Hamilton-Auckland rail service – good news?

Some potentially good news in a NZ Herald article today on the proposed Hamilton to Auckland railway service.

KiwiRail has agreed to present a proposal to Hamilton City within weeks on a trial daily passenger service to and from Auckland.

“We are refining a proposal to run a service using the Silver Fern railcars between Hamilton and Auckland on a trial basis,” spokesman Kevin Ramshaw said last night.

As far as I know the main thing holding this back still is whether Environment Waikato (the regional council) will stump up with some money to help run the service. Hamilton City Council, whose job doesn’t actually technically extend to funding public transport services, seems fairly keen on the idea and may even come up with a bit of money themselves. There has been a bit more pressure put on Environment Waikato in recent times to stump up with the funding, so hopefully it’s not an impossibility.

The proposed service is looking a bit better now too: not just one train from Hamilton to Auckland in the morning, and another one back in the evening:

He said the proposal would be based on two return services daily which, combined with the long-distance Overlander, would offer Waikato residents three trains a day to Auckland.

Mr Macpherson said that if KiwiRail could produce a scheme the council could afford, the trial could begin late this year or early in 2010, with trains possibly stopping at Huntly, Te Kauwhata, and Papatoetoe (for a bus connection to Auckland Airport) en route to Britomart or Newmarket.

While that “…or Newmarket” is a bit worrying (the service will be a failure if it does not go right through to Britomart), having an Auckland to Hamilton train leave Auckland at around 9am, and a Hamilton to Auckland train leaving Hamilton at around 3pm would be really useful for people in Auckland making day-trips for business or other reasons. I certainly hope that is what is meant by two return services daily.

The whole idea seems pretty popular with the locals too:

Although the Environment Waikato regional council failed to include a rail service in its list of three-yearly funding applications to the Transport Agency, 85 per cent of about 700 Hamilton residents told a city-sponsored survey they believed it would be a good idea and 43 per cent expected to use it.

Going away

I’m away on the Coromandel Peninsula for the next couple of days for work purposes, so probably won’t have internet – so don’t expect any posts until Saturday I imagine! A few questions in the meanwhile to ponder:

  1. When will there be an announcement on the funding for Auckland’s electric trains?
  2. Why is it so important for a bunch of roading projects (Manuakau Harbour Crossing Project, Newmarket Viaduct, Victoria Park Tunnel) to be completed by the time of the Rugby World Cup, but seemingly not important for public transport projects like integrated ticketing and electrification to be complete by then?
  3. Does nobody realise that tourists tend to catch public transport, and not bring their cars with them on the plane?
  4. What NEW public transport projects have National announced since becoming government?
  5. Why do we need bigger trucks?
  6. Why can’t Infratil just accept they lost the integrated ticketing contract?

Through-routing buses

One of the silliest things about Auckland’s public transport system is how 95% of bus routes simply go from somewhere in the suburbs to the CBD, and then turn around to head back out again on the same route. There are a few consequences of this which combine to greatly reduce the effectiveness of our public transport system, and also contribute to the CBD being filled with polluting diesel buses far more than what is actually necessary.

I think the structure of our bus network is in many ways a remnant of the tram network that Auckland had, before it was ripped up in the 1950s (perhaps the worst decision made in Auckland’s history?) Back then it made sense to run the trams into the city and then back out again – because most people worked in the city and also because electric trams weren’t as noisy and polluting as the diesel buses that replaced them from the 1950s onwards. Most of our higher-frequency bus routes these days follow the alignment of old tram routes – along arterials like Great North Road, New North Road, Sandringham Road, Dominion Road, Mt Eden Road, Manukau Road and Remuera Road.

However, the world has changed since the 1950s. As I outlined in a post a couple of days ago, only 11.7% of the region’s jobs are now located in the CBD – so we need to make our public transport system more useful for those commuting from suburb to suburb. For someone who lives on the North Shore, but works in Ellerslie or further south, they’re simply just never going to catch public transport – because it would take forever. A big part of the hassle is the need to change buses in the CBD, which could well involve walking a few blocks between where your North Shore bus lets you off, and the bus south picks you up. Furthermore, if you miss the bus south you’ll be waiting a while for another one (as counter-peak frequencies are pretty low generally).

Another significant problem caused by terminating buses in the CBD is that you get an awful lot of buses just hanging around – waiting to start their run, waiting between runs and so on. If you wander around the CBD at around 4pm you will see an enormous number of buses just hanging around waiting for the evening peak. This is incredibly inefficient, it clogs up the city’s streets with buses, and when they all have their engines on it is very polluting. Need I remind people that poor air quality in Auckland kills hundreds of people each year?

So what’s the solution? Well quite simply we need to link up our bus routes coming from different sides of the city, so that instead of terminating in the CBD and turning around to head back the way they came, instead the bus routes continue to travel through the city. Now obviously this can’t be done for all routes – as there are imbalances, but as the map below shows, I think that certainly for quite a lot of routes such a system could be achieved, and would have enormous benefits:

CBDStarting with the blue line, I would link up as many bus routes coming from the North Shore as possible with routes that come through Newmarket heading to the CBD (usually from the south and east). This would probably be the most useful connection to make, as it would provide an excellent north-south link through the city for people wanting to travel from Ellserlie to Takapuna, and so on. Furthermore, there are a LOT of buses each day that travel from the south and east into the CBD, and a lot of buses that come from the north – so linking them up would create a high-quality link through the city. This would definitely make it more possible for someone to use public transport even though they don’t work in the CBD.

The red line would link up buses coming from west Auckland via Great North Road with those coming from some of the isthmus routes (New North Road, Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd etc.) There is probably a bit of an imbalance here, with more buses coming from the isthmus routes, while furthermore I don’t think as many people would catch the bus all the way through the CBD and out the other side (nearly back where they came from). However, it would still have significant advantages in reducing the number of buses hanging around in the CBD.

The green line would link buses coming from the “Western Bays” area – such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Westmere and so forth with those coming from Tamaki Drive. While the number of buses using this link would be far less than either the blue line or the red line, there would still be significant benefits in enabling people who live in the eastern suburbs but work in Ponsonby to catch a bus for their whole trip. It would also be very useful for recreational purposes – linking together the Tamaki Drive waterfront area with Ponsonby. Yet again, it would have benefits of reducing the number of buses terminating in the CBD.

To be honest, the advantages of ‘through-routing’ buses seem so obvious that it’s pretty unbelievable this hasn’t been done. There wouldn’t be much, if any, additional cost in implementing this kind of routing change. It’s a no-brainer, so come on ARTA – do it!

Electrification: the beginning, not the end

It has been an interesting year so far for Auckland’s public transport – probably a good year to start writing a blog on the topic actually, considering all the goings on that have happened. Probably the biggest story of the year so far was the cancellation of the Regional Petrol Tax back in March, which put most of the public transport improvements that we can expect in the next few years, into doubt.

In the months since then it seems like everything has been about “cleaning up the mess” that Steven Joyce created in March through his transport announcements. Fortunately, most of the mess has now been cleaned up: with a decision on integrated ticketing being made last week, NZTA coming to the party and funding upgrades to Onehunga and New Lynn, the Manukau rail link going ahead, and funding for the below track part of electrification being outlined in the May budget. All we are really waiting for now is NZTA to confirm that they will provide the necessary funding subsidy for integrated ticketing (to be finalised in September I think) and for the funding of Auckland’s electric trains to be announced. Goodness knows when that will happen, although rumours suggest it might be this week.

So, we’re almost back to where we were a few months ago then. The question I wish to ask is “where to next?” It seems like the government is convinced that the money they’re going to spend on finishing ProjectDART (upgrades to the rail system  that have been ongoing for the last few years) and electrification, that’s it. Auckland’s transport planning documents suggest that this is the case as well, with funding for public transport infrastructure after electrification is complete almost disappearing. As a public transport advocate I think it’s important for me to state that I believe we’re only at the beginning of this process to truly create a top-class public transport system for Auckland. Electrification and ProjectDART cannot be seen as endpoints, but rather the first step of a process. We must develop a vision for how we want Auckland’s public transport system to look like in 30-40 years time, and work out how we’re going to get there. With higher fuel prices a certainty in the future, combined with the need to reduce CO2 emissions from our transport sector, I think that it’s critical that we back up the “talk” of quantum shifts with a real plan. And we fix our broken funding system to ensure that the money’s available to do it.

Unfortunately, I doubt the current government has the vision or desire to do anything more than the bare minimum when it comes to public transport. Maybe a future Super-City Council will be just what we need to push the need for better public transport?

Public Transport and Auckland’s future urban growth

When it comes to improving the share of commuters and general travellers who use public transport, what matters probably more than anything are employment densities. People do go on about the need to improve the density of households, and while that’s important to increase the number of people within walking distance of railway stations, bus stops and so forth, employment density is MORE important. That is because people can drive to a bus stop or train station, or they can catch a feeder bus to a train station. But at the other end of their trip they really need to be within a short walk of their place of employment – otherwise public transport is just all too difficult for them and they will drive instead.

We see that pattern hold true throughout most cities. New York City is well served by public transport because its employment densities in Manhatten and part of Brooklyn are exceptionally high. At the other end of the scale, in Auckland our employment densities are actually really really low – as was detailed in a rather strange New Zealand Herald article that I posted on a few weeks ago. In Auckland we have 11.7% of the region’s jobs in the CBD, while two-thirds of all jobs are outside of any employment hub. While it’s probably a bit of a generalisation, I don’t think I would be too far off by estimating that about 95% of people whose jobs are outside any employment hub probably drive to work. Parking would be free, public transport probably doesn’t go anywhere close to where people need to be, and so on and so forth. In contrast, I think about 40% of people working in the CBD use public transport (a figure which could definitely be higher). For other employment hubs I imagine the figures vary from being quite close to that of the CBD (for Newmarket) to probably much closer to that of areas outside any hubs at all (for Albany basin & East Tamaki).

Before I go on to “what can we do about this?” I just want to make the point that I do not think residential densities are irrelevant to encouraging public transport use, and reducing auto-dependency. In fact, as the table below shows a surprisingly small percentage of trips are for work commuting:

2041-copyThis tables shows the expected number of trips around the Auckland region (per day) in 2041, but the numbers aren’t what’s significant, what is significant is that Community (shopping/recreation) trips make up almost half those projected to be taken, while work commuting is barely 20%. So, a low density residential area with a high-density core (kind of like the outer suburbs of New York) will only really be able to provide quality public transport for work related trips – and therefore won’t actually reduce auto-dependency for other trips. To truly reduce auto-dependency you need to make it easier for these “community” trips to be made without a car. And that means higher-densities and mixed-use developments. This means people don’t have to travel as far to undertake their necessary activities, and therefore don’t need to use their car to do all these community trips.

Once again, if we look at New York City we see this result quite clearly. In the dense inner suburbs people don’t need to own a car, in fact I think 70% of Manhatten residents don’t own a car, because the urban areas are dense enough and mixed-use enough to make it possible for the community trips to be undertaken without a car. Further out into the outer suburbs of New York, public transport use remains reasonably high for work commuting, but falls away for these community trips. As a result, more people need to own cars and the places are still fairly auto-dependent.

Anyway, getting back to the issue of employment densities in Auckland, the ARC has looked at this issue in quite a bit of detail in the analysis of forming a “where should we grow” plan to follow on from the 1999 Regional Growth Strategy. The different “growth scenarios” are outlined below:

Scenario 1 takes a compact urban form approach, based on high density centres and corridors. As a general theme, this scenario focuses future growth in centres that are located on or near the current and future Rapid Transit Network (RTN). This recognises the importance of leveraging off existing and planned investment in the transport network. In this scenario all projected future growth is provided within the urban area (as of 2008). This includes all future residential growth, Group 2 (retail, business services, offices etc) and Group 1 (manufacturing, transport and storage, wholesale trade, construction) business land. This scenario gives particular prominence to the Central Business District (CBD) and CBD fringe and four centres (called regional centres) recognising that these centres will have a strategic role to play in terms of scale and function to meet a range of housing and employment needs. A number of centres play a supporting role for growth and change (called principal and town centres).

Scenario 2 also takes a compact urban form approach, through high density centres and corridors, in locations on the current and future RTN, but it provides more dispersed growth than Scenario 1. Most future growth is provided within the 2008 urban area; however this scenario also provides for the expansion of some existing rural towns and the development of some new large transit orientated towns i.e. new towns on the RTN, and outside the current Metropolitan Urban Limit (MuL). As with Scenario 1, this scenario gives prominence to the CBD and CBD fringe, four regional centres, and a range of principle and town centres play a supporting role for growth and change. However, all centres tend to provide less capacity than those in Scenario 1.

Scenario 3 is based on information provided by the region’s territorial authorities. It provides an opportunity to test local ideas about growth management to 2050. It is similar to Scenarios 1 and 2 in that most growth is focused in a network of centres and corridors aligned to the Rapid and Quality Transit Networks. Additionally, Scenario 3 includes some “Intensification Areas” in Manukau and North Shore cities. These are broad corridor-like areas outside centres that have been considered appropriate for greater intensification. Further capacity is provided by suburban infill and in a proliferation of Local and Neighbourhood Centres, of which there are considerably more than in Scenarios 1 and 2. It is therefore a feature of Scenario 3 that whilst growth is directed into centres, there is a significant amount of capacity dispersed elsewhere within the metropolitan area into smaller centres and general suburban infill. The CBD remains the pre-eminent centre and it is supported by the six regional centres of Manukau City, Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, New Lynn, and Westgate. These 6 regional centres vary greatly in size and potentially therefore in role and function. Supporting these are numerous principal and town centres.

Scenario 4 is based on Proposed Plan Change 6 (PC 6) of the Auckland Regional Policy Statement (ARPS). PC6 is based on Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) principles. Scenario 4 varies from the other three scenarios in that it has different centre categories from those advocated in the Regional Classification Project. However, it is generally consistent with the other scenarios in that, it promotes the compact urban growth approach with strong residential and employment growth in a pre-eminent CBD, and also in sub- regional centres and town centres. In contrast to the other scenarios, Scenario 4 does not identify any growth capacity in lower tier local centres and neighbourhood centres. It is therefore strongly reliant on a large amount of future capacity being achieved in higher level centres, in general infill, and in the development of remaining vacant land.

Scenario 5 was designed to test the implications of significant urban expansion. As such, Scenario 5 has a spatial form that is generally inconsistent with RGS policy of compact urban form and containment within the MUL. Scenario 5 represents a dispersed urban expansion scenario based on knowledge of existing development pressures, land ownership and market priorities and sequencing. Approximately 50 per cent of new growth occurs outside the current MuL in the expansion of rural towns, more countryside living, and development of greenfield land with 50 per cent in the MuL in existing centres.

Ruling out Scenario 5 because it’s a return to the days of sprawl and thankfully won’t happen, it’s interesting to compare the other four options – which seem like a gradual progression from the most centralisation (scenario 1) to the least (scenario 4).

It’s interesting to analyse which of the options might be best from a public transport perspective – obviously scenario 1 would involve almost all future growth being built around the current and future rapid transit (railway lines and busways) network, while scenario 2 would offer something similar but also have the potential for new transit-towns to be developed (which may or may not be a good thing, not quite sure myself yet). Scenario 3 in some ways seems the most realistic – a nice compromise on many levels. Scenario 4 is a bit strange in that instead of developing local centres it simply focuses on infill housing – so probably wouldn’t be as supportive of public transport as the other options.

So what to make of all this? Bringing things back to where I started this post, I do worry that too much focus is being placed on the concentration of new dwellings rather than the concentration of new jobs. Personally, I think we need to build Auckland’s urban future around creating a number of employment nodes that are easy to serve by public transport, rather than focusing all our efforts on creating communities that can access public transport easily. While of course the latter is important – people can drive or catch a feeder bus to a train station. They are less likely to put up with catching another bus or having a very long walk at the other end of their trip. So I think a greater focus on ensuring that the new development of employment opportunities is carefully managed is perhaps more important than the careful management of residential areas.

So putting it all together, I have come up with my vague plan for Auckland’s future urban development, which focuses on existing employment areas and the links between those areas. As detailed in an excellent post on humantransit.org the other day, we needn’t write off public transport for Auckland just because we have dispersed employment. What we need to do is focus on linking up our growth areas, and ensuring that future businesses develop within these hubs. Hopefully we’ll end up with something like this:

Auckland-future copyWith good public transport links (the blue lines) between our employment hubs (the red circles) I think that we most certainly can become a city where public transport is extremely popular and viable. (Please note that I do want a CBD rail loop, this is just a very broad picture). By focusing most new employment within these defined areas, and encouraging a mix of higher density residential development and business within those nodes too, I think that we can break our auto-dependency in the future. And I also think that public transport will become useful for a wider section of people than simply those who work or study in the CBD.

Me vs Trevor Mallard

I must say I am a big fan of Labour’s blog – Red Alert. It provides a great way of having some interaction with a number of MPs that normally just wouldn’t be possible. While I hope Labour don’t rely on it too much when putting together policy initiatives, it seems like the blog is a good way to get some feedback on ideas. Trevor Mallard has taken to it quite fondly, and seems to be the main person running the place. And he’s doing a pretty damn good job of it too.

Often the topics are about stuff that I can provide a reasonable opinion on, but not really ones that I consider myself to be a particular expert upon. Well, until today – when interestingly enough Trevor Mallard has done a post on Auckland’s integrated ticketing contract, which was awarded to Thales earlier this week. It reads as follows:

Transtasman reports that the Auckland Regional Transport Agency has rejected the Infratil led bid for their integrated ticketing system.They have chosen Thales a french company.Insiders (not Infratil) tell me that ARTA was conned by consultants into a highly overspeced solution which will be a fresh build rather than the alternative, an extension of the snapper solution currently in use in Wellington.Extra cost $30 – $50m. IT jobs exported. Potential for NZ wide solution gone.Just stupid.

Now it just so happens that I disagree with Trevor’s opinion on this completely, as I detailed in a post earlier this week.

So here’s my reply:

Sorry Trevor but Infratil have really misled you here.

Infratil and Thales were the two main parties tendering for ARTA’s smart-card integrated ticketing solution. As I imagine you know, Infratil owns NZ Bus, which operates about three quarters of all the buses in the Auckland area. They also operate Go Wellington buses and have rolled out their “Snapper Card” system over the past year or so. The Snapper Card was what Infratil wanted to extend to Auckland.

Maybe that would have been a bit cheaper for ARTA, but it would have been inferior to what Thales can offer. Thales have an internationally proven track record for installing and operating smart-card integrated ticketing systems. They even did an integrated system that covers every town and city in the Netherlands.

In my opinion, ARTA chose Thales for two excellent reasons:

1) Internationally proven company. The last thing we want is to see what has happened in Sydney happen here. I think Sydney has spent close to a billion dollars trying to get a smart-card integrated ticketing system but it still didn’t work.

2) The potential for a conflict of interest between Infratil operating the ticketing system and Infratil running 75% of Auckland’s buses. This means that in a system where it will be necessary for operators to reimburse each other according to some sort of formula (as not necessarily the same operator who gets paid for the ticket actually provides the ride) you would have had one of those operators owning and running the ticketing system. If I were Howick and Eastern buses for example, I would certainly not want NZ Bus (Infratil) to have all powers over collecting the money for me. Too much potential for it to go wrong.

ARTA have made and excellent choice here. This means we will end up with a world-class smart-card system – like London’s Oyster Card. I just hope that NZTA stumps up the required money so we can get this project going. National’s stupidity in getting rid of the regional fuel tax has already delayed this project by about a year and probably meant it won’t be ready for the World Cup. Which is unbelievably annoying.

I look forward to seeing what he comes back with.

Update: Trevor’s reply

Jarbury – it is not hard to design a system to avoid actual conflict of interest. Lots of lawyers have expertise and while we don’t see it often enough so does the Commerce Commission.I suppose we will have to absorb the cost and wait and see.

And then a couple of replies by me, firstly:

I think that it would incredibly messy though – to have part of Infratil delivering the ticketing system and another part running buses. However, I don’t think that was the main reason ARTA went with Thales, I think the main reason was simply that they could offer a far better service.Snapper has been derided by many as a pretty “dumb” Smart-card. Furthermore, it certainly hasn’t been rolled out to other bus companies or the trains in Wellington. While Auckland needs a smart-card, we need integrated ticketing MORE.

And then I really get the knives out:

While I usually post on this blog in favour of Labour, I have to say that this kind of post reminds me why I didn’t vote for them last year. What’s $30-50 million extra to spend on making Auckland’s ticketing system world-class and not just a half-ass job that will have problems for decades into the future due to Infratil’s conflict of interest?Surely if Labour were concerned about money being wasted on transport then they would be questioning why National is spending $10.7 billion on new state highways over the next decade even though petrol prices are likely to increase significantly over that time, even though we need to reduce our transport sector CO2 emissions and even though traffic on state highways has been falling for the last couple of years.

So why doesn’t Labour do that? Why does Labour focus on what’s really a tiny amount of money being spent on making Auckland’s ticketing system world class? It’s hard not to think that it’s because Labour’s transport policies are stuck in the 1960s almost as much as National’s.


While I have little hope of National “seeing the light” when it comes to public transport, I do expect Labour to be better in the future. Their transport policies over the past decade have been pretty rubbish, and are only just starting to improve. If public transport is to be the way forward for a city like Auckland in the future, which I believe it has to be, then Labour needs to have their transport policies join the 21st century.

Cheaper petrol – people drive more

This time last year petrol was up around $2.20 a litre I think, and had been over $2 a litre since early June. That was pretty unbelievable compared to how prices had been in the past, I know that it certainly hurt the wallet to see a full tank cost nearly $100. At that time we saw some pretty extreme responss to petrol getting that expensive, with public transport usage going through the roof, and traffic volumes on state highways declining significantly. Below we have a graph showing traffic volumes for June 2008 compared to June 2007 – a significant decrease:

june2008 The numbers are a little tricky to read, so I shall help. For the Auckland and Northland region we had a 6.6% drop in volumes, while for the country as a whole the drop was 7.9%. Those are some pretty significant numbers, which I guess isn’t surprising.

One of the most interesting aspects of this part of last year, when prices were so high, is to wonder where all the traffic went. Some of it certainly switched to public transport – as ARTA’s June 2008 Monthly Business Report stated that “June month patronage is 11% higher for bus, 29.5% higher for rail and 0.5% lower for ferries” compared with June 2007. However, because the vast majority of people travelling around Auckland do so by car, even a 12% increase in public transport use overall is far less than a 6.6% decrease in car usage. So some trips seemed to just disappear – I guess people’s discretionary travel was reduced by the high cost of such travel. I certainly know that I thought twice about driving anywhere when petrol was above $2.20 a litre!

Bringing things forward by a year, NZTA have released their June 2009 traffic volume data. As outlined in the graph below, traffic voumes have somewhat rebounded from their lows last year.


It is interesting to compare the above graph with the difference between May 2008 and May 2009 traffic, which I commented on last month. Whereas May 2009 traffic was down on May 2008, we see with June that trend has been reversed. I suppose that in June this year petrol prices did come down a bit, from the $1.60s to the high $1.50s (back up to the low $1.60s now I think), but I really think that the main reason is that June 2008 figures were REALLY LOW, and it would have been hard for the 2009 figures to be even lower (even though we’re in a recession).

Just to avoid everyone getting really confused here, the following points/trends seem to be emerging from this data:

  1. High petrol prices in 2008 (from June to September in particular) really got people out of their cars. Some went to public transport and others just didn’t make the trips.
  2. Although petrol prices have returned to levels very similar to this time two years ago, traffic volumes are still below the levels of this time two years ago (a 2.5% rise for Auckland comparing 09 to 08 cannot offset a 6.6% fall comparing 08 to 07). Some of this may be due to the recession, some may be due to better provision of public transport.
  3. It appears very likely that should petrol prices increase in the future, traffic volumes would decline once again.

So cheaper petrol prices (by around 50c a litre!) compared to this time last year has meant that more people are driving. This might make it difficult for public transport patronage over the next few months to match the levels reached last year – hopefully ARTA release their monthly business report soon so we can have a look!

Electric trains announcement next week?

I have heard that there should be a final announcement on how Auckland’s electric trains are to be funded by the end of July. That means some time next week. With yesterday’s announcement of integrated ticketing, thankfully most of the mess Steven Joyce created when abandoning the Regional Fuel Tax has been cleaned up – which I suspect we are very thankful to Mike Lee from the ARC for.

Back in late May, Steven Joyce announced that he was going to look into a variety of options for funding Auckland’s future electric trains, that were previously to be funded through the ARC’s share of the Regional Fuel Tax. One of the options Joyce was looking at was a PPP: private-public-partnership, which have a nasty habit of constantly failing overseas. One hopes that he has abandoned that poorly thought-out idea, and we will see an annoucement in the near future that the government is going to step in and pay for the electric trains through KiwiRail.

Frustratingly, even if this “good news” does happen, we’re still in a poorer situation than where we were a few months back. Electrification has undoubtedly been delayed by these shennanigans, and the chance of having electric trains by the time of the Rugby World Cup has now disappeared. Let’s just hope our clapped out old trains don’t fail like they did a few months ago before a Super 14 Blues v Highlanders rugby match.

Thales wins Integrated Ticketing contract

It’s odd that one would find out this incredibly important piece of news from a Computer Magazine, but that has been the case here. As I had hoped for when posting on the subject a few days ago, Thales have been awarded the contract for Auckland’s integrated ticketing system. Unless things fall over completely, the prospect of having the bizarre situation of Infratil running the ticketing system and most of the buses (but not all of them, and not the trains either) has been averted. And that is good news. A few bits and pieces from the article:

A consortium led by French company Thales, long rumoured to have won a tender to supply Auckland’s integrated ticketing system, has finally been named by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority as its preferred provider.ARTA will now enter negotiations with the Thales group to deliver the project before going to the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA), which will help fund the project. The other companies that tendered for the deal are not entirely out of the picture, however, as final negotiations could still fail bringing an Infratil-led consortium and another led by Downer EDI back into the picture, warns ARTA’s CEO, Fergus Gammie.

One would hope that it’s very unlikely that the final negotiations fail. And now for the frustrating news:

ARTA is aiming to go to NZTA in September. That would mean the project, which has been in the planning and evaluation stages for three years at least, will be running nearly a year behind its original schedule.

Seriously, this project has taken utterly forever. But at least it’s finally happening I suppose.

NZTA’s approach to the national system is to have one central clearing house for regional systems such as Auckland’s. It wants to use open standards and interfaces and alternative funding and financing options to help make both the national and regional systems a reality.The Auckland tender process will be used to deliver that, it says in a statement released today.

“This approach will provide for a core centralised system that allows for multiple technologies and electronic ticket providers to connect to the central system provided they meet the technical standards defined by the NZTA,” the statement says.

“The approach will also provide the potential for individual public transport operators to decide which electronic ticketing or smart card system best meets their business needs. The focus will be on determining the standards while maintaining options, choice and competitive tensions to ensure value for money and improvements in the effectiveness of public transport services in New Zealand.”

This is most excellent news for Auckland’s transport future. Now we just need to get NZTA to stump up with the required money (which should hopefully just be a formality) and then we’ll finally be able to progress with this project. I wonder how long it’ll take to roll out? Fully operational by the 2011 Rugby World Cup I hope.

Some more information on NZTA’s review of the tendering process is here. And an article about Infratil accepting the decision here.

Update: The ARTA press release is here. Of interest:

“Boarding times will be faster for our customers because fares won’t have to be collected. The ticket will be a swipe on/ swipe off system. Faster boarding times will mean ARTA has the potential to put on more frequent services. Having a smartcard means ease of transfer for commuters between different bus operators, train and ferry services.

“An integrated ticketing system also has the potential to offer some very attractive fare reductions in comparison to cash purchase of tickets.

“The system will include automated gates, smartcard readers onboard buses and ferries, smartcard reload devices at selected rail and bus stations and ferry wharves, and the supply of all computer hardware, software, networks and communications”.

Mr Rabindran says the system will be similar to London’s Oyster system and Hong Kong’s Octopus system. Like Oyster, ARTA plans to initially implement core functions and progressively phase in additional functionality.

Transport and CO2 emissions

It seems timely to talk a bit about carbon dioxide emissions, as the government is currently undertaking consultation on what New Zealand’s 2020 target should be in terms of reducing our CO2 emissions when compared to 1990 levels. There has been a big push for a dramatic 40% reduction target, as that is what is considered necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change, although it is likely the government is going to end up on something a bit more modest. While having a more modest target would be a disappointment, I think in some ways a more critical question is “how are we going to achieve any reduction?”

Since 1990 New Zealand’s gross CO2 emissions (that is, everything we pump out) have increased quite significantly. However, due to a lot of tree planting in the 1990s our net emissions (gross emissions minus the amount of CO2 trees can suck out of the atmosphere) is about level. However, to actually decrease our net emissions by anything substantial in the longer-term, it will be necessary to reduce our gross emissions. And this is where things get tricky. New Zealand’s CO2 emissions largely come from three sources: agriculture, power generation and transport. It is notoriously difficult to reduce CO2 emissions from agriculture without reducing food production – certainly something we wouldn’t want in a world with a growing population. Steps will have to be taken to find ways to reduce agricultural emissions, but they are a while away yet. Regarding power generation, while we can certainly do more to reduce these emissions by investing in renewable energy generation and taking pressure off our backup coal and gas stations, we actually do pretty well when comparing with other countries internationally. This means that our ability to significantly reduce emissions from power generation are somewhat limited (as already 70% or so of our electricity is renewably generated).

Which leaves transport. Over the past 18 years emissions from transport have gone horribly in the wrong direction. According to the Ministry of Economic Development:

“Emissions from national transport continue to account for the largest share of total energy emissions. National transport emissions have grown by 64% since 1990 at an average growth rate of 2.8% per annum, although this has slowed in recent years. Emissions from road transport account for the largest share of national transport emissions at 90%. This represents 38% of the total energy carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for New Zealand.”

So transport is a significant problem. But short of completely overhauling our entire transport system, what can we actually do about this? Well, trends in the last year provide some interesting insights into that:

Road transport emissions, however, dropped in 2008 for the first time since the energy greenhouse gas emissions series began. This is likely to be due to high petrol and diesel prices in 2008 and the beginning of the global recession.

While obviously we don’t want to encourage recessions as ways in which to reduce transport-sector CO2 emissions, the telling aspect is that to reduce our emissions we need to get cars off the road, and that pricing (in the form of higher fuel prices) is a way in which to achieve this. Now obviously it would be enormously unfair to simply price people off the road without providing them with alternatives – which is why it is so essential for public transport to be heavily invested in over the next few years in particular. We will end up with some sort of emissions trading scheme to provide incentives to reduce our emissions and encourage planting forestry. This scheme will add to the price of petrol, potentially quite significantly in the longer term. Therefore, we need to provide people with effective alternatives to driving so that we can reduce our transport sector emissions without having enormous social inequity outcomes of people simply not being able to afford to undertake their daily activities.

Of course this goes against absolutely everything Steven Joyce has said about transport since he became the Minister. I wonder if he ever does talk to Nick Smith, the Minister for Climate Change Issues?

One particularly interesting aspect of the transport sector emissions is the significant contribution that diesel makes – even though the number of petrol cars on the road is hugely greater than the number of trucks. This is evident in the picture below:


Just one more reason to focus on shifting freight to rail, which is far more efficient, rather than allowing even bigger trucks on our roads.