things we could do is reallocate roadspace.” She was implying transferring roadspace away from cars towards “safe walking and cycling, and rapid transit networks.” Other ideas Nichols and Swarbrick had to promote multi-modal transport in Auckland included better wayfinding (targeting new cyclists), more designated bike storage onboard ferries and trains and more bike/scooter rental schemes. Swarbrick believes that “genuine freedom in a transport network isn’t being chained to a 2,000kg hunk of metal, but a city designed to prioritise movements of people and their wellbeing.”

If it was easier for more Aucklanders to combine a bike ride with a PT trip, it would be a double whammy that prioritises people’s health and that of the planet alike. 

Keep going!