As I detailed a few days ago, transport academic Paul Mees – in his most recent book – outlines why it is essential to have a “transfer-friendly” public transport system – using the example of Squaresville. Mees notes that in conventional transport planning, transfers are treated as barriers, whereas if you take a “network effect” approach to public transport planning – the transfer actually becomes an opportunity. Transfers are the means to link what would otherwise be a collection of individual routes. Of course trasnfering is inconvenient, but if we minimise the inconvenience (through integrated ticketing, timetable alignment and so forth) then the benefits of a true network effect should significantly outweigh the costs of the transfer inconvenience.
There’s a challenge to being able to create a network effect, as many commenters on my previous post pointed out. We just don’t have the money to add all these extra routes, so how can we introduce something of a network effect without destroying the existing network. This is where we have to start making trade-offs, looking at what routes on the existing network need to be redirected or replaced by other routes that will support a true network. Do we want more routes but lower service frequencies (meaning a shorter walk to the bus stop or train station, but a longer wait when you get there), or so we want the opposite: fewer different routes but higher frequencies?
Mees picks up on this:
“…the central challenge is to provide sufficiently high occupancies to support high system-wide service levels, on cross-suburban lines as well as radial lines, and to low-density as well as high-density areas. This challenge is met by offering a sparse, but high-quality, network comprised of relatively few lines operating at high service levels.”
This is basically the opposite of the situation you have in Auckland at the moment. Auckland has an enormous number of bus routes, with the aim seemingly to provide a service within a few hundred metres walk of each and every house in the city – but not to worry about whether that service comes every 10 minutes, or whether it only runs once a day.
A sparse network concentrates services, allowing higher frequencies and longer operating hours. It is also simple and stable, and thus easier for passengers to understand. Ease of understanding, or legibility, is not regarded as important in traditional public transport systems designed for regular commuters or ‘captive’ patrons, as it is assumed people will use the same services every day and become used to any quirks or complications. But region-wide networks are for everyone: regular users, occasional travellers, people visiting unfamiliar parts of the city, hikers and tourists. They must be stable and comprehensible, just like a road system. The model is networks like the Paris Metro and Zurich trams system, rather than the bewildering tangle of low-quality lines in cities as diverse as Auckland, Canberra and Manchester.
I would certainly agree that, in Auckland, public transport works a million times better for your regular commute – where you know the particular bus that you should take, where it will go and how long it will take – than it does for random trips to the mall at the weekend or other non-commuting activities. The system is too complex, the frequencies are too low and the services are too unreliable for other trips.
So what does this mean? How should we change our system to make it work more like a network?
This means that a public transport network should be comprised of fixed lines that follow the same routes, with the same stopping patterns, at all times. Special routes that only operate at peak hours, and separate night or weekend networks, should be avoided. If services are added at peak period, or thinned out at night, this should be done without disrupting the basic line pattern. A good example is provided by the suburban rail system, or S-Tog, of Copenhagen. There are seven main lines, and on most a mixture of express and stopping trains operates. The stopping patterns and even the departure times are the same all day long, every day of the year. On most routes 10-minute services are provided on weekdays and during shopping hours on Saturday; frequencies drop to 20 minutes at other times by the simple process of deleting every second train. Only two lines have additional trains in peak period, and these are slotted between the regular services without breaking the basic pattern. The entire system-wide map and timetable takes up a single, letter-sized sheet of paper.
I have long stated that I think it’s crazy for us to have separate Saturday and Sunday timetables – so crazy that it almost seems to be an intentional attempt to make public transport confusing and put us off using it. I think it would also make a lot of sense for the weekend timetables to be the same as the weekday off-peak timetables. So you would have your “core timetable” with peak services simply added on top of it.
But what about route planning? Particularly when it comes to planning bus routes, the temptation is always to depart from the principle of simplicity because you can. You can run a bus down most roads, so therefore there is the temptation to try and get your route as close to as many people as possible, even if that results in long, circuitous routes. Mees says that this is the wrong approach:
“…bus planners should design routes as if they were operating trams or trains, with simple, direct structures and as little duplication and overlap as possible. This involves… the ‘one section one line’ principle. Each corridor is provided with a single service, closely spaced and overlapping lines are avoided because, as the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) says, ‘parallel routes… split the potential demand resulting in many routes competing for the same passengers and no route attracting enough demand to warrant a high frequency service.’
When a number of routes converge on a single corridor, the same principle can be applied. While in theory, 20 bus routes running hourly down a joint corridor means a service every three minutes, in practice it means bewildered passengers. A single line running every five minutes would use less resources but provide a better service.
We see this route convergence in a few places in Auckland. Perhaps most notably, on Great North Road and Great South Road. Theoretically there should be a tonne of buses along these routes, but in reality chances are they’re operated by a variety of different companies – so your ticket won’t be valid on half the buses going through. Furthermore, it’s also quite likely that because of no alignment between routes, there will be 15-20 minute gaps, and then five buses will come all at once. Pretty hopeless really.
So simplicity is the key here in my opinion. Looking at the buses that run in my corner of Auckland: Jervois Road routes, Richmond Road buses, Williamson Ave services and Great North Road to Pt Chevalier services, it does seem as though there’s quite a significant amount of route duplication and overlap. As a result of there being so many different routes serving this corner of Auckland, all services run at pretty rubbish frequencies: generally a bus every 20-30 minutes at off-peak, evenings and weekend times and not too much better during peak periods. Following the guides detailed above, it seems altogether possible that we could probably cover this area with two services: a CBD to Pt Chevalier via Ponsonby, Herne Bay and Westmere route: and a CBD to Westmere route via Ponsonby and Richmond Road. Combining the resources of four routes into two would mean that it would be quite feasible to run services at 10 minute frequencies, seven days a week – putting these routes up there with Dominion Road as some of the best serviced in Auckland. That would mean no need to check timetables, and surely attract a significant amount more patronage without really making people walk much further to catch the bus (as places losing services like Great North Road and Williamson Ave are already well covered by longer-distance routes).
ARTA have invited me to attend the opening of the New Lynn rail trench on Monday morning. If I can get myself out of bed at 4.30am I will probably go along. Monday’s event is not about the completion of the New Lynn project, as that won’t be done until September this year, but a lot of progress has been made in the last few months on this project and the next step is to get the trains through the trench – on one track – so that the other track in the trench can be built. The station will be shifted down into the trench, so things will be quite different for people using New Lynn station.
To see how progress is going I visited New Lynn today and took a number of photos – here’s one of them: I will do a more in-depth post on the New Lynn project in the next short while – probably after I go through the trench on Monday morning.
Anyway, that’s not really the point of this post. The point is that Steven Joyce will be attending the opening of the trench on Monday morning. At the opening of Newmarket Station last month I got the chance to talk to the Minister (altogether quite briefly), but because I was somewhat unprepared I didn’t really have the chance to think much about what to say to him. I mentioned that it would be ‘interesting’ to see the findings of the study into the CBD rail tunnel and that I hoped it would be fourth time lucky for this project (having been previously proposed in the 1920s, 1950s and 1970s). However, it would have been interesting to put a rather tricky question to him, although obviously in a fairly friendly manner.
Just in case I get the opportunity to have a brief chat with Mr Joyce on Monday I wonder what kind of question I should ask. A few come briefly into mind:
- Were you a bit disappointed with the low BCR for the Puhoi-Wellsford road? If the BCR for the CBD rail tunnel comes out to be significantly higher than Puhoi-Wellsford, it’d be a bit strange to not go with that project instead…. wouldn’t it?
- Do you feel a bit sorry for all those people in Waterview who went through 6 months of hell thinking that their houses would need to be taken, only to find that they needn’t have worried after all?
- Is there any logical reason why it’s OK to use national land transport funds for rail subsidies but not for rail capital costs?
- When are you going to announce a new public transport project?
Does anyone else have ideas?
A 1950s book that we discovered at work has some really interesting aerial photographs of Auckland overlaid with some of the transport plans at that time. One plan in particular I find quite interesting, because it shows how Auckland’s spaghetti junction was envisaged to look. It’s worthwhile to note that route “E” was never built – quite thankfully as it was a motorway down Dominion Road and would have completely torn the heart out of this part of the city. I find it interesting to see how narrow all the proposed motorways look – simple white lines on the photograph.
It’s somewhat gutting to compare that with how things turned out – shown in the photo below. It becomes clear how much of the inner-city we lost by building spaghetti junction:
I shudder to think what this area might have turned out like if we had also built that Dominion Road motorway.
NZTA have announced the details of the Waterview Connection expo to be held over the next couple of weeks. It seems like a lot of further information on the latest alignment will be unveiled at this expo: I must say this does seem to be a rather strange way to undertake consultation with the community. Usually there are “Open Days” where people drop by for half an hour or so, have a look at plans, ask various experts particular questions that concern them and so forth. I must say it would take a pretty dedicated Waterview Connection enthusiast to sit through all seven hours of the expo. I wonder why NZTA has chosen this kind of format?
I might be able to get along to the March 13th session, although even a transport nerd like myself would struggle to sit through seven hours of the thing.
A press release by Statistics New Zealand today indicates that Auckland’s population will be pretty close to 2 million by 2031 – only 21 years away. Here’s the press release in full:
Auckland home to 38 percent of population in 2031
The Auckland region is projected to account for 60 percent of New Zealand’s population growth between 2006 and 2031, with an increase of 570,000 from 1.37 million to 1.94 million, Statistics New Zealand said today. “The Auckland region would be home to 38 percent of New Zealand’s population in 2031, compared with 33 percent in 2006,” Population Statistics manager Denise McGregor said. Natural increase (births minus deaths) is projected to account for almost two-thirds of the population growth, with the remainder due to net migration gains.
Of New Zealand’s 73 territorial authority areas, 44 are projected to have more people in 2031 than in 2006. However, population growth will generally slow over the projection period because of the narrowing gap between births and deaths. The highest growth rates between 2006 and 2031 are expected in Queenstown-Lakes district (an average of 2.2 percent a year) and Selwyn district (2.0 percent). Manukau city and Rodney district (1.7 percent), Waimakariri district (1.6 percent), Tauranga city (1.5 percent) and Franklin district (1.4 percent), are also projected to experience relatively high population growth.
All territorial authority areas will have more older people in the future. In 2031, 34 areas will have more than double the number of people aged 65 years and over, than in 2006. Selwyn district is projected to be home to almost four times the number of people aged 65 years and over in 2031, than in 2006, while Queenstown-Lakes will be home to over three times. Nationally, the number of older people (those aged 65 years and over) is projected to double between 2006 and 2031. “The increase in older people is due to higher life expectancy, accentuated by the baby boomers born during the 1950s and 1960s entering these ages,” Mrs McGregor said.
Somewhat hilariously, the New Zealand Herald website is reporting that by 2031 60% of all New Zealanders will be living in Auckland. Ummm…. no, that’s 60% of the country’s population growth between now and 2031 will be in Auckland.
Now one could suggest that as 60% of the country’s population growth will be in Auckland over the next 21 years, perhaps 60% of the transport spending in the country on new infrastructure should also be in Auckland. After all, one doesn’t really need to widen roads or build new railway lines in places whose population isn’t getting any larger you would think. Generally Auckland has struggled to keep up with its population growth in terms of providing infrastructure – particularly during the 1980s and 1990s when it seems like not much at all was built (maybe our political thinking at the time was hoping “the market” would come along and build it for us?)
One would think that by 2031 we would need to have built the CBD Rail Tunnel, Rail to the Airport, some sort of Howick/Botany Line, perhaps rail to the North Shore and a whole pile of other important transport projects. I tend to think that if Auckland’s population can grow to 2 million well, then a city of that size is perhaps a bit more useful than where we are now. I can’t help but feel that Auckland is a slightly annoying size at the moment: big enough to suffer many of the problems of a larger city such as congestion, but too small to be able to fund projects necessary to do something about it.
There’s a quite remarkable opinion piece in the NZ Herald today by Maungaturoto resident Danielle Williamson. I say remarkable because she actually gets close to making the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” sound like a sensible option for funding priority. Here’s the article in full:
Danielle Williamson: Highway more than holidaymakers’ getaway
The Auckland Regional Council chairman calls it a holiday highway.
Which is all good if like Mike Lee, you live in Auckland and only use State Highway 1 on your way to the beach.
You needn’t use it often and when you do, you’re not in any hurry. You know the Government has identified it as a “road of national significance” but you can’t quite figure out why.
Surely a road which carries fewer than 20,000 vehicles a day can’t be all that nationally significant, can it? All you know is the Puhoi to Wellsford stretch has been earmarked for priority motorway extension and it’s going to cost you, the taxpayer, a horrendous $2.3 billion. Minimum.
And you know that in doing so, in four-laning a whole 34km chunk of SH1 of such little consequence, Auckland misses out on urgently needed public transport funding.
It hardly seems right, does it? After all, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, gateway to the country and in need of a proper commuter rail system.
But on behalf of the 250,000 New Zealanders who live north of Albany and use SH1 not as a holiday highway but as the only viable route into Auckland and beyond, let us be fair. SH1 north of Puhoi is a disgrace and in dire need of an upgrade.
People die on this road in appalling numbers. It is substandard, narrow and too winding. Anyone who travels this road on a regular basis can see it is unable to handle current traffic volumes.
And finally, when it does in fact go into holiday highway mode – because hoards of Aucklanders must all escape the city at the very same time – Warkworth and Wellsford become holiday hell and are gridlocked from one end of town to the other. Or further – sometimes traffic is blocked for up to 25km.
No it doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen enough to warrant both communities a bypass. And yet for some Aucklanders, this seems to be a problem. So much so that when it comes to regional transport priorities, the Auckland Regional Transport Committee thinks it barely rates a mention and puts it bottom of the list.
But wait! With 32 per cent of the national transport budget (and one third of the national population) allocated towards Auckland roading projects – completion of the Western Ring Route and the Victoria Park Tunnel – Auckland is hardly missing out.
To the Northland region as a whole – and particularly its economy – SH1 is the only viable access to the rest of the country. It is our transport lifeline and critical to the prosperity of the region.
Better – and safer – roads allow for easier movement of freight and people between Northland and Auckland and beyond. It allows for community growth, economic development and helps bring much needed tourists our way. It may even benefit the Auckland economy.
To the individuals who live here, SH1 is of critical importance. Whether it be for business, medical care, education, pleasure or practicality, SH1 is the only link south. We need this road. And we need it to be reliable and safe.
Unfortunately for Northlanders, frequent SH1 traffic delays and road fatalities are not simple inconveniences on the way to bach. They are a fact of life.
Gone are the days where one could hop in the car and be in the city without incident.
Greater traffic volumes now mean when travelling from the North, precautions must be taken in case of delays. If you require medical treatment in Auckland, you allow yourself plenty of time for the journey and hope that for whatever reason, the road is not closed.
If you have an early morning flight at the airport, it’s best to go the night before. And if the weather is bad and conditions less than ideal, you may cancel altogether because you know that on this particular patch of road, the Grim Reaper may be around the next corner.
But this is not about Northland prosperity or total project expense. The main issue here is road safety. SH1 from Puhoi to Wellsford in its present capacity as a two lane single carriage way is unsafe.
In the first three quarters of 2009 alone, 100 accidents occurred here.
Eight people were killed. Since the new Northern Gateway dual carriage toll road from Orewa to Johnstone’s Hill in January 2009 (to the end of August 2009), there were just five accidents and no injuries. The numbers speak for themselves.
The Government is right in declaring this particular stretch of SH1 one of national significance as it is high time the road from Puhoi to Wellsford be divided into a proper motorway.
For the 30 people who lost their lives on this small stretch of New Zealand road in the past five years, it is long overdue.
* Danielle Williamson lives at Maungaturoto, Northland.
There’s a lot to agree with here. Certainly, the stretch of road is very dangerous – particularly between Warkworth and Wellsford (which is unlikely to be upgraded within the next 10 years in any case). Also, certainly the traffic congestion – while generally limited to holiday periods and Sunday evenings – is very severe. So there are some good arguments that we need to do something about this stretch of state highway one between Puhoi and Wellsford.
However, I do think we need to question whether that something really needs to be a $1.4 billion (or $2.3 billion according to Ms Williamson) four-lane motorway. Most of the congestion seems to be caused by the Warkworth bottleneck, and as I have previously explained, surely the best solution there would be to simply bypass Warkworth. You’d only need to build a fairly short stretch of new road, generally across fairly flat land – surely that wouldn’t cost much more than $50-100 million, and you would have solved most of the congestion problems.
The second issue is safety, and as I said earlier the crash record of this road clearly indicates we need to do something to improve safety along here. But the question really is whether that thing should a supremely expensive motorway? What about alternatives such as easing particularly nasty corners, extending passing lanes, constructing wire barriers down the middle of roads, installing permanent speed cameras at regular frequencies and other such measures? Should we not at least try out those other things first before embarking on a hugely expensive motorway?
And here’s where we come back to the title of this blog post. We certainly have a problem here with the Puhoi-Wellsford stretch of State Highway 1. However, the proposed solution is massive overkill – it is using a sledgehammer to crack open a nut. It’s always tempting to come up with grandiose solutions to problems, without considering their cost. In public transport circles there’s a regular debate about whether we should construct the CBD Rail Tunnel as a two-track tunnel or a four-track tunnel. In an ideal world, of course we’d build it as a four-track tunnel – as chances are 30-40 years down the track we will need four-tracks of rail capacity through Auckland’s CBD. However, in the shorter term it’s actually ludicrous to suggest such a solution, because it’s going to be hard enough finding the money for a two-track tunnel, and really demand can only justify a two-track tunnel for quite a few decades to come.
In the end, we don’t live in Norway, Switzerland or Saudi Arabia. We don’t have money coming out of our ears and we need to be careful about where we spend money – to ensure that it’s worth it. That means, in the case of the CBD Rail Tunnel, that we end up with a two-track tunnel – and in the future if we need further capacity we perhaps find another alignment. For Puhoi-Wellsford, sensible thinking would mean that we bypass Warkworth, we spend a significant amount of money on safety upgrades to the existing road, but we don’t waste $1.4 billion on a motorway that will used by fewer vehicles than drive up and down Sandringham Road each day.
The other important issue to consider is that, by focusing so much on this “big bang” approach to fixing the problems faced along the Puhoi-Wellsford corridor, we’re actually delaying safety improvements that are really needed right now, or congestion easing improvements that are also probably needed already. It’ll take around 9 years (according to NZTA) to plan, design, consent and build just the first section of this road (from Puhoi-Warkworth). The second section won’t be upgraded for more than a decade, which means at least 10 more years of too many people dying along this stretch of road. Once again, the sensible approach would be to get on with bypassing Warkworth and get on with improving safety along the road as a whole.
Unfortunately, minor bypasses and safety upgrades don’t get as many news headlines as 35km long new motorways. Which explains a lot.
Over the last few weeks I have been putting together a series of posts about Paul Mees’s new book Transport for Suburbia: beyond the automobile age. It really is an excellent book, and I am getting to the real ‘meat’ of the book about how we can actually make our public transport systems drastically better. A key part of improving public transport systems in cities with relatively dispersed trip patterns (ie. Auckland) is what Mees calls “The Network Effect”. The network effect happens when you make it easy for people to transfer from one service to another, as it brings so many more locations within relatively easy public transport access.
To illustrate the network effect, Mees uses the hypothetical city of “Squaresville”, which is illustrated in the diagram below: The Squaresville scenario is basically the worst possible situation for traditional public transport, with trips having absolutely no pattern at all. Mees explains further:
The city has a grid road network, with ten north-south and ten east-west roads, at intervals of half a mile or 800m. travel patterns are completely random, with no dominant pattern of movement. Each of the city’s 100 square blocks produces 100 trips a day: one internal trip (made on foot), and one external trip to each of the 99 other blocks of the city – giving 9900 external trips in total.
Squaresville has ten bus routes that grew up in a free market environment, with each operated by a different firm. There is one route along each north-south road, reflecting a past era when this was the dominant pattern of movement (Figure 9.1A). This means that each resident of Squaresville has a bus within 400m walking distance, but can only reach the nine other city blocks lying along her or his bus route, giving access to 900 daily trips out of the total of 9900. Assume that public transport attracts a third of the trips it can theoretically serve, this gives a total of 300 trips (a third of 900), or a city-wide mode share of only 3 per cent.
This would be a fairly good approximation of the current bus system in Auckland I think. There are many “suburbs to CBD” routes running roughly parallel with each other, but very few crosstown services linking them up. Furthermore, the cross-town services that do exist generally run at very poor frequencies, take bizarre backstreet routes (yes I’m looking at you 008) and integrate extremely poorly with the suburb to CBD routes.
Now, imagine that the government of Squaresville wants to do something about the low rate of public transport use in the city. It pays the bus operators to double service frequencies on Squaresville’s ten bus routes (Figure 9.1B). With a typical demand elasticity of 0.5, this would increase patronage by half, to 450 trips per day or 4.5 per cent of the market. Occupancy rates will fall, since patronage has grown more slowly than service levels, and fare revenue will not cover the extra costs. Subsidies will rise, cost-recovery will worsen and so will greenhouse emissions per bus passenger. Public transport is still of marginal importance, but it has become less efficient in economic and environmental terms.
One could argue that this has been what has largely happened in Auckland over the past decade. We’ve spent more and more money on the existing services, and while that has certainly led to some level of patronage increase, we haven’t really made the kind of gains we would have expected. This is clearly shown in the table below, which shows that over the past decade subsidies for public transport have increased from $45m a year to $145m a year, while patronage has only grown from 44m trips a year to 58m trips a year – barely keeping up with population growth. Is there another way? Returning to Squaresville, Mess suggests so:
Imagine instead that the additional buses are used in a different way. Ten east-west routes are introduced to complement the ten existing lines and create a grid network, as shown in Figure 9.1C. The number of trips served directly doubles, to 1800 [as there are now 20 routes], but by transferring between routes, passengers can now access the entire city, so the network also serves the remaining 8100 trips. Squaresville’s planners do everything possible to make transfers convenient, providing integrated fares, convenient facilities and coordinated timetables. But since so many transport analysts say that passengers dislike transferring, let’s assume that the mode share for trips requiring a transfer is only half that for direct trips, that is one-sixth. So the total number of public transport trips is one-third of 1800 plus one-sixth of 8100, giving a total of 1950.
Under the second model of service provision, public transport’s mode share has jumped dramatically, from 3 to 20 per cent. Service has increased 100 per cent, but patronage has grown 550 per cent, giving an elasticity of 5.5. Increased revenue would more than cover the costs of the additional service and occupancies would rise substantially, reducing subsidies and greenhouse emissions per passenger.
Now while Squaresville obviously isn’t real, I think it shows that dispersed trip patterns certainly does not have to be the death-knell for successful public transport. There’s an interesting comparison in terms of how airlines operate – in that you don’t expect to be able to fly directly from New Zealand to a great number of random places in Africa – for example – because the demand would be too low for a direct service. Nobody would wait a week for a direct service when there are much higher frequencies that involve transfers at major hubs like London or Singapore. Mees uses the example of direct airline services between Australia and many European cities to make this point clearer:
There were once infrequent direct services between Australia and other European cities, but this was at a time when fares were so high that airlines could run half-empty planes and still make money. The transfer at London or Singapore is one of the costs of the dramatic fall in real airfares in the last three decades, but it has also allowed Australians easier access to a larger range of European cities.
The point is that to achieve efficiencies and allow services to be provided at regular intervals to an incredibly wide range of places, transfers are necessary. Just as they’re necessary in the airline business, they’re necessary in public transport. Of course there will be the “cost” of the annoyance of having to get off one bus and onto another (or onto a train), but if that ‘cost’ means the benefits of being able to simply walk up the road without checking a timetable, jump on a bus you know is coming every 5-10 minutes, get off somewhere and jump on another bus almost immediately and that process will get you just about anywhere, surely it’s worth it?