Remuera Road Bus Lanes

It is frustrating to read that council are considering removing the bus lanes from Remuera Road, or at least along parts of it. Of course bus lanes will create more congestion for users of the road who continue to drive their cars, but in some ways that is half the point – to provide people with an incentive to catch the bus. It is almost impossible for bus travel to be faster than car travel if you don’t have bus lanes. That is because buses need to keep stopping all the time to let passengers on and off. It is pretty common for buses to take twice, or three times, as long to do a trip as it would for someone to do that same trip in their car. As a result, most people continue to drive their cars and Auckland becomes an even more automobile dependent city.

While the majority of Aucklanders who use public transport catch the bus, there are relatively few corridors where a large proportion of people going along that corridor are catching the bus. These include Onewa Road, Dominion Road and the Northern Busway (probably a few others too). The key for all of these corridors is that buses have been provided with a way to bypass general traffic congestion. In the case of Onewa Road there is a transit-lane, which allows for buses and vehicles with three or more occupants. Dominion Road has standard bus lanes along its entire length, while the Northern Busway is a fully grade separated busway. For people travelling along these corridors there is a real incentive to use the bus and be able to break free from Auckland’s general automobile dependency. This has enabled Dominion Road to avoid super-expensive widening (and when that does happen, it will be to allow even faster public transport), it has increased the capacity of the Northern Motorway through the busway, and it has given people who use Onewa Road in the morning a viable alternative to sitting in their cars for 20 minutes going nowhere.

Situations like this are one of the reasons I really do look forward to Auckland having a Super-City in the future (as long as some necessary changes are made). I look forward to having one transportation agency that both runs the bus service and is in charge of creating bus lanes. Perhaps then that agency will see the value in having bus lanes and they will be expanded further throughout Auckland, rather than being undermined where they exist. For now though, ARTA and NZ Bus need to fight to keep their Remuera Road bus lanes.

I’m in the NZ Herald!

I had a feeling that my concerns relating to the RMA Amendment Bill would be  considered fairly important. So it’s quite cool to find myself extensively quoted in today’s NZ Herald.

Anger as critics of RMA rejig miss out

4:00AM Thursday Apr 30, 2009
Joseph Barratt

Anger is building among Auckland groups over what they see as a lack of public input into reforms of the Resource Management Act.

The past two days have seen a range of submissions to Parliament’s local government and environment select committee sitting in Auckland on proposed changes to the act.

The problem, say interested groups, is no one contacted them to let them know when or where the hearings were to be held, or when their submissions were scheduled to be heard.

Some groups missed their opportunity because of the lack of notice, and the committee has promised to hold tele-conferences so they can put their views.

The groups also claim that up to eight unrelated groups have been required to share one 20-minute slot.

The two days of hearings compare with four days in Wellington and one in Christchurch. That decision was made by the committee.

Sigrid Shayer, chairwoman of the Tree Council, believes the MPs are under too much pressure.

“We were told by the select committee that they are having trouble fitting everybody in. In some cases they are putting eight unrelated people together to share a 20-minute time slot.

Joshua Arbury, a planning consultant, filed a submission requesting to address the committee but never heard back. Last Tuesday he phoned Parliament to find when he would be able to have his say and was told he was too late.

“They managed to arrange a teleconference call for me to talk to them next week but until I called them there had been no contact.

“It’s worrying when you think around 90 per cent of submitters would have said: ‘Yes, I want to be heard.’

“Normally when you make a submission and say you want to be heard, the select committee contacts you to arrange a time to meet with them.

“I’m lucky I still get to make one through the teleconference. But my concern is for the 800 or so people who made submissions and then have not contacted Parliament and miss out.”

Eden-Albert Community Board chairman Christopher Dempsey says he knows of several organisations that have missed out, including the New Zealand Planning Institute. “They [the committee] just don’t seem to be bothering to tell anyone.”

Committee clerk Pavan Sharma admits there was one instance of eight people having to share a 20-minute slot but says it was because they all submitted similar scheduling requests.

He says it is not too late for people who made submissions to make a case to the committee. “We will be contacting the people who missed out to arrange teleconferences.”

The committee is looking at more than 100 changes to the act and is expected to report by June 19.

PROPOSALS SEEK TO:
* Streamline and simplify consent procedures.
* Provide priority (90-day) consenting of major projects.
* Reduce costs and delays.
* Speed up plan-making processes.
* Restrict anti-trade competition, vexatious and frivolous objections.

Now I just have to get my act together and make the most of the time I have next week.

Well… I do get my say

Ah yes I was pretty grumpy earlier today at the prospect of missing out on my chance to have a say on the RMA Amendment Bill. I still won’t get to present my case in person, but I will get to present it over the phone through teleconferencing next week on Thursday. That should be fun.

What if I hadn’t emailed though?

RMA Amendment Bill – when do I get my say?

I went to a lot of effort putting together my submission on the Resource Management Act Amendment Bill.  This bill makes some huge changes to the way in which planning and resource management happens in New Zealand. It makes huge changes to one’s right to have a say on what goes on around them and the formulation of planning documents. Let’s have a quick look at the main parts of this bill that I found problematic:

  1. Requirement for security of costs for Environment Court appeals. This would mean that a group or person may be required to stump up $10,000 just to take a case to the Environment Court. A classic way to eliminate opposition to contentious issues.
  2. Restrictions on appealing plans. This change would make it far more difficult for someone to appeal against a rule in a District Plan – like if council rezoned the place next door to allow for a 20 level apartment building, or for a factory.
  3. Removal of Non-Complying Activities. This change would remove the ability for councils to have an opinion towards an activity along the lines of “we wouldn’t really grant consent to this unless there’s a special case”. It is likely that these would become Discretionary Activities, which are generally considered to be “consent is likely to be granted unless there’s a good reason not to do so”. This change potentially has ENORMOUS adverse effects on the environment.
  4. Greater restrictions for a public interest group to join an appeal. Further steps to eliminate democratic involvement in the planning process.
  5. Removal of general tree protection rules. By far the most environmentally destructive change proposed, this would force councils to remove all general tree protection rules. I can hear the chainsaws warming up already on this one.

My overall conclusion was as follows:

In my opinion there are a number of aspects to the proposed Amendment Bill that need to be removed or modified. I have attempted to be as balanced as possible in my opinion towards this bill, and have supported aspects of it that I believe will be of benefit. However, there are certain parts of the bill that I consider will have significantly adverse effects – both on the environment and on the ability of the public to participate in the resource management process.

It is easy to criticise the RMA as being a ‘handbrake’ on development, yet at the same time it is easy to notice the environmental damage that is happening throughout the country – seemingly unchecked by the very piece of legislation that is supposed to stop this from happening. Resource management planning is about balancing the private benefit of development with the public good, in particular the environment. It is my opinion that the proposed changes to the RMA go too far in advancing private benefits and will result in a significant loss of public good, through damage to the environment. This is particularly the case with regard to the proposed changes to general tree protection rules.

I stated clearly that I wished to attend  the hearing on this, to present my submission and give further detail and/or answer questions.

So today I read this article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10569007

Of particular note:

The Local Government and Environment Select Committee is in Auckland for two days to hear oral submissions on a raft of sweeping changes to environment laws.

More than 100 people will address the committee on plans to hike court filing fees, to make it harder to challenge local planning rules and to reverse the presumption stating communities should have a say on local developments, among other things.

The Tree Council (Auckland) Incorporated will tell the committee that banning tree protection rules, as the Government plans to do, will leave trees in 700 of Auckland’s 800 parks unprotected.

More than 80 of 840 written submissions before the committee are from people who want councils to keep their powers to protect trees of a certain type or size.

An administrator for the select committee said about 45 minutes had been allocated to hear concerns about trees.

Other groups, such as the Environmental Defence Society, are likely to raise tree issues as part of a wider submission.

The committee will sit for four days in Wellington, two in Auckland and one in Christchurch.

I specifically asked to be heard on this issue, and gave my address and a number of phone numbers and my email address so that I could be contacted and asked as to whether I still wanted to attend the committee hearing. This is what councils do with resource consent hearings, this is what ARTA has done in relation to my submission on the Auckland Transport Plan, but for some reason it hasn’t happened here. Aucklanders are getting a mere two days to have their say on this critical matter, and many submitters aren’t even getting told about it. That’s disgusting. It makes me really really angry.

International Trends and Lessons in Growth Management

I wrote my 2005 thesis on Auckland’s Regional Growth Strategy, so it is interesting having a read through the evaluation of that strategy, that the ARC has undertaken over the past couple of years. There are a lot of lengthy PDF documents that I haven’t made my way through yet, but it is good to see that the ARC has been so thorough in examining the effect of the Growth Strategy. I think the general conclusion has been “yeah great idea, but we haven’t provided enough quality urban intensification yet”. However, leaving that aside for now, what is particularly interesting in some respects is the analysis of International Trends and Lessons in Growth Management. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Portland and Vancouver have all been looked at to analyse what kinds of growth management strategies they have put in place, and how successful things have been for them. Furthermore, there has been a detailed literature review of the whole sprawl/intensification debate, which makes for interesting reading – particularly with regard to linkages between transportation and land-use. As a planner, but with a strong interest in transportation, this linkage between land-use and transportation is of key interest to me. Hopefully one day people will be convinced that a “Transport Planner” should have a planning degree (or a geography one in my case) rather than a Civil Engineering degree, to properly recognise the linkage between transport and land-use. I think perhaps until then transport will ignore planning and planning will ignore transport – and our auto depedence will perpetuate. Anyway, there are some interesting snippets from the literature review that I think are worth noting and commenting upon:

Economic Costs and Benefits of Urban Form The literature on this subject strongly supports the conclusion that pursuing a more compact urban form will lead to benefits in terms of improved economic development. This research identified also generally supports the notion that densification has the potential to better utilise existing infrastructure and limit infrastructure expenditure. Where existing infrastructure requires upgrading, this often has greater benefits than the provision of new infrastructure at the city edge. The literature outlines that there is no final agreement on whether a sprawled or densified urban form causes the most pressure on the provision of infrastructure, however there is agreement on the consequences of such a pressure: higher costs and/or decreased efficiency of that infrastructure. The resultant impacts on urban form might be very high both directly, as a cost of building and maintaining the necessary infrastructure and through negative effects on economic growth from under-investment or from inefficient provision of infrastructure. Not only will the need for infrastructure upgrading differ across a city to reflect the type and rate of intensification, but there may be thresholds for densification after which infrastructure upgrading will become critical.

It is interesting that the economic benefits of intensification appear to come across as some of the strongest. I guess that’s a pretty strong counter-argument to the “leave it to the market” crowd.

Accessibility and Urban Form The literature review revealed two opposing views on how to best improve urban accessibility. One view is increasing car mobility – where the car is seen as the best, most popular way of providing mobility, convenience and flexibility, being more effective in transporting people and much cheaper for infrastructure provision than public transport. The opposing view is an increased emphasis on alternate modes and mode choice – where the focus is on positive health and sustainability outcomes of walking, cycling and public transport use, as well as the negative impacts of car dependency, such as congestion, pollution, health impacts and social inequality. These outcomes and impacts can be addressed by providing alternative accessibility patterns through changes to urban form, more public transport, and further opportunities for nonmotorised modes such as walking and cycling. The OECD Roundtable notes increasing research into the importance of urban form and its relationship to transport and the impacts on the competitiveness of economies. The perception among many urban theorists and practitioners is that it is possible to affect the amount and type of traffic through urban form strategies by considering a number of interacting elements. Changes in travel patterns are partly explained by changes in social conditions like attitude and lifestyle. However factors such as levels of density, connectivity/accessibility, mixed use activity, and good public transport provision combined with initiatives to increase walkability and encourage cycling all have an effect. There is no consensus on how significant that effect is. Much of the research indicates that land use measures, by themselves, do not lead to large changes in transport behaviour, but that the right combinations of land use measures and the provision of alternate transport modes, and corresponding incentives for these modes together with disincentives for car use, will cause reductions in private motorised transport use and its associated negative impacts.

This is the crux of the issue really, and something I grapple with frequently. It is interesting to note that Auckland has a higher population density than Perth and Brisbane (to a quite significant extent), but at the same time has far lower public transport usage. Furthermore, Los Angeles actually has one of the highest population densities of any US city (yet, surprising I know!) but has a very low level of public transport use. This would point towards the quality of the public transport system being far more important than the land-use development patterns. Yet at the same time this seems to be contrary to most planning ideas – that the higher the urban densities are the more likely people will use public transport.

I guess the real answer is that it’s a bit of everything together that makes a difference. I don’t really believe that a low-density sprawled city is ever going to be anything but auto-dependent, and I imagine that while Perth and Brisbane have good public transport usage figures for work commuting, they are still quite auto dependent for other activities. This is probably why public transport usage for these cities is still well below what you might expect to find in a European city, where people would catch the metro or a tram to conduct most of their daily activities and wouldn’t need to own a car quite as much as someone from a place like Perth or Brisbane.

Some interesting points are made about links between growth management and housing affordability too. This is of particular importance as rising house prices in Auckland over the past decade are often linked to the imposition of urban limits throughout that same time period. It appears that international examples back up the idea that those cities that have controlled their outward expansion have created higher house prices and reduced affordability compared with those cities that have continued to allow development to sprawl. There’s an obvious demand/supply argument happening here, and overall I agree to some extent that the MUL has had a significant role to play in driving up Auckland’s house prices. However, I would also say that Councils have certainly not helped by refusing to rezone much land for higher residential densities. Furthermore, where they have rezoned land, council rules that are still based around a “sprawl good, high-density bad” ideology have made life really difficult for higher-density projects. I suppose that the glut of poor quality apartments in Auckland has backed up this approach to some extent, but surely there must be a way of ensuring good quality developments are possible without making life nigh on impossible to build at the kind of densities the Regional Growth Strategy envisages.

Housing Affordability and Urban Form
Research around the relationship of housing affordability and urban form does not provide conclusive evidence on whether the Regional Growth Strategy will cause housing to become more or less affordable. The evidence generally falls within four categories: International research on the relationship between land use regulation and housing prices where results are conflicting; research showing that higher density, in itself, does not lead to higher housing prices; Auckland-specific research that indicates that the Metropolitan Urban Limit is just one of many contributors to increasing housing prices, although this is perceived to be part of a desirable trade-off for other benefits; and research arguing that factors other than land use supply and regulation explain housing price increases to a lesser or greater extent. Since no predominant contributor can be said to cause rises in housing prices, strategies to create more affordable housing would be best focused on adjusting a whole range of different factors, including local, regional and central government policies, rather than attempting to improve housing affordability through changing a single factor such as the release of new residential land outside the MUL.

This research seems to back up my viewpoint, that the issue of housing affordability (or the lack of it) is more complex than simply blaming the MUL. If we were to remove the MUL the other consequences would be so significantly negative that I think we should look at all possible other ways to improve housing affordability before turning on the sprawl tap.

There are also some interesting points made in this document about the adverse economic, environmental and social effects of an auto-dependent city that I will comment on in the future.

ARC’s 10 Year Plan

It’s a bit strange reading the draft Long-Term Council Community Plan (LTCCP) for the ARC from 2009-2019, when they’re not going to exist beyond the next 18 months. Though I guess it’s important as there will be a significant transition period between the establishment of the new Auckland Council and a point where they have all their own necessary plans and policy documents up and running. So perhaps the ARC’s plan will have a shelf-life at least slightly beyond the stage when it becomes operative.

In any case, I can’t say I’ll miss it particularly much. This is especially so when reading about the huge hole in their transport budget that has been created by the removal of the Regional Petrol Tax. Reading pages 4-7 of the chapter on transport is quite depressing stuff actually, as it makes one realise how close we were to integrated ticketing, electrification, upgrades of railway stations, the ordering of more diesel trains and more. And that all of that, while not necessarily abandoned (particularly in the case of electrification) certainly is unlikely to happen anywhere near as quickly as previously hoped (particularly in the case of integrated ticketing). This is outlined below:

The Minister also announced that the Government has decided in principle that KiwiRail should be the owner of the new Crown-funded passenger rail stock in Auckland and Wellington. He advised that the Government would be working with regional authorities in Auckland and Wellington to manage the transition.
With respect to other projects proposed to be funded by the Auckland regional fuel tax scheme, the Minister stated that PENLINK, ferry upgrades and integrated ticketing, will be subject to the usual funding processes through the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), and that NZTA had agreed to consider urgent bids for additional funding required for projects that are already underway.
The Government’s decisions have a very significant impact upon the ARC and upon the expenditure and revenue which can be included in this draft 2009-19 LTCCP. The Minister’s announcement provides certainty only in the following two areas:
• That the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax Scheme will be removed; and
• That KiwiRail will take over responsibility for the purchase of Auckland’s new electric trains, funded by the Crown.
All other aspects of the future arrangements for Auckland rail, and the potential for ARTA to secure additional NZTA funding for committed and planned projects, remain uncertain.

That’s a heck of a lot of uncertainty that is still around. I guess we’ll give the government the benefit of the doubt at the moment with regards to electification – at Steven Joyce has gone to great pains to say that he’s absolutely 120% sure electification will happen. However, I’m afraid that is only really half the story solved. The ARC still has some huge problems that won’t be anywhere near as clear-cut in their solution:

In addition to the purchase of electric trains, the ARC had planned to provide funding to ARTA of $257 million over the 10 years from 1 July 2009 for the support of its capital programme. This funding was to provide for the following:

1) Additional diesel trains $32.8 million

2) New rail stations and station upgrades including Newmarket, New Lynn and Manukau $82 million

3) Train asset renewals, train overrun protection, stabling and seed funding for level crossings $90 million

4) Multi-modal projects including integrated ticketing, real time passenger information, customer information improvements, upgrading and rebuilding ferry terminals $52 million.

With the removal of the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax Scheme, the ARC now has $55 million of funding available to fund the planned expenditure of $257 million, leaving the ARC and ARTA with unfunded capital expenditure of $202 million. The remaining $55 million includes distributions from ARH as well as ARC reserves.

This $202 million hole is impossible for the ARC to fill. Apparently it would require something like 15% rate hikes, which of course is politically impossible and would also be pretty unfair. So all those projects mentioned above are now really “stuck in limbo” until the government decides how much it wants to help Auckland out.

Gah, this is why I was a big fan of the regional fuel tax. It cut government out of the loop, it meant that Aucklanders were paying for projects that we were going to benefit from, it meant less “wait and hope” and put the ARC, rather than some roads-loving government, in charge of a big chunk of transport-related funds for the future. Now I agree that nothing has been cancelled yet, and the delays so far have probably been minor. But for that to continue we are relying upon a roads-loving government to look into the goodness of their heart and actually commit money to public transport. With a growing government deficit, I can’t see the government as being surprisingly generous any time soon.

Signalling Upgrade

A few days ago I posted about the announced $90 million upgrade to Auckland’s rail signalling system, and how it’s an important step towards electrification. Yesterday we heard a bit more news about the detail of that contract, and what the signalling upgrade will actually entail. If we ignore Steven Joyce’s “ha, I told you I wasn’t abandoning electrification” nonsense – as I’ll believe him when I see the order for the electric trains themselves as having occurred, and when I see wires starting to go up – this signalling upgrade will have some significant benefits for our system. However, it’s almost like Joyce is trying a bit too hard in his argument, and it’s quite funny when he’s forced to admit that the signal upgrades would assist diesel trains anyway. The Herald states:

He acknowledged the new signals would markedly improve the running of any rail fleet, whether diesel or electric, “but there will still be electric trains”.

But anyway, focusing on the positives here, the details about the signalling upgrade are quite interesting in themselves:

Westinghouse Rail Systems managing director Phil Ellingworth said the train control technology his company was importing from its European arm surpassed anything being used on Australia’s established network.

It will include the replacement of all existing points machines and signals lights with a fully computerised system to control all Auckland rail movements from within the region, although with a full back-up facility able to be operated from the national centre in Wellington.

Copper-based track circuits now used to detect where trains are on the network, with varying degrees of reliability in a “fail-safe” mode, will be replaced with fibre-optic technology able to count carriage axles to determine when tracks are clear for the next train.

Westinghouse will also supply an automatic train protection system not used anywhere else in New Zealand, to intervene if an engine appears to be travelling too fast towards a red “stop” signal, and to bring it safely to a halt regardless of any lapse of concentration by the driver.

The company’s contract will include laying signals for the new Onehunga and Manukau branch lines and for “bi-directional” train movements on some sections of the network such as at Kingsland and Morningside stations, to allow both sets of tracks to be used to carry sports fans in the same direction to or from Eden Park.

In a clean sweep of the 1950s to 1970s technology it is replacing, it will spell retirement for Auckland’s two remaining signals boxes, at Papakura and Otahuhu.

So it sounds like we’re skipping the 20th century altogether, and going from the current 19th century technology we use to something that’s quite state of the art and 21st century. Having a back-up system for when the signals fail is great, and also computerising everything is also a fantastic step forwards. Apparently everything in and out of Britomart needs to be manually done, including all the changes for points, signals and so forth. Normally this works OK, but when something goes wrong it takes an absolute age for the system to fix itself up. Hopefully the upgrades will ensure we don’t get the kind of 2 hour delays that seem to happen at least 2-3 times a month at the moment.

Unfortunately, the articles also states that it’s unlikely we will have electric trains by the time of the Rugby World Cup. This is something I believe we can blame on the government, as if they hadn’t pulled their petrol tax shennanigans on us, the ARC would have decided upon a contract for the trains and they would probably already be under construction.

Retro 90s Roads Festival!

For those out there interested in what the government, through NZTA, is going to be spending your petrol tax dollar on over the next few years, there is an interesting chart that shows what projects are hoped to be constructed over the next 5 years. There’s another chart that shows all projects that NZTA wishes to progress into a design phase over the next 5 years too – although for these ones construction will be further down the track. The government’s huge push to build state highways and ignore everything else (including local roads, maintenance of roads, walking and cycling initiatives and public transport) becomes fairly obvious with a bit of analysis of these proposed projects. In particular, the projects that are due to be investigated and designed over the next 5 years is a pretty amazing list.

Anyway, here is the list of projects below, split by the year in which they are expected to begin either shortlisting or tendering.

08-09worksv2

09-10works

10-11works

11-12works

12-13works

Now, obviously there’s a huge lack of public transport here. But that’s not necessarily surprising as the only public transport NZTA has ever built was the Northern Busway. However, apart from projects almost ready to go (like the Victoria Park tunnel) and those that nobody really has a clue about at all (Waterview Connection) there’s almost absolutely nothing in here for Auckland. Now, one could take the position that Auckland has got a pretty big share of NZTA spending over the past few years, to build the Western Ring Route (except Waterview of course) and to build all those spaghetti junction upgrades. However, it does seem strange that Auckland is planned to get so little in the future. Looking on the bright side, perhaps that will mean more of Auckland’s funds get put into public transport, walking and cycling, local roads and road maintenance. However, I do kind of doubt that this would happen and it seems more likely that National is dragging us back to the 1990s situation where Auckland paid for everyone else’s roads.

If we look at projects that are due to be in the design phase it becomes even more obvious where National are dragging things. The “roads of national significance” are really starting to show up here, and there are some pretty scary figures in terms of the possible costings for many of these projects.

designroads

At least we have a couple of public transport things in here – the two stages of a possible extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation Drive to Orewa. I think the first stage, Constellation Drive to Albany, is critical and would have significant benefits. Albany is definitely the start of the Northern Busway and it is a bit sub-standard that for this part of its route the busway effectively doesn’t really exist. The second part of the busway extension is a bit of a strange one really, as the motorway from Albany to Orewa pretty much never gets congested (so there’s no real advantage building bus lanes as the bus could travel along normal lanes just as fast) while there are also not particularly many buses that travel along that stretch of the motorway, at least not compared to the number of buses that go along the busway at the moment. There are certainly a lot more pressing public transport projects around, but I guess this is what happens when the one agency that does actually have some money (NZTA) is not the agency which has anything much to do at all with public transport. In the meanwhile, public transport has to beg around for rates dollars (harder to get than blood out of a stone) and crown grants for rail (as someone said the other day these can almost be worse than nothing, as they become political footballs continuously).

The other interesting aspect is once again how little Auckland is going to get out of proposed transportation projects over the next 5-10 years under these plans. I guess simply building the Waterview Connection is going to suck up most of our funds (assuming it gets consent), along with the stupid project of Orewa-Wellsford. Bay of Plenty and Waikato seem the huge winners here. Welcome back to the 1990s everyone.

Tentative Steps to Electrification

Things have been fairly quiet lately, with regards to transport news. Usually at times like this I dig into my imagination about possible future railway lines for Auckland – but I haven’t had much chance recently to develop the ideas that I have. I’m still trying to work out a viable route for some future Henderson to Albany link, although I have to admit that I was pretty amazed at how great the distance is between the two places and how much further north Albany is than Henderson.

But anyway, it seems like the most important news in the last few days is the announcement that the resignalling required for electrification is starting to happen. The $90 million contract for resignalling is a pretty big part of electrification, as the overhead wires would interfere with the current signalling system. In my opinion, it is a great excuse to work on the signalling system and finally drag it (kicking and screaming I bet) into the 21st century. As there is fairly little being done to expand Auckland’s rail system any time in the next few decades, in the future we are going to need to squeeze every last little bit out of the existing system, and having a state-of-the-art signalling system is going to be a key aspect of that.

Interestingly, the article gives us some indication as to how electrification is going to roll out across Auckland. Clearly the whole city can’t be wired up at the same time, and it would be advantageous to try to get rail out to Morningside on the Western Line in time for the Rugby World Cup (although it’s another matter entirely as to whether we’ll have any electric trains by that point). This is what’s stated:

*Train-control signals between Otahuhu-Britomart and Newmarket-Morningside – to be completed by end of 2010.

* Otahuhu-Papakura and Westfield to Britomart via eastern line – by end of 2011 at latest, but possibly in time for Rugby World Cup.

I think the main power supply will be around Otahuhu, and in any case that’s where the trains are to be stored, so the first place to be electrified will have to be from Otahuhu to Britomart. That’s consistent with the proposal to resignal that line first (assumedly the Southern Line). Also, by the end of 2010 we will have the Newmarket-Morningside line resignalled – which means that electric trains would be able to get from Britomart to Kingsland/Morningside once the wires have been put up. So the resignalling will be done well in time for the Rugby World Cup.

Oddly, the next stage proposed is the Eastern Line, rather than the rest of the Western Line. I can’t quite understand why this would happen, as the end result could end up being that half the Western Line is electrified but the other half isn’t – for perhaps a year or two. It would certainly be annoying for Western Line passengers to have to change trains at Morningside between a diesel and an electric.

So, overall this is a positive step that we’re seeing. I’m not going to be fully convinced that National hasn’t canned electification until I see wires going up and see an order for electric trains (and decent ones at that) having taken place. However, it would be VERY strange for $90 million to be sunk into resignalling that is only really necessary because of electrification. Therefore, it is a good sign.

Bus Dramas

Well I guess today could have just been a number of coincidences, but it did seem fairly symptomatic of the state of Auckland’s public transport.

So, as it was a Monday morning I headed into town on the 004/005 bus route – like I always do. The weather was pretty rubbish this morning, and inevitably the bus was late. I suppose that I have some sympathy for late buses on wet-weather days, as generally the traffic is rubbish. A pile of intrepid bus catchers huddled in the shelter, and eventually our bus came along. Then, first drama – my bus pass refused to work. Sometimes I have had problems with it in the past, but never amounting to anything more than requiring the driver to push it back in and try again. But on this occasion it just kept on saying “error”. After about ten goes I gave up and dug into my wallet for a $2 coin.

Then next drama – for some reason or another the doors on the bus (bus number 1830 by the way) refused to open for the driver. This meant that every time the bus stopped for someone to get off, everyone needed to wander to the front of the bus and wait for the driver to get up, wrench the door open and then wrench the door shut once everyone was off. I think eventually the driver found himself totally sick of that, and realised that by revving the engine of the bus hugely he could generate the extra power needed for the doors to open. That worked a couple of times, although it just about deafened the passengers. But after a while it seemed even that wasn’t going to work anymore, so he gave up.

Eventually I got to work, and had quite an interesting day actually – as I had a hearing to go to and present evidence at. I do find myself enjoying that aspect to my work, which is interesting as it’s an aspect that many other people apparently try to avoid as much as they can. I suppose that it’s good in terms of my longer-term career to get used to presenting hearing evidence, and to feel confident at it.

So after work I made my way down to the bus stop. Bus card didn’t work again, although this time the driver was quite nice and gave me a free ride. And then, almost unbelievably the doors on this bus were faulty too! This time they opened fine, but wouldn’t close. While I guess it’s better to have them this way than the other way around, it did mean that the “bus stopping” sign kept on flicking off immediately. I think it was bus number 1200…. truly strange that two different buses on the same day would have almost the same problem. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I caught a bus with a totally defunct ticket machine – what is going on here?