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Photo of the Day: Street Opened

The truly great Lyttelton Market:

LYTTELTON MARKET_8721

The disruption that the CRL will cause

In another sign the City Rail Link is getting ever closer, Auckland Transport have also produced this information highlighting the impacts the construction will have on the surrounding area for users. There are a couple of significant impacts with the two biggest being:

  • Rail users understandably won’t be able to use the front entrance to Britomart while it is being dug up. Instead they’ll need to use the back entrance (eastern side) or the one under the EY/Westpac buildings.
  • Bus operations will have to move off Albert St meaning one of the busiest bus corridors will have to be moved to other streets.
CRL Early Works

click to enlarge

 

Construction of this first stage is really starting to feel close and once that starts happening I think it will help in addressing some of those who have been fighting the project for so long.

In some other good news, at the Auckland Conversations event on Monday discussing transport, Mayor Len Brown announced that we’ve passed 13 million trips on the rail network over the last year. That is up one million trips in just 5 months. Unfortunately we don’t know the exact figures or when that 13 million was passed but it suggests patronage in February was massive and likely the highest individual month we’ve ever seen which also bodes well for the March figures. It means we’re on track to reach the governments CRL patronage target by 2017.

However unfortunately what doesn’t seem to have been disrupted is the Ministry of Transports view of the CRL as can be seen in their latest update report to the minister about it.

CBD employment

The best measure of CBD employment growth is provided by the Statistics New Zealand Business Demographics Database. The Database, which covers all of New Zealand, is published annually in early November and provides estimates of employment over the month of February in the same year.

At the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement, there were estimated to be 98,030 employees in the five Census Area Units comprising the Auckland CBD. The estimate of 98,030 employees therefore becomes the baseline for measuring the growth of the CBD and the threshold for an early consideration of the City Rail Link is 122,528 employees.

In the year to February 2014, CBD employment grew by 570 employees, a 0.6 percent increase. Since the February 2012 estimate (the baseline), CBD employment has grown by 2,720 employees or 2.8 percent.

Rail patronage

Auckland Transport’s rail patronage data for the year to December 2014 shows patronage of 12,515,329 trips. This compares to 10,610,956 trips for the previous year. This is an increase of 1,904,373 trips or 17.9 percent.

We expect to see continued strong rail patronage growth until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. From 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow.

Assessment

CBD employment is currently 100,750 employees, compared to the 25 percent growth threshold of 122,528 employees.

Rail patronage for the year to December 2014 was 12,515,329 trips compared to the threshold of 20,000,000 trips well before 2020. CBD employment levels and rail patronage are some way from reaching the thresholds set by the Government for considering an earlier business case and construction start date for the City Rail Link.

When it comes to rail patronage they have dropped the words from their August 14 update that they don’t think we’ll meet the target but they also have ignored that not only is patronage growing but that the growth rate is accelerating which I think is a pretty key fact. By the end of June – which they’ll use for the next update in August – we will probably be around 13.7 million trips, over 1 million more than in February. I wonder if they’ll still be saying we won’t reach 20 million trips early.

Comicially wrong op-ed about the CRL

Brian Leyland has written an op-ed in the herald that is so comically wrong it’s hard not to ignore. Every single one of the 13 paragraphs contains (often basic) factual errors or opinion masquerading as fact. So I thought I’d highlight some of them.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Mayor Len Brown is determined to commit Auckland to building a hugely expensive railway tunnel even though no comprehensive independent and objective economic analysis has been made on the merits of the tunnel and whether or not letting the city spread and developing satellite centres would be better.

More than 70% of Auckland’s population are already within 3km – an easy 10 minute bike ride if we built some safe infrastructure to support it – of a train station. The major urban areas not near the rail network are the North Shore, North West, Hibiscus Coast, parts of the central isthmus, the airport and East Auckland. The latter of those would feed into the rail network via AMETI and the Panmure Station.

Independently reviewed economic analysis has occurred and the project has had more scrutiny than probably any other transport project in this country. If the governments RoNS were subjected to even half of what the CRL has been they would have been canned years ago. More on the spawl comment later in the post.

Auckland Council has neglected its obligation to investigate and evaluate all options. Given the enormous amount of expenditure involved, this amounts to a serious dereliction of duty.

The City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) did just this and involved the NZTA and Ministry of Transport with the MoT even noting that the modelling has probably undercooked the patronage projections.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

Overseas research on 44 urban rail systems revealed that the average cost overrun was 45 per cent and the number of passengers was half the predicted number. Have the economics of the Auckland tunnel been tested against 45 per cent higher costs and half the passengers? If not, why not?

Cost over runs aren’t limited to rail as the graph below shows – although it seems our recent rail upgrades have been ok. In saying that we seem to have been much better with managing costs on larger projects – many of which are claimed to have come in on time and under budget which is likely due to the additional detailed work that occurs beforehand which is happening right now with the CRL.

Road cost overrun chart

As for patronage, we can look at local examples to see how well our projections have fared. For Britomart we passed the 2021 prediction for the number of people passing through the station in 2011 and given the growth we’ve seen since that time that will only be larger now.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

We’re also on track to exceed the 2016 target set in the Rail Development Plan of 2006 of 15.7 million trips in 2016 despite a later start to electrification than envisioned.

The railway tunnel will serve only a very small fraction of Auckland’s population and at a huge cost. Right now, ratepayers subsidise 80 per cent of the cost of every train fare. If the tunnel costs blow out by 50 per cent it will need to recover at least $450 million in fares every year for capital repayment and operating expenses. If, as hoped, there are 20 million rail trips every year, they will need to recover $22.50 per rail trip. Most of this will be imposed on the ratepayers.

Train fares currently cover around 26% however that figure has been improving this year and will likely continue to do so as the new electric trains roll out and patronage continues to improve so dramatically. I also expect we might see some improvement from the middle of next year (from reduced costs) as a result of AT re-tendering the rail contract – which I understand there are a number of interested groups. I expect Auckland will move closer to Wellington in this result which achieves 56% farebox recovery on its trains.

Importantly one of the benefits of the CRL is that while it will cost to run the stations and more trains, the farebox recovery ratio should further improve – potentially as high as 80%.

I’m not sure where Bryan has his 20 million rail trips per year from – I presume he’s confusing the governments target with a patronage projection. We haven’t seen total patronage results of any recent modelling and the CCFAS only showed the impacts at peak times however some older estimates put total patronage eventually up around 50 million trips per year.

The council planners seem to be totally unaware of the imminent revolution in personal transport that will be brought about by self-guided cars, modern taxi systems, ride sharing and buses. By the time the tunnel is in operation self-guided cars that will allow twice the traffic density on roads and reduce accidents by 50 per cent or more will be available. Not long after it will be possible to call up a driverless taxi or minibus by cellphone to take you where you want to go. For those who think that this is the stuff of dreams, it is now possible to buy a car that, in a traffic jam, will follow the car ahead and every major car manufacturer is developing self-guided cars.

These technological advances, combined with telecommuting (working from home and using the internet to communicate) and smartphone-assisted car pooling will have a huge effect on commuting and the shape of future cities. The council should take its head out of the sand and get up to speed with this revolution.

We’ve talked about driverless cars quite a bit recently so won’t go into that too much other than to say the uptake of new vehicle technology has so far been incredibly slow. As for telecommuting – the percentage of people doing just that hasn’t really changed in well over a decade despite it being easier than ever to do so. In fact many large companies – especially tech companies have done the opposite as they have recognised the benefits of working closer together.

Unitary Plan Rant that could probably have a post of its own:

The Unitary Plan is based on a blind belief that it is wrong to let the city spread and intensification is the only option

The Unitary Plan concentrates development in the central isthmus, which is already crowded and includes the volcanic area. The council has ignored the lesson from Christchurch that you should not keep all your assets in one place.

Most of the isthmus has well-established high-density suburbs with good houses, trees, gardens and lawns that are environmentally friendly and support large populations of birds and bees. The Unitary Plan will demolish these suburbs and substitute blocks of flats that will increase demand for parking, roads, schools, power, water supply, drainage and the like. There will be serious environmental and social impacts. Expanding infrastructure in an established suburb is far more expensive and environmentally damaging than building new low-cost houses on greenfield developments.

The council’s objective is to ration land and artificially inflate land values so as to force people to demolish good houses and force them to build apartment buildings to spread the rates burden.

Perhaps Bryan would like to point out where in the unitary plan it forces people to bowl their houses and build apartments. For most of the isthmus such an activity is actually prohibited due to heritage, zoning, density and height restrictions. In fact the central isthmus is almost locked in amber by the Unitary Plan as it stands now, especially compared to somewhere like West Auckland.

Notified UP - Isthmus-West-North

Auckland can pour vast amounts of money into city centre development in the hope of getting enough passengers to justify a railway tunnel, or it can allow the city to spread and develop satellite centres so that people can live in affordable houses and work in the same area.

Before any action is taken on the Unitary Plan and the tunnel, ratepayers should demand that an independent and objective study is done on the social, environmental and economic benefits of allowing the city to spread, compared with intensification. Nothing is more important.

Again perhaps Bryan should look at what work has already happened, such as this report from 2010 on the social, environmental and economic benefits of different development options and for which the large sprawl based one came out worse on the vast majority of measures. Perhaps one of the funniest things I’ve heard is that the modelling on the CRL shows that the more sprawl that’s enabled – particularly in south Auckland – the higher the need for the CRL is as it means there are even more people trying to avoid long lines of congestion from the hinterland.

Overall given his history and given the inaccuracy of his piece I’m surprised the herald even ran it.

An Essential Transport Budget for Auckland

Guest Post by Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero

As we outlined yesterday Auckland Council’s transport budget options in the Long Term Plan offered a false choice. Build everything in the Auckland Plan Network at the cost of finding an extra $300 million a year in alternative funding, or delay important public transport improvements and the city cycling network in the Basic Network Plan. The obvious middle ground would be to prioritise the projects that deliver public transport and cycling improvements, and delay non-essential projects to save money.

That’s the reason why we have come up with an alternative budget. Our Essential Transport Budget (ETB) proposes Auckland Council prioritise the essential public transport, walking and cycling projects in the Auckland Plan Network in the 2015-2025 Long Term Plan. By prioritising only the essential transport projects from the Auckland Plan budget, the Essential Transport Budget saves ratepayers $220 million a year over the next 10 years.

The Essential Transport Budget proposes spending $7.7 billion over next 10 years, $2.5 billion less than Auckland Council’s Auckland Plan Network ($10.3 billion). This reduces the $300 million a year Auckland Council is attempting to raise through alternative funding to only $80 million a year. At the core of the ETB is a commitment to prioritise public transport and cycling projects, and delay non-essential roading projects such as Lincoln Road and Mill Road. This will ensure we start building the building blocks of a turn up and go congestion free public transport network. Over the first 3 years of the ETB walking and cycling would receive $114 million and public transport improvements would receive $621.1 million.

Vertical-Diagram-for-Website-update-2

 

The Essential Transport Budget would allow Auckland to pursue a number of transformational projects over the next 3 years that would be delayed by 5 years and overall funding reduced if we went with the Basic Transport Network:

Buses: The ETB includes funds all of the infrastructure necessary to roll out Auckland’s totally redesigned bus network over the next 3 years which significantly increases the number of frequent services across the city. A number of interchanges are required such as at Otahuhu and Manukau to facilitate bus-rail and bus-bus transfers before Auckland Transport can roll out the southern New Network. The ETB also includes funding for Auckland Transport’s plan to roll out at least 40km of new bus lanes over the next 3 years, which should reduce journey times and improve reliability on on our busiest bus corridors. Busways are also included in the ETB, with work funded to start on the city centre busways, AMETI busways to Pakuranga and Botany, and Te Atatu station which will be the first major part of the North-Western busway.

New FTN Network

Cycling: The ETB includes a tripling of the cycling budget to over $30 million per year. This should finally allow Auckland to make significant progress on build a safe, separated regional cycling network. This $30 million will be further increased when paired with the government’s urban cycling investment panel. Key beneficiaries of this are likely to be the city centre cycleways such as Karangahape Road, which should be able to be fast-tracked with this extra money.

City Centre Priority routes

Rail and Ferry: The ETB includes funding for upgrades of the remaining substandard railway stations such as Takanini and Pukekohe, and upgrades to suburban terminals at Devonport, Half-Moon Bay, Bayswater and Northcote. It also allows for funding of major works at the Downtown Ferry terminal to reduce congestion at peak times, and allow for improvements in ferry frequency.

The Essential Transport Budget accepts the Basic Transport Network as a base budget to work from, and adds the most essential projects from the Auckland Plan. The Basic plan has already been significantly prioritized by Auckland Transport, so there is little further waste we can identify. Importantly the Basic Transport Network includes funding for the City Rail Link, including enabling works starting later this year. Significant portions of the spending on the Basic Network are made up of ‘Renewals’ funding, which is required simply to maintain Auckland’s 7900km local road network in an acceptable condition. This accounts for nearly $2.5 billion over 10 years in both the Basic and Essential budgets, and accounts for nearly 1/3 of the total spending even in the ETB. There are also a number of already committed projects such as the Albany Highway upgrade, roading associated with the North-Western transformation, as well as general operational spend in areas like IT that our Essential Transport Budget has included.

Auckland’s transport budget needs a significant change in direction to both deliver a city that is well prepared for both the opportunities and challenges of the future. Both of the options presented by the Auckland Council as part of the Long Term Plan consultation fail to meet this standard. The Basic Plan under invests in key infrastructure needed to transform our city, such as rebuilding our bus services; upgrading rail, bus and ferry interchanges and building a safe, separated cycling network. The Auckland Plan builds the infrastructure required, however it also builds a large amount of extra roading projects that have no strategic purpose, apart from desperately trying to ‘solve’ congestion. Therefore it comes at a very high cost, at an extra $300 million a year more than the funding available.

The Essential Transport Network we have presented focusses on building just the important infrastructure we need to fix our cities problems, which saves us $220 million per year compared the Auckland Plan. This also significantly reduces the burden of alternative funding, and opens up more possibilities for innovative funding to fill our budget gap in the shorter term while agreement is gained from the government.

Please visit www.fixourcity.co.nz for more information, including detailed project lists. A detailed report of our proposal is available here. Further blogs will be coming in the next few days, including more detail around projects included and excluded, and detail around funding options. We will also be launching a quick submission form in the next few days so people can easily submit in favour of our plan to the the Long Term Plan feedback. 

 

Reader views: Who’s talking about cities?

The other week, I reposted Melissa Bruntlett’s great reflection about gender and urban activism, and asked: Can Transportblog facilitate a broader conversation about urban issues that allows more voices to be heard?

Judging by the diversity of views and perspectives that came out in the comments, Aucklanders from all different walks of life are clearly passionate about the future of their city. As many readers don’t look at the comments section, I thought it would be good to highlight a few of the many great responses we got.

Kurt T calls for a focus on active modes in south Auckland, where people could really benefit from the option to get around without a car:

I’m early 30s, male, brown and interested in transport issues. I am currently studying for a change of career into international business, but the amount of time I spend reading this blog and about transport and urban design issues in Auckland makes me wonder if I’m not missing a trick here and should get some sort of urban planning qualification under my belt.

A different perspective that I can bring to the table growing in Auckland is the need for active modes to be encouraged in poorer areas. It’s no secret that Maori and Polynesians face some pretty horrid health outcomes in NZ and I feel that auto-culture and city design focused on shifting metal boxes as quickly as possible to the detriment of active citizens (as was so tragically demonstrated last week) have played a role in the stats we see today and that better urban design that prioritises humans propelling themselves under their own steam could play a huge role in reversing some of these terrible trends. Priority funding for protected cycleways on all major arterials in South and West Auckland would be a start. There would also be significant cost savings as was demonstrated in one of the posts here not too long ago to Auckland’s poorest citizens forgoing their vehicles and hopping on a bike.

Another is changing the perception among poorer Aucklanders that cycling is a child’s past-time or for middle-class, white males in lycra into something that is far more functional, beneficial and generalised. But I fear that that won’t happen until the infrastructure is built first and people are confident.

Suzanne reports on the realities of transport for someone who’s got both kids and a job:

I read transport blog from time to time – I am definitely interested in improving transport across Auckland. I live in Central-East Auckland, with kids that I have to drop off in neighbouring suburbs each day, followed by a long 50-odd km commute South for work. Then I do the whole thing in reverse at the other end of the day. I see horrendous traffic queues coming into the city from the South each day and am very grateful that I am heading away from that traffic. Co-workers from Pukekohe who have to go into town occasionally for work tell me that they need to leave home at 6am in order to have a reasonable commute.

But the thing that bothers me personally is that dropping off my kids each morning in two different places in rush hour can take me an hour before I even leave the city, even though in total I am travelling less than 10km in total for those drop offs. Part of the problem is that before school care and daycare don’t open until 7:30, so I have to travel in rush hour. And there is little alternative with my route but to take a car.

I should add that I am a public transport advocate, who used to use it before the demands of kids and my work. I am happy to develop these options, in order to get more cars off the road.

@ByTheMotorway makes some fascinating and well thought-out points about the value of street grids in providing safety and accessibility for all users:

I find that giving priority to street grids in cycling strategy, is of greater relevance to the non-white, non-cis-male, ability-variant, economically underprivileged, etc., sectors of the population.

[…]

* The Chinese grandparents who do cycle or would cycle short distances on Dominion Rd and its surrounds need neither a cycleway by any motorway, nor a “parallel route” elsewhere. The streetcar-suburb grid matters most — in catchments of front-door-to-front-door trips around local centres and bus stops, not necessarily up a single linear corridor.

* Likewise, the main radial route that matters to a schoolkid in South Auckland is the one that takes them from the front door of their home to the school gate, preferably via Aunty’s house, and not via SH1 or NAL. Except, we have to multiply this in every direction for a targeted proportion of the school population. Secondarily, we can repeat the process for extended family, babysitters, local shops, houses of worship, and PT nodes. Only a local street grid can encompass all of these assets to enable all of these trips and support such a community, space- and cost-efficiently.

* K’Rd is where it is and what it is for a reason. There are a number of streets that could have evolved to do what K’Rd does (Ponsonby, Symonds, Beach, Fort, maybe), but these would all share certain highly-connected network-geometric traits. One function of K’Rd is evident in its massive importance to Auckland’s queer peoples, starving artists and the like, who have historically been underprivileged, and often relied on the social support of this neighbourhood of scale. These same network-geometric qualities are why it is among Auckland’s busiest cycling, walking and PT-carrying streets already, and why it deserves better treatment. (Note: the same geometric rule applies to Queen St and finance, or Shortland St and law, but keep in mind the initial premise of servicing basic need vs discretion.)

Chris seconds Kurt’s points about transport priorities in south Auckland, and adds his voice as a car-using supporter of better public transport and walking and cycling:

There are some exciting PT projects such as the Manukau and Otahuhu interchanges and electrification to Pukekohe which will make a huge difference once they are completed. Such a shame that there is no funding for them yet. What is lacking though in the south, in order to decrease the car dependence, is a focus on creating multimodal streets with cycle networks and bus lanes where suitable. Instead people are expected to park and ride.

I live in rural Karaka and although I rely on my car, I see much greater merit in govt and council investment in sustainable transport, so well done to the efforts of the transportblog team in advocating for this.

Angela talks about how having children has changed the way she uses and perceives urban transport systems – safety for children walking or cycling by roads is a huge concern:

I’m a women in my 30’s (just) with two young kids. I read your blog daily and find it very interesting. I moved back to NZ in 2008 from HK so used public transport for everything. I was frustrated with the PT here and wanted to understand why it was so poor – this blog has given me some real insights. I’ve seen great improvement since I’ve come back. I do not have the depth of knowledge to write any posts and that is probably why most of the post are written by people in the industry who tend to be male and have more time. A couple of points I’d like to make from family perspective is I didn’t realise how much we were dictated to by cars until I had kids. Then you realise how often you have to stay watch out for the road, cars constantly when you’re out and about. As an adult you’ve learned these things and take it for granted. Shared spaces are great but it is confusing for kids as it seems like a pedestrian area so harder to realise it is a type of road and they need to watch for cars. Also my kids are not school age yet but when they are it will be easier for me to use public transport as they are not reliant on me to get to school. So things like improving walking and road crossings would make a huge difference.

Lastly, an anonymous (female) reader wrote in to discuss the challenges of publicly expressing one’s views while working in government:

The reason I’ve taken it to email rather than in the comments section is that as a public sector employee I am bound by a code of conduct that makes me very wary about commenting in a public forum about matters relevant to my employer that isn’t official policy. As an individual I am very passionate and hold some strong views that are not always in alignment with my employer, but feel I can only express them verbally in the company of friends. So I am a silent voice on the blog, I read it and discuss it with friends, but don’t feel it is appropriate for me to comment. This could be impacting on why some voices are not heard on the blog. Particularly when women are more likely to be employed in the public sector, and often take a more cautious approach interpreting codes of conduct.

Thanks to everyone who responded – please continue the conversation!

Auckland Transport Flattery

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we were extremely flattered to see Auckland Transport today start using the images below to advertise some of the benefits of the City Rail Link.

CRL - Western Line saving

CRL - Southern Line saving

CRL - Eastern Line saving

CRL - Onehunga Line saving

I guess my biggest criticism is I think the colours are too washed out and dull, they could do with being brighter. I’d also like to see a version showing the whole network in one image and versions showing some of the new trips more easily possible with the CRL e.g. Glen Innes to Newmarket. In showing some of those new options it would be good to include the NEX too to show some of the ways the project benefits the North Shore.

At the start I mentioned thatn this was an imitation of what we’ve done before. Below is the version we and Generation Zero created last year. We had planned to do the other lines too but haven’t for lack of time.

CRL Times Western Line

Overall well done AT and let’s hope they start putting more information out about how it benefits the whole region.

Why we need an Essential Budget

Guest Post from Ryan Mearns, Generation Zero Auckland

For nearly 50 years from the early 1950’s Auckland invested solely in roads, and especially motorways, with all other transport modes being totally ignored. This one sided level of investment was not seen in Australian cities, who invested in mass transit alongside new motorways. From the early 2000’s we finally started to invest in public transport with the opening of Britomart, the Northern Busway and rail electrification. This has shown huge dividends with this high quality rapid public transport largely being responsible for the big patronage gains we have seen.

2015-01 - Total Patronage

However the core bus network is inefficient, confusing and unnecessarily duplicates the rail network. Buses also often lack dedicated lanes so are stuck in the same congestion as single occupant vehicles, which means their is little incentive to catch a bus, buses are unreliable and operations are inefficient as lots of buses as needed to run the slow services.

The 50 years of sole investment in roads has also left our streets designed purely for the movement of cars, ignoring the needs of people who want to walk, ride a bicycle or use mobility aids for local trips. This has resulted in cycling only having a 1% mode share for all trips, and 49% of children being driven to school.

We are now aware of variety of significant trends that affect transport in particular. Public transport patronage has continued to grow quickly, while it has become clear that the level of driving is unlikely to return to the highs of the mid 2000’s. Changing trends are also especially notable for younger people, with teenagers delaying getting their drivers licences, and more people choosing to live without a car, especially in inner suburbs. As this generation grow up, we must ensure we build a city that matches their transport preferences, not transport preferences of previous generations.

However the Long Term Plan has presented us with a false choice between two budgets, the Basic Network and the Auckland Plan Network. Both of these have significant issues.

Basic Network

The Basic Plan Network includes only projects which can be funded from existing sources such as rates, other council income and subsidies from government. This represents a 25% reduction in funding compared to what was planned in the previous Long Term Plan.

The Basic Plan includes some projects that are important for the transformation of our city, including enabling works for the City Rail Link starting in late 2015, and the main works starting between 2017 and 2020, dependent on funding negotiations with central government.

It also includes a number of committed projects which are already under construction, or required as part of previously agreed funding commitments.

However there is a major funding squeeze placed on important transport projects, and this is especially stark in the first 3 years of the Basic Plan.

Cycling: There is almost no money included for new cycling projects for the first 3 years of the plan, with the only exception being the Waterview cycleway which was required as mitigation for the Waterview Connection project.

Buses: The Basic Transport Plan would result in the full roll-out of the new bus network being delayed a further 5 years, until 2021, as new interchanges at locations such as Otahuhu are required to allow connections between buses and trains. Similarly Auckland Transport’s plans to roll out 40 kilometres of new bus lanes over the next 3 years will be postponed. Both these bus improvements will means commuters will be stuck with inefficient and frustratingly slow bus services for several mores years. This will be significant drag on public transport patronage, as well as costing Auckland Transport money from higher operating costs and low fare revenue.

Rail: The Basic Transport plan delays upgrades of the remaining poor quality railway stations, which means commuters will be stuck with substandard facilities for years to come, again stalling patronage growth. Grade separation is also excluded from the Basic Plan, so this will lead to more dangerous incidents at our level crossings as rail frequencies increase of the next several years. This also has the potential to restrict peak frequency on the Western Line.

Ferry: The Basic Plan delays upgrades to Ferry terminals, including the congested Downtown ferry terminal. This will means commuters are stuck with substandard facilities, and increases to peak services will be restricted, again affecting patronage.

 

Auckland Plan

The Auckland Plan was confirmed in 2012 as the spatial plan for the new Auckland Council. While it set out a 30 year vision for Auckland, it also failed to make hard decisions around prioritisation of transport projects, and called for a very high level of continued transport investment across all modes. In the short term it also carried on with a significant number of legacy projects that local councils had been investigating, even if these were unaffordable.

The Auckland Plan budget continues the issues seen in the 2012 Auckland Plan, and once again Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have failed to set a strategic direction for the future of Auckland.

The Auckland Plan includes significant investment in public transport such as City Rail Link enabling works and interchanges to allow reorganisation of the bus network. It also invests in the tripling of the cycling budget. However at the same time there is still a large number of business as usual roading projects, designed in a vain effort of ‘solve’ traffic congestion. However Auckland has been pursuing these projects for 50 years, and they have not solved congestion, and they often make congestion across the city worse, not better.

This attempt of the Auckland Plan to fund all possible transport solutions means it comes at a very high cost, around $300 million a year more that funding available from existing income such as rates and NZTA subsidies. This has led to the Auckland Plan requiring significant alternative funding from extensive motorway tolling, or further rates rises and fuel taxes. These alternative funding plans as currently proposed will heap high costs onto vulnerable families due to the current poor state of alternative transport modes across wide areas of Auckland. This is especially true of road tolling where in some areas such as along the North-Western Motorway and the Manukau Harbour Crossing there are no local road alternatives.

The Essential Budget

These significant failings have led Generation Zero and other advocacy groups to come up with an alternative we have titled the ‘Essential Budget’. This will be previewed at tonights Auckland Conversations event, and the full details will be launched tomorrow.

Are we ready for March Madness

We’re now in March and for public transport that means one thing – March Madness. It’s called that because a number of factors combine to see usage of buses, trains surge. Those factors include but are not limited to:

  • It’s a 31 day month with normally no public holidays – next year will be a big exception with Easter falling entirely within March.
  • Decent weather still so people are less likely to be put off walking/waiting for services.
  • Universities are back and students are often keen to start the year well so attendance is likely higher.
  • There are normally no school holidays.
  • I suspect there are less people taking leave in March due to no school holidays and many having taken leave over Christmas/New Year or in January or February.
  • There are likely to be less people taking sick leave
  • More people trying out PT as a way to avoid congestion also caused by the previous points.

The surge normally starts in late Feb and runs through to at least Easter before people start settling down into more established travel patterns – which may include travelling earlier or later to avoid the worst of the peak.

From a patronage perspective March is almost always the month with the highest patronage in any given year – and May is usually second. This is shown on the graph below where March has been highlighted in red.

AKL March Madness Patronage

There are a couple of exceptions to this, on the rail network the last couple of years has seen patronage in May slightly higher than March while on the ferries January is usually the highest month as a result of more people visiting places like Devonport and Waiheke Island.

One of the problems Auckland Transport and the operators face with March Madness is that a lot of the extra trips occur at the height of the peak which is exactly where it is the hardest and most expensive to add new services. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important that AT put a lot of effort into making the buses we have go faster by:

  • Reducing dwell times:
    • getting more people on HOP – it’s not uncommon to see 5 or more people be able to board with HOP in the same time it takes someone paying by cash.
    • in some places possibly allowing rear door boarding – currently the only place I’m aware that this happens on the NEX at Britomart in the afternoons.
    • encouraging bus operators to buy buses with larger doors – and bigger buses in general.
  • Getting buses out of congestion and therefore moving quicker with more bus lanes and other bus priority measures.

Speeding up buses means that the same number of them can deliver more services for no extra cost. That’s good for passengers and for city as it means we’re spending money more efficiently and getting better outcomes.

I personally think we’re in for a huge month for patronage. The last few weeks in particular have been extremely busy on almost all services I’ve caught – much more so than I can remember seeing before. For example even the buses I use which travel opposite to the peak direction have been standing room only while on some parts of the rail network the new electric trains are driving huge growth.

On top of the factors driving growth in PT, just due to the way the calendar falls this year it means there’s an extra business day means the total results should be even better. Below are a couple of images hopefully highlighting just how busy services have been of late.

This Northern Express bus heading to the city in the afternoon was so full that a number of people (myself included) couldn’t get on. Another one two minutes later was almost as full.

NEX Full

A frequent sight on morning buses to Takapuna and afternoon buses to the city

Takapuna Bus full

A regular sight in the afternoons with the queue for the Northern Express to the North Shore. It extends behind where I took the photo too.

NEX Queues Britomart

A different day and different angle but there were two queues, one back to Customs St and the other around to the right

NEX Queues Britomart 2

Trains leaving Britomart on the Western line are packed before even reaching Newmarket and Grafton where a large number of additional passengers try to get on.

Packed Train Leaving Britomart

And another one from twitter

From Patrick yesterday, the Airport Express was standing room only after only one terminal meaning a long trip to town for those on their feet.

So anyone want to take some guesses on how many PT trips there’ll be this month? As a comparison in 2014 there were just over 7.3 million with it broken down as per below.

  • Rail – 1,174,588
  • Northern Express – 262,431
  • Other Bus – 5,374,783
  • Ferry – 494,123

Given the growth we’ve been seeing in recent months a 10% increase seems entirely possible and that could see us reach over 8 million trips in the month.

Sunday reading 1 March 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Cycling in Christchurch, “Show me the money – the economics of cycleways“:

Even if the costs have blown out to ~$160 million, a quick calculation shows that the Benefit/Cost Ratio of the total cycleway programme in Christchurch is conservatively at 7:1 – a pretty good business case in most people’s eyes.

A similarly high Benefit/Cost Ratio was also found in a recent piece of research looking at the effect of a full cycle network implementation for Auckland. Other studies have also shown the same kinds of high returns on investment elsewhere in the world too.

Just for comparison, the much-vaunted Southern Motorway extension ended up costing $140 million for a projected Benefit/Cost Ratio of about 2.4:1 (I’m guessing that the likely benefits of the relatively small portion that went towards the parallel cycleways were much higher).

Angie Schmitt, “You can make a more effective bus system for cheap but it’s not easy“, Streetsblog:

Bus service in Houston is about to get a lot more useful — without costing any more to operate.

[Lead consultant Jarrett] Walker says that a system overhaul forces communities to make hard decisions between ridership and coverage. Low ridership routes (or “coverage” routes) provide an important lifeline to some people, but they also divert resources from routes where more people would ride the bus. To create a more effective bus network without spending more money, the Houston plan cut low-ridership service by about 50 percent, at the city’s behest.

Houston Bus Existing & Proposed

Jenee Tibshraeny, “Bank bosses air concerns about foreigners pushing NZ asset prices too high“, Interest.co.nz:

“Executives commented that there is a lot of money flooding into the New Zealand market from overseas investors who are able to buy assets with cash, thereby avoiding the need to borrow, which is distorting asset prices and yields.”

Kensington told interest.co.nz foreign investors are often willing to pay 10% to 15% more than New Zealanders, decreasing the yield on invested assets.

[…]

“The risk for New Zealand is that, while all this money comes flooding in and creates over-inflated prices, New Zealanders are forced to buy at these over inflated prices,” Kensington said.

“If at some stage in the future the money is needed back offshore, due to some event, or the rest of the world becoming more attractive, there could be a lot of assets dumped in the New Zealand market.

James Vincent, “Tesla co-founder says it’s electric trucks, not electric cars, that matter“, The Verge:

Electric cars may help save the environment, but when it comes to saving money, electric trucks are where it’s at. At least, that’s the proposition from Ian Wright, one of the five original founders of Tesla and now head of his own firm, Wrightspeed.

His pitch is simple: companies should retrofit their gas-guzzling trucks to run on his range-extended, electric powertrains. These vehicles are pretty much running throughout the day, says Wright, burning up fuel and money. Converting them means that any savings on running costs and maintenance provided by electric innards are recouped much quicker than with regular cars.

Joseph Stromburg, “Why free parking is bad for everyone“, Vox:

All our free street parking also leads to secondary problem: most city governments (with the exception of New York, San Francisco, and a few other dense cities) require all new buildings to include specified large numbers of added parking spaces — partly because otherwise, the free street parking would be swamped by new residents. “In most of the country, you can’t build a new apartment building without two parking spaces per unit,” Shoup says.

This too costs money. In Washington DC, the underground spots many developers build to comply with these minimum requirements cost between $30,000 and $50,000 each. Whether they’re constructed along with apartment buildings or shopping complexes, this cost ultimately gets passed along to consumers, in the form of rent or the price of goods.

“Wherever you go — a grocery store, say — a little bit of the money you pay for products is siphoned away to pay for parking,” Shoup says. “My idea is simple: if somebody doesn’t have a car, they shouldn’t have to pay for parking.”

[…]

The main argument for free parking is that charging for it is effectively a regressive tax, because it disproportionately affects people with lower incomes. Spending on parking represents a larger percentage of their budget — and because having to pay for parking might price some lower income people out of their cars.

But currently, people who don’t own cars are disproportionately lower income. Every tax dollar they spend that goes towards parking infrastructure is a more direct and regressive tax than what would be levied on car-owning people if they always had to pay for parking.

Urbz, “Dharavi: Reclaim Growth“:

High population density is not inherently unhealthy, but it requires special attention. People should not be displaced far away from their communities, activities and schools in the name of reducing density. We do not recommend reducing density or creating more open grounds if it means displacing people because the human cost of doing so it too high. However, we believe that more can be done to optimize existing open spaces, whether they are streets and roads, or courtyards around temples and schools. Such spaces should be redesigned so they are accessible to all, and in particular to children – that means giving absolute priority to covering open rainwater drains. We also recommend planting trees along existing streets and roads wherever space allows it. These increase the conviviality of public spaces, help clean the air and provide shade.

Eric Jaffe, “The myth that everyone naturally prefers trains to buses“, Citylab:

Barro points to the success of L.A.’s Orange Line, for instance, as evidence that “it is possible to overcome anti-bus bias with the right amenities and marketing.” But in doing so, he mistakes the Orange Line’s integral service improvements, such as high frequencies and dedicated lanes, for amenities at best or marketing ploys at worst, when in fact they represent a fundamentally stronger system. To suggest that reliable service and exclusive lanes are a product of savvy marketing is to suggest that Michael Jordan jumped high because Nike said so.

You can sense the magnitude of the change from buses to BRT in the way L.A. riders speak about the Orange Line, at least as captured in the 2009 DOT report. Riders can’t seem to reconcile that it’s a bus at all; instead, they describe it the same way they’d describe a train. Some actually called it a “train-bus”.

Auckland Council, “Survey on transport options to start soon“, Scoop:

From Auckland Council: Independent company to survey Aucklanders on transport

A quantitative survey, asking 4,200 Aucklanders for their views on fixing and funding transport, has started as part of Auckland Council’s 10-year budget consultation.

The month long survey will enable robust analysis and further insight into the views Aucklanders have on the issue of transport, which is a strong focus of the budget.

[…]

Survey respondents will be contacted by telephone based on a sample that is demographically representative of Auckland’s population.

Michael Anderson, “Outer London is about to activate the ‘secret weapon’ of the suburbs: the bicycle“, People for Bikes:

Among rich countries, the best places for biking – Amsterdam, Denmark, Germany – are also among the best places for riding transit.

These countries design their suburbs so local trips can be done by foot and bike as well as by car. Trips into the city, meanwhile, often use train or bus.

The key to the system: Once biking becomes easy in the suburbs, it also becomes easy to bike a couple miles to a train station. That can break the vicious cycle of low ridership.

“One of the biggest challenges for conventional transit in this country is first/last mile,” said Bragdon, the New York transit advocate. “You can run this good light rail service every 10 minutes on this trunk line, but people are still low-density. Biking, I think, is a real practical solution to that problem.”

Cycling to lunch was logical

Sadly Leonard Nimoy passed away today and this video came up with Leonard and William Shatner talking about cycling to lunch.

And here’s a picture of him on his bike in costume.

Leonard Nimoy