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Does intensification increase traffic congestion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing density in large NZ cities chart

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

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

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

MoT Congestion Index chart

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

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

What do you make of this data?

City Centre Priority Cycle Routes

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

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

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

CBD Cycling priority routes

Working through them

North-South Cycle route (Nelson St)

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

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

Nelson St cycleway

Beaumont St/Westhaven Dr Cycleway

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

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

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

Quay St Cycleway

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

Quay St Cycleway

East West Route

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

Wellesley St corridor Cycling

K Rd Cycleway

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

K Rd Cycleway

Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway

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

Ian McKinnon Cycleway

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

AT Metro Launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Double Decker Northern Express

Double Decker

As a comparison this is what it looked like previously.

NEX Double Decker 7

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

Single Deck NEX

The Link Buses

Inner Link

Outer Link

City Link

Station Boarding Stats for 2013/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

Station Patronage 2013-14

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

Trips from Sturges Rd 2013-14

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

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

West Line towards City 2013-14

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

South Lines towards City 2013-14 - 2

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

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

Arguing for sprawl with “strategic misrepresentations”

A number of recent posts have taken a look at some of the “strategic misrepresentations” that people have used to argue for a sprawled-out, roads-focused Auckland. We’ve taken aim at some of the common fallacies, including:

A while back someone sent me an article by geographer Phil McDermott that really hits the trifecta of fallacies. He argues that building apartment buildings on arterial roads – precisely where they will have the best access to frequent public transport services on Auckland’s New Network – is a bad idea because it will lead to increased congestion on the roads.

McDermott’s argument is long on subjective judgments (young people may want apartments but old people downsizing from big suburban homes never will!) and short on quantitative analysis. Here’s his key piece of evidence that constructing apartments on arterial roads will inevitably lead to more congestion:

Congestion – the elephant in the apartment

That might be just as well because mindlessly boosting residential development on arterial roads promises simply to compound Auckland’s congestion problems.

We know higher densities are associated with higher congestion. Auckland’s geography means it already performs poorly on this count. The Tom Tom Congestion Index confirms this.

When the 2013 congestion index for 65 American and Australasian cities is plotted against population density (sourced from the Demographia website) Auckland sits among the worst performers – Vancouver, Sydney, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Population Density and Congestion

McDermott density and congestion

This is not a serious piece of analysis – it is an insult to econometricians. McDermott makes three elementary errors in this short excerpt alone.

First, he uses bad data that misrepresents levels of density and congestion in these cities. Matt has previously taken a look into the guts of the TomTom Traffic Index and found that it is not a useful measure:

It measures the difference in speed between free flow and congested periods. That means cities with lots of all day congestion there isn’t as much of a difference between peak and off peak times and therefore they get recorded as having less congestion.

Likewise, I’ve done some empirical work on population densities in New Zealand and Australian cities that has showed that Demographia’s statistics are similarly meaningless. Demographia measures the density of the average hectare of land in the city, rather than the density of the neighbourhood in which the average person lives. Nick has shown how badly these figures misrepresent the actual density of New Zealand cities:

Auckland Wellington Christchurch charts_Page_1

Second, McDermott omits important variables and makes inappropriate inferences about causality. While he observes a correlation between two variables, that’s hardly sufficient to prove that building apartments will increase congestion. The causality could very easily run the other way. For example, it could be the case that the presence of congestion creates an incentive for people to live closer to employment and amenity. If that’s the case, then McDermott’s preferred policy of banning apartment developments would make Aucklanders much worse off by preventing them from minimising their travel costs.

Another possibility is that the relationship between density and congestion is mediated through other factors. Both may be caused by a third variable that McDermott has omitted, or there may be an intermediate step between density and congestion. (Or, as noted above, the measures themselves might be rubbish.)

A while back, CityLab’s Eric Dumbaugh provided an excellent illustration of the complex nature of congestion. He looks at data on US cities and finds that higher congestion is associated with higher, rather than lower, levels of productivity:

As per capita delay went up, so did GDP per capita. Every 10 percent increase in traffic delay per person was associated with a 3.4 percent increase in per capita GDP. For those interested in statistics, the relationship was significant at the 0.000 level, and the model had an R2 of 0.375. In layman’s terms, this was statistically-meaningful relationship.

Dumbaugh congestion and productivity chart

Such a finding seems counterintuitive on its surface. How could being stuck in traffic lead people to be more productive? The relationship is almost certainly not causal. Instead, regional GDP and traffic congestion are tied to a common moderating variable – the presence of a vibrant, economically-productive city. And as city economies grow, so too does the demand for travel. People travel for work and meetings, for shopping and recreation. They produce and demand goods and services, which further increases travel demand. And when the streets become congested and driving inconvenient, people move to more accessible areas, rebuild at higher densities, travel shorter distances, and shift travel modes.

In light of these counterintuitive relationships, the simple two-variable OLS regression that McDermott is relying upon is almost certainly misleading.

Third, McDermott fails to recognise that people are less exposed to congestion in denser, mixed-use cities. It’s simple: when people have better transport choices – i.e. access to frequent bus services and rapid transit, and safe walking and cycling networks – it doesn’t matter as much that the roads are congested. Increasing Auckland’s density by constructing apartment blocks and terraced housing on arterial roads will make it easier for people to have those choices, because the arterial roads are where the frequent bus services under the New Network will go:

Frequency is freedom

Frequency is freedom

Furthermore, density allows people to be closer to where they want to go. I find it odd that McDermott (and others) underestimate the importance of physical proximity in cities, even as people are paying high prices for the privilege. Building more homes in the areas that are accessible to jobs and amenities will allow more people to choose proximity over long commutes. (Without preventing others from making a different choice.)

A question for the readers: Would you rather have a 40 kilometre commute travelling at 80 km/hr, or a 5 kilometre commute moving at 30 km/hr? Show your work…

Regional Land Transport Plan throws up a few surprises

Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP

  • Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
  • Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
  • Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
  • Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
  • Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.

The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.

What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.

That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.

Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.

1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity

Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.

This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.

….

Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.

While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past

4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money

Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.

….

It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.

And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport

Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).

Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.

And on the City Rail Link they say:

As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.

…..

More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.

Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?

There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre

While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:

  • Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
  • If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term

To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.

Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

The old Tram Network

And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.

An ode to oil

Crude oil is a fantastically useful energy source, and has become enmeshed in our daily lives. It’s used to make petrol, plastics, and asphalt. Oil products are used in almost all motor vehicles today, but that wasn’t always the case:

The electric motor predates the internal combustion engine, and many early motor vehicles ran on electricity rather than gasoline. However, oil-based fuels had a number of advantages over electricity. The International Energy Agency points out that these fuels gave much more energy per unit of volume or mass than batteries, and were easy to handle, transport and store. These advantages, combined with the fragmented nature of electricity networks at the time, led to oil-based fuels becoming the dominant source of transport energy.

So, crude oil has several advantages over electricity, and many other fuels besides:

  • High energy per unit of volume/ weight (see below)
  • Easy to handle, transport and store (storing electricity is tough)
  • Low infrastructure requirements

That first bullet point is still a major advantage for oil-based fuels, as per the table below which shows energy content (megajoules, MJ) per kilogram or per litre:Fuel propertiesSources: MBIE, Wikipedia

As you can imagine, when talking about transport, it’s important that the fuel isn’t too heavy and doesn’t take up too much space. Petrol and other oil-based fuels are very well suited to this. Gas, coal and wood don’t make the grade – you’d need to hunt further to find some MJ/litre figures for them (and they’ll vary depending on a number of factors), but they certainly don’t compare to petrol. Ethanol, which is the main biofuel being produced today, has much lower energy content on both measures.

The values for batteries, at the bottom of that table, show that we’ve still got a way to go before electric vehicles can measure up to conventional ones. For the time being, their batteries can weigh hundreds of kilograms and take up plenty of precious interior space.

The comparison with batteries brings me to another advantage of oil: it’s relatively cheap, given all the things it can do. It’s pricier than wood and coal, of course, which are abundant worldwide and have less inherent value. But as a means of energy storage, it’s much cheaper than the current generation of batteries in electric cars.

I’ve looked at oil prices over time here. The rosy picture of low prices through most of the 20th century came to an abrupt end in the 1970s, when OPEC formed and the oil shocks began. Which brings me to the first major disadvantage of oil, summarised nicely in the following quote:

“Oil prices have been highly volatile [since 1970], and seem likely to stay that way… the oil market as it is structured today seems inherently prone to further disruption”

So, oil prices can swing wildly, as they did in the 70s and again since 2000. We’re seeing this again now, with oil prices falling dramatically in the last few months, along with many other commodities.

The second big disadvantage started to become clear by the 1990s, as scientists grew increasingly confident that man-made emissions of CO2 – mainly from burning fossil fuels such as oil – were contributing to global warming.

Overall, oil has played a massive role in the last 100 years of human history. Today, oil production has essentially plateaued (or begun to decline if “non-conventional” sources are excluded), with demand also on the wane in developed countries like New Zealand, versus rising demand in the developing world.

Oil is still a critical part of our economy, though, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Its many advantages and uses mean that we’ll still need it for many years to come, although there are plenty of things we could do to try and reduce our dependence on it – indeed, things we should do given its disadvantages. But those can wait for other posts.

Auckland Transport December Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport Board meet tomorrow and while it might be earlier in the month than usual due to Christmas, there’s no shortage of information. As usual here are the things that caught my attention.

The closed session is once again packed with reports, some are listed as being due to commercial sensitivity and others to allow free and frank discussion with the information released later.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Diesel Rolling Stock Sale
  • Managing 2014/15 Programme
  • AMETI
  • CCFAS2
  • Dominion Road
  • Bus Service Commercial & South Auckland Tender
  • PT Fare Annual Review
  • Street Lighting Acquisition
  • Te Mahia /Westfield
  • Southern Station Review

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Service Provision Options
  • CRL Update
  • Heavy Rail Strategy update
  • Service Extension Options
  • Te Atatu
  • EW Connections
  • Draft Statement of Intent 2015-16

There are a number of quite specific items there and one I’m surprised about is the annual fare review seeing as we just had fare changes implemented in July that resulted in fares for bus and train trips using HOP reducing. The Te Mahia / Westfield stations will be about whether AT close them as proposed in the new Bus Network. They are the two least used stations on the network with each having less than 100 people use them per day.

Onto the board report

Funding was approved for property purchase and construction for the $26 million Te Atatu Corridor project which will widen and upgrade parts of Te Atatu Rd and Edmonton Rd. Included in the project are some walking and cycling improvements however they are inconsistent. In some places cycle lanes will be on the street while in other places they will just be shared paths. I guess there wasn’t enough room for proper cycling facilities after the addition of a 2.5-3m median.

Funding was also approved for the design and construction of the Upper Harbour Cycleway. As someone who rides along this road weekly the improvements are welcome although I suspect they will ignore the biggest issue along the route being the Upper Harbour Dr/Albany Hwy intersection which is possibly the most dangerous in Auckland. Fixing that is likely dependant on a future 30m+ of an upgrade to that section Albany Highway.

Later on in the report an additional mention is made about the awarding of a number of service contracts. Two are singled out as providing much better value than anticipated with a combined saving of almost $5m compared to what had been budgeted.

  • Security Guard Services and Patrols – Contract awarded to Armourguard. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.1m compared with the two year budget forecast
  • Public Transport Facilities Cleaning – Contract awarded to City Cleaning Services. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.7m compared with the two year budget forecast

For specific projects AT are working on the ones that caught my attention are:

Penlink 

Auckland Transport is progressing a planning strategy to ensure ongoing security of the Penlink corridor. This involves lodgement of an alteration to the existing Penlink designation and a suite of consent applications to allow up to four lanes on the Penlink alignment to reflect the updated design, and to extend the lapse date by another 15-20 years to align with the current draft ITP. Some changes to the existing designation boundary are proposed, however, the majority of the proposal will fit within the existing designation footprint. Notification is proposed in early 2015 due to the Christmas and New Year period. Key Stakeholder engagement is continuing and two open days are also proposed to provide the general public with an opportunity to discuss the project and planning process in more detail.

Discussions on alternate procurement methods continues with interested parties. These will be brought to the Board if they progress to any substantial proposal.

I can understand the need to retain the designation but quite where AT will find the over $350m needed for Penlink is unclear.

Devonport Wharf Transport Interchange

AT say the project completion will be delayed by two months to May 2015 after the contractor encountered construction difficulties below the Wharf Boardwalk.

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange

Enabling works are underway and AT say the project is still on track for completion at the end of next year which they say is “to align with the expected roll-out date for PTOM (South) in February 2016“. This suggests that the roll out of the new network has once again been delayed as it had been due to roll out in the middle of next year.

City Centre Integration

City Centre bus infrastructure planning is focussing on the Fanshawe St Busway, Wynyard Interchange and Downtown Interchange. A series of workshops will commence in December with the University and AUT to progress issues and options for the Learning Quarter Interchange and east-west bus corridor.

A City Centre Transport Framework is being developed with NZTA to collate and map out transport initiatives and issues across the city centre, as context for future development. Completion due mid-2015.

 

It’s good to see the Fanshawe St busway progressing as that will help further improve the PT experience for bus users from the North Shore. It is particularly important as at peak times 60-70% of all people using Fanshawe St are on a bus despite buses only having 22% of the space in the corridor. While the amount of space buses have won’t change, what should improve are the bus stops which should become more station like.

CEWT Fanshawe St

Swanson Park and Ride

AT say the tender should be awarded by now with construction starting soon. They are expecting the project to be complete by April next year. It will see 136 new car parks added to Swanson station for a cost of $2.5m. It will include improved lighting, signage, CCTV, additional platform shelters, walkway canopies to the footbridge and stairs, and new platform surfacing and marking.

Other PT improvements:

AT say they are continuing to do shadow running of test trains on the Southern and Western lines. Electric trains will be introduced to the Southern Line in early 2015 with a fully electric timetable by April which I assume means the Western Line too.

The Manukau interchange is being targeted for completion by early 2016.

HOP

The usage of HOP dropped slightly to 70% in November which has attributed to less university and secondary school students using services due to exam breaks.

HOP ticketing usage Nov 2014

AT have a special day pass for use during the NRL 9s in late January which includes discounts to some tourist attractions. They can only be purchased from Ticketek, are $25 and as yet don’t say how discount from the attractions purchasers will actually get.

HOP NRL 9s HOP daypass

Default to Chaos

One of the factors behind the stunning 18% increase in rail patronage over the last year is bound to be the improved reliability that we’ve been seeing. With greater reliability people can trust services more and are much more likely to use them. That improved reliability resulted in a record 92% of all trains in November being on time.  What’s significant about the results is it isn’t simply the result of new electric train being more reliable but that we’ve seen improvements from the old diesel trains too. The graph below from Auckland Transport’s latest statistics report highlights the network performance for the current and previous financial year. As a comparison I remember a few years ago where it wasn’t uncommon to see a result in the 70’s.

Rail Network Reliability

Kudos has to go to all involved for getting the reliability up, some of it is due to better infrastructure such as the new signalling system and the rail network no longer being a constant worksite while other improvements are likely due to better maintenance and management of the trains themselves.

Unfortunately it seems that when something does go wrong the response still leaves a lot to be desired and that has been highlighted a few times in the last few days.

On Thursday a train breakdown outside Britomart caused chaos.

After the week’s second transport debacle, in which about 3000 commuters had their trips to the city disrupted by a broken train outside the Britomart tunnel on Thursday, the mayor blamed “decades of neglect” of the city’s infrastructure.

“We risk repeats of this morning’s delays until the day the [$2.4 billion] City Rail Link is built and Britomart stops being a dead end,” Mr Brown said in a brief statement, issued by his office in the absence of his availability for an interview.

Auckland Transport says 15 trains were disrupted, many of which unloaded passengers at Newmarket Station so they could transfer to buses, after an emergency brake on a new electric train was erroneously triggered outside Britomart.

It took about 45 minutes to shunt the train into Britomart, and about another hour for services to return to normal.

My understanding is this was caused by an error in the signalling system that Kiwirail have known about for weeks but failed to act on. Also despite Len’s suggestions it’s something the CRL wouldn’t have fixed. I was luckily not affected by this particular incident as my train was just ahead of the one that had the issue but many other readers did. Unfortunately it sounds like issues are responded to still leaves a lot to be desired with poor or non-existent communication to passengers the order of the day.

In the piece above AT say passengers were unloaded so they could catch buses, the only problem being that most buses at that time probably couldn’t handle the extra demand and it would take some time to get spare ones in.

Another incident appears to have occurred last night following Christmas in the Park with services cancelled with no apologies or explanation given to customers as to why. Due to the extra number of people out potentially thousands were affected.

It seems like this is something that crops up every few months but Auckland Transport and Transdev really need to get these issues and how they communicate to customers sorted rather than the default setting being chaos. This is especially important as the increasing use of trains means more and more people are affected when something goes wrong.

November 14 Patronage

The number of people travelling on buses and trains has continued to surge in November resulting in more than 75 million trips over the previous 12 months, the first time that’s happened in over 50 years. That means the number of trips taken in the last year is up by 5.7 million (8%). The Rapid Transit Network comprising of the Northern Express and the trains continues to be the star performer with the annual number of trips increasing by 17%. There has also been solid growth in the bus network which carries the majority of people in Auckland with patronage up 6.8%.

14 - Nov AK Patronage table

14 - Nov AK Annual Patronage

The rail network has the highest annual growth of all modes up 17.5% and patronage is up 12.3 million. Within that the two small lines currently served by electric trains are up 20-30% which perhaps gives an indication of what we can expect once the bigger lines go electric. For the month of November patronage on the Manukau Line services alone was up 50%. I imagine that sort of growth will only continue with the new timetable too. Apart from the electric trains one of the reasons given for the improved patronage is that train punctuality and reliability has improved with November recording the highest result Auckland has seen with 91.9% of all services arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes of their schedule. The Manukau line was the highest at 96% and the Western Line the lowest at 89.3%.

If you recall back to my post the other day and the most recent advice from the Ministry of Transport on the CRL from August where they said

Growth of 1.4 million trips for the year to June 2014 is the highest annual growth in Auckland rail patronage achieved to date.

If growth continues at 1.4 million trips per year, annual patronage would hit 20 million trips around 2019/20. We expect patronage growth to continue at a similar rate as for the year to June 2014 until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. After 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow and at this stage do not anticipate it is likely that the threshold of 20 million trips well before 2020 will be met.

Well patronage is now up over 1.8 million trips and not showing signs of slowing down.

14 - Nov AK Rail Patronage

The Northern Express is also seeing fantastic growth this year with annual patronage now up 14.4% and rising above 2.6 million trips.

14 - NEX AK NEX Patronage

What’s also notable about this is that over the same time period the number of vehicles that cross the Harbour Bridge every day has dropped by 2%. Of course the NEX doesn’t include all bus trips across the harbour bridge and it would be fascinating to see just how many there are in total.

AHB Nov - 14