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RIP Eastern Motorway

In ATAP (the Auckland Transport Alignment Project) one of the ideas that was investigated was the reincarnation of the Eastern Motorway, this time called the Eastern Strategic Corridor. It came about as a result of a push by the NZCID (now just called Infrastructure New Zealand) in their report titled “Transport Solutions for a Growing City“. We covered it back in May last year and it had some useful things about the need for better public transport, smarter road pricing, and alignment of transport & land use etc.

Most interestingly the NZCID commented on the AWHC in its report, remarking that as it stands provides low value for money, and that it needs an Eastern Alignment connecting to an Eastern Corridor to fully leverage the advantage it could provide.

“The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing performs the worst economically, delivering a BCR of 0.4.” – Page 31

“A unique advantage of the Eastern Corridor transport solution is the ability to leverage the potential of the largest ever infrastructure project in New Zealand: a $5 billion Waitemata Harbour tunnel. The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is throttled at both its northern and southern termination points, constraining its potential. It cannot connect new businesses and communities and it cannot lift the opportunities for the region, as its predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has done. Consequently, it cannot deliver economic and social benefits consistent with its high cost and these limitations are highlighted by conventional cost benefit analysis which shows a return of 40 cents for every dollar invested.” – Page 63

In response the ATAP team commissioned a report by AECOM called the Eastern Strategic Corridor Assessment and the report says some very interesting things. They looked at two different options – also shown on the map below:

  1. a motorway option connecting to an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at the intersection of Mill/Murphys Roads, and
  2. an expressway option connecting an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at Allen’s Road.

ATAP Eastern Highway Corridor Proposals

Whilst the motorway options performed better than the expressway option due to reaching further south adding to the catchment, the report found that the corridor did very little to reduce congestion across the network.

“Congestion across the network exhibits only minor changes as illustrated by Figure 16 and Figure 17 below. Apart from the Motorway option in the AM peak, which shows a decrease of 1.3%; there is less than a one percent decrease in hours spent in severe congestion which is defined as LOS E or worse for all other scenarios.” – Page 11

The real kicker though, comes when they estimated the cost for each option and the AWHC. The expressway option came in at a whopping $10.89b with the Motorway option higher again at $11.26b. The (BCR) Benefit Cost Ratio for the expressway option was just 0.2, and the motorway not much better at 0.4. I am not a fan of making conclusions solely on the BCR due to limitations in the way we model it, however the seriously low BCR is concerning.

What’s worse is that elements in the BCR such as travel time savings are likely overstated

“As can be seen from table 6 above, preliminary BCR’s both options as modeled present poor value for money coming in well below 1.0, meaning that the NPV benefits do not outweigh the investment costs. The Motorway option has substantially higher benefits than the expressway, particularly as would be expected in travel time savings. However it must be noted that the tunnel components for the Motorway option has been modeled as a 100kph posted speed limit. To date, road tunnels in New Zealand have only been posted at 80kph generally as a compromise between safety requirements and cost. As such a modeled posted speed limit of 100kph may not be achievable in practice and the travel time savings, and attraction of the route may be overstated in this test.” – Page 16

They also suggest that further investigation is likely to reduce the BCR on balance rather than increase it

“The motorway would require the acquisition of land to construct 15.5 km of road and 8 intersections/interchanges. Given the above it is unlikely that further more detailed development of the eastern corridor and refinement of costings would improve the BCR. On balance if seems more likely that if would result in a lower value.” – Page 18

Whilst they found the route provided resilience for the transport network, it does very little to address congestion and the high capital costs outweighs any benefit. Still, they advised keeping the existing eastern corridor designation until Smarter Pricing and the western alignment for AWHC is agreed.

“However we also recommend that corridor protection for the eastern alignment should be maintained until such time as the ATAP Government agencies commit to both the additional western alignment of AWHC and the use of the smarter road charging approach being developed within ATAP.” – Page 18

So, the NZCID is saying the western alignment of AWHC provides very low value for money and the AECOM report shows that leveraging any advantage of a new eastern corridor also results in low value for money, as the BCR is 0.2-0.4. The eastern corridor didn’t make it through in to ATAP but some serious questions need be raised regarding the viability of AWHC given even the infrastructure lobby don’t think it’s a good idea.

The Eastern Motorway: killed socially/politically in 2004 and academically in 2016.

Westfield Station to be cut

Yesterday Auckland Transport finally confirmed that the Westfield station would close, after it was put on death row back in 2013 following the consultation for the New Network in South Auckland.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the demise of the station with AT citing its low patronage with little prospect for future growth given the stations catchment of light industrial land on one side and the Mangere Inlet on the other.

As AT point out in their press release (below), the station has less than 330 passengers a day boarding or alighting at it, which is tiny when you consider that on the average workday the rest of the rail network carries about 65,000 trips. What’s more is the rest of the rail network is growing at a faster rate. Westfield isn’t the least used station however, Te Mahia has held that honour since Waitakere closed in 2015. Te Mahia was also on the chopping block in 2013 but AT decided to spare it after locals campaigned to save it, claiming the development nearby at the Manukau Golf Club would boost use – although I remain sceptical it will have much, if any impact.

The graph below is based on data AT have provided us in the past on rail station usage and shows the origins and destinations for trips that involve Westfield to the end of June. Of the two biggest, just over a third of trips are Britomart and further 7% are Newmarket.

Perhaps what’s surprising about this announcement is not that it’s happened but that it’s taken so long to happen. As mentioned, Auckland Transport indicated way back in 2013 that they wanted to close the station. I had assumed they might do it when the electric trains were rolled out but they left it open. I then thought they might do it back in October last year when they rolled out the New Network in South Auckland, including opening the impressively upgraded Otahuhu Station just down the road.

Closing stations, even under-performing ones like Westfield is never going to feel great, after all there might not be many of them but there are obviously people who use the station and they will be affected. The flip side to that is that closing it also allows AT to speed up the journey for everyone else who uses the trains from south of the station – although that itself will be balanced out by the opening of the new Parnell station which will only be stopped at all day by Southern Line trains.

Here is AT’s press release:

Westfield rail station in Ōtāhuhu is closing in March.

Auckland Transport says the station is one of the quietest on the Auckland rail network, in November last year it had less than 330 passengers getting on and off services each day.

Chief AT Metro Officer, Mark Lambert, says the station will close on 12 March. “The numbers using the station are low and it would require significant investment to bring it up to the standard of other stations.”

Mr Lambert says forecasts of future patronage indicate that demand is likely to remain low given the location in a light industrial area and new public transport options created in the past few months.

Auckland Transport consulted with the public on the closure in 2013. “In the past few years, Auckland Transport has invested heavily in public transport infrastructure in south Auckland, we rolled out the New Network for bus services last October and also opened the new bus/train station at Otahuhu.”

Other planned improvements in the south include the construction of a new bus station in Mangere Town Centre, the creation of a new of a new transport hub in Manukau and upgrades of Pukekohe, Manurewa and Papakura stations.

Mr Lambert says there are bus stops nearby on Great South Road which provide links to a number of places including Otahuhu, Onehunga, Avondale and Britomart.

He says further north, services will begin at the new Parnell Station on 12 March. “This station will serve local Parnell businesses and residents, the universities, Auckland Museum and will be great for events at the Domain.”

 

Note: We’ve been a bit concerned recently about the comments threads of rail network related posts deteriorating into ugly arguments so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this post and strictly moderating it. So consider this a warning to stick to our user guidelines or your comment may be deleted.

The politics of Auckland

Elections last year in other English-speaking countries got me thinking about the urban implications of political geography. The US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit vote both featured large divides in voting patterns between big cities and rural areas and small towns.

As the Economist observed, the US electoral map actually consists of a whole bunch of Democratic-voting urban areas and Republican-voting rural areas, rather than red and blue states. Even in Texas, which votes consistently Republican, Houston voted massively for the Democratic candidate. The red areas in this map are mostly empty:

And as the BBC observed, the vote against Brexit was strongest in London, a few other large cities like Manchester, and Scotland, while smaller towns and rural areas went the other way.

As much as anything, this speaks of a cultural and political divide between urban and non-urban areas. Many people have written tedious articles on this issue, implicitly claiming that this area or that represents “Real America” or “Real Britain”. (My perspective: If you have a definition of “Real America” that excludes large cities, you’re doing it wrong because most Americans live in large cities.)

I don’t want to get into that debate here. Instead, I want to ask: Is the same thing happening in New Zealand? Are our large cities – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch – diverging from the rest of the country?

Demographically, Auckland is different. It’s faster-growing than the rest of the country, as is Christchurch. It has more young people, and more people who were born overseas. (Many of whom have come to identify as New Zealanders and share New Zealand values.) But is there evidence that Aucklanders think differently than people elsewhere?

Electoral returns provide valuable information on peoples’ preferences and values. Peoples’ votes reflect, to a degree, how they see the world and what they value. Consequently, I’ve analysed data from the last six New Zealand general elections (1999-2014) to understand how big-city New Zealanders compare to the rest.

Over this time, political parties’ fortunes have swung dramatically. The National Party’s share of party votes has been as low as 21% and as high as 47%, while Labour’s has been as low as 25% and as high as 41%. The Greens doubled their vote share over this period, from 5% to 11%, while NZ First came back from a brush with death due to a 4% party vote. Other parties – the Alliance, ACT, United Future – have ceased to exist or survived only as single-MP zombie parties.

Consequently, I’m most interested in changes in party vote shares in different places. That will tell us whether big-city Kiwis are responding to changes in parties’ perceived competence, policies, and the general economic and social environment as rural and small-town Kiwis.

The following chart summarises the share of party votes that National received in Auckland (23 electorates in 2014), Wellington (6 electorates), and Christchurch (5 electorates). I’ve started with National as it got the most party votes in the most recent election. This graph shows that:

  • Auckland tends to vote for National at a similar rate to small-town and rural New Zealand
  • Wellington, on the other hand, has diverged – it has been substantially less National-leaning than non-urban parts of the country since 2005
  • Prior to 2011, Christchurch also seemed to be less National-leaning, but this gap has closed since the earthquakes.

Here’s a similar graph for the Labour Party. This time, Auckland has matched the “Rest of NZ” trend less closely, with the result that it is now somewhat more likely to vote for Labour than non-urban parts of the country. Wellington, again, has usually voted for Labour at substantially higher rates.

The Green Party is where things start to get interesting. Both Wellington and Christchurch give a substantially higher share of their party votes to the Greens than the rest of the country, and this gap has widened in every election since 1999. Auckland, by contrast, continues to vote for the Green Party at a rate that’s similar to small-town and rural New Zealand. This data doesn’t allow us to understand why – it could be due to policy preferences, or simply to the fact that the Green Party hasn’t historically had many Auckland-based MPs to campaign for the vote here.

Finally, New Zealand First. This is the only area where we can observe large divergences between how Aucklanders vote and how small-town and rural New Zealanders vote. Over the last six elections, there has been a consistent gap between the NZF party vote in the three big cities and in rural areas. This is likely to reflect NZF’s political positioning, including its opposition to immigration and advocacy for policies to support small towns rather than big cities.

The broad lesson from this data is that Auckland’s political preferences do not not seem to be diverging from small-town and rural New Zealand. Across the city as a whole, Aucklanders vote much the same as other New Zealanders. This is very different than the trend observed in the UK and US, where recent elections have brought differences in preferences and values into sharp relief. And it’s also different to the trend observed in Wellington, which is substantially more left-leaning than non-urban NZ.

A provocative hypothesis

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of different political parties – Transportblog is a nonpartisan endeavour – I would argue that this data is good news for Auckland and New Zealand. The way we vote suggests that we are less likely to suffer from the same ills as the UK and the US. And, over time, it should mean that we get better urban and transport policy from central government.

First, in spite of the demographic differences between Aucklanders and New Zealanders living outside the big cities, voting data suggests that we broadly share the same values and preferences. On the whole, Aucklanders have responded the same way to parties’ electoral appeals, suggesting that they too are bound by common interests and respond to the same economic and social trends.

This reduces the risk that we end up in a similar place as the US or UK – unable to agree on basic aspects of how our society should operate, with sharp divisions between people in different places.

Second, because Auckland sits in the political centre, political parties must pay attention to its needs if they want to get elected. As the past six elections show, Aucklanders’ votes are available to centre-right parties and centre-left parties, provided that they make a good case for themselves. And, unlike in the US where you can win the presidency while losing New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Seattle, inner Atlanta, etc by 50 percentage points, it’s not possible to lose big in Auckland and win the national election.

This is a very good thing for Auckland, as the city has some unique needs as a result of its rapid population and economic growth. It needs policy support to enable it to build more housing, especially in the existing urban area, and transport investments that are fit for purpose, including greater attention to its rapid transit network and urban cycling. These ideas are broadly popular with Aucklanders:

Local government can address some of this, but central government needs to come to the party as well as it is an important source of funding and policymaking. The politics of Auckland create strong incentives to do that. Over time, this will mean a city that gets more of its problems fixed, and more of its opportunities realised. And New Zealand as a whole will benefit from having a more productive, dynamic city that can, say, pay taxes to fund comfortable retirements in Whakatane and Timaru.

What do you think about the way Aucklanders vote?

Transit fare changes for 2017

Yesterday Auckland Transport announced that at the end of the month they are changing some public transport fares after just reducing them less than six months ago when the rolled out their Simplified Fares scheme.

Bus, train and ferry fares will be changing from 29 January 2017.

Auckland Transport is required to review fares annually to ensure they keep pace with operating costs and a portion of cost recovery from fares.

Colin Homan, Group Manager, AT Development says Auckland Transport has a target to recover 50 percent of the cost of public transport from fares, but this is currently at 46.3 percent.

“Compared to many other cities, Auckland short distance fares are relatively low so we have targeted some small increases for fares for some shorter trips. Fares for longer trips, beyond 4 Zones will not change.  We want to promote reducing congestion by making public transport fares attractive for people making longer journeys.”

Mr Homan says public transport in Auckland still represents very good value for customers.  Auckland Transport has added a number of new services over the past year, such as the introduction of 65 double decker buses, the roll out of a new bus network in South Auckland, the addition of 19 km of bus lanes in the year to June 2017, rail service increases on the Western Line, as well as Simpler Fares (which allows customers to take a bus, train or combo and pay just the one fare for the entire journey).

Mr Homan says that over the past 12 months Auckland Transport has reduced the cost of public transport by on average 7 percent through Simpler Fares and encouraging customers on cash to transition to HOP, which represents at least a 20 percent saving.

He says in the year to the end of December 84.8 million trips were taken on public transport in Auckland, an increase of 4.6 percent since July.

“Even though the average fare increase is 1.7 percent, the average cost of travel for customers remains lower than it was at this time last year.”

Main changes

  • AT HOP bus & train fares for 1 Zone, 2 Zones and 4 Zones increase by 5 cents and 10 cents
  • Cash bus & train fares for 1 Zone and 2 Zones increase by 50 cents
  • AT HOP tertiary student bus and rail fares increase by 4 to 8 cents between 1 Zone and 4 Zones to ensure a consistent discount compared to AT HOP adult fares
  • AT HOP Monthly Bus & Train Pass increases by $10
  • Ferry fares reflect a mix of increases and decreases to continue the alignment by distance travelled in preparation for full ferry fare integration
  • AT HOP adult and child fares are at least 25 percent lower than the equivalent cash fare
  • AT HOP child fares are at least 40 percent lower than adult AT HOP
  • AT HOP tertiary fares are at least 20 percent lower than adult AT HOP

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about this, in no particular order

If you’re paying by HOP, and you should be, the main changes suggested certainly aren’t huge at 5 to 10 cents per trip. For a regular commuter doing two bus or train trips a day this equates to $25-50 a year. Also, note that the 3-zone fares actually come down slightly too. The new Adult bus and train fares are below.

As a reminder, four zones cover all trips from the main urban area to the city centre

But what I do find odd is that this comes so quickly after Simplified Fares rolled out in mid-August. With Simplified Fares one of the aims was have as few people as possible negatively affected by the change. Perhaps AT didn’t get their modelling quite right and went a bit too far in this regard. We’ve certainly been seeing the farebox recovery rate (below) fall in recent months since the introduction of Simplified Fares and the later the New Network in the South.

I also get the feeling some in the organisation might have panicked without giving the changes a chance to settle in. Big changes like the New Network or fares, are not quick fixes and time is definitely needed for the public to adjust their travelling behaviour based on those changes.

 

One group of customers that have had some wins is users of some ferry services, most notably Hobsonville Point users who see some decent trip savings – 50c per trip for Adult HOP users. This is part of AT’s goal of aligning ferry fares for similar distance trips.

One area I find extremely disappointing is that AT have once again put up the monthly pass, this time by another $10 to $210. Monthly pass customers tend to be some of AT’s most loyal. As a regular monthly pass user myself, I find I’m much more likely to use PT for a wider range of trips when I have a pass than when I don’t have one. AT continuing to push up the price of the pass seems to be part of a wider strategy to stop people using it all together which, in my view, would be a huge mistake. If anything, they should be doing the opposite and trying to make it more attractive to encourage more people to use PT.

A wider issue at play here is the NZTA’s arbitrary farebox recovery target that by mid-2018 50% of all PT operational costs nationally need to come from fares. Whilst that sounds good in theory, it’s a really blunt instrument that is likely meaning we’re not extracting the most value out of our PT system. For example, what if a 40% farebox ratio delivered a better overall economic outcome due to moving more people and taking an the edge off congestion.

 

What do you think of the fare changes?

Ka mua, ka muri: Looking back in order to move forward

‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol

Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.

It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.

We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:

1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?

People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.

Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.

2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.

However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.

This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.

3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).

There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic].  For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.

This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.

Same as it ever was.

Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work

 

 

 

Traffic Preserves

Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport released this cute video about the causes of congestion and how to help avoid it,

The press release focused on the holiday period but I can also see them using this campaign later in the year, especially in February and March as the roads get busier.

Congestion on our motorways is frustrating at any time of year, but during the busy holiday season it can be worse than ever.

Auckland Transport’s ‘Spread the jam’ video has been produced to simply explain how traffic congestion can start.

AT’s chief transport operations officer, Andrew Allen, says there are generally four causes of congestion. “Usually it’s drivers cutting-in, following too close to the vehicle in front, rubber-necking or being distracted like using their cell phone. A heavy dab on the brakes can cause a ripple effect right down the motorway turning free flowing traffic into a sticky jam!

“All drivers have to do is always maintain their following distance and give plenty of warning before changing lanes, so use your indicators.”

He says if people are more aware of the causes of traffic congestion and modify their own behaviour our motorways will run more smoothly.

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association says the answer lies with motorists. “Driver behaviour makes a bad congestion situation even worse – AA members recognise it, and they want to see more done to raise awareness. ‘Spread the jam’ is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’re right behind it.”

A study in 2014 found that the annual cost of congestion in Auckland was $1.25 billion when compared with free-flow traffic conditions.

Remember, spread the jam:

  • Keep your following distance.
  • Don’t cut in.
  • Don’t rubberneck.
  • Avoid distractions like cell phones.

As cute as the video is, and it’s a decent start, there’s a couple things I wanted to point out.

  1. The primary cause of congestion is of course, too many vehicles on the road at the same time. Although getting people to drive better is certainly a good thing, especially on urban streets where more vulnerable road users (pedestrians and bikes) are around.
  2. Another way to spread the jam is to simply not participate in it. This can mean travelling at different times or by other modes, particularly those that aren’t affected by congestion such as the Northern Busway, rail network or bus routes with good levels of bus priority. This is obviously a bit harder on holiday trips like the press release was focused on but for regular commutes it may be a viable option.
  3. It is interesting that AT specifically mention the cost of congestion being $1.25 billion compared to free flow. The emphasis is important as the study (for the NZTA) that came up with that figure (actually from 2013) suggested that based on optimising the network capacity, the cost was only $250 million, considerably less. That’s because it absurd to build any transport network to be completely uncongested at all times of the day – in the absence of pricing. Particularly with roads, the financial cost of doing so would be astronomical, not to mention just how much land would be needed.

 

Overall a useful message but to me it’s just one part of the congestion equation.

Auckland’s New Network — What comes next?

Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:

You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.

The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.

The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.

So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.

Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.

On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:

  • AMETI
  • City Rail Link
  • Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
  • Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
  • LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
  • North-western Busway

When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.

Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.

Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.

Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.

Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:

  • Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
  • Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
  • Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.

This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.

But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?

The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.

The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:

  • Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
  • Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
  • Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
  • Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).

As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.

Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.

In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.

Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.

Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.

None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.

It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.

What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?

And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.

P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.

Introduction to Systematic Safety, The Principles Behind Vision Zero

Here’s a great video on the principles of behind “systematic safety” by Peter Furth. It’s really interesting how the approach is so different than current practice in the States, Australia and New Zealand.

And in case you missed it, Harriet had a great post on Dutch cycleway design last week, “Great Cycling Myths & Mistakes – How Auckland can easily be a Great Cycling City“.

Nelson St Phase 2

The Nelson St Cycleway was completed just over a year ago and has been a fantastic addition to the city.

Since then we’ve been patiently waiting for Phase 2, which has had a particularly long gestation period. It is intended to extend the cycleway to the Quay St cycleway and also includes extending it along Pitt St to Karangahape Rd. Auckland Transport originally consulted on a design way back in September 2015, months before Phase 1 even opened.

We weren’t thrilled with the design which would have seen the cycleway cross diagonally to the eastern side of Nelson St before sending cyclists along Sturdee St and Lower Hobson St, across in some places incredibly narrow footpaths, before reaching Quay St. We, and others, wanted the cycleway kept on the western side of Nelson St and linked into the tree lined Market Place. We also liked this well illustrated idea from reader Jonty to send it via the Hobson St Viaduct.

Just before Christmas, Auckland Transport finally announced the outcome of their consultation and the final design. Like we’d see in some earlier board reports, AT confirmed that the cycleway would now link into Market Place rather than using Sturdee St.

The link that will complete Auckland’s city cycle loop is a step closer.

The route, announced today, will connect the Nelson St Cycleway with the waterfront.

The connection along Nelson St to Quay St via Market Place, Customs St West and Lower Hobson St, will complete the loop.

The city cycle loop includes cycleways on Quay St, Beach Rd, Grafton Gully and the pink Lightpath.

Phase 2 of Nelson St Cycleway will include protected, on-road cycle lanes on both sides of Nelson St and Market Place from Victoria St to Pakenham St East.

Construction of this section will start in April and be completed by July. Plans for the remaining section of Market Pl, Customs St West and Lower Hobson will be made public in early 2017.

The major difference from what we suggested back in 2015 is that instead of the cycleway being completely on the western side, it will be split with northbound (downhill) cyclists staying on the western side but southbound (uphill) cyclists using the eastern side. We’re comfortable with that change.

As we understand, the biggest hurdle, and the reason it’s taken so long to confirm the design, has been the need to convince the traffic engineers that carmegeddon wouldn’t ensue from removing the two lane signalised slip lane from Nelson St on to Fanshawe St.

So here’s what AT plan to build (click to enlarge)

The cycle lanes on either side of the road will be protected. The biggest challenge will be the driveways and so all road users will have to take care here.

It’s the Nelson/Fanshawe intersection that will see the most change with the left turn slip lanes removed to allow the cycleway to be built and the kerb built out on the western side which will be a welcome addition to the many pedestrians that walk past here and who are currently squeezed into a narrow space.  The cycleway heading southbound will have a short section of being a shared path till it gets past Wyndham St. It will also require two legs to cross from Market Place which is a bit annoying.

Finally on Market Place the cycleways continue past Pakenham St.

AT are still working on the final design for Market Place which is why it hasn’t been included yet but from what we understand of it, it will good. From Market Place the intention is to use Customs St West and then Lower Hobson St.

The news for the Pitt St section isn’t so great though. Here, AT have scaled the design back to a simple shared path. They say this is caused mainly by the CRL and the significant disruption it will have on the area both during construction and after it with where they’ve decided to put vents.

Since design for this cycleway project started in January 2015, there have been changes to the CRL (City Rail Link) design, particularly the vent location in Pitt Street. The CRL team have advised that the CRL project will cause significant disruption including a very large excavation across Pitt Street in the Beresford Square vicinity.

AT met with key stakeholders in the area, including local businesses, NZ Fire Service, and St John NZ, to listen and understand their concerns.

Based on feedback received from submissions and also from meetings with key stakeholders, we have decided the cycleway should be re-scoped to provide an interim off-road shared path facility for Pitt Street.

AT is developing a design for CRL in the vicinity of Pitt Street and Beresford Square, incorporating the Pitt Street and Karangahape Road cycleways.

Here are the designs, which as you can see still retain a gap between Karangahape Rd and Beresford Square. It’s not clear how less confident cyclists will bridge this gap, presumably most would use the footpath.

As the press release earlier said, construction of the first section down Nelson St is expected to start in April and at least that and the section to Quay St are expected to be completed in the middle of the year.

AT’s Parking App delayed

Auckland Transport’s interesting looking parking app appears to have been delayed again. If you don’t recall, the app was first mentioned last year in a video about their recently adopted (and good) Parking Strategy.

In the video, it appears that you simply tag on within the app when you arrive and tag off again when you get back to your car so no need to fiddle around with parking machines or paper tickets.

Here’s what Stuff reports:

An app designed to replace pay-and-display parking machines in Auckland is facing delays of several months.

Auckland Transport’s $300,000 AT Park app was initially set to launch in September 2016 but was put off until early this year and now postponed again until late February or March.

The app, which will let people pay via credit card for on-street parking, would eventually phase out parking meters in the city.

Users would be able to log their location and car registration and then tag on and off.

Once the app was released AT would “thin out” the number of pay-and-display machines before scrapping them altogether over the coming years, AT’s parking design manager Scott Ebbett said.

Thinning out and then scrapping the parking meters sounds like a great long term goal as for one, it means one less thing to clutter up footpaths. I recall a few years ago reading that the parking meters we have are effectively obsolete and were in need of replacement. So replacing them with a phone app also sounds positive from a financial perspective, allowing more investment to be put into other areas of the transport system. Of course, I doubt removing all parking meters is something that will happen any time soon because smartphone usage is high but it isn’t 100%.

Based on these comments, I remain hopeful the app will integrate with HOP balances, plus also good to see that while delayed, the app has come in under budget.

An AT spokesman said it was “technically ready” for release but they were waiting to integrate it with the MyAT portal, where people can top up their HOP cards.

He said the app went through changes after its trial period, while technology for MyAT was also upgraded.

It had so far come in under the $300,000 budget, he said.

AT figures show there are 810 pay and display meters in the city, with the majority more than 10 years old.