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Sunday reading 26 April 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.

stuart

From Stuart’s 100. @HoughtonSd

Joe Cortright, “Our Shortage of Cities“, City Commentary.

Cortright makes a convincing argument that the exploding demand for urban living is not being met by supply. How does a city grow urban land? Stuart (above) provides a good start of places in Auckland that are sitters for urban intensification. Here is Cortright:

But in economic terms, high and rising prices are sending a clear market message: cities are valuable. More people want to access the advantages that cities provide, and in the face of growing demand we have a shortage of great urban spaces. The market is signaling that we need to build more and better city neighborhoods. Instead of discouraging developers from creating new housing, the most effective solution to this problem is to increase the supply of new urban neighborhoods.

..In many cities, zoning restrictions, discretionary approval processes and excessive parking requirements—and now, potentially, new taxes on developer–makes new development difficult and expensive.

The Economist, “The paradox of soil: Land, the centre of the pre-industrial economy, has returned as a constraint on growth“.

A welcome latecomer to the discussion on urban economics and the constraints on growth due to land use regulation, the Economist has recently published a series of excellent articles. This one considers the growth implication of land use regulations and presents some possible solutions including a land tax.

Concern over land has come roaring back. The issue is not overall scarcity, but scarcity in specific places—the cities responsible for a disproportionate amount of the world’s output. The high price of land in these places is in part an unavoidable concomitant of success. But it is also the product of distortions that cost the world dear. One estimate suggests that since the 1960s such distortions have reduced America’s GDP by more than 13%.

The good news is that the world’s urban-land scarcity is largely an artificial problem. The bad news is that that does not make it a soluble one. Redressing strict land regulation is among the most politically fraught of policy issues.

Robyn A. Friedman, “Companies Trade Suburbs for City Life“, The Wall Street Journal.

 Large companies are moving back into the city in an attempt to attract and retain workers—particularly younger workers who are postponing homeownership and favor renting in walkable neighborhoods with easy access to restaurants, shopping and cultural opportunities.

Companies are relocating to not only be closer to skilled workers but also to keep those workers happy. “They need to be where the brain trust wants to be,” said Rick Lechtman,eastern U.S. director of the National Office and Industrial Properties Group at Marcus & Millichap in New York. “Employees work 10- or 12-hour days at their desk and don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere.

Matt Wade. “How treating pedestrians better will boost the economy“, The Age. In this fascinating piece researchers explore the agglomeration benefits of walking improvements. We will surely revisit this work in more detail, as it is consistent with much of the Blog’s articles and initiatives. Having a robust evidence base for something that is so plainly obvious is an indication of how far we are along the path to returning to the tradition of urban living.

Economic change, especially the growing importance of knowledge-based firms, has made the walkability of business centres all the more important. The exchange of ideas and information is crucial for the productivity of knowledge industries. That’s one reason why knowledge-intensive businesses – like finance, insurance, IT and professional services – tend to cluster together in CBDs. Much of the sharing of ideas and knowledge takes place face-to-face. And those face-to-face encounters are very often the result of a walking trip. It might sound old school but walking is vital to our premier business hubs.

The study identified big variations in the routes available to CBD walkers. Some walkways allowed pedestrians to travel at a maximum average speed of 4 kilometres an hour. But others allowed speeds of just 1 kilometre an hour because of obstacles like unfavourable traffic light phasing. Those slow pedestrian routes have a significant impact on productivity. SGS Economics and Planning concluded Melbourne’s economy could be boosted by $1.3 billion a year if the flow of pedestrians around the CBD was optimised. Terry Rawnsley, an economist at SGS Economics and Planning, said a similar improvement in Sydney’s CBD could yield a $2 billion lift to the city’s economy.

Ben Heather, “Forgotten law puts squeeze on damp homes and dodgy landlords“, Stuff.co.nz. What if New Zealand had stronger tenancy laws? Turns out that we already have some, but they have been mostly ignored.

The law, passed in 1947, requires homes to be “free of damp”, but it has been largely forgotten. Tenancy tribunals have often sided with landlords, even when dampness was causing serious health problems to tenants.
Now, in a study published in New Zealand Universities Law Review, academics from Victoria and Otago university argue that it is time to resurrect the “free of damp” law to help families who are failing to win redress from tribunals.

Ben L, “Dutch scenes in a British context, lessons for New Zealand“. CAA.org.

Take a look at these powerful images from the blog Alternative Department of Transport, created by transposing typical Dutch cyclists into a British street environment… which could just as easily be a New Zealand street environment.

Straight away it becomes blindingly obvious why women, children and the elderly are so underrepresented among regular cyclists in NZ. It also demonstrates why most people put themselves in a majority group who would love to cycle more but don’t feel safe doing so.

bikeyface

Business owners have a bad record of guessing how their customers visit them. Here are a few links of studies that show the gap between the estimated and actual travel mode to commercial streets. #Protip: if business owners stand in the way of sensible transport infrastructure, it’s time to call in the surveyors.

Auckland Train Ops Shortlist

Auckland Transport have announced the short list of companies to run Auckland’s trains from July next year onwards and none particularly fill me with confidence.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Auckland Transport has short-listed three companies that will be invited to tender to operate passenger rail services from 1 July 2016.

They are Serco NZ, Transdev Auckland and KiwiRail.

Mark Lambert, general manager AT Metro, says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies soon and the new rail contract will take effect from next year, when the existing contract expires.

Mr Lambert says there was a high level of interest internationally when Auckland Transport sought Expressions of Interest and the three shortlisted companies were selected after careful evaluation.

He says that the new contract will be performance-based and reflect the huge changes in the Auckland passenger rail system since the current contract was put in place in 2003.

Auckland’s Metro rail service has been electrified and modern electric trains will soon be operating on all lines, stations have been upgraded, new stations built and the Western Line double-tracked. The number of services has significantly increased from 40,000 to 140,000 per annum since 2003. Passenger boardings have passed a record 13 million a year and are climbing at record rates, with growth of 33% in March 2015 compared to the same month last year. Annual growth for the March year was 21%.

Shortlisted companies:

  • Serco NZ is the New Zealand arm of the British Serco PLC, an international service company working in a variety of sectors including transport, health and corrections. Internationally, Serco’s rail operations include the MerseyRail and Northern Rail operations in the UK and the Dubai Metro in the United Arab Emirates. Serco delivers services to central and local governments in New Zealand and Australia with over 9,000 staff across the region and 600 based in Auckland.
  • Transdev Auckland is part of the Transdev Group, one of the world’s largest private passenger transport companies. The Group, whose head office is based in France, operate light and heavy rail services in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. Transdev has been operating the Auckland Metro rail services since 2003.
  • New Zealand Government-owned KiwiRail owns and manages the national railway network. It operates freight and passenger rail services throughout New Zealand, including the Tranz Metro commuter rail operation in Wellington, which provides 2,200 services each week.

With Transdev and its predecessors we’ve have more than a decade of poor performance – not all of which has been their fault. Perhaps most annoying to regular customers has been the frequent poor communication when things go wrong.

Serco also operates the Mt Eden prison and if they were to win the contract I’d certainly hope they ran the rail network better they were the prison a few years ago where the failed to meet half of their performance targets.

Lastly Kiwirail who own the tracks and currently run the trains in Wellington. In reality they are a freight company and to date have shown little regard for PT or its users in Auckland.

What’s also noticeable about this announcement is that the three companies shortlisted are the same as those shortlisted for the Wellington contract with one exception. In Wellington Kiwirail have bid in joint venture with Keolis Downer.

All the companies shortlisted will almost certainly be hoping to win both the Auckland and Wellington contracts which would allow them to leverage some economies of scale across both operations. That has the potential to be good if it means services can be delivered cheaper but might have negative consequences if it limits how easy it is for other companies to compete for future tenders.

Toil and trouble; economy burn and housing bubble #3

Within hours of my last post on the housing “bubble” going live, news broke of a radio advertisement airing in Singapore, Malaysia, and Queensland which described Auckland as “an investor’s dream”. The radio advertisement went on to state:

“Now many people invest in Auckland because of the high demand for rents. There’s no stamp duty, no land tax, and within New Zealand, generally no capital gains tax either.”

Now radio advertising on a Singaporean Classic Gold station is a truly time-honoured way of reaching informed property investors. Prurient? Yes. Problematic? Indeed. For those who missed it, the premises and conclusion underpinning my last post can be summarised as:

  • Premise 1: Property taxes in New Zealand are relatively low compared to elsewhere in the OECD. According to Grimes (2003), 5.3% of New Zealand’s total tax revenues are raised from taxes on property, compared to an average of 8.3% across the OECD.
  • Premise 2: New Zealand is a relatively open economy with few restrictions on foreign investment. We have, or are in the process of negotiating, preferential trade agreements with a large number of countries, such as Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
  • Premise 3: Most countries overseas are currently running relatively expansionary fiscal settings, e.g. low interest rates. Some have even undertaken quantitative easing. There is an abundance of cheap capital is sloshing around like the world right now looking for a “home”.
  • Conclusion: New Zealand is likely to experience excessive demand for investment property.

Hitherto John Key has been pushing the line that supply is the main issue, largely due to pesky local government regulations. We can’t do much about demand, John says. This, my adoring readers, is partly true and partly false. The billboard below highlights the international dimension to the demand for property in Auckland. The international dimension matters, even if I’m not keen on singling out this dimension on its own.

IMG_3157

As mentioned in my earlier posts, I do agree there is a need to improve the responsiveness of the supply-side, and that Auckwood can do better on that front, e.g. allowing residential intensification. But there’s also no doubt that such changes will take several years to implement and take effect.

It’s also true that the New Zealand economy is doing relatively well and that, as a result, our population is growing strongly.

I tend to agree with Peter that a larger population will benefit New Zealand, especially in the long run. This is largely due to agglomeration benefits – both domestically (e.g. in Auckland) and nationally (from having a larger local market). Hence I don’t really agree with those people who argue for 1) caps on migration and/or 2) incentives for migrants  to settle outside of Auckland.

Indeed people continue to choose to live in Auckland despite the disincentive provided by high house prices. That suggests many people quite like living in Auckland, and that they would be adversely affected from having to live elsewhere. I think we should be careful to respect those preferences.  I also think it’s presumptuous of people to assume that migrants destined for Auckland could be almost as happy in Invercargill. I don’t think so; they seem more likely to head to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, or Vancouver, i.e. be lost to us altogether.

On the other hand, it’s not correct to imply we can’t do anything about demand, especially from investors (NB: Source).

She's gonna blow!

Simply running away from the problem, as the Government seems to be doing, is not a good strategy. The reality is that the demand for property we’re experiencing is partly the result of tax settings over which the Government has control. More specifically, the Government could choose to reduce the demand for New Zealand property by increasing taxes on property, if they so desired. As the frequently excellent Brian Fallow notes in today’s Herald:

The case for taxing the income of residential property investors is compelling. And their income is not just rental income, net of all the costs they can deduct. It includes capital income too. Alarmed by runaway house price inflation in Auckland, the Reserve Bank has called for a fresh look at the tax-preferred status of investor-owned housing. Investors, as deputy governor Grant Spencer pointed out last week, are the marginal buyers who set the price in large tracts of the housing market. They are often the people would-be owner-occupiers have to outbid to buy a home, and the prices it is rational for them to pay are inflated by distortions in the taxation system, including the “expectation of high rates of return based on untaxed capital gains”, in Spencer’s words.

In my last post we also discussed several ways we could increase the total tax burden on property in New Zealand, namely (NB: Thanks to those who commented with useful suggestions):

  • Stamp duty – This is a one-off tax levied on property transactions. This can either be charged to the seller or the buyer. Australia and Singapore both have stamp duties.
  • Capital gains tax (CGT) – This is a one-off tax levied on the capital gain calculated at time of transaction. The tax is paid by the seller. Australia has capital gains taxes.
  • Land tax – This is a periodic tax (most commonly annual, but it could be charged quarterly) levied on the value of land. The tax is paid by the owner. New Zealand used to have a land tax, which was abandoned in 1992.
  • Risk free rate of return (RFRR) – from what I can understand this basically looks at the equity someone has in a property and calculates a risk free rate of return that one should expect from that quity, which is then taxed.
  • Imputed rents – from what I can tell this estimates the rental value home-owners derive from living in their own home and treats this as taxable income.

I think we can scrub CGT off the list, mainly for political reasons, i.e. National have poured disdain on the measure, and Labor have walked away from the highly loop-holey and problematic policy they took to the last election. Stamp duties appear to be poorly targeted and likely to reduce liquidity in the property market, which in turn might reduce labour mobility. So I don’t think stamp duties are a good way to go.

This leaves us with land taxes, RFRR, and imputed rents.

At this point it’s worth noting the “Tax Working Group” (TWG) recommended a combination of a land tax set at 0.5% and a RFRR on rental properties (NB: For those who are interested Interest.co.nz has an interesting summary and analysis of TWG findings). The land tax would apply on land worth more than NZ$50,000 and would include the ability to defer payment until the property is sold. This is a useful way to ameliorate effects on asset rich, low income households. Other ways including using the revenue from these taxes to reduce taxes elsewhere.

So “my” preferred approach is to simply adapt and/or adopt the generally sensible findings of the TWG. Thanks to their hard work a few years back we seem to have a good handle on what we need to do to quench some of the demand for property in New Zealand. In my next post I’ll explore their findings in more detail, but for now I’m interested in what others have to say. How say you?

 

Waterview March Timelapse and Aerials

The latest timelapse and aerial shots from the Waterview Connection project

The completed Ernie Pinches Bridge

The completed Ernie Pinches Bridge

Waterview Aerial 2 - Apr 15

Waterview Aerial 3 - Apr 15

Waterview Aerial 4 - Apr 15

In defense of population growth

Growth: what is it good for?

Accommodating a growing population can certainly be challenging. It means having to find more money to invest in transport and water infrastructure to enable new residents to live and travel in the city. As Auckland Council’s recent consultation on the Long Term Plan shows, asking people to pay more is never a very popular proposition – even if they like how the money’s being spent.

And, as Stu pointed out in his post on Auckland house prices this Monday, population growth can also put pressure on housing markets. Multiple research papers from the Reserve Bank have shown that increases in net migration tend to be followed by increases in house prices – shown in this chart. Obviously, homeowners do quite well out of this, but others face added costs:

RBNZ net migration and house prices chart

In short, it’s not surprising that some people feel trepidatious about population growth and migration. And it’s not surprising that those anxieties are especially present in Auckland, which is projected to continue growing rapidly over the next three decades.

While unease about population growth is understandable, I’d argue that it’s misplaced. In my view, the benefits of urban population growth in New Zealand far outweigh the costs. While large urban areas can become dysfunctional – think of Beijing’s astonishing smog problems or the high cost of infrastructure in sprawling American cities – New Zealand’s cities are nowhere near large enough for the diseconomies of scale to triumph over the economies of scale.

This is easy to see if we look at the periods when Auckland hasn’t been attracting migrants. Here’s a chart from a presentation on Auckland’s demographics by Auckland Council social researcher Alison Reid. It displays the composition of Auckland’s population growth since 1922. In recent decades, natural population increase – i.e. people having babies – has been the biggest source of growth. Net migration is important, but it can be quite volatile – surging up and then crashing back.

Auckland components of population growth 1922-2012

What stood out to me from this chart was that the years with little or no net migration to Auckland have not been good times for the city. Net migration slowed to a trickle during the Great Depression, and turned negative during the constrained years during and after World War Two. More recently, quite a few people fled Auckland during the economically calamitous Muldoon years. Net migration remained low during the painful adjustments imposed by the following two governments.

I wasn’t living in Auckland during the 1990s – my parents had joined the queues leaving via Auckland airport – but friends who were say that the city was turning into a ghost-town. History shows that shutting off the migration tap has never led to a better, more vibrant city or more opportunity for residents. It’s simply been a sign of failure.

My hypothesis is that New Zealand has a strong feedback loop between net migration and economic growth. When growth prospects get worse – as they did in the 1970 and 1980s – it dissuades people from coming here and encourages Kiwis to leave for greener pastures. This in turn worsens growth prospects by sucking consumer demand out of the economy and reducing perceived household wealth (i.e. lowering house prices).

By contrast, good growth prospects tend to attract migrants to New Zealand’s cities and encourage potential emigrants to stay. This in turn leads to a virtuous cycle between higher growth and increased migration.

We can’t fully control this process, as it depends in part on what’s happening in Australia and the rest of the world (not to mention macroeconomic variables that we don’t fully understand). But we can make sure that our cities are in a good position to take advantage of population growth.

The first, and most important thing we can do is to build better cities that are able to attract and efficiently accommodate more people. In Auckland, for example, we’ve got some challenges, including transport investment that’s been heavily skewed towards cars (and only cars) and rising house prices. But the flip-side of those is that we’ve got great opportunities to:

  • Improve transport choice by investing in Auckland’s “missing modes” – a frequent bus network throughout the city, rapid transit infrastructure, and safe walking and cycling infrastructure
  • Improve housing choice by providing opportunities for people to develop higher-density residential typologies in market-attractive areas
  • Invest in great public spaces, such as Auckland’s waterfront and increasing numbers of shared spaces.

Second, as we attract more people to our cities, we need to accommodate them in an efficient and environmentally responsible way. This means enabling people to live in areas that are accessible to jobs, shops, and other amenities. As I found when I looked at carbon emissions from commutes in New Zealand cities, people in inner-city areas are considerably more environmentally friendly than their co-workers from the urban fringe.

Annual CO2 emissions per commuter DRAFT v1

Moreover, the data shows that increasing density can be a positive-sum game for existing communities as well as for the environment. At the city level, we can’t observe any relationship between rising population densities and congestion – fears of traffic-choked streets just don’t seem to have materialised in practice. (So much for diseconomies of scale!)

On the other side of the ledger, suburbs with higher population densities have better consumption choices. Many of the services that people rely upon – from vege shops to Japanese restaurants to public transport to roads – exhibit strong economies of scale, which means that they get better when there are more people around.

Which suggests that there is also a third important thing that we need to do, which is to tell good stories about the opportunities that urban growth will offer us. New Zealand’s used to thinking of itself as a rural economy with some cities sprinkled around as afterthoughts. That’s a dated and inaccurate self-image when over half the economy is located in our three largest cities.

So, what’s your perspective on urban growth?

Photo of the day: Ride in to the mist

While most of Auckland basked in glorious sunshine on Tuesday morning, a patch fog enveloped the area around the upper harbour making Auckland’s second harbour crossing disappear into the distance.

Upper Harbour Bridge Cycleway

AT April Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is next week and as usual I’ve scoured the main report looking for the interesting bits of information. I also normally highlight the topics being discussed at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this the agenda is not available as doesn’t appear to have been uploaded correctly.

Project updates

Te Atatu Rd Rd – They now has all the consents needed to start construction and AT are targeting work to start in July. Also about Te Atatu, AT say that within the next three months they will lodge notices of requirement for the Te Atatu Bus Interchange.

AMETI – The Notices of Requirement are being prepared for the Panmure to Pakuranga busway and are expected to be lodged within the next three months.

Great North Road/Surrey Crescent – AT are looking to upgrade the intersection which will also require moving bus stops. It’s not in the report but I understand local retailers are very opposed to the bus stop even existing and want more car parking instead. I’ve even heard that local councillor and AT board member Mike Lee supported this view at a public meeting

Franklin Road – AT are still working through the Franklin Rd project however are finding resistance from residents who don’t want cycle lanes on the road and are using AT’s silly and outdate road classifications against them AT say that following an internal safety audit they are now having an independent safety audit commissioned to consider one of the four options before proceeding further.

  1. On-road cycle lanes on both sides
  2. On-road cycle lane on the downhill side and ‘shared path’ on the footpath (uphill side)
  3. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides and normal footpath
  4. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides but ‘shared path’ on the footpath (both sides)

That the last to in particular are even being considered is frankly insane.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – AT are working towards the main construction works to happen in July. In preparation for that over Queens Birthday weekend the old signal box will be lifted off the platform and relocated and foundations for additional canopies will be installed.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing) – The Notice of Requirement will now be lodged in May as final changes are made to the design. Separately AT say they are targeting this to be completed in 2017 but that relies on the process going smoothly and it’s almost certain some of the local residents on Cowie St will complain to the environment court.

Parnell Station – As many train users may have noticed, works have started to build the station with platform edging appearing. The works to enable the platforms to be built are planned to be completed by August and Kiwirail are expected to complete the refurbishment of the heritage Newmarket station by the end of the year. However the opening of the station is two years away as AT want to tie that in with the closing of Sarawia St which is likely due to the increased complexity in signalling it would cause. They say if that can be resolved then the station could open from early to mid-2016.

Westgate Transport Interchange – AT are still trying to work out how they are going to operate buses in the new Westgate town centre which wasn’t designed well with public transport in mind. The initial plan was to have bus interchange spread around the town centre which wouldn’t have been very good from an operational or customer focused perspective. This difficultly that AT seem to have having with getting this changed highlights how important it is that we design our PT networks and infrastructure into new greenfield development properly right from the start.

Half Moon Bay – Funding has been approved for improvements to the ferry terminal. It is hoped the project will be completed by September 2016

Proposed Northcote Cycleway – AT say the final design for the cycleway was presented to the Kaipatiki local board yesterday and will be made public in early May. The main issues they have been dealing with is the complaints about losing publicly provided space to store their personal possessions.

City Rail Link – Of the six appeals against the notice of requirement AT say they have resolved two of them and they’re making significant progress on another three following mediation over the last few months. Only one is outstanding and a hearing on it is due in late June.

PT

AT HOP – AT say that HOP car usage increased to its highest ever level in March with 74% of all trips being made using it. In addition with patronage also increasing, fare revenue has also been increasing which is good.

A separate paper – I assume to the closed session – will cover off AT’s roadmap for integrated fares including boundaries and indicative pricing

PTOM – AT are still waiting on the NZTA to finalise its review of the PTOM contracts so they can start tendering services for the new network

EMUs – There are now 50 out of 57 electric trains in Auckland, 42 have achieved provisional acceptance and 33 have achieved acceptance for normal service.

Mid May is the next significant step for the electric trains which is when they will be rolled out to all weekend services – except Pukekohe to Papakura (no mention of when Waitakere will close). They say additional services on the Southern Line are targeted for June

Bus Lane Rollout – At has an update on some of the bus lanes they’re rolling out and some of the time savings are impressive – such as two minutes faster for every bus that using the Symonds St improvements.

Onewa Road T3 Lane (city bound) – under construction.

  • Symonds Street Bus Lane improvements – construction completed; initial analysis shows 2 minute time savings for a number of peak services – schedule adherence has increased to 93%.
  • Fanshawe Street Bus Lane (inbound) improvements – construction completed.
  • Victoria street Bus Lane Extension – construction has commenced in March.
  • Wellesley Street Bus Pocket – construction to commence midApril.
  • Khyber Pass Road Bus Lane Extension – construction completed.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane (Richardson Road to Denbigh Ave) – 21 March construction completed – initial analysis shows that a number of peak services are saving 4 minutes on travel times compared to the previous year.
  • Park Road Bus Lane – hospital to Carlton Gore Road – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Parnell Road Bus Lane – St Stephens to Sarawia Street (outbound) – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road Transit Lanes – designs near completion; Local Board workshops to be progressed in April.
  • Great North Road Bus Lanes – New Lynn to Ash Street – final concept plans completed – due for consultation 20th April.
  • Totara Avenue Signal Removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange –– construction complete targeted for 20th April

Customer Experience – AT say that this is improving which I find interesting considering the number of issues we heard about in March

2015-04 - Customer Satisfaction

AT’s proposed 3 year cycling programme

A report to Auckland Transport’s board next week highlights their proposed cycle programme for the next three years which if built fully will see $207 million invested in cycling over that time. That includes funding from AT, the NZTA and the Governments Urban Cycling Fund (UCF) – for which AT and the NZTA have put a joint bid in for $82m in funding. It also includes cycle infrastructure included as part of other projects such as the AMETI. The proposed programme consists of:

  • A total investment of $179m on dedicated cycle projects
  • Approximately $20m of cycle facilities delivered through other projects
  • Over $8m on marketing, training and behaviour change programmes to facilitate growth in cycle journeys.

In total AT say it would add 53km of new cycle routes and increase annual cycle journeys increasing from 900,000 to 2.5 million per year. I’m not too sure how they work those numbers out but it is a significant increase. Since 2010 the handful of automatic cycle counters AT have installed have recorded a 23.8% increase in people riding bikes. AT also say their research shows that one in four people own a bike and 60% per cent of Aucklanders would cycle if separated cycle facilities were installed. Positively they also say this

Internationally the correlation between high levels of cycling and cycle infrastructure separated from volume and speed motor traffic is strong. The organisations own research shows that single greatest barrier to cycling in Auckland is that its roads are perceived as unsafe to cycle.

And of course safety is a big factor. In the 2014 financial year there were 2 deaths and 40 serious injuries and that equates to social costs of $36.5 million and that doesn’t count the costs of people who might cycle living having increased health problems from living more sedentary lives.

The programme isn’t without its risks though and the biggest ones are likely to be financial as it depends on more funding from the council. Other risks include deliverability – as it would require AT/NZTA to significantly ramp up processes to adapt to the increased funding, other major projects such as the CRL/LRT/new bus network and the need to remove parking from some streets.

It’s important for Auckland that AT get as much funding as they can out of the Urban Cycle Funding and they say this about it and their proposals.

The panel assessing UCF proposals has set out clear parameters for the funding. Submissions must deliver:

– Connected networks
– Cycle facilities on primary corridors
– An increase in utility cycling journeys: to workplaces, schools and shops
– Innovative, high quality infrastructure

The UCF will invest in the projects that are most likely to deliver the highest levels of modal shift and therefore justify further investment in cycling. In response, AT and the Transport Agency have proposed a programme focussed on the City Centre. The neighbourhoods within 5-7km of the City Centre currently record the highest modal share for cycling in Auckland, with approximately 4 per cent of people cycling to work. In addition they have the highest numbers of people that AT research identifies are most likely to cycle.

The bid proposes four packages to develop a network of cycle routes within and leading to the City Centre

  • City Centre Package: This package includes segregated cycle routes across the City Centre as well as minor interventions that will make the whole City Centre more permeable for people on bicycles.
  • Eastern Connections: This package focuses on delivering a high quality off-road route along the rail line from Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive, and connections to this route.
  • Western Connections: This package delivers new routes through the Western Bays as well as connections to the North-Western Cycleway.
  • Connections to Public Transport Hubs: This package will focus on the busiest public transport stations in Auckland and will deliver ‘end of trip’ facilities as well as on-road improvements to support cycle trips.

I’m sure many will be concerned about having such a central city focus however I do think that’s the right strategy. In my opinion we need to have a couple of areas where there is a decent amount of cycle infrastructure so that the general public can start to see that things can be better than just a few bits of paint on the road. Using the past approach of spreading any investment around the entire region means we could be waiting decades for there to be a strong enough network to see significant changes in bike use.

The map below highlights AT’s proposed cycleways. Despite the city centre focus there are still some notable gaps such as Ponsonby Rd, Franklin Rd and many others however if this is delivered within three years it would be a significant improvement on what we have now.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18

The tables below summarise the investment over the next year and the three year period.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Accelerated investment

Of that $179.4 million for dedicated cycleways it is broken down as per below.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Dedicated Cycleways Accelerated investment

The NZTA’s $58.7 million is made up of the following projects

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 NZTA Accelerated investment

While AT’s $111.2 million is made up of the projects in the table below which also provides an idea of timing for each of them.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 AT Projects 2

The other AT CAPEX which comes as part of other AT projects.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Other Projects Cycleways Accelerated investment

These projects will really help improve cycling in and around the city centre and as mentioned should help in showing Auckland in general what kind of cycling facilities are possible when we put our mind and some money towards it.

Less parking, more city

A neat little video from Mexico explaining simply connection between housing and transport – in particular the cost that minimum parking requirements have on the city. It comes from Mexico branch of the The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

H/T  

Western Line Padding Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote Auckland Transport padding out the Western Line timetable. Today the Herald picked up on the story. AT have sent me a response to the story which is in full below.

AT is committed to running reliable peak services and achieving this through the introduction of a world class all-electric fleet.

In order to address the recent decrease in reliability and performance, the decommissioning of the diesel fleet has been brought forward to July from a planned August / September date. This will remove one variable of on-time performance – aging diesel train breakdowns that have seen a spike in recent months.

As with any timetable change, the most recent being on 8 December with a +22% increase in services, tweaks are required following introduction. The 3 minute earlier departure times on the Western Line are needed to support the 8 December increased services while diesel and electric trains share the network, to ensure time slots at Newmarket junction and Britomart are met.

As part of the original electric train rollout plan and in accordance with that plan, run-times of the electric trains on the Western Line are being tested and optimised currently prior to introduction in July as part of the existing timetable. Continuous improvements in run times, signalling and track testing to optimise electric train run times are a priority and further run-time testing and optimisation will follow the bedding in of full electric train operations from July, leading to more timetable improvements later in 2015. This work involves looking at reducing dwell times and optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) safety feature on the electric trains.

AT is committed to providing the peak 10 minute frequency on the Western Line as early as possible and will be dependent on progress over coming months.

The historic run times relate to when run times were increased to accommodate the SA train sets. To place this in context, the improvements on the rail network since 2003:

Train Changes 2003-2015
I think it would be good for AT to actually specify exactly what the impediments are to faster and more frequent services and what steps they are taking i.e. how much do they need to reduce dwell times, what are the changes that need to occur for 10 minute frequencies etc.

As often happens when AT release data like above it manages to highlight a couple of other important points. In this case that a few things I noticed:

  • Patronage has increased well above the increase in the number of services per week. This is a good things and shows suggests we’re not only getting better services but also more utilisation out of them.
  • At 30 arrivals at Britomart over a two hour period it highlights just how much more capacity the CRL has the potential to contribute. Although first a quick count suggests the actual number of AM Peak (7am-9am) arrivals is 36 trains which would go to 40 if the western line moved to 10 minute frequencies. My understanding is the CRL allows for up to 48 trains an hour (24 trains per direction) so that’s up to 96 over a two hour window. In other words the CRL more than doubles the capacity of the rail network.
  • Back in early March AT said that on average weekdays in February there were 51,500 trips. For March that has increased to almost 60,000 per weekday