Bus Changes – rationalisation or death by a thousand cuts?

ARTA have notified quite a few changes to bus routes throughout Auckland. The changes are to the following routes:

Urban Express 104 and 105, Ritchies 945X, Metrolink 200, Metrolink 530, Metrolink 506, Metrolink 006, North Star 873, North Star 952, North Star 964, North Star 963, Go West 102 and 107 and Route 13F, 36F 98F.

Looking through the individual changes for each route (click the above link for details), they are generally routes which operate just a few times a day, but have more typical and frequent alternatives. Now while I’m not really a fan of cutting public transport services on principle, I am of the opinion that the current system of bus routes throughout Auckland is incredibly overly-complex, and what we really need are higher frequencies along a more simplified route structure. Most of Auckland’s more successful bus routes fit into that category – of offering a pretty direct services along a major corridor that runs at good frequencies throughout the day, particularly at peak hour.

So I guess I do kind of see where ARTA are coming from in rationalising the bus system in this manner. However, I do kind of feel as though for each service that is ‘rationalised’ we should get an additional service elsewhere in the system. With bus patronage growing, we shouldn’t be reducing the number of services in Auckland, but rather reallocating resources from where they’re not needed to where they’re more needed. In recent months it seems like it has been “cut cut cut” and we haven’t seen the expansion of services on routes that need such expansion.

So come on ARTA, give us some good news to go with the bad.

Time Savings Benefits – real or not?

Keeping in mind that $2.6 billion worth of “Time Savings Benefits” have been ascribed to the Waterview Connection (almost single-handedly justifying the project), I guess it’d make sense to have a look internationally at these benefits, to make sure they’re robust and stack up well.

Luckily, a study in Melbourne into them has recently been conducted. Let’s have a look at its abstract:

The foremost economic benefit postulated and claimed for all road network investments is the value of travel time saved. This paper’s aim is to empirically test whether the very substantial economic resources that have been consumed over the last two or so decades in the construction and use of major road network additions in Melbourne have helped to achieve the travel time savings which formed the main foundation of their economic justification. The study uses the annual traffic system monitoring data prepared by VicRoads for the monitored urban road network, and compares these actual data against the results for Melbourne’s urban road system that were projected by various traffic modelling experts in the 1990s. In particular this study uses City Link as the case study to enable the comparison between such projections and actual traffic volumes and traffic behaviour.

One of the key findings of this study is that the average whole of day speed on Melbourne’s freeways overall has stayed at around the same level (78+ kms /hour) apart from 2000-01 (83.5 kms/ hour) and 2001-02 (79.5 kms’ hour). Second, the average speed in kilometres per hour in both the morning and evening peak periods for the whole monitored urban network in the most recent year for which data are available — the year ended June 30 2007 — is the lowest it has been since 1994-95. Third, average travel speeds in inner Melbourne post the opening of City Link have reduced in both the morning and evening peaks. Even more concerning is the fact that average speeds across the whole day for both freeways and all types of arterial roads in the inner Melbourne region have all similarly dropped over the years 2001-02 to 2006-07. Fourth, the projected volume of freeway traffic of 331,000 DVH by 2011 looks unlikely based on the reduced speed of freeway traffic volumes since 2003-04 and a total freeway volume of 244,700 DVH in 2006-07. Finally, the Net Present Value (NPV) of the extra travel time in actual daily vehicle hour equivalents over the years 1997-98 to 2006-07 as compared to the projected total saving in DVH of 161.2 million is -$349.4 million. Given this dissaving, the NPV of travel time savings on Melbourne’s’ urban road network from 2007-08 to 2030-31 inclusive would have to amount to $1.834.4 billion, as opposed to the projected NPV of $957.1 million by Allen consulting group and Cox (1996).

In sum, the results from this study suggest that the core of travel times savings benefits, which is an increase in average travel speeds, has not to date eventuated in Melbourne’s urban road network during the years under review. Indeed, based on the evidence presented and analysed in this paper, one could be led to the conclusion that investments in Melbourne’s urban road network have resulted in more time being used by Melbourne’s motorists rather than less time. Hence major road infrastructure initiatives and the consequent economic investments have not yet delivered a net economic benefit to either Melbourne’s motorists or the Victorian community. Equally concerning is the plausible conclusion from this analysis that over their remaining economic life such major urban road network investments are unlikely to result in major travel time savings.

I wonder if this will have implications into how we evaluate the anticipated benefits of the various transport projects we embark upon?

RLTS – last minute changes

Some important last minute changes are being made to the Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) before it is notified for public submissions next month. Following what’s going on in the meetings of the Regional Transport Committee (RTC) has certainly been quite fascinating in recent times. At the most recent meeting the RTC has directed the strategy to be altered in a few potentially significant ways.

Let’s have a look at what was resolved:

That the Preferred Option be amended to reflect a public transport led approach which requires a fundamental shift in public transport services where the supply of public transport services is ahead of demand and there is a rebalancing of investment in favour of travel demand management, active modes, public transport and local roads particularly over the first ten years and our preference to see a number of capital projects be given a higher priority in terms of timing.

That the reference to the Central Business District rail loop in the discussion on Policy 4.3.1 (page 77) state that the project needs to progress on an urgent basis with a view to completing by 2021 to enable rail services to increase in capacity and support the intensification of the Central Business District.

That the strategy recognises that priority needs to be made for planning route protection and identification to enable future extension of rail from the southern end of the new (rail future-proofed) Manukau Harbour Crossing to Auckland International Airport and on to the North Island main trunk line.

The RTC also directed their officers to review the entire draft RLTS, in the following ways:

The Regional Land Transport Strategy 2010 should incorporate a Transport Energy and Carbon Emissions chapter including relevant policies to reduce transport carbon and a set of measures which among other things should respond to Central Government carbon reduction commitments.

The Regional Land Transport Strategy 2010 should explicitly provide for the need to integrate transport and land use planning, and include policies for implementation at local and regional levels.

Along with a few other administrative amendments, the RTC also made the following resolution:

That the Chair write to the Minister of Transport advising him of progress the Regional Transport Committee is making in preparing the draft Regional Land Transport Strategy, the difference in direction between the draft Regional Land Transport Strategy and the Government Policy Statement, and in particular the assessment of priority projects for the region and offer to work with the Minister and relevant central government agencies.

The friction between the transport priorities the RTC and those of Wellington do seem to have intensified in the past couple of weeks. It will certainly be interesting to see how that issue develops.

The full draft of the RLTS (prior to these changes being made) is available here.

With regards to the other resolutions, I’m extremely glad that the RTC recognised how woeful the previous timelines for the CBD rail tunnel and rail to the airport were. Finally there seems to be a clear sense of purpose that these large projects are critical for Auckland’s future – not only to ensure that we shift to a more sustainable transport future, but also to ensure that all the hard work being done to create a more sustainable urban form in Auckland isn’t undermined by poor decision making of transport projects.

Recommended Read: Asphalt Nation

One of the books that has most led me to becoming the public transport advocate that I am, is called Asphalt Nation: how the automobile took over America and how we can take it back by Jane Holtz Kay. In essence, it’s a damning indictment of auto-dependency – but one that’s backed up by a heck of a lot of research that turns it into a compelling read.

I will pluck out a few excellent paragraphs to give a taste of what the rest of the book is like – but I do strongly recommend people interested in transport matters either buy the book or at least get a hold of it for a read.

Anyway, without further delay, here’s what Ms Kay says about induced demand:

For decades traffic experts have observed the capacity of more highways to simply breed more traffic. “If you built it, they will come,” the popular phrase, is the bleak truth confirmed by science and history. “Generated traffic” is the professional phrase used to describe the traffic generated by increased roads. “Triple convergence,” another term, describes how more road space promotes more traffic in Anthony Downs’s Stuck in Traffic; that is, if you have more road at peak hours, more cars will converge for three reasons: Some will converge for the improved roadway (spatial convergence), some for the more convenient time (temporal convergence), and some from public transportation (modal convergence). Equally glum and mathematical, the so-called Braess’s paradox confirms that “by adding capacity to a crowded highway network you could actually slow things down”. Add the experience of history, and you see why our road building prompts even some federal highway officials to predict that congestion will quadruple in the next twenty years.

One can only wish that the concept of induced demand had reached transport planning thinking in this corner of the world. We might not be considering spending $860 million to widen the northwest motorway.

And on the amount of space in our cities we dedicate to the automobile:

The numbers are comprehensible. At rest, the automobile needs three parking space in its daily rounds – one at home, one at work and one in the shopping centre. In motion, going through the ritual of to-ing and fro-ing, driving along the street, circling through the garage to read that parking space, it needs more. The space for the car’s entering, the radius for its turning, and the dimensions for us sitting idle mean that asphalt competes for space with architecture and wins.

Put more mathematically, in an office building handing out one parking spot for every employee’s automobile – that’s 150-200 square feet per car, plus aisles and access lanes – adds 300 square feet per driving employee to the actual structure. In a shopping centre the five spaces for every thousand square feet  of store means fifteen hundred square feet of parking. Zoning and building codes insist on ever more space for ever more cars at home. Those one-, two-, and three-car garages define the design…

…On the larger scale, city by city, suburb by suburb, we have a hard-topped nation. From 30 to 50 percent of urban America is given over to the car, two-thirds in Los Angeles. In Houston the figure for the amount of asphalt is 30 car spaces per resident. The more distant suburbs are tougher to access but worse. On the outskirts, mall lots, defined by the needs at the most jam-packed periods of shopping at Thanksgiving and Christmas, stand empty much of the year. Ironically, this means that peak time requirements hurt rather than help the surroundings and make real estate pricier.

On the environmental effects of our cars:

While Americans are in denial, we have Germany to thank for a more thoughtful accounting. In the mid-1990s, researchers at the Environment and Forecasting Institute in Heidelberg pieced together a fuller portrait of car pollution and energy consumption. To do so, they divided the automobile’s life into three stages: first, its manufacture; second, its use on the road; and third, its disposal. Probing each period, the scientists diagrammed the car’s typical ten-year life. Taking a German middle-class car and tracing 85,000 miles of traveling, they calculated the making, operating and discarding to do their assessment.

Step one in the Heidelberg study charted the manufacture of the automobile: what was consumed in its creation? The environmental toll in extracting and carrying raw materials to the factory and transforming them to make the motor vehicle was astonishing to those who had reckoned only the life after birth. Before the motor vehicle had even left the plant, the car-to-be had produced 29 tons of waste and 1,207 million cubic yards of polluted air, the researchers reported. In fact, virtually all of the waste of the one-ton vehicle had occurred. Nearly half of its lifetime emissions of dirty air had fouled the atmosphere, and the vehicle had not yet traveled a single mile.

During step two, on the road, researchers reported that the automobile pumped another 1,330 million cubic yards of polluted air into the atmosphere and scattered around 40 pounds of worn bits of road surface, tire, and brake debris on the highway. Now the dream car was ready for the automobile graveyard.

In the third and final step, when the car’s useful life was over, there was still more air polluted in dumping it. At 133 million cubic yards, plus the PCBs and huydrocarbons that accompanied the burial, the car produced another package of 66 tons of carbon dioxide and 2.7 billion cubic yards of polluted air.

The high level of environmental impact from manufacturing cars is a big contributing factor to why I don’t think electric cars are our saviour. If anything, their manufacture will use even more resources and be even more polluting than you typical car these days.

The last extract I’m going to quote relates to the financial cost of our auto-dependency, and the hidden subsidies that accompany it. While these are US figures, the situation in NZ is relatively similar as only state highways are fully funded by petrol taxes – whereas local roads are a 50/50 split between petrol taxes and local rates.

The first [part of this cost] is what we pay out of our own pocketbooks. Every year we hand out $6,000 to own and operate a two-year-old vehicle, to pay for its gas, parking, tires, depreciation, maintenance, and insurance, plus tolls for the administering, building, repairing, and operating of roads. Direct costs are visible. We open our wallets and pull out more for our car dealers, mechanics, and gas stations than for our grocers. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average American household allots almost a fifth of its budget for the car and its related costs. With 1.77 cars per household, we’re spending 6 percent more on the car than on income tax, making the car second only to the home in the family budget and close behind our mortgage fees. That’s only the visible half.

The second, the external costs, could be more. This second sum, $3000-$5000 (but as much as $9,400 by some estimates) reflects the indirect costs of market and nonmarket expenditures. Things we rarely consider bear a dollar sign: from parking facilities to police protection, from land consumed in sprawl to registry operations, environmental damage to uncompensated accidents. These intangibles weigh us down as we pay for the car’s share of municipal and state taxes and traffic congestion. According to one estimate, exactions from US cars and trucks carry three-quarters of a trillion dollars in hidden costs each year. Nationally, that’s 35 cents a mile, in dense urban zones up to a dollar and a half…

…By hiding roadway costs in general taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes, our transportation accounting cloaks the price and promotes demand.

The whole economy suffers from the automobile’s disproportionate and unseen costs. The Automobile Club of Southern California assesses the cost of driving a relatively new car fifteen thousand miles a year in Los Angeles at the national high of $7,127. Examined closely, however, that is only a faction of the total expense. Parking given to downtown employees, for one example, is an eleven-cents-a-mile subsidy to the driver, sixteen times more than the federal gasoline tax he or she pays for the commute.

I could go on forever with good an interesting sections from the book, but I really suggest that you read the whole thing yourself.

Adding light-rail to the mix

About a week ago I put together a map of what I think Auckland’s rail network should look like in around 25 years time. Now I’ve taken things one step further and added in a supporting light-rail (or in some cases busway) network that would support the heavy-rail lines that I detailed previously. The heavy rail lines would continue to form the backbone of the transport system.

If heavy-rail is the public transport equivalent of the motorways, then to me light-rail (which in this case would probably be quite similar to European trams, running on the street) is the equivalent of main arterial routes. These are necessary to feed into the main railway system, but also they are superb at driving high-quality sustainable land-use patterns. There’s always a strong debate as to whether one should bother with light-rail over bus lanes, and perhaps on some of the routes in the map below (the Upper Harbour route seems most likely) a busway might work best. However, as I explained in this post a while ago, the wider benefits of light-rail in terms of what it does to land-use patterns and how it encourages users who generally wouldn’t take the bus are real and significant.

So, without further delay, here’s the diagram, with the black lines showing light-rail (or busways in some cases):dream-system-lrt There is probably scope for some further light-rail lines out west (Titrangi Road perhaps?) and out south. The relatively high number of light-rail lines on the North Shore compensates for that part of the city only having one main heavy rail line, while on the isthmus I also think there’s potential for a few more routes in the longer-term future.

Now I realise that it’s definitely a dream to hope for this kind of system at the moment, but I think there are certainly steps that could be made towards this becoming a reality. For a start, we could ensure there are good bus lanes running along all these routes; then we could make sure that if we are upgrading any of the routes for other reasons we make sure they are future-proofed for running light-rail. Finally, we can make a start on a couple of the routes (Dominion Road and Tamaki Drive in my opinion) that would be immediate successes, and then go from there. With a variety of feeder buses, plus these tram and train networks, I reckon Auckland could very well do away with its auto-dependency and cater quite well for a population of 2-2.5 million.

Auckland Transport Agency – CCO or council department?

It’s the big question that will have a huge effect on the structure of transport agencies throughout Auckland in the future – should the future Auckland Transport Agency be an “arms-length” council-controlled-organisation (CCO) or should it simply be part of the council? I haven’t formed a position on the matter yet, although originally I was a fan of the CCO idea. To be honest, I really don’t know which option is best – I’ve heard pretty good argments on both sides of the debate and I think it’s a debate that we need to have more of.

A couple of articles in today’s Herald delve a bit deeper into the issue. Firstly, a relatively short one in the main section:

Super City agencies upset leaders
4:00AM Saturday Sep 26, 2009
By Geoff Cumming

Auckland civic leaders are rebelling against plans to have core Super City functions, including transport, run by non-elected agencies.

They say the new-look city council could be straitjacketed in attempts to beat traffic congestion and other big-ticket items.

Auckland City mayor John Banks has accused the Government of micromanaging the council’s creation, and regional council leader Mike Lee says it risks creating powerful bureaucracies which may not act cohesively.

“In effect the Auckland council will not be as super as has been painted, and it won’t have the control over events that Auckland has been led to expect,” says Mr Lee.

Manukau mayor Len Brown, rival to Mr Banks for the Super City mayoralty, says plans to put transport in the hands of a non-elected board go too far.

“They’ve powered up the mayor’s role, they’ve put us all together on the basis that we need to be united on infrastructural delivery, and then basically de-powered the council to deliver its vision,” says Mr Brown.

“I just worry whether this is again Wellington dictating to us through the back door.”

The row is over the establishment of council-controlled organisations – agencies run by appointed boards of directors rather than under direct control of elected councillors.

The Government has confirmed plans to have transport and water services run at arms length by such boards, while agencies are being considered for services ranging from economic and waterfront development to social services and arts and entertainment.

The transport agency of six to eight members will be appointed by the council but will have no more than two elected councillors. An additional Government appointee will sit on the board in an advisory role, but without voting powers.

The structural arrangements are to be included in a third piece of legislation to form the Super City, due to reach Parliament in November.

Arms-length agencies were always expected for commercially driven services such as water and wastewater and the port, but control of transport is fiercely opposed.

“If people are looking for one thing it is the delivery of a vision in transportation,” says Mr Brown.

“My preference is not to be in a situation where I’m constantly in a head-to-head discussion with independent directors on it.”

Local Government Minister Rodney Hide says agencies will be required to follow the council’s strategic and funding policies.

There’s a much longer article (well, effectively two articles) on the matter in the Review section – which I won’t fully quote but link to here. I have to say that reading those articles does make me suspicious of the CCO option, although I’m still not fully convinced either way.

I will write a bit of a more detailed post on the matter in the next few days, but for now I’m quite keen to get some feedback, particularly from those who might know a bit more about how well (or otherwise) the current ARTA/ARC split has worked. From my perspective it has worked relatively well, but then I don’t really have much knowledge on the matter.

Northwest Motorway Widening

Just when we thought that the Waterview Connection was going to be the ‘final link’ in Auckland’s motorway system, we now see that NZTA are proposing to spend $860 million on widening Auckland’s northwest motorway. Frustratingly, even at this enormous cost, the project doesn’t really do anything more for public transport than adding ‘bus shoulders’, which while better than nothing, aren’t really THAT much better than nothing. The map below shows the route: Road1 copy

The need to spend such a huge amount of money on widening the northwest motorway is another classic example of how roading projects do tend to ‘shift the problem’ rather than fixing the problem. Once the Waterview Connection got the go-ahead, it was always known that some sort of upgrade to the northwest motorway was going to happen – as even if the Waterview Connection is ‘only’ built as a four-lane wide motorway, the traffic it will feed into SH16 will be too much for that motorway to handle at its current width. If it was ever widened to 6 lanes, then even more lanes would need to be added to SH16, and the process would continue further. I wonder if we’ll ever actually take such a step, or whether there will finally be a realization that it might actually be necessary to take steps to discourage car travel (either through pricing it more, or through offering better alternatives).

Whilst I did know about this project, and the $240 million to widen between St Lukes and Te Atatu has actually been included in the $1.4 billion funding envelope of the Waterview Connection, this latest figure of $860 million does come as a bit of a shock. While cheaper than the Waterview Connection, to put it in perspective this is still twice the price of the Victoria Park Tunnel – which (when it gets started in a few months time) is New Zealand’s most expensive roading project to date. Twice the price just to widen 11km of motorway – wow things are certainly quite expensive these days! The image below shows what the project will do:lanes

So yeah, $860 million to just widen the motorway by a few lanes. And to raise up the causeway so that it doesn’t get flooded by rising sea-levels (anyone else see the irony in spending money on a motorway to help mitigate the effects of climate change?).

As I said above, what is most depressing is that we’re going to be spending such a huge amount of money without really improving public transport out in that part of Auckland. The northwest motorway in Auckland has the strongest ‘tidal’ flows of any motorway in the city – by that I mean that the huge majority of vehicles generally travel in one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening. Compared to much of State Highway 1, both as the Northern and Southern motorways, SH16 also seems to have relatively low off-peak flows. So effectively the only problems are in one direction and are at peak hour – which seems the perfect formula for a public transport solution. Furthermore, the public transport solution is actually incredibly obvious – the Northwest Busway.

I am quite amazed that NZTA has not considered the idea of the Northwest Busway in more detail. They know that the Northern Busway has been a huge success, the location of stations on the northwest busway would actually be fairly straightforward (see link to previous post) and they seem pretty keen on the idea of ‘getting into doing busways’, judging by the proposals to extend the Northern Busway to Albany and even Orewa. The only explanation I can really imagine is that NZTA simply haven’t considered the idea of a busway along SH16.

I actually think that a busway could quite possibly take enough pressure off SH16 to make the road widening proposed unnecessary. And as the Northern Busway had a cost of $400 million (stations included), doing a busway instead of the motorway widening could actually theoretically work out cheaper than this $860 million project. It’s at least worth consideration.

Me vs LibertyScott (or, why I support public transport)

Libertarian blogger LibertyScott ‘kindly’ did a post about this blog last week. LibertyScott has been a regular commenter on this blog over the past few months, and actually is one of the commenters I value most – because he really makes me think and doesn’t simply agree with everything I have to say (not that I don’t like people agreeing with what I say, it’s just good to have your thoughts challenged intelligently).

Clearly, we come from very different ideological views. I’ve never quite got my head around how libertarianism could be practical (the thought of “what about the poor?” seems to kill it off pretty easily), but it’s interesting to see how that ideological difference has an effect on something like transport. While his summary of my perspective is perhaps a little over-simplified, it’s accurate – more public transport is generally a good thing, more use of cars is generally a bad thing, in my opinion.

He then outlines his perspective of transport, which makes for interesting reading really:

I take a different view. I don’t really care how you get yourself around (or your business’s goods around). What primarily matters is that you pay for it.

That means, as far as public transport is concerned, the private sector investing in infrastructure and vehicles based on future projected fare revenue collected from users. As far as roads are concerned, the same basically.

It’s an interesting difference to explore, and I will take a bit of time to explain why (of course) I think my perspective makes more sense. To clearly illustrate my point, I think we’re going to need a few examples that have nothing to do with transport, but put simply my point is: ‘just because one transport system is more user-pays, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more economically effective.’ Furthermore, when one adds in environmental, social and other – particularly effects on land-use patterns – matters, I think simply ‘leaving it to the market’ when it comes to transport doesn’t make good sense.

So, now for those examples. The first one I am going to look at is healthcare. Most people are aware of the difference between New Zealand’s health system and that in the USA – basically that here we get the government to look after health while in the USA it’s sorted out through private providers. Generally, the ‘health outcomes’ of NZ are a bit above those of the USA (I can’t quite be bothered referencing that at the moment, but generally what I have read backs that up), even though the USA spends significantly more of its GDP on healthcare than New Zealand does. That tells me we’ve got things quite a bit more right in NZ than they do in the USA – even though their system is definitely more ‘user-pays’ than ours.

Now my point here isn’t that more government control over something is good and less government control over something is bad – but rather my point is that just because something is more ‘privatised’ and ‘free-market’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better system. What we need to focus on are the outcomes. To prove that point, I actually think that our health system could learn a lot from what France and Germany do – even though their hospitals are actually generally privately owned and operated (although under strict regulation). Such a shift is probably seen as too ‘right-wing’ for most New Zealanders to comprehend, but in my opinion if it would lead to better health outcomes (as seems reasonably likely as France & Germany have two of the best health systems in the world) then it’s certainly something we should look at.

So, once again, the focus should be on the outcomes – not on the ideology. And, bringing it back to transport, if we start to look at outcomes we see that adopting a full ‘user-pays’ system, like that promoted by LibertyScott, which would probably destroy public transport and lead to immense urban sprawl, doesn’t really make that much sense. Putting aside social, environmental and land-use pattern outcomes for a minute, perhaps the best way to illustrate why auto-dependent sprawling cities aren’t the best outcome (even if they’re the result of a more ‘user-pays’ system) is to focus on the percentage of a city’s wealth that is spent on the transport system. This is well detailed in the three Auckland, City of Cars videos.

Effectively, because of Auckland’s auto-dependency we spend up to three or four times as much of our wealth on transport than someone in Japan or Denmark does. In terms of outcomes, I don’t necessarily think that we have a ‘superior’ transport outcome to any of those other cities that spend far less of their wealth on transport. Auckland is still beset by congestion, and perhaps due to our lack of alternatives, we could argue that our transport outcome is even worse.

So, a similar or worse outcome for three or four times the cost? I certainly think that’s the killer blow for those not wanting to combat our auto-dependency.

To be fair on LibertyScott, his position is hardly one in favour of the kind of roads-centric development that we’ve seen over the past 50 years. One thing that he strongly promotes (in almost every comment he makes on this blog actually) is the need for congestion pricing. The argument is that if road space was ‘priced’ then we would value it much more and think carefully about whether we took a trip or not – especially at peak times. Perhaps if roads were properly priced (which would include the removal of minimum parking requirements) then un-subsidised public transport would become viable and the natural efficiencies of public transport (in terms of taking up less space per person than a car) would shine through. Congestion charging in places like London, Stockholm and Singapore has generally been considered quite a success – although the obvious argument when it’s proposed here in Auckland is our lack of good alternatives. It’s obvious that we need a proper public transport system before we even consider imposing something similar. There are also arguments about whether it’s socially equitable to charge people to travel – as the point of pricing roadspace is to price people off the road, and those most likely to be priced off the road are the poor.

In the end, I do think there is scope for some form of congestion charging. However, I would do it differently. For public transport, I would make a distinction between peak-time fares and off-peak fares – encouraging people to travel more during off-peak times. This should allow patronage to grow without placing the system under quite so much strain – effectively allowing us to use existing tracks, bus lanes and rolling stock (both train and buses) more efficiently by ‘smoothing the peaks’. For roads, I would really push for a strategy that we should not be widening motorways or building new motorways simply for peak demand. At peak times the space efficiency of public transport can ‘come to the fore’, and by building bus lanes, busways, railway lines and turning some motorway lanes into T2 or T3 transit lanes, instead of simply widening motorways we can find a more effective way of dealing with that peak level of demand.

But once again, we must have the ‘outcome’ clearly in mind. Perhaps the economy benefits enormously from having everyone at work at the same time, and that benefit is worth the cost of having our transport system somewhat ‘over-built’ so that it can handle peak-level demand. This is the ‘bigger picture’ that LibertyScott’s user-pays ideology simply cannot measure.

Furthermore, one aspect of the transport argument that gets lost, but which is in my mind the ultimate argument in favour of reducing our auto-dependency, is the interaction between transport and land-use patterns. Or, more simply, the different kinds of cities that different transport systems help create. It is my strong opinion that the more you build a city around cars, the less you build it around people; the friendlier a city is to cars the less friendly it is to people. The vice-versa is obviously true – just look at Venice as an extreme example! Public transport does not suffer from this same inverse relationship, as good public transport tends to encourage higher-quality urban forms, more lively streets and town centres and so forth. Once again, if one simply focuses on a user-pays approach to transport we ignore the wider effects – and in the end everyone loses out.

So in the end, I think perhaps the big difference between LiberyScott and myself is that he focuses on the ‘process’ while I focus on the ‘outcome’. While he doesn’t care ‘how you get around, as long as you pay for it’, I don’t care how you pay for it, as long as what you get in the end are the best outcomes.

I am extremely happy to debate what the best outcomes are and should be, and ways in which to get there. However, I think the funding structure is far less relevant. We should build the project according to how much it is needed, not according to whether it fits into a particular funding mechanism or not.

SH16 Information Day this Saturday

Just when you thought Auckland’s motorway network was complete, with the Waterview Connection being the last link in the chain, we find that NZTA wants to spend $860 million widening the Northwest motorway.

And no mention of anything like a Northwest busway either. NZTA are having an open day on the project this weekend, although I’m out of town so won’t be able to go along:info-days If someone could go along and make the following points that’d be great:

  1. Why the heck haven’t you investigated a Northwest Busway?
  2. Don’t you know that widening motorways just encourages traffic?
  3. How many lanes wide will the motorway need to be if the Waterview Connection is ever expanded to six lanes?
  4. What’s the project’s cost-benefit ratio?
  5. Isn’t $860 million a lot just to widen an existing motorway?
  6. If you did build the busway instead, would you still need to widen the motorway?
  7. Have you looked at a movable barrier like the Harbour Bridge has, considering that the NW Motorway has incredibly low counter-peak flows?

I’ll put together something similar in an email to NZTA, but it’d be great if they heard it in person. If you can’t make it, send you thoughts here: SH16@nzta.govt.nz

Density and Public Transport

It’s often said that for public transport to work, you need high residential densities. I don’t remember the exact figures, but I know that there are a few books I have read over the years that have gone to the level of calculating the densities required for different levels of public transport service – ie. what you’d need for a half-hourly bus service, a 15 minute frequency bus service, a railway line and so forth. It’s certainly true that the cities around the world which have the best public transport systems tend to also be those with some of the highest densities. Hong Kong is a classic example of this – with some of the highest densities found anywhere in the world and a public transport system that caters for well over half the number of trips taken in the city.

However, over the past year or so I have examined the relationship between public transport and population density in a bit more detail, and while the “very high density, very high public transport use” rule still holds, when you start comparing cities in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA with each other the whole matter gets rather more complicated. For example, Brisbane and Perth have significantly higher levels of public transport use than Auckland; yet at the same time they are also significantly lower density cities than Auckland is. In fact, when one simply looks at the overall population density of Auckland, we’re up there with Sydney and Melbourne – and well above places like Calgary. Yet our public transport usage just doesn’t stack up with those other cities. So what’s going on? Is this a sign that urban density doesn’t really matter that much after all, or is the way that ‘density’ is being measured a bit too simplistic?

I would answer the above question by saying both. Firstly, the somehow ‘magic’ belief that just because you have higher densities public transport will somehow become popular is misguided. Auckland’s population densities since the 1970s have been increasing, particularly on the isthmus which was largely built out by that point, but yet we’ve seen public transport use decline during that time, at least until the last 10 years when we’ve seen that trend reverse. Transportation policy is critically important, and – unfortunately – for the past 50-60 years Auckland’s transportation policies have been almost staggeringly roads-centric. Simply banging on an urban limit and encouraging the subdivision and infill of large sections has not been able to overcome such strongly pro-roads transport policies.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, measuring density in its simplest way – the whole population of Auckland divided by the area of the city, is misleading in terms of really getting some idea of the suitability of the city for public transport. If one were to, for example, compare Auckland with Vancouver, you would find that the densities in Vancouver are far more ‘lumpy’, with high concentrations around railway stations and the CBD, but with lower densities in other areas. By contrast, in Auckland we generally see (with some exceptions) a relatively uniform density across the whole city. Particularly in newer built areas, there’s a staggering amount of uniformly sized 400-500 square metre sections – generally with a large standalone house in the middle of them. This uniform density tends not to lend itself well to public transport, which works best when there are significant development nodes around train stations, or intensive corridors around high-frequency bus routes. Many of the plans and strategies that Auckland has come up with over the past decade look to remedy this issue, but they are turning out to be extremely slow in actually changing things.

Much is made of how land-use planning influences transport use and options, but perhaps what is a bit ignored is how this process also works in reverse – that transport policy, projects and so forth can enormously influence development patterns. I do have to wonder whether it was planning rules that created Auckland’s relatively uniform density (and thus reinforced its auto-dependency), or whether it was the transportation policies that created the auto-dependency first – and that auto-dependency created our relatively uniform density. This would be largely because there was no real motivation to cluster development around the train stations, because the service was so poor, or bus routes – because there were no bus lanes and the trams had been ripped out in the 1950s.

The relevance of exploring how density, land-use patterns and transportation policies interact is when we look at which transport projects we may be choosing to prioritise. As I have explained in a number of previous posts [link to post about how to prioritise transport projects] accurately working out which project is needed the most, or which will have the best outcomes, is very complicated and difficult. Perhaps a tool that we’re ignoring in that process is looking at which projects will create the land-use outcomes that we’re actually seeking. For example, if we were to build the CBD rail tunnel it is most likely that development in the CBD and in suburbs serviced by the rail network (such as New Lynn) would be more likely to encourage development and intensification. On the other hand, if we are to prioritise projects such as the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway then the land-use outcomes most likely to occur would be further development to the north of Puhoi – taking advantage of the shorter travel times between places like Warkworth, and Auckland.

When one thinks about transport projects in this manner, a lot of the haze about which project makes more sense seems to clear. A lot of work has gone into figuring out where it makes most sense for Auckland to grow, so perhaps when looking at what transport projects we should be focusing on delivering, closer inspection needs to be made into which projects deliver the land-use outcomes that we’re most after. This would also enable transport projects to be more ‘forward-looking’, as the current ‘cost benefit analysis’ approach is very much fixated upon a ‘what’s the biggest problem in need of fixing’ way of thinking, rather than a ‘what are we really going to need in ten, twenty or thirty years?’ approach.