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Marking out the CRL

Auckland Transport have taken up an idea by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse a few months ago and are marking out where the City Rail Link will go in a bid to raise awareness of the project, especially ahead of the enabling works which will be disruptive to a decent portion of the city.

Aucklanders using Britomart this morning found out exactly where their future journey could take them.

Bright red lines tracking across lower Queen Street don’t mark Santa’s planned path but instead show where the City Rail Link (CRL) tunnels will go when the project starts next year.

Adding a bit of festive spirit to the Britomart and QE11 Square, the painted lines mark the centre of each of the two tunnels that will be built from the Central Post Office, under Queen Street and the square before heading up Albert Street and eventually to Mt Eden.

Project director Chris Meale says with construction of the enabling works for the CRL only a year away, the red lines signal the approaching works.

“While there is a lot of work still to be done before then, the red lines will indicate to Aucklanders that the first stage of the City Rail Link is not far away.”

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says she’s excited that there is a visible representation of where the City Rail Link will take Auckland and she’s eagerly anticipating a start on the physical works.

Mr Meale says the works will change the face of the downtown area for about three years. When the works start, buses will be re-routed, Britomart’s entrance will be relocated to the east end and through traffic will be diverted from Albert Street to provide access for tunnel construction. An information programme is being prepared in the lead up to the work

“It’s just a matter of time before Aucklanders will be able to see progress on our city’s number one transport priority. Tenders for the detailed design have closed with award planned for February,” he said.

Here are a few photos from readers this morning.

And this one from our good friend Sudhvir Singh who Penny credits with the idea.

CRL painting on ground outside Britomart

I grabbed these as I was passing through this afternoon. Good work AT, and Penny Hulse and Sudhvir. Sooooo many people pass through here. I did occur to me that lines showing the actual width of the tunnel might better than just the centre line? Anyone agree? [PR]:

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CRL marking_01

CRL marking_02

While on the topic of the CRL, there was this letter to the editor in the Herald today.

CRL Letter to Editor 22.12.14

Of course while the council may not have directly surveyed on the CRL it has come out on top after two local body elections and various plans and strategies that have been publicly consulted on such as the Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan etc. It is part of an integrated PT network and Aucklanders have overwhelmingly said in numerous polls that they more focus on PT and it has even had strong support in polling done by the AA. Finally while not a public survey on whether we should build it, the project also received strong support from the public in the designation process and even many who opposed specific elements such as construction noise stated they wanted the project built. It would have been good for Chris Meale to have pointed this out.

If the council conducted a formal survey on the project I’d be almost certain that people like the letter writer above would then just complain about the council spending money on a pointless survey.

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

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The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

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Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

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Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

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Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

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All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

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Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

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Getting high patronage in a sprawling city

I’ve talked in the past about Calgary and how I think it’s an extremely useful city for Auckland to compare to and this article from The Transport Politic highlights why.

Calgary is a boomtown — the center of Canada’s resource economy, whose explosion in recent years has led to big gains in Calgary’s population and commercial activity. It’s the sort of place that might seem completely hostile to public transit; 87 percent of locals live in suburban environments where single-family homes and strip malls predominate; surrounding land is mostly flat and easily developable farmland; the city is almost 10 times bigger than it was in 1950, meaning it was mostly built in a post-automobile age; and big highways with massive interchanges are found throughout the region. Even the transit system it has serves many places that are hostile to pedestrians and hardly aesthetically pleasing.

It’s an environment that looks a lot more like Dallas or Phoenix than Copenhagen.

In addition to this it’s not a massive city population wise and is in fact is very similar to Auckland’s – and has had similar growth over the last 30 years.

Auckland vs Calgary Population

And yet Calgary is attracting big crowds to its transit system, and those crowds continue to increase in size. Like several of its Canadian counterparts, Calgary is demonstrating that even when residential land use is oriented strongly towards auto dependency, it is possible to encourage massive use of the transit system. As I’ll explain below, however, strong transit use in Calgary has not been a fluke; it is the consequence of a strong public policy to reduce car use downtown. It provides an important lesson for other largely suburban North American cities that are examining how to reduce their automobile use.

Much of the trend of increasing transit use has come recently, in part because of the expansion of the city’s light rail network, C-Train. That system, which opened in 1981 and has been expanded several times (it now provides service on 36 miles of lines), has become the backbone of the municipal transit agency and now serves more rides than the bus network. C-Train is now the second-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

Calgary C Train network

Calgary C Train Network

Don’t be fooled by the term light rail, Calgary’s C-Train is the equivalent of our rail network and the Northern Busway – a rapid transit network providing a high capacity core network on a dedicated (largely on street) right of way. Supporting the C-Train network is a bus network based on the same principles as Auckland Transports proposed New Network. Both light rail and buses have seen growth over the last 17 years shown in the graph below although the light rail has clearly grown the strongest. Strong growth in rapid transit is a trend we’re really starting to see in Auckland.

The presence of rapid transit is clearly a critical factor in Calgary’s outstanding patronage results but it’ not the only factor.

At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city. Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown).

Perhaps most impressive have been Calgary’s parking policies. For decades, the municipal government has managed parking supply downtown, in part by directly owning a huge proportion of the spaces. The city has also limited the number of spaces allowed to be built in the center. In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet), but today, it has more than 40 million square feet of offices (and more under construction) and 47,000 spaces (1,175 spaces per million square feet, an 11 percent reduction). The limitations on the number of parking spaces has resulted in an expensive parking market; the city has the second-highest parking rates in the Americas, after New York City.

For car users wishing to get downtown, the city has compensated by investing in 17,433 park-and-ride spaces at almost every light rail station, of which 36 percent are reserved for people who have paid $80 a month, a considerable discount off the downtown rates. This emphasis on park-and-ride spaces departs from the typical urbanist emphasis on transit-oriented development as a strategy for station areas, but it seems to have worked in Calgary.

Charging for Park & Ride is a relatively new thing for Calgary and is a response to ever increasing demand for more and doing so has had no impact on patronage. The city is also now looking to reduce the number of P&R spaces it has by using them for development so the total number will drop over time.

I don’t how much office space Auckland has but as a comparison there are around 50,000 carparks in the Auckland CBD and many more on the fringes outside it.

CBD Parking Supply

And what of the impacts of the policy of restricting carparking.

These policies have produced the overall city transit ridership noted above, and have been particularly relevant in affecting travel trends downtown. Between 1998 and 2014, the share of downtown workers using transit to get to work has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent; a rise has also been noted in the share of people walking and cycling, which has risen from 8 percent to 11 percent over that period. That transit share is just a bit lower than that seen in Chicago’s Inner Central Area (55 percent in 2000), a central business district that was developed far earlier and which has a far more developed transit system.

Pro-transit policies have not produced a dramatic move of businesses away from Calgary’s center city — the fear many politicians and business promoters point to when complaining about limitations on automobile access to downtown. In fact, Calgary’s office market is doing quite well, with five office buildings over 500 feet completed downtown since 2010, compared to just one in Dallas, one in Houston, and none in Phoenix. Calgary’s downtown population has expanded rapidly to 16,000 people and now hosts 140,000 jobs and eight shopping centers. It should be noted that the Calgary municipal government has also played an important role in advocating for a compact city and directed local policies to support that goal.

In other words, restricting automobile use and encouraging transit ridership not only don’t hurt business — they may be encouraging it.

The New Zealand vehicle fleet: fact and fiction

The inaugural New Zealand Transport Fuels Summit was held at the end of October, and the blog was invited to attend. I was able to make it to one of the two days, and I’ll try to write up some of my notes in the future.

One of the speakers was Iain McGlinchy from the Ministry of Transport, who gave a presentation on the New Zealand vehicle fleet. It was full of interesting insights – see below, or Iain’s Powerpoint for more (and much of the data is available via the Ministry’s Vehicle Fleet Statistics).

It’s often said that New Zealand has an old and inefficient vehicle fleet – but things aren’t quite as they seem. Yes, our cars are a bit older than in many other countries, averaging 13 years (vs 11 in the US, 9 in Australia and the EU, and 8 in Japan). That’s mainly down to the large number of cars we import second-hand rather than new – these mainly Japanese imports are usually around eight years old when they arrive. In particular, the ageing process is driven by the large number of cars built in 1995-1997 and imported in the early 2000s. We’ve got masses of them, and they’re still around for the most part.

What about the “inefficient” part? Iain notes that new cars tend to be safer (better features, etc) and do better in terms of particulate emissions, but “there is very little evidence that age and fuel economy are linked”. The amount of fuel used seems to come down to the number of vehicles in the fleet, and it “appears other variables, like [the] state of [the] economy, (or changes to fleet age) are not strongly affecting fuel use”.

Vehicle fleet and population

Old cars do tend to have less efficient engines, but they’re also smaller and lighter than new cars, and they tend to do less travel. Overall, Iain thinks that “on average, if we had a younger fleet (as a result of actively getting rid of our existing older vehicles) the resulting fleet would probably have a larger engine size and travel further than our current fleet… actively intervening  to create a younger fleet to reduce CO2 emissions, would probably not work”. So, no cash for clunkers then. A lot of people don’t understand the inertia of a fleet with 3.2 million vehicles that tend to get driven for 20-odd years and do 200,000+ kilometres in their lifetime (driverless car advocates take note).

If we do want to reduce emissions – and I certainly think we should – then it could perhaps be done by encouraging cars to be scrapped and not replaced. Iain: “if fleet size shrinks as older used vehicles are scrapped then fuel use may also fall”.

One thing I found particularly interesting was Iain’s data showing that new cars claim to be more fuel efficient, but often don’t deliver in the real world. In NZ, on-road fuel use remains stubbornly around 10L/ 100 km, despite supposedly more efficient cars being sold. Here’s the data for Japan.

Japanese fuel economy

Essentially, vehicles have always tended to use more fuel on the road than they do when they’re being tested. But the performance gap has gotten larger (and Iain also shows this for a number of European countries). Car manufacturers are becoming very adept at designing cars to do well in the tests, but not on the road.

Iain also argues (slides 36-37) that there doesn’t seem to be much of a relationship between petrol prices and vehicle travel. I’m not sure I fully agree. There’s inertia to people’s driving behaviour too, and it can take several years for the impacts of a price hike to become fully clear. I don’t think the tailing off of vehicle travel in the mid-2000s can be explained by much else except the massive rise in petrol prices – it’s not like the government started investing in public transport or anything, right?

Iain also asks the question that if most of our cars come from Japan, and the cars there are getting more efficient (and they are, despite the “gap” above – there are various incentives and subsidies in place there for hybrids and other efficient cars), will NZ’s fleet get more efficient too? The answer is, not necessarily. Japan favours small cars and hybrids, whereas here in NZ we continue to import medium/ large cars and SUVs. And hybrids tend to stick around for longer in Japan, due to the incentives, so it’s hard for NZ car importers to buy them at competitive prices.

Finally, Iain wraps up by discussing things that could help improve New Zealand’s fleet fuel economy/ emissions/ safety and so on. These include hybrids, Intelligent Transport Systems (not so sure about these; people can view this kind of stuff as an invasion of privacy or civil liberties, which is why we have so few speed and traffic light cameras), better network efficiency (ramp metering signals etc), improving driver skills, and, of course, “reducing use of motor vehicles”. I’m sure there are a few positive actions we could take on that last point.

More Speed and Red Light Cameras on the way

Auckland is to get more red light cameras

Red light running a focus for Police and Auckland Transport

Police and Auckland Transport are working together to reduce risk for road users at key Auckland intersections by installing red light cameras.

Seven new red light camera sites will operate across Auckland next year.

Police will own and run two digital, dual function cameras capable of recording vehicles that run red lights and/or speed through intersections. They will initially operate in red-light mode only. This will bring the total number of red light camera sites across Auckland to 17.

Police and Auckland Transport selected the sites on the basis of NZ Transport Agency analysis, which identified intersections where red light cameras would likely enhance road safety.

Road users will see infrastructure, including poles and camera housings, going up this month. Cameras will go through a period of rigorous testing before being switched to enforcement mode next year. Police and Auckland Transport will make sure drivers are given fair warning before any infringement notices are issued.

The new cameras are part of wider programmes run by both organisations to encourage safer driving. Auckland Transport has recently delivered a Red Means Stop education and enforcement campaign supported by the Police, and a follow up campaign will be run in February.

“Red light running is an issue of great concern in Auckland,” says Karen Hay, Community and Road Safety Manager at Auckland Transport. “We are pleased to be working with Police and our road safety partners on this initiative. We all need to take care at intersections to reduce the risk of someone getting injured or killed. ”

Inspector Peter McKennie, Operations Manager Road Policing, believes motorists will welcome the push to make intersections safer. “There’s a sense that red light running is a very selfish action – it’s a genuine threat to people’s safety, which saves one road-user a minute or two.” However, he warns that no amount of regulation can keep us safe from inattention or recklessness. “Drivers still need to keep themselves safe and check that the way is clear even when they have right of way. Never assume a green light automatically means you are safe to go.”

This is good to see although if anything 17 intersections in total across all of Auckland doesn’t seem like a great deal.

  • Auckland CBD – Halsey Street & Fanshawe Street
  • Avondale – Ash Street & Rosebank Road
  • Pakuranga – Pigeon Mountain & Pakuranga Road
  • East Tamaki – Te Irirangi Drive & Smales Road
  • East Tamaki – Chapel Road & Stancombe Road
  • Lambie Drive Interchange (east-bound off-ramp)
  • Botany – Te Irirangi & Tī Rakau Drives

Some further information

  • The NZ Transport Agency asked independent transport consultants to develop a methodology to identify intersections where red light cameras would likely enhance road safety. Police and Auckland Transport selected sites for these cameras from the 75 sites prioritised on the basis of potential crash-reduction savings.
  • Police’s dual function speed and red-light cameras use the latest non-invasive detection systems. The system comprises two radars and a camera. The primary radar scans and tracks vehicles as they approach the intersection. If a vehicle crosses the stop line during a red-light phase, a camera photographs the rear of the vehicle. A second radar (known as the validation radar) ensures the photograph taken is of the breaching vehicle.
  • Like all Police enforcement equipment, each camera will be rigorously tested to make sure it meets Police’s strict operating criteria. Transport law requires speed cameras to be checked (calibrated) and certified every year. Police operates a laboratory that is accredited under international standards to calibrate and certify all police enforcement equipment including speed cameras.
  • During the period 2009-2013 there were 634 injury crashes and 1277 non-injury crashes caused by red light running in the Auckland area.
  • Police will calibrate Auckland Transport’s cameras, process images and issue resulting infringement notices.

At the same time the Police are also expanding their static speed camera locations. Three new digital cameras have gone up around Totara Park and in Otahuhu with more to come.

Police new static camera locations

The 2015-2025 Government Policy Statement Confirmed

Simon Bridges has released the final version of the 2015/16 – 2024/25 Government Policy Statement (GPS) following on from the draft version earlier this year. The GPS is effectively the top dog when it comes to transport funding and policy as in the words of the minister:

The Government Policy Statement on land transport (the GPS) sets out the Government’s strategic and policy goals for land transport, as well as the funding direction necessary to achieve them. It guides not only an investment of $3.4 to $4.4 billion per annum from central government, but around $1.0 billion a year from local government.

The GPSs relationship to other key planning documents is shown below.

2015 GPS - Document heirachy

Very little has changed from the draft version we saw with the Ministry of Transport saying some of the changes are:

  • The upper ranges of funding available for public transport have increased, so up to $115 million more will be available for public transport projects between 2015/16 and 2024/25. This takes the potential spending on public transport to a total of $4.585 billion.
  • The objectives set down in the final GPS 2015 have been amended to ensure they are clearer and more well-defined. A new ‘efficiency’ objective has been added, while the ‘demand’ objective has been clarified so it refers to access to social and economic opportunities.
  • A definition of major metropolitan areas (reflecting the Statistics New Zealand definition) has been added, clarifying those areas which are eligible for funding under the Regional Improvements activity class.
  • The Auckland Transport Package (announced by the Government in 2013), Accelerated Regional Roading Package (announced in August 2014) and the Urban Cycleways Package (announced in September 2014) have been referenced throughout GPS 2015. While funding for these will be provided in addition to funding for activity classes, the packages will be considered and undertaken in a way consistent with other projects funded under the GPS.
  • The role that technology and innovation can play in managing network access and capacity has been reflected throughout the document, including the new crosscutting reporting line which will ensure technology investments (and the returns on these investments) will be transparently recorded.

In other words there’s been some tweaking around the edges but no significant change. That means there is still some massive hypocrisy and double standards contained within the document. As a quick example, while noting that vehicle travel has basically flat-lined and will “remain more muted than in previous economic cycles“, the maximum possible funding for state highways increases by 4%. By comparison almost all talk in the document about improving PT services comes with the caveat of “if justified by demand“. Simplified you could say PT investment has to justify its existence but road investment doesn’t.

Related, the maximum possible funding for PT increases by 3.5% per annum and the MoT say “This rate of increase reflects current and projected patronage growth“. Of course that level of projected patronage growth only exists because of the level of funding being made available limiting services. If Auckland Transport had more funding they could roll out the new network much faster and of course by doing so we would see stronger patronage growth much sooner.

One of the key things about the GPS is the funding ranges it sets. These funding ranges are meant to give the NZTA some (small) amount of flexibility when setting the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which sets out the projects that are likely to be funded. The NZTA could theoretically use the maximum funding ranges in some categories at the expense of others however overall the exact amounts selected tends to be closer to the midpoint between the upper and lower figures.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Range

And using the mid-point between the two figures, this graph highlights where the money is going over the next decade.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

In terms of the maximum extra $115m possible for PT, for the next three years the difference between the draft and the final version over the next 4 years are compared to the draft are just $5 million in 2016/17 and $10 million in 2017/18.

In addition to the table above the GPS also lists the funding outside of the categories above, in other words money the government is paying directly for transport projects such as the governments $100m Urban Cycleway funding that they announced in the lead up to the election. One of the things that’s odd about that particular funding stream is it seems to be broken up into state highways and local roads elements which is something that hadn’t been mentioned before.

GPS 2015-2025 Other Funding

Overall the direction of transport policy has changed little since 2008/09 and the focus remains on building massive state highway projects – most with low value outcomes – while the areas of the transport system that are seeing the most growth get ignored.

Does intensification increase traffic congestion?

Earlier this week, I took a look at the relationship between congestion and density. I was investigating geographer Phil McDermott’s claim, based on some dodgy data comparing between cities, that increasing density would increase congestion.

Economists know that it is difficult to make inferences about causality using cross-sectional analysis. Simply looking at variations between different cities doesn’t allow you to form robust conclusions about how those cities got to where they are.

One of the ways in which economists seek to strengthen their understanding of causality is to look at changes over time. For example, if you observe that increases in density tend to be followed by increases in congestion, then that is stronger (although not necessarily conclusive) evidence that there is a causal relationship.

With that in mind, it is worth asking: How have congestion and density changed in New Zealand cities over time? Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data points to conduct a robust econometric analysis, but we do have enough to start painting a picture of recent changes. We can draw upon two relevant sources:

I’m going to focus on NZ’s three largest cities – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch – as two of the three experienced big increases in density between 2001 and 2013. (MoT hasn’t collected data on Hamilton and Tauranga for as many years.) If these increases in density coincided with rising congestion, it may be an indication that intensification can lead to increased congestion.

Here’s the data. It shows that density has risen 33% in Auckland between the 2001 and 2013 Censuses, 17% in Wellington, and a mere 3% in Christchurch:

Changing density in large NZ cities chart

And here’s the Ministry of Transport’s Congestion Index, which measures the average minutes of delay per vehicle-kilometre, relative to totally free-flowing conditions. This is a bit of an unrealistic comparison, as a 2013 NZTA research report by Wallis and Lupton shows. The only way that you can totally avoid all queuing or stopping at traffic lights is if there are no other cars on the road. So it wouldn’t be realistic to say that we could speed up the average Auckland trip by half a minute per kilometre. However, this is still a useful indicator for changes from year to year.

While the Index bounces around a bit from year to year, the overall trends are clear. Levels of congestion are flat or falling in Auckland and Wellington, which experienced big increases in density over the last decade, and rising in Christchurch, which hasn’t gotten denser. In particular:

  • Average delay for Auckland drivers was 25% lower in 2013 than it was in 2003
  • Average delay for Wellington motorists fell 5% from 2004 to 2013
  • Average delay for Christchurch drivers rose a staggering 31% between 2004 and 2010. Unfortunately, MoT’s monitoring seems to have been disrupted by the earthquake, but anecdotal evidence suggests that congestion has worsened since then.

MoT Congestion Index chart

In short, data on changes in density and congestion in New Zealand cities contradicts the notion that intensification will necessarily cause worse traffic congestion. If anything, it suggests that rising density may do the opposite, by making it more feasible for people to walk, cycle, or take public transport.

Do we need to treat this data with caution? Most certainly. As I noted earlier in the week, there are a number of omitted variables that influence congestion, such as such as changing consumer preferences, macroeconomic changes, and significant investments in both roads and public transport over the last decade. But it does suggest that wild claims about the negative traffic impacts of new apartment buildings should be taken with a significant grain of salt.

What do you make of this data?

City Centre Priority Cycle Routes

An update to the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board (page 25) provides some new information about improvements to cycling planned for the CBD and include some artist impressions of just what they might look like – although unfortunately because it comes from a document that appears to have been scanned the quality of the images leaves a bit to be desired.

The update is from Auckland Transport and they say there are six top priority projects and a map of them is below.

  • North-South Cycle route (Nelson St)
  • Beaumont St/Westhaven Dr Cycleway
  • Quay St Cycleway
  • East West Route
  • K Rd Cycleway
  • Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway

CBD Cycling priority routes

Working through them

North-South Cycle route (Nelson St)

This has been divided into two stages. Stage one is the old Nelson St Off ramp bridge through to Victoria St – which is due to be completed by the middle of 2015 – and stage two is the section north of Victoria St as well as Union St. On Nelson St there will be a two way protected cycle lane on the Western side – which is presumably easier due to less carpark entrances. AT say it’s currently undecided which route they will build to get to Quay St either going by Nelson St – Sturdee St – Lower Hobson St or taking the route along Victoria St and then down Hobson St. Personally I think they probably need to do both.

AT have listed a range of constraints and issues for the project and almost comically one of these is that Nelson St is a constrained road corridor with narrow lanes. Below is an image of what the cycleway might look like.

Nelson St cycleway

Beaumont St/Westhaven Dr Cycleway

Readers may recall this one which I wrote about a few months ago. The plan was to install a separated cycle lane down the western side of Beaumont St to lead to the new Westhaven path currently under construction. Unfortunately the marine industry the cycleway would go past were up in arms about the loss of carparking despite them having significant off street parking and the on street carparks often being empty.

Unfortunately it seems that Auckland Transport have caved to their demands and are now only proposing a shared path despite their only issues list stating that high pedestrian volumes are an issue.

This is the only one of the projects that doesn’t have an image associated with it.

Quay St Cycleway

AT will create a two-way separated cycleway on the Northern side of Quay St by removing the median islands and some dedicated right turn lanes then turning one of the existing traffic lanes over for cyclists.

Quay St Cycleway

East West Route

This could be one of the most important of the lot – and not just because it’s the only route through the core of the CBD rather than skirting around the edge of it. It will link Grafton Rd, Wellesley St East, Kitchener St and Victoria St. It will also contain a direct link from the newly opened Grafton Gully. The plan calls for one way protected cycling routes on either side Victoria St, a two way path on Kitchener St past the Art Gallery and a shared path along Wellesley St.

Wellesley St corridor Cycling

K Rd Cycleway

This is of course a project that Generation Zero have pushed and it is set to become a reality. AT say the design will have one way protected cycle lanes on either side of the road. They are also looking at what happens with the four traffic lanes along the route. The two options are either two general traffic lanes and the outside lanes as peak hour bus/parking lanes or four general traffic lanes with no bus or parking provision.

K Rd Cycleway

Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway

With the opening of the Grafton Gully Cycleway there is an even clearer gap in the network of the NW cycleway. Currently users have to climb up the side of the Newton Rd motorway onramp, cross Newton Rd then drop back down to Ian McKinnon Dr to a poor quality shared path. It would be far better to be able to connect to and travel alongside Ian McKinnon on a safe cycleway. A two way cycleway is being proposed that would travel through Suffolk St Reserve which is land the NZTA already has a designation over and would then travel up Ian McKinnon Dr. For Ian McKinnon Dr there were two options considered, using the berm and NZTA land which would have required works such as significant retaining walls or to take a lane off the road itself. AT have opted for that option and suggest removing an outbound lane.

Ian McKinnon Cycleway

Overall there are some really good projects here and they all feel like they need to be completed yesterday however only the first stage of the North South Cycle Route (Nelson St) and the Beaumont/Westhaven Dr project have funding so the rest will be at the mercy of the councils LTP funding discussion.

AT Metro Launched

Last week we mentioned about how Auckland Transport was launching a new PT brand. That occurred yesterday and as well as new look buses, they have also launched a new brand for their public transport operations – AT Metro.

Auckland Transport has unveiled its new look for public transport in the city.

At a ceremony in Auckland the Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse and Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy launched the AT Metro brand which will be phased in over three years, starting with LINK services and the Northern Express.

The single brand identity will be differentiated by colour for different types of services and will gradually be applied to buses, trains and ferries.

Auckland Transport’s General Manager Marketing and Customer Experience Mike Loftus says a single identity will give Aucklanders and visitors a clearer understanding of what public transport is on offer, and how buses, trains and ferries serve different areas.

“Most metropolitan cities have a single brand network that is easy to recognise and enables clear, consistent communication with customers.”

“Currently in Auckland there is no single identity, we have a variety of brands and looks. Customers relate to buses by the operator name rather than the wider public transport network”.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport Mark Lambert says having a single public transport network will ultimately build public confidence in the developing and improving PT system. “Knowing that all the services are integrated and part of the same system will help grow patronage”.

The implementation of the livery is already underway and budgeted for the electric trains.

Costs for the bus fleet will be kept to a minimum through:

  • retention of ocean blue for Rapid Network services (Northern Express is already this colour).
  • retention of red, green, orange and light blue for existing targeted services of the City LINK, Inner LINK, Outer LINK and Airbus.
  • the rest of the bus fleet to be transitioned as part of new contracts and costs incurred through new contract rates.

Mr Lambert says Auckland’s bus operators are aware of the changes and are working with Auckland Transport.

The Auckland Plan looks to double public transport trips from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022. The Auckland Plan’s priorities for Auckland’s transport system include “a single system transport network approach that manages current congestion problems and accommodates future business population growth to encourage a shift toward public transport.”

I was at the launch and here are some photos of the new look buses. It is definitely a much simpler and less busy looking livery. My favourite thing about the look is that the windows are not obscured like they are on some buses now. I’m also not quite sure I like the bright yellow on the front of the Northern Express buses.

The Double Decker Northern Express

Double Decker

As a comparison this is what it looked like previously.

NEX Double Decker 7

A single deck Northern Express bus. The standard non RTN buses look the same but with grey and blue on the front rather than yellow.

Single Deck NEX

The Link Buses

Inner Link

Outer Link

City Link

Station Boarding Stats for 2013/14

Late last week Auckland Transport provided me with some fascinating stats related that broke down rail patronage results by station. The data is for the previous financial year -so from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 – and covers 10.05 million trips out of the 11.44 million that took place. The difference between the two figures is primarily made up of special event patronage and legacy tickets still in use such as child monthly passes. Perhaps the best thing about the data though is that for the first time we can see how many people travelled from each station to each other station on the network. Getting this kind of information is one of the reasons that having customers not just tag on but also tag off with HOP is so useful.

The last time we had some station specific data was back in May which showed monthly patronage from July 13 to March 14 (although it was missing August)

In this post I’m just going to scratch the surface of what insights the data provides so please feel free to dig deeper into it and it would be great to see what kind of interesting visualisations you can come up with (and if you do please share them on here first).

To start with here is a map Kent has put together showing all boardings by station.

The data behind that is in the table below along with the number of people alighting at each station. There are a couple of things I notice straight away from the data.

  • There are a hell of a lot of people not tagging off with 5.5% failing to do so. Of course we don’t know where this is happening but I would assume that apart from Britomart and Newmarket which have gates, that it’s fairly proportionate across the network.
  • There has been a big surge in use of Henderson. In all previous figures that we’ve seen including the ones up to March this year Henderson has been around 8th to 11th busiest station based on the number of boardings and was 11th in that earlier data. It has now shot up to become the 4th busiest station which is a massive jump and could be one of the big reasons behind the rise in patronage we’ve seen on the Western line. Interestingly it hasn’t had the same sort of increase in people alighting (unless they make up a lot of the unknowns).
  • Manukau has been the biggest mover after Henderson which has gone from 34th at the end of March to 38th. Panmure is also continuing to climb the station rankings and I’ve heard suggestions that some month’s patronage has been more than double the same month in 2013.
  • The bottom three stations are unchanged although the exact order has shifted slightly. All three combined make up just 0.9% of all patronage. We know Waitakere is set to close once the Western Line is electrified and AT in the past have suggested closing both Westfield and Te Mahia, both of which were being decided on at the AT Board meeting yesterday.
  • Britomart dominates patronage but not as much as you would think. Trips to and from Britomart make up just 55% of all patronage which is less than most people would probably think.

Station Patronage 2013-14

The results get more interesting when you start to look at where people are travelling to and from. As an example for my local station – Sturges Rd – I can see just 37% of people boarding a train there go to Britomart.

Trips from Sturges Rd 2013-14

The two graphs below show the boarding and alighting at each station on a trip towards Britomart (Newmarket boardings are not included).

In the Western Line graph below it highlights that for Western Line passengers, Grafton has now edged out Newmarket as the second most important destination. For the Western line just 40% of people onboard a train bound for Britomart travel all the way.

West Line towards City 2013-14

The profile of the Southern/Eastern lines is quite a bit different with Britomart dominating more and taking 67% of all the trips for trains heading towards the city.

South Lines towards City 2013-14 - 2

It’s fantastic to final get this level of detail and I look forward to when we’ll be able to see it on a regular basis plus see it for at least the Busway stations too.

As mentioned above it would be neat to see what visualisations of the data you can come up with. The data is here.