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Sunday reading 7 February 2016

Energy - Denmark

Copenhagen, Photo by Alex MacLean.

Here’s a great collection of aerial European landscapes by Alex MacLean, “Energy Landscapes: An Aerial View Of Europe’s Carbon Footprint“, Yale Environment 360.

The summer calendar is jam packed with city-friendly events that have been helpfully compiled by Bike Auckland. Summer of bike love – Go By Bike Day and other upcoming events. This week includes the following bike-related events:

Go By Bike (bike-to-work day) 8 February.

Bike Love-in @ Silo Markets 12 February.

Bike Rave, 14 February.

And on biking, here is an article from the Bike Lobby™ claiming that 70% of American mayors would like to see better provision for cycling on city streets. Caitlin Giddings, Most Mayors Agree—Add More Bike Lanes Instead of Parking, Bicycling.

In terms of infrastructure priorities, one in five mayors also listed “bicycle friendliness” as a top three area for new infrastructure spending. And when given the opportunity to spend a hypothetical unrestricted small grant on an infrastructure project, bike/pedestrian projects emerged as the top choice—ahead of parks, roads, and city buildings. (For a hypothetical unrestricted large grant, “roads” was the top choice—but, encouragingly, only after “mass transit.”)

While Portland Oregon has been a poster child for progressive, people-first city planning and design the mode share for cycling has been stuck at around 6% for several years now. The city is now taking the sensible step in requiring high quality, separated facilities on streets with more than 3,000 vehicle a day. Michael Andersen, Portland Is First U.S. City to Make Protection Default for All New Bike Lanes, StreetsBlog USA.

The key is to build our system well, to build it to be safe, and to strive for the highest quality bikeways possible.

There is a growing body of research and experience across the U.S., North America and the world demonstrating the effectiveness and desirability of protected bicycle lanes to encourage more bicycle transportation. It is also a key element of our Vision Zero strategy for people when riding bicycles. That is why I am asking our engineers, project managers and planners to make protected bicycle lanes the preferred design on roadways where separation is called for. I am asking for this design standard for retrofits of existing roadways as well as to new construction.

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Via Ian Lockwood

And from the the state that brought us the Katy Freeway here is one Texas politician now talking some sense. New Houston Mayor to Texas DOT: Wider Roads Mean More Traffic City Lab, Eric Jaffe.

Mayor Sylvester Turner told a told the Texas Transportation Commission that it was time for a “paradigm shift” away from the ineffective approach of widening highways:

This example, and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

Susanna Rustin, Car fumes are killing us. So why isn’t anyone telling us not to drive?, The Guardian.

In October it became illegal to smoke in a car with a child, while Dame Tessa Jowell, runner-up in the Labour mayoral selection contest, made a big thing of her plan to ban smoking in parks. Yet when there is a bad pollution episode no one tells people to stop driving, as the mayor of Paris did last year. Instead, people with asthma are warned not to go out. It’s as if, rather than banning smoking in public places in England in 2007, the government had advised people wishing to avoid lung cancer to stay away from pubs.

Good news and bad news from Australia. Australians aged 80+ are now more likely to drive than 18-24 year-olds! Roy Morgan.

Over the past eight years, the proportion of Australians aged 80+ who get behind the wheel has steadily increased—while 18-24 year-olds have become less inclined to drive. For the first time, in 2015 the oldies surpassed the youngsters as the more likely group to drive: 69% of 80+ (up from 59% in 2007) compared with 68% of 18-24 (down from 72%).

Removing centrelines make streets safer and slows vehicles. This is well understood and standard practice in the Netherlands. We covered this story a year ago.  If safety wasn’t motivation enough, think of how much money could be saved on the routine re-painting of centrelines across Auckland.

Linda Poon, Can Removing Centerlines Make Roads Safer? CityLab.

The agency is currently testing centerline removal on at least three roads with a speed limit of 30 mph, and the results so far show promise, according to the report. TFL found that drivers slowed down, on average, by five to nine miles per hour. Researchers also observed that speeds were particularly lower when drivers were passing oncoming traffic.

The removal of road markings is to be celebrated. We are safer without them. The Guardian.

Behind this demarking lies the concept of “shared space” and “naked streets”, developed in the 1990s by the late Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman. He held that traffic was safest when road users were “self-policing” and streets were cleared of controlling clutter. His innovations, now adopted in some 400 towns across Europe, have led to dramatic falls in accidents. Yet for some reason Monderman’s ideas remain starkly uninfluential in the world of “big” health and safety, especially in Britain.

Please share other links in the comments section.

Waterview Shared Path begins

Auckland Transport have today kicked off another large cycling project today – the Waterview Shared Path. This is a project that came about as a result of the advocacy of locals and groups like Bike Auckland during the consenting for the Waterview Connection project and the Board of Inquiry make its construction one of the requirements of the project – although not paid for as part of the motorway project.

Waterview Shared Path - Alford Bridge surface

The Alford St Bridge – Looking East

Construction is beginning on one of Auckland‘s biggest cycling and walking project’s which will improve connections for people travelling through the Auckland suburbs of Mount Albert and Waterview.

The first sod was turned today by the Hon. Paula Bennett representing the NZ Government on the 2.5km Waterview Shared Path in the grounds of Metro Football Club in Phyllis St Reserve.

It was attended by representatives from the organisations collaborating to fund and deliver the path as well as members of the local community.

The Waterview Shared Path is part of the Waterview Connection tunnel and interchange project and will join with other shared paths that are part of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Programme.

The 3.5 metre wide shared cycling and walking path follows Te Auaunga (Oakley Creek) between the Alan Wood Reserve in Mt Albert and Great North Rd in Waterview and will be a convenient way to access local parks, sports grounds, and the Unitec campus. Walkers and cyclists of all ages and abilities will easily be able to access the shared path as it includes low hill gradients to assist prams and elderly people to use it.

The scenic route travels through an area of Mahoe forest and includes three bridges. The bridge crossing Oakley Creek, connecting Great North Road and Unitec, will be 90 metres long, a similar length to Grafton Bridge in the city centre.

The Government through the NZ Transport Agency, together with Auckland Transport (AT) and Albert Eden Local Board have contributed funding for the project which will be built by the Well Connected Alliance (WCA), which is delivering the $1.4bn Waterview Connection project.

Waterview Shared Path - Alford Bridge creek

The Alford St Bridge – Looking South

Starting from the south, the path will begin at New North Rd where it connects with the shared path being build as part of the Waterview Connection project it will cross over to Soljak Pl via a new set of traffic lights that will be installed. It will then pass over the rail line on a new bridge before travelling through Harbutt and Phyllis reserves which will be connected via a 70m long boardwalk. It passes through part of the Unitec site including right through the middle of one of the carparks before getting to the 16m high and 90m long Alford St Bridge where it will connect with the shared path on Gt North Rd.

Waterview Shared Path - Route

And here’s what the bridge over the rail line will look like, it has screens to prevent things being thrown on to the rail line and wires.

Waterview Shared Path - Rail Bridge

Protesters create Pedestrian Paradise

Unless you’ve avoided either the city or the news for the last day you’ll know that yesterday thousands of people descended on the CBD to protest the signing of the TPP. This post isn’t about the TPP – there are plenty of other places for you to discuss it – but rather about the impact the protests had on the city which I think highlighted a number of key issues we frequently advocate for. I wasn’t there so these are based on observations from others and images on social media.

Protesters walking down Queen St are nothing new but what was very interesting this time is that a number of groups went and blocked major intersections all around the city. This included blocking roads such as Albert St, Fanshawe St, Hobson St, Nelson St and Wellesley St. Given that Hobson and Nelson in particular are one way, it leaves them completely empty downstream of where they were blocked off. This had the effect in instantly turning many roads within the city over to people.

From these and many other comments I saw it made many parts of the city that are often quite hostile to those on foot actually very pleasant, pedestrian paradises if you will. There is obviously a lot going on in the city right now with the CRL getting under way and a number of large commercial building projects on the go but at the same time plans like the City Centre Master Plan call for making the city centre more people friendly – among other things. For example, it lists this as one of its outcomes and targets

OUTCOME 7

A walkable and pedestrian-friendly city centre – well connected to its urban villages.

Target 1: More kilometres of pedestrian footpaths/walkways
Target 2: More kilometres of cycleways
Target 3: Reduction in pedestrian waiting times at intersections
Target 4: Reduction in use of left-turn slip lanes
Target 5: New mid-block pedestrian crossings

Over the last few years we’ve had numerous international guest speakers visit Auckland talking about how we can do many of these things, do them quickly and do them cheaply. This includes people such as Janette Sadik-Kahn and Mike Lydon and many others.

It all begs the question of whether we’re moving fast enough to reach the city’s goals. Now obviously there’s a need for cars to be in some parts of the city but we do need to get the balance right. What the protests showed us yesterday is that almost completely shutting many roads in the city didn’t cause the sky to suddenly fall in. Perhaps the lesson we can take from it all is for the council and Auckland Transport to be bolder about making changes, throw some cones or planter boxes out on the street and block off a lane or two. It would allow quick changes to be made in response to the impacts generated and would probably end up with a faster, cheaper and superior result to the current process of modelling every change to the nth degree first.

To me the protest also helped highlight just how valuable the CRL is going to be once complete. Protests might not be that regular an event but disruption caused by traffic certainly is. Trains using the CRL are able to completely bypass any issues on the surface. Of course this doesn’t guarantee that in a protest situation that those protesting don’t try to shut the rail network too. Further, as it stands right now, for many of projects to make the CBD more people friendly the CRL happens to be a key lynch pin. For example, key parts of the proposed Victoria St Linear Park can’t happen till the CRL is built as two of the entrances sit within that future linear park.

Aotea Station Design North

 

I also thought of this in the terms of the impact to light rail should we have protests in the future. Obviously a line down Queen St would have been blocked by the protesters so in a situation like yesterday. One advantage it has is that it’s relatively easy to turn them around needing only a crossover track rather than circling a block. Designing light rail to ensure this is a possibility will be important for Auckland.

Lastly a little bouquet to Auckland Transport. Not only were the TPP protests going on but NZ Bus drivers were having a union meeting disrupting or cancelling services. Given they only had one day’s notice about the bus drivers I thought they did well to get some services on some key routes covered by buses and drivers from other bus companies. In hindsight having both the TPP and bus drivers meeting on the same day might have been a good situation as the buses would have been equally held up by the protesters. At least it meant only one day of disruption.

Draft Domain Master Plan

The council have released a draft 20-year master plan for the Auckland Domain that if enacted would see some major and positive changes to how people access and use Auckland’s oldest and one of its largest parks. The purpose of the master plan is described as:

The purpose of the Auckland Domain Masterplan is to identify all the various projects and work streams impacting on Auckland Domain, and to create a coordinating plan that consolidates its position as Auckland’s premier park. The masterplan is a twenty year aspiration for how the park can develop and help to achieve the Auckland Plan’s vision to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city.

The implementation of the Auckland Domain Masterplan will help to realise the particular Auckland Plan outcomes of:

  • A fair, safe and healthy Auckland
  • A green Auckland
  • A well connected and accessible Auckland
  • A beautiful Auckland that is loved by its people
  • A Maori identity that is Auckland’s point of difference.

There are seven key principles behind the master plan and for each the draft plan lists observations and key proposals.

  1. Enhancing the Domain for peaceful respite.
  2. Enhancing the role of the Domain as an important cultural and heritage site.
  3. Creating safe, people friendly places and routes with high amenity.
  4. Improving connectivity to the Domain and to the key features within it.
  5. Improving the Domain as a recreation and event destination.
  6. Enhancing and maintaining the amenities and facilities within the Domain.
  7. Creating an environmentally sustainable park that is an exemplar on the world stage.

Of those number 3 and 4 are ones that will have some significant implications, especially on transport. The observation for number 3 says:

Since the introduction of motor vehicles to New Zealand, Auckland Domain has catered for their use, enabling vehicle access to the doorstep of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and throughout the park. This philosophy of a carfriendly park has carried on unchallenged for almost a century and even the Auckland Domain Management Plan 1993 is permissive of continuing their dominance of the park. The car and tour bus domination of Auckland Domain detracts from the safety and amenity of pedestrian and cyclist experiences.

Further, it prevents the full potential for creating high quality pedestrian environments in key areas of the park, such as those adjacent to the Museum. Cars and buses also detract from significant and important views from within the Domain, such as those to the Museum.

As part of the plan the council are proposing to close some of the roads within the park, upgrading and turning them over to people and bikes. This includes all of the roads currently circling the museum and the surface carpark at the southern entrance. Where vehicle access is retained it’s also suggested reduce the dominance of it by narrowing roads and reducing the numbers of carparks. The image below shows where they plan to improve walking and cycling options with the lines in red roads that will be closed. As you can see there are a lot of interesting projects on the list.

Draft Domain Plan - Walk cycle improvements

The map below shows more explicitly the areas that vehicles will have access to if this plan is approved.

Draft Domain Plan - Vehicle Access

Here are a few impressions of what the changes could mean.

The surface level carpark at the Museum could become a people space – although it looks like it needs some more activation to ensure it isn’t just an expanse of unused paving.

Draft Domain Plan - Museum Carpark

The Crescent would be narrowed and a shared path added.

Draft Domain Plan - Cresent western end

The Grandstand Road would also become a shared path.

Draft Domain Plan - Grandstand Road

Through parks shared paths probably aren’t too bad but it does seem odd that they’re suggested to be so narrow at only around 3m in width and slightly less on the Grandstand Road one. Given how popular the Domain is, they would be used by a lot of people on foot and on bike. At the very least wider paths are needed.

Here is a list of some of the other amenity improvements that are included in the plan.

Draft Domain Plan - Amenity improvement

Overall there looks to be some good ideas in the draft plan that will make the park even better. Submissions are on it are open till the end of the month and there is an open day on Saturday February 13 at the cricket pavilion from 11am to 2pm.

Houston and the fallacy of “roads first” transport policy

Over the last 50 or 60 years, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and a number of other countries have pursued a “roads first” approach to transport policy. There have been significant public investments in (generally un-tolled) roads, and relatively few investments in competing transport modes.

It’s hard to justify this approach based on preexisting travel patterns. Take Auckland as an example. According to Paul Mees [Transport for Suburbia, p. 21], in 1954 Auckland’s public transport network “accounted for 58 per cent of trips by motorized modes, private transport only 42 per cent. When walking and cycling, which were not surveyed, are taken into account, it is likely that fewer than a third of daily trips were by car.”

However, from this date onward roads – not public transport, and certainly not walking or cycling – have dominated transport spending. Spending on a new system of motorways and arterial roads was considerably higher than spending on other modes that carried more journeys. In other words, public spending to enable car travel did not respond to existing demand – it was intended to shape future demand. (And in doing so, change the shape of the city.)

Another potential justification for disproportionate spending on roads is that it’s just what people wanted. Cars were invented and then cheaply mass produced, people wanted to use them to travel everywhere, so transport agencies had to build more roads.

There is some truth to this. Cars are very convenient for many journeys. But it can also be convenient and cost-effective not to own a car. PT tends to be cheaper than driving to places where you have to pay for parking, and cycling is often quicker than driving, and more enjoyable if there are enough safe bike lanes.

But this argument also ignores other policy factors that shape transport demands. In particular, planning regulations enacted and progressively tightened throughout the 20th century have tended to:

  • Make it more difficult for people to live near where they work, by zoning different areas exclusively for different uses
  • Discourage people from living at medium or high density by limiting building heights and setting minimum lot sizes for dwellings
  • Subsidise the ownership and use of cars by requiring all new buildings to have a significant amount of on-site parking.

But what, then, should we make of Houston, which lacks a zoning code but nonetheless has ended up with lots of driving, low public transport ridership, and a low-density urban footprint? Is Houston evidence that in the absence of planning regulations that distort people’s location choices, people will choose to live at a distance and drive to get around?

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Houston from space. This image is 100km across. Source: NASA Earth Observatory

In a word: no.

It turns out that Houston is not actually as unregulated as people make it out to be. While the city lacks a comprehensive zoning code that rigorously separates different uses, several other planning regulations (and similar measures) have distorted its urban form and transport choices. A 2005 article by law professor Michael Lewyn identifies four important ways in which planning has influenced transport outcomes in Houston:

  1. Houston enforces a byzantine and quite restrictive set of minimum parking requirements (MPRs). As I discussed last year, these include a parking requirement for bars that defies all concepts of prudent regulation. These requirements make parking cheap, and walking to the shops hard.
  2. While Houston doesn’t formally limit building height, it does establish a minimum lot size of 5000 sq ft (or around 460m2) throughout most of the city. This discourages PT, walking and cycling by increasing the distance between dwellings and discouraging space-efficient typologies like terraced houses and small apartment buildings.
  3. Houston requires streets to be wide, blocks to be long, and buildings to be set back a considerable distance from arterial roads. All of these policies make it dangerous and unpleasant to walk there.
  4. Lastly, new developments in Houston make extensive use of private covenants that restrict uses and building designs. These agreements often simulate zoning, with the result that Houston has similar levels of racial, income, and housing segregation to (zoned) Dallas. Houston has chosen to imbue private covenants with the force of public authority – the city will pay to enforce them even if the people subject to the covenant would rather not.

As a result of these policies, Houstonians cannot make free choices about where to live, where to work, and how to get around. Their decisions are strongly influenced by a suite of planning regulations that, as in many other cities, conspires against density and against non-car travel. Houston’s heavy use of the car is not a natural outcome, but one that has been engineered by policy.

Seen from this perspective, “roads first” transport policies seem less like an exercise in meeting demands, and more of a component of a large social engineering programme.

The results are not necessarily stellar. While the city is known for low house prices, Todd Litman points out that Houston is relatively unaffordable for its residents, compared with other large US cities, once transport expenditures are factored in:

Litman US city housing and transport costs chart

Furthermore, Houston’s commuters experience more hours of delay in traffic than most other US cities. New York, on the other hand, looks pretty good. Although it is large and congested, many commuters choose to opt out and take the subway instead. In Houston, they lack that choice:

Litman US delay hours per commuter chart

What do you think would happen if we tried to facilitate choice instead?

South Auckland Bus Tender gets interesting

There have been a few bits of bus news recently

The first and most interesting is last week NZ Bus announced that that they hadn’t been short-listed for any of the routes as part of the new South Auckland bus network due to roll out in October.

NZ Bus advises that it has been informed by Auckland Transport that it has not been selected as a preferred tenderer for any of its South Auckland public transport services which were tendered for in late 2015. The NZ Bus services currently comprise 153 vehicles out of the total NZ Bus fleet of 1,070 buses.

NZ Bus Chief Executive Zane Fulljames said “Not being selected as a preferred tenderer in one of our incumbent locations is a disappointing outcome, particularly for our staff who work hard every day to deliver a high quality service and are part of the South Auckland community. However, as an incumbent we understand clearly the costs of operating in the South Auckland market and submitted a strong, high quality tender to reflect this.”

The tender outcome will have implications for NZ Bus staff operating in South Auckland. There is a 9 month transition period to the implementation of the new South Auckland contracts, and NZ Bus will be taking this time to work through options for minimising the impact on staff.

Mr Fulljames said it is important to keep this outcome in perspective. “While a number of contracts are being tendered across Auckland, other contracts are being renewed with incumbent bus operators through a direct negotiation process. NZ Bus has rights to negotiate a number of these contracts, representing in scale around 50 percent of its existing business in Auckland.”

A map of the south Auckland routes being tendered is below. They are split up into eight groups – called units – that were tendered for.

New Network - South Auckland

That NZ Bus didn’t make it to being one of the preferred tenderers from any of the eight is fascinating given they are the incumbent for the area. I’m told that AT are still negotiating with operators so there has been no decision yet on just who will run services so all we know for sure is that it isn’t NZ Bus.

There are a few thoughts I had upon hearing the news.

  • I think this is good news as it suggests there’s competition for services occurring and likely suggests we’ll be getting better value for tax/ratepayers out of the new PTOM contracts. This is some ways is expected because as I understand it, AT have been rolling over existing contracts for some time meaning bus companies are likely amortising their costs over a short time frame. As the PTOM contracts are longer term it will allow fixed costs to be spread out more easily.
  • It likely signals that companies will have to be more competitive for future tenders, NZ Bus have stated in the past that they want to about retain their overall market share so they’ll have to up their game to do so. Again this is good as it likely means we’ll get better value for money meaning either costs reduce or we can get more service for what we pay.
  • NZ Bus seemed to use their most clapped out buses for use in South Auckland. A new operator should mean newer buses – especially as we know AT had some fairly detailed requirements for bus quality under the new network. This will be good for people using buses in South Auckland.
  • It was interesting timing for NZ Bus to come out and say now that they hadn’t won the tender. I suspect part of that might be related to being owned by a publicly traded company while also them wanting to be able to tell their staff before they hear the news through other channels.

Stuff reports the Union claiming that Ritchies and Hamilton based Go Bus have won and that Howick & Eastern have also lost some routes but we’ll have to wait to see if that is actually the case.

The other piece of news is that Ritchies are now rolling out an additional 15 new Double Deckers to the Northern Express, adding around 15% more capacity – they may even be on the road already and join the 3 existing double deckers in service.

NEX Double Deckers

Other bus companies are getting in on the double decker act too. By the end of the year NZ Bus will have 23 of them and Howick & Eastern 15 of them.

 

Update: Auckland Transport have advised that due to a union meeting, there will be no NZ Bus services operating between 9 and 2:30 – although disruption will linger for longer than that (based on the last one there were still delays in the afternoon peak)

Transport technologies!?! Part 2

This previous post considered wider socio-economic factors which might shape the development/deployment of transport technologies, namely 1) denser cities, 2) policy settings, and 3) demographics. In this post I now discuss some more specific issues that are relevant to transport technologies, specifically:

  1. Economies of density
  2. Costs: Fixed versus variable
  3. Complements versus substitutes
  4. Conclusions: The Spruce Moose?

The takeaway message from this post is that the future is complex and uncertain. D’uh … read on for enlightenment!

1. Economies of density

The Prime Minister’s recent speech, in which he announced funding for the City Rail Link and the East-West Link, is an example of how policy settings can respond to wider socio-economic factors, such as population growth. Auckland’s rapid growth means that public investment in underground passenger rail stacks up more now than it perhaps has done in the past. As a result changed, Auckland’s transport network is set to change in a rather profound way.

Why has Auckland’s growth helped make the case for the CRL? Well, passenger rail has relatively high fixed costs. This in turn means that passenger rail experiences so-called economies of scale (or more accurately density). The phrase “economies of density” is used to describe situations where marginal costs are below average costs. This means that average costs fall as demand increases. Fixed costs like rolling stock and train stations all contribute economies of density in passenger rail.

 

Last week saw another example of “economies of density” in the context of New Zealand’s transport system, although this time the investment originates with the private sector. Emirates announced that – from this March – they will begin direct flights between Auckland and Dubai (NB: Apparently Qatar Airways is considering similar moves). Direct flights to Dubai will shave approximately 3 hours off travel-times between New Zealand and a number of destinations in the Middle East and Africa.

 

Economies of density lead to virtuous/vicious cycles: Higher demand begets lower costs, which begets higher demand etc (and vice versa). That’s why they are sometimes called “positive feedback loops”. Domestic air travel in New Zealand provides a nice example of virtuous cycles at work. Here, a combination of falling fuel costs, higher visitor numberslarger and more efficient planes, and competition has seen airfares fall (NB: I’m waiting on updated inflation data before making a more definitive statement). Many transport technologies, especially those where passengers share vehicles and/or facilities, tend to experience economies of density.

Private vehicles also experience economies of density to some degree. High levels of car ownership, for example, makes it easier to find a petrol station when you need one. The key difference between private vehicles and other transport technologies, however, is the degree to which road networks experience congestion. Beyond critical levels of demand, traffic congestion increases rapidly, i.e. congestion is a convex (upwards sloping) function. Congestion externalities are an example of dis-economies of density, and it’s one that is apparent in most cities of Auckland’s size and larger.

Congestion externalities are also an issue that things like driverless and/or electric vehicles do not resolve. Road pricing does solve congestion, although this is achieved by suppressing demand. So when people argue that electric and/or driverless cars will reduce demand for PT I’m somewhat sceptical, because these technologies don’t seem to change the fundamental dis-economies of scale that afflict urban road networks.

And when one thinks of the growth that Auckland will experience over the next 20 years, then economies of density are actually rather important. Perhaps more important than new technologies themselves …

2. Costs: Fixed versus variable costs

Our previous discussion noted that economies of density/scale arise in the presence of fixed costs. In this section I want to distinguish more carefully between fixed and variable costs. One useful way to think about transport costs is using a matrix which has “fixed/variable” versus “private/public” dimensions (NB: The latter is not relevant to this discussion, but can be for discussions of transport pricing more generally).

Cost table

 

Of course, such distinctions involve some arbitrary judgements. Parking for example, is both a private and a public cost. I’ve categorised it as “public” simply because a proportion of parking costs are subsidised by society. Despite the need for such judgements, I think this type of cost matrix is quite useful for classifying costs and subsequently analysing how changes in transport technologies (or policy settings for that matter) might impact on demand.

Using this framework (and a bunch of heroic assumptions) I have constructed the following graph to illustrate how the costs of cars compares to taxis and public transport, and how costs vary with distance measured in kilometres travelled per annum. PT fares are capped at the price of 12 monthly passes at $220 per month).

C1 Total private costs (c)

 

Here we see that cars become cheaper than taxis for people who are travelling more than 2,500 kilometres per year. Of course, the orange line is just one possible instance of the cost curve for cars. Depending on their preferences and circumstances, some people may opt to buy a cheaper car with higher operating costs, which would reduce the intercept but bump up the slope of the orange line. Nevertheless, the general point remains: For people who travel a lot, owning your own car makes more sense than using taxis.

Now consider a future scenario where electric driverless vehicles (“robot cars” for short) are available. How might they impact on these cost curves? Well, let’s assume robot cars cost 50% more than conventional cars; are 50% cheaper to park; and cost 25% less per kilometre to operate/maintain than conventional cars. When robot cars are used for taxis, they remove the need for a driver and increase higher utilisation. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the cost of using taxis drops by 50% with the advent of robot cars.

Under these assumptions, the cost curves presented above can be re-calculated as follows.

C2 Total private costs (future)

 

In this scenario taxis suddenly become cheaper than private cars for people who travel less than 10,000 kilometres per annum. By way of comparison, that’s slightly more than the average New Zealander travels per year. By pushing up fixed costs but reducing variable costs, robot cars seem to dramatically increase the scope for cheap taxi services to meet the demand for car travel for a wider range of households.

So consider this “what if” scenario: What if the primary impact of robot cars was to reduce the cost of taxis? In such a scenario would we need more or less PT? This leads me nicely onto the next topic …

3. Complements versus substitutes: A or B versus A & B?

When a new transport technology hits the market, one of the key questions we should seek to answer is whether it will complement or substitute existing technologies. The answer is not always obvious, but it is always important.

To provide an example, consider whether taxis increase or decrease demand for public transport. Many people think taxi’s compete with public transport, i.e. the two are substitutes. Rodney Hide, for example, had this to say on the matter (source; emphasis added):

[Uber is] … a whole new way of doing business. It disempowers bureaucrats and puts customers and drivers in charge. I love it. The public transport of the future won’t be clapped-out trains but driverless cars and Uber. It may happen much quicker than we now can possibly imagine. We won’t own a car. A driverless car is always just a minute away, ready to whisk us to our destination.

According to U.S. researchers, however, taxis are complements for public transport. This article provides a nice synopsis of relevant issues, while more detailed analysis is available here. The last report identifies “primary factors” for taxi demands, including 1) the number of workers commuting by subway and 2) the number of households that don’t own vehicles. Of course, places like New York have some attributes which are – for better or worse – not relevant to the New Zealand context …

 

Given that Auckland doesn’t have the density or subway system which exists in NYC, could Rodney be correct with his crystal ball-gazing? The answer, I think, is both “yes and no”. More specifically, taxis will compete with public transport in some places, while complementing it in others.

I think this article puts the distinction rather nicely when it says:

It is likely that these [taxi] services will just exacerbate the differences that already exist in the quality of public transit in different areas.  The localities that invested and ran their systems well won’t be as impacted.  In the areas where frustration is higher, the problems will surely become worse when revenues and ridership decline.  And the biases and history that impact why certain systems are the way they are will become more apparent.

The complements versus substitutes issue is relevant to many debates about new transport technologies. Some people seem convinced not only that driverless cars are imminent, but that they will drag people away from PT. I’m personally not so sure.

Conclusions:  “The Spruce Moose”?

One of my favourite Simpsons episodes starts with Mr Burns opening a casino. At the end of the episode, when the whole sordid venture is crashing down, an increasingly erratic Mr Burns pulls a gun on his ol’ mate Smithers and orders him to get into the model bi-plane affectionately known as the “Spruce Moose”.

maxresdefault

 

While hilarious, the behaviour of Mr Burns is not something we should emulate when it comes to transport policy. History is littered with unfortunate examples of politicians picking winners well in advance of demand. Indeed, such attitudes gave us 50 years of motorway building in Auckland, replete with well-documented examples of optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation. My point? Let’s not hold a proverbial gun to our own heads and over-commit to any particular kind of transport technology. Instead, let’s embrace the transport technologies we have, and be passionate about using them more efficiently, while keeping tabs on new transport technologies as they evolve.

There is no doubt that we live in exciting times: New Zealand is growing and seems to be experiencing economies of density, at least in the transport sector. Costs of air travel are falling, while other technologies, such as passenger rail, are more viable than they have perhaps been in the past. Robot cars and trucks seem likely to emerge onto the scene at some point, helping our car fleet to become smaller, quieter, cleaner, and generally more efficient than it is currently.

Meanwhile, rapid developments in telecommunications (which I intend to discuss in a later post) are changing the way that goods and services are delivered. This change is occurring at astounding speeds and in amazing ways. In a few years Uber has grown to become one of the world’s most valuable transport companies. In Europe, a start-up called “Blah blah car” has raised hundreds of millions in venture capital to expand its business, one which is already moving millions of people around the continent at very affordable prices. I can book any one of 5 trips from Amsterdam to Brussels tomorrow for about 10 Euro.

In such a dynamic and rapidly changing environment it’s hard to know what to do. And that’s kind of the point: There’s a risk that we over-adjust to new technologies, just like the motorway builders did in Auckland 50 years ago. What I would do, however, is ask some hard questions “around the edges” of what we are currently doing. And perhaps consider delaying some projects slightly in light of the uncertainty.

Indeed, when it comes to the CRL, my main criticism of the National Government’s requirements for accelerating funding was that similar conditions were not also attached to other large transport projects. Appropriately specified triggers would seem to be useful adjunct to existing benefit-cost analysis and provide a more precise understanding of when work on a particular project should go ahead (NB: Of course there are other factors to consider, such as interest rates).

In an upcoming post I will talk more about emerging technologies for non-car transport modes; that stuff is so exciting it deserves its own post.

Auckland Anniversary PT Fail

I’ve had two pieces of feedback following PT for Auckland Anniversery events on over weekend. The first is from reader Jeff

My friend started out with “Meet me at mine, Mt Eden, it should be a $15 Uber from here”

To which I said “I was thinking of Biking to the Train station, leaving the bikes there then catching the train in, It feels silly to not use PT into the CBD”

And such was my argument to my friend Matt who kindly cycled to my place from Mt Eden, to catch the train into Britomart for Laneway Festival at 2pm on a Monday.

And it was a good experience, a short ride downhill followed by a “Feels longer than it should” train trip into the city. In no time at all we were in the usual gridlock of Te Whero Bridge. (of course Matt would have been here half an hour ago if he took an Uber)

Laneway PT experience

After the festival, come 10pm, we were done, ready to board a train at Britomart, destined for Onehunga to start the cycle home. Upon entering Britomart, it was desolate. The train signs on the board read Penrose, Newmarket & Waitakere. No Onehunga, and the last train on the board was a half hour away.

We were tired, grumpy, and had work the next day. as two slightly out of our comfort zone 30 year olds, professional jobs beckoned in the morning and enough was enough – Cue Uber. Surge pricing, equally long waits – One wonders if this could have been mitigated if trains were operating at a festival appropriate frequency.

We found a cab, and I uttered the most absurd phrase I have ever uttered. “can you take us from here to Onehunga Train station please?”

Laneway PT experience 2

Sometime later we were back in Onehunga, we grabbed the bikes, and commenced the ride uphill to our respective homes. (along the new & lovely Onehunga Mall cycle lanes)

There is no way I’ll ever talk my friend into trusting the trains again.

My questions to AT are;

  • Was there a PT plan for this festival?
  • Do you have a planning team responsible for PT during events?
  • Was there a train coming? if not, why wasn’t it on the board? There was no way to check, and ‘waiting to see’ was unacceptable.
  • Is this the experience a casual train user should be confronted with?
  • How can you expect to compete with Uber or generic Taxis on trust, when they often provide a better ‘turn up and go’ service?

I realise this is an anecdotal experience, but if this was my experience, what of the other 10,000+ Laneway, or other Auckland wide event attendees?

And the second is from reader who had a number of observations from Sunday

  • Standard anniversary weekend public transport troubles occurring again, with hopeless Sunday timetables failing to cope with CBD crowds.
  • Saw NEX at 4.30pm leave 10 plus people behind, and Mt Eden bus at same time was jammed.

Missing the bus - Luke

  • Were huge numbers of people in town for fireworks last night, though most had choice of one or 2 services to get home.
  • Same likely tonight with Laneway finishing at 10.30pm, and all trains gone, and only handful of buses.
  • Plus despite official AC programme saying all trains running, there was nothing past Penrose or Sylvia Park.
  • People have learnt to use event PT now, so expect it at major events.
  • ATEED and AT need to get their act together, as leaving new users stranded is a very bad look, and puts people off.
  • Saga will repeat itself again for Lantern festival in a few weeks time.
  • Another good fix would be upping Sunday timetables to meet Saturday frequencies, many 20 or 30 rather than 15 minute frequency

Getting these experience wrong has long term impacts on how people perceive PT. It’s well beyond time that that AT should have learnt this by now, as Luke pointed out, people have learnt to use PT for events now so it’s up to the authorities to respond to that and provide it to an acceptable standard.ev

Annual PT Fare Changes for 2016

Auckland Transport are making a few changes to public transport fares on 28 February and some of them are bound to result in howls of outrage. The changes are part of ATs annual fare review and they have said they are being influenced by a couple of key factors:

  • The need to achieve the NZTAs farebox recovery policy of 50% of costs covered by fares by June 2018
  • Changes to operating costs
  • Changes in preparation for ATs Simplified Fares which they say are currently on track to roll out at the end of July

I’ll cover off these aspects before going into the fare changes.

Achieving the Farebox Recovery Policy

As I talked about on Friday, the NZTA require that 50% of all PT costs across NZ are met by the revenue from fares paid by PT users. As Auckland accounts for over 50% of all PT across the country it means the city is critical to the country meeting that target. Of course this doesn’t mean that the target is rational or provides the best economic and social outcome but it currently exists so AT has to work within that. The good news is we’re on the right track. Farebox Recovery has increased to 47.8% from 45.9% the year before.

2015-12 - Farebox Recovery Ratio

Changes to operating costs

The way that contracting currently works for most services is that the operator gets the fare revenue and AT pay the net cost of providing the service. The amount that AT pay is adjusted based on a cost index determined by the NZTA which takes into account changes to aspects such as labour costs, fuel costs, RUC costs etc. There are two indices, one for bus/train and one for Ferries. AT say these are up 0.5 for bus/train and 0.1 for ferry in the September Quarter and the fare changes are to respond to that.

Out of interest the NZTA’s info on the indices say that fuel prices only make up about 15% of the operational costs for buses and just over 30% of the costs for ferries. But those indices also suggest that while prices are up in the September Quarter they are still down on a year on year basis. In other words, as of the September Quarter – which would have been used by AT for their fare review – AT were paying less for services than they were the same time the year before. On a YoY basis they are -0.4% for bus and -3.7% for ferry.

PT Cost Indicies to Sep-15

Changes for ATs Simplified Fares (aka integrated fares)

There are two main and significant changes being made by AT to better align fares in the lead up to AT rolling out Simplified fares at the end of July. They are also the ones that will likely get the most reaction – especially from the media. The changes were suggested as part of the consultation for simplified fares but that won’t make the changes any easier for those affected. Essentially it seems like they’re getting the bad news parts of the Simplified Fares out of the way now so that when they do roll out in July the positive aspects don’t get overshadowed.

The first change is that Orakei Train Station to Britomart will go from 1 stage to 2 stages. The reasons suggested are:

  • As part of Simplified Fares there will be a City Zone which is based on roughly the same area as covered by the current 1 stage fare zone and which is effectively a circle the same distance from the centre of the city. Orakei is an anomaly sitting well outside of that. In addition, buses from Orakei pay a 2 stage fare so there needs to be consistency. Changing the area to 1 stage would be unfair on others who are travelling a similar distance.

Simplifed Fares Isthmus - Mt Eden&Orakei

  • The park & ride is often full as a result of people driving from around the region to pay for the 1 stage fare. They are hoping that changing it to 2 stages eases pressure on the station and that passengers will instead go to closer stations to catch the train.
  • Hobson Bay is a logical boundary for a fare stage/zone boundary.
  • As the station data AT provided suggested, the number of people affected isn’t that high overall. There are ~300,000 trips a year to or from Orakei which is around 2% of all rail patronage across the region.

 

The second change also affects the city zone and will see the removal of the current CBD zone which was a separate price for those catching a bus purely within the CBD (and a little bit around the southern end of Symonds St as shown below with the lighter area. Again it’s so that there will be a single City Zone. Until the Simplified Fares roll out it means trips within the CBD will be a 1 stage fare however importantly this doesn’t affect the CityLink buses which will remain at $0.50 if you use HOP.

CBD Fare Zone

Fare Changes

There is one other aspect is at play in the fare changes, AT say that compared to many other cities our short fares are often a bit cheaper while our longer distance fares are a bit higher. AT have decided to use these fare changes to try and balance that out slightly and so the fare changes are primarily for shorter trips.

Adult fares are below and there are no changes to child, accessible and tertiary fares with the exception of the child monthly train pass (which still uses the old cardboard tickets). As you can see stages 1 to 4 increase by $0.10 if you use HOP while other fares remain unchanged

Adult Fares from 28 Feb 2016

There is a change to the Adult Monthly passes too with the 2-zone monthly pass (the one I use) going from $190 to $200. There are a few changes to child monthly train passes too as well as family passes – on those AT say they are still working out just what the future will be for family passes and hopefully will finalise that soon.

Ferries don’t escape the changes.  They are splitting ferries into three zones which they say simplifies things and allows for better integration with the future integrated fares pricing structure – although they’re not quite ready to say how that integrates the approach they indicated to me sounded pretty reasonable. They’re working to align ferry fares within those zones over time and the new Adult HOP prices for them are below.

  • Inner Harbour (Birkenhead to Devonport) – $4.50 – these prices are now aligned.
  • Mid Harbour (Half Moon Bay, Hobsonville/Beach Haven, West Harbour) – $7.04 – $8
  • Outer Harbour (Gulf Harbour, Pine Harbour, Waiheke etc.) – $11-$11.20

AT want more ferry customers using HOP and as such they’re making some changes including removing some pass options and increasing the price of some too.

Simplified Fares

Lastly as a quick update to Simplified Fares. As mentioned it is due to roll out in July this year and AT say the project remains on track and they are currently testing some of the new functionality. They have confirmed the zones that will exist but are still reviewing four of the zone boundaries based on feedback from the consultation. These are:

  • Upper North Shore/Lower North Shore – There are a few school trips affected by the boundary on the map below.
  • Huapai/Waitakere – how it integrates with the new Westgate/Massey North development
  • Waitakere/Isthmus – again some school trips and short trips are affected but the boundary on the map below.
  • Manukau North/Manukau South – impacts on trips around Manukau

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

So what do you think of the changes and how much will they impact you.

A brief CRL history in cartoons

It’s taken some time but last week the government finally came around to starting the City Rail Link in 2018. In the end they were effectively forced into the position as they could no longer ignore the rapidly increasing ridership . Hayden Donnell from The Spinoff put together a great list of statements mainly from the government’s past transport ministers which really highlight how much they’ve opposed the project in recent years. Rather than duplicating the work I thought I’d look at the recent history of the project through some of the cartoons that have been published.

17 March 2009 – NZ Herald – Not strictly about the CRL but commenting Joyce’s plan for rail in Auckland – at the time he had put the plans to electrify the rail network on hold.

Joyce on Auckland Rail

28 November 2010 – NZ Herald – Len Brown as the newly elected mayor of an amalgamated Auckland released the business case into CRL. The government and especially Transport Minister Steven Joyce were quick to pour cold water on the idea.

2010-11-28 - Buffers

1 December 2010 – NZ Herald – The former Auckland Regional Council chaired by now councillor Mike Lee had been the main supporter of the CRL for main years resulting in the business case getting under way in the first place. This carries on from the one above as Steven Joyce was the face of the opposition to the project.

I have a vision of a tunnel - 01.12.10

9 June 2011 – The Press – After one of the Independent Māori Statutory Board members suggested there was a Taniwha in the way of the CRL.

CRL Taniwha

5 July 2012 – NZ Herald – at times it seemed as if the government would never agree to the CRL

2012-07-05 - When Time Flies

18 December 2012 – NZ Herald – As part of the critique into the original business case the Ministry of Transport suggested that one of the ways the council could improve it was the “Development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternatives“. This led directly to the City Centre Future Access study which looked at almost 50 options for improving access to the city and was worked on by officials from local and central government. It found that the CRL was the best option yet despite central government involvement in the work Transport Minister Jerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss it.

Controlling the Loop - 18.12.12

9 March 2013 – NZ Herald – In response to the Auckland’s desire for more investment in public transport Transport Minister Brownlee would continue to talk up the government’s investment in roads.

More Roads

27 June 2013 – NZ Herald – The Prime Minster John Key surprised everyone by suddenly supporting the CRL – although not starting it till 2020. This was in stark contrast to the position Brownlee and his predecessor Steven Joyce had been taking not long before this. It is believed there were a couple of key reasons for the change in stance. One was polling showing Auckland voters were unhappy that the government appeared to be constantly fighting the council and wanting progress. The second was that the business lobby groups in Auckland were also unhappy with the lack of action and had made that clear to the government.

Love for a Rail Loop - 2013-06-27

28 April 2014 – NZ Herald – the day the first electric trains started running.

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

27 January 2016 – NZ Herald – John Key announces that the government now support the CRL starting in 2018 – even though it appears at this stage that their share of the funding still won’t kick in till 2020

last one on board cartoon

30 January 2016 – NZ Herald – The CRL is suggested to be a white elephant in a weekly wrap-up cartoon.2016-01-30 - CRL White Elephant

Bonus cartoons

28 May 2007 – It was around this time that the former Labour government signed off on electrifying the Auckland rail network so I assume it was in relation to that.

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

2 November 1954 – NZ Herald – lampoons the scuttling by the National government of a previous plan to build an underground rail link through Auckland. The bound and gagged figure depicts Auckland Mayor J.H. Luxford

Herald-Cartoon4