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That Southeast RTN

As I have mentioned in a couple of recent posts, I am extremely worried that a lot of the work going on at the moment in planning important transport projects (like AMETI) and large-scale land-use planning projects (like Flat Bush) is ignoring one of the most important pieces in the puzzle of sorting out land-use and transport planning in a huge swathe of Auckland: its southeast.

By southeast Auckland I am referring to the area east of the Tamaki River, and right down to where Te Irirangi Drive links in with Manukau City. This includes the suburbs of Howick, Pakuranga, Highland Park, Botany, Dannemora, Flat Bush and others. This area has experienced huge growth and development over the past 20-30 years, but has almost no public transport infrastructure (and pretty poor general roading linkages with the rest of Auckland). In response to the utterly unacceptable current situation, most of Auckland’s long term transport plans and strategies propose a “Rapid Transit Network” (RTN) corridor between Manukau City in the south and Panmure in the north – linking together with Flat Bush, Botany and Pakuranga. This is shown in ARTA’s Auckland Transport Plan:

As you can see it’s all spelled out pretty clearly in the Auckland Transport Plan, and basically the same route gets mention in the ARC’s 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy, although the RLTS does go one step further in its consideration of this RTN by stating this: I must say as soon as I hear the words “future proofed for light-rail” a huge red flag, flashing lights and a siren starts wailing inside my head that it’s complete and utter rubbish. Most of the things that have been future-proofed for light rail in Auckland have been done so to a vastly sub-standard level, and furthermore why the heck would we want light-rail out there? What would it link into? Would it be faster and of a higher capacity than buses? If not, why would we bother? If so, how much extra would it cost to go to heavy rail and actually link in with the existing rail system at Panmure and Manukau? I really do wonder whether any thought has gone into answering these questions.

In my mind, the huge problem with this RTN being ‘bus-based’ is the issue of “what the heck do we do at Panmure?” If we build a busway (which is what a bus-based RTN is, simple bus lanes do not constitute an RTN), then that’s going to be a pretty difficult and expensive project. There is no protected corridor anywhere near where that dotted line runs, so we’re going to have to get rid of quite a large number of houses to build this busway – so given its length we’re definitely looking at a $500 million+ project I think, if not double that (the final cost would depend largely on how we deal with Te Irirangi Drive). So we spend a huge amount of money to ship a lot of people to Panmure (and Manukau City, which is a bit more useful), but then what? We are effectively left with three options:

  1. We build a busway between Panmure and the CBD, right next to the existing railway line. This option is expensive and seems really stupid, given the railway line is right there, but would probably be the fastest bus option.
  2. We have bus lanes along Ellserlie-Panmure Highway and Great South Road and send all our buses that way into Newmarket and eventually into the CBD. This option is clearly cheaper than option one, but whereas it takes a train around 16 minutes to travel between Panmure and Britomart, at peak time it takes the 680/681 bus around 35 minutes to make that journey. So this option is around 20 minutes slower.
  3. We get everyone to transfer onto a train at Panmure. In the shorter term this seems like the most viable option, although it obviously depends on integrated ticketing being up and running, and the trains coming frequently enough for the transfer to be relatively painless. However, in the longer term – if this southeast RTN really comes off and is popular, we are going to end up with an awful lot of people transfering from the bus onto trains at Panmure. And there may well very much not be the available capacity on those trains (which would have already come all the way up from Manukau City) to cater for full bus-loads of passengers arriving every 2-3 minutes.

Option three clearly makes the most sense in the short-to-medium term, but in the longer term I really do think that you’re going to get problems capacity wise. One of the main reasons for this is that between Manukau and Westfield, the Southern Line and the Eastern Line share the same tracks (or will do so once Manukau is open). If we run trains on both lines at 10 minute frequencies, then that’s manageable as you have a train every 5 minutes on the combined stretch. However, if you need a lot more trains on the Eastern line to cater for passengers getting on the line at Panmure, then either you need to start “short running” quite a few trains between Panmure and Britomart (and all the scheduling havoc that would create) or you start to get trains at 2-3 minute frequencies on that Westfield to Manukau stretch of the line, which could be quite a problem.

So in the longer term I don’t think that’s going to work. Furthermore, while I am a big fan of designing a a public transport system around transfers rather than one which avoids transfer at all costs, there is certainly a limit to this being acceptable to PT users – and that limit is probably somewhere around the one transfer only level. This also becomes problematic if we stick with our “everyone change at Panmure” policy, because chances are many people would have already transferred onto the southeast busway (or whatever it’s called) at Pakuranga station, Botany station or Flat Bush station. Taking Flat Bush as an example, my recent post showed that the Flat Bush town centre is going to be at least a kilometre away from a future rapid transit station site, while most of the extra 40,000 people anticipated to live in Flat Bush will be further away again. That’s not walking distance, so it’s likely that feeder buses will be necessary to make the system work. The same for Botany Town Centre (which is surrounded by carparks more than anything else) and Pakuranga too. Even given the speed advantages of a busway between Panmure and Manukau, and utilising the very quick Eastern Line, I think that forcing potential passengers to transfer twice is probably one step too far.

Given this situation, my opinion is that there really is only one long-term solution to the “southeast Auckland RTN problem”, and that is a full heavy rail line. This is my preferred alignment for that line: A few things probably jump to mind immediately when looking at that alignment. I’ll work through them:

  1. But it goes to Glen Innes, not Panmure. This is my solution to the very vexed problem of how a railway corridor could be squeeze amongst the existing bridges that cross over the Tamaki River in the vicinity of Panmure, and also how it could fit in with the Eastern railway line at Panmure without wreaking havoc. This alignment also makes the line much more useful for people living in Howick, Bucklands Beach, Highland Park and other areas. Pakuranga misses out on a station, but I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Highland Park could become a useful transit-oriented development.
  2. How would you cross the Tamaki River? Well either by bridge or tunnel I think. A bridge would obviously be cheaper, although effects on the estuary’s visual amenity might make that a challenge (unless it was a very pretty bridge). The estuary is fairly shallow around there, so a tunnel might not be that problematic.
  3. Don’t you take out a lot of houses? Well interestingly enough, the answer is “no”. The line, with a couple of tunnels, manages to miss a lot of housing – although it would impact on green spaces to a greater extent. For a more detailed look at the route’s alignment, have a look here.
  4. Wouldn’t it be hugely expensive? Well of course, but at a guess I would say around 150,000 people live out in this part of Auckland, and another 40,000-50,000 are likely to live out here in the future. They need to get to other parts of Auckland, their current public transport options are extremely poor – whereas this proposal would provide a trip between Britomart and Botany Town centre of under half an hour. This compares with a peak hour car trip of perhaps around an hour – so I think it would be popular. Furthermore, any RTN route out here is going to be expensive because past planners were incredibly stupid and never protected a route, so even if this does cost twice what a busway would cost, if it attracts three times as many users – it’s probably worthwhile.

So that is my suggested solution to “the southeast RTN problem”. I know that the “powers to be” in ARTA and other organisations seem to  have different ideas about how to implement this RTN, (or are just sticking their heads in the sand, dumping it in the “too hard basket” and ignoring the issue) but I really think this idea has merit, and is the only one that doesn’t potentially run into “fatal flaw” problems that I believe many of the alternatives suffer from.

Buses must be faster

In Auckland transport circles, a lot of attention is given to the rail system, and in particular what is wrong with it, what upgrades to it are underway and what upgrades to it are planned (or should be planned) in the short, medium and long-term future. Of course there are good reasons to focus on the rail system, in part because of its generally poor state and also because of the huge amount of work that’s been done to it at the moment, but we shouldn’t forget that in Auckland buses are the meat and drink of the system. If we are to hit ARTA’s target of 100 million annual passenger trips by 2016, then it’s likely that cost to 80 million of those trips will be on the bus system. Most Aucklanders don’t live in close proximity to the rail system, and for them the bus is likely to be the most convenient and accessible means of public transport. So a huge part of improving Auckland’s public transport system must involve improving the bus system.

In recent weeks, both Nick R and myself have suggested ways in which the bus route system could be altered to make it more popular, but there are many other ways in which we need to improve our buses, with one simple aim: they simply have to be faster. Buses have the big advantage of not requiring any specialist infrastructure (over and above a basic road) and the flexibility that brings, but they generally have the huge disadvantage of being incredibly slow. If a bus is running in general traffic (ie. without bus lanes or other forms of priority) then it is completely and utterly impossible for that bus to do the trip faster than a car would (because it has to stop and let passengers on and off). Therefore, a bus in general traffic will never be able to compete against the private vehicle in terms of time: therefore people will only catch it for price and (potentially) convenience reasons.

At a guess, I would say the most frequent reason why people don’t catch the bus is because it’s too damn slow (as well as it not going where people want to go). As I have said many times before, people are logical with their transport decision making: choosing the option which is fastest, cheapest and most convenient. The fact that a bus in traffic can never be faster than a car travelling along that same road places a huge restriction on the number of people who are likely to use public transport – in reality only those for who the cost of driving will be high enough to warrant them catching public transport. In Auckland that generally means those working in the CBD and those who don’t own cars – a pretty small proportion of the population.

Therefore, in a city like Auckland – with a relatively low proportion of jobs in the CBD, very high levels of car ownership and a rail system that is relatively limited in its geography extent – one of the main reasons why so few people use public transport, and so many people feel ‘forced to drive’, is because our buses are so damn slow. So how can we speed up our buses? Well I would say there are a number of things that we really need to do to our bus system to make them faster and more able to compete against the speed benefits that driving one’s car currently has:

  1. More bus lanes. This is perhaps the most important thing that needs to be done to improve the speed of our buses. Bus lanes allow buses to avoid car congestion, and offer a logical alternative for people to being stuck in vehicle congestion. The kind of important alternative that I talked about in this recent post. Over the next few years we really need to expand our network of bus lanes – it is probably the one thing that could be done that would increase public transport patronage the most for the least investment.
  2. Faster boarding times. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for 2-3 minutes  while a bunch of people queue up to get on the bus, and each person has to go through the painful process of putting their card into the machine, have the bus driver push three or so buttons, split the card out and eventually shift on. Even if that process only take 10 seconds per person, if you have twenty people queued up at a stop, that can be a three and a half minute delay. Smart-card ticketing should hopefully speed that up, but I think that at busier stops we really need to look at providing the opportunity for people to enter “fare paid” zones at their stop, so they can board quickly from both doors when the bus turns up.
  3. Wider spaced stops. The fact that buses often need to stop every 200-300 metres slows them down hugely, even if we were to disregard boarding times (wider spaced stops would have more people boarding at each stop if we are to assume the same number of passengers). It’s often difficult for buses to pull out from their stops into traffic, while the slowing down and speeding up also is ‘lost time’ compared to if the bus was to travel further between stops. Obviously there’s a tradeoff in having wider spaced stops, in that people will on average have to walk further to their stops, but I think that faster travelling times will make walking a hundred metres or so further worthwhile.

Implementing these three main strategies on major bus routes could potentially but down their travel time by 25-50% I reckon. If that difference made catching the bus faster than driving (which does exist along some routes like Onewa Road and Dominion Road) then I think passengers would rush to public transport in droves. Even though it’s not a fancy rail system that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build (not that I have anything against fancy rail systems), but because it makes sense.

We can’t ignore making Auckland’s bus system better if we’re serious about improving public transport. After all, as I stated at the beginning of this post, around 80% of public transport trips in Auckland are on the bus.

Northland Rail

Last Tuesday before the budget I got a call from a reporter from the Herald asking my opinion on the Government’s rail announcements. I told him if he told me what they were, I’d tell him what I thought! He asked my opinion on the Government’s decision to close the North Auckland Line (this isn’t what the Government actually proposed) and my comments appeared in this article:

Fears for Northland rail link

By Mathew Dearnaley

Photo / Mark Mitchell

Transport campaigners are concerned that mothballing the rail line to Northland would reduce options for diverting freight from Auckland’s congested Auckland waterfront.

KiwiRail yesterday disclosed that as part of its $4.6 billion “turnaround plan” – into which the Government will pump $750 million over three years – it is considering mothballing four under-used railway lines, including the link between Auckland and Moerewa.

Chief executive Jim Quinn said the company was responding to a signal by the Government, which owns it, “to focus the scarce capital we get into the most productive areas where the revenue is”.

He denied that KiwiRail had an aggressive closure agenda, but expected all four lines to be mothballed by 2012 unless the communities they served could show ways of making them viable in the short-term.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jeremy Harris said that would defy commonsense, given the potential for a large amount of extra business from a spur line to the port and oil refinery at Marsden Pt.

Although several tunnels would need widening before trains could carry containers to and from Northland, Mr Harris said that could be done for just a fraction of the cost of the 38km highway the Government wants to build between Puhoi and Wellsford for $1.53 billion to $2.04 billion.

He said sending containers to Northland would take pressure off Auckland’s port, which faced growing demands for greater public access to the waterfront.

Northland Regional Council chairman Mark Farnsworth hoped to make a strong case for the Government and KiwiRail to take a long-term strategic view in keeping the line open.

Yesterday’s announcement was principally about freight services, although the Auckland and Wellington regional councils are on notice from the Government that their ratepayers and commuters will have to pay more for track maintenance.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said $7 million would be allocated in tomorrow’s Budget to help to cover an undisclosed shortfall on passenger rail services in the two regions while rail access charges were being renegotiated.

The Auckland Regional Council fears not only that its annual bill for access charges may treble to $6 million, but also that it will be called on to contribute to loan repayments for the electric trains the Government has agreed to buy the region for $500 million.

Mr Quinn said KiwiRail intended to hold consultations over the next year with all communities likely to be affected by decisions to mothball the four lines on its list.

My point was quite strong given what I’d been told, it didn’t make sense to me to announce it’s closure without taking into account Marsden Pt. I didn’t really think too much about it till two days later this letter appeared in the herald:

There may be many reasons for the Northland Rail Link remaining open but, unfortunately for the Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jeremy Harris, a container port at Marsden Pt. is unlikely to be one of them, either in its own right or as a relief port for Auckland.

If he knows anything about transport, “better” or otherwise, he might be aware that the trend by container shipping lines like Maersk is to reduce their number of ports of call. In the not-too-distant future there’s likely to be only two ports in New Zealand where the largest container ships call – one each for the North and South Islands. The North Island port will likely be Auckland or Tauranga’s – not Marsden Pt. And that’s just if we don’t just become a spoke in the wheel of a hub port in Australia.

So we better not go widening those tunnels yet.

Steve Newman, Birkenhead

It’s amazing how quickly you get used to being called an idiot in public. Sadly the Herald didn’t print my response but here it is:

In response to your correspondent Steve Newman, who claims that there is no need for the North Auckland Rail Line to Marsden Pt. due to shipping consolidation.

I hope after writing his letter to the Herald he wrote a letter to Northport informing them to cancel their upcoming board meetings and for the wharfies to down tools and head off to the WINZ office, as the capitalist system of competition is no longer needed, he has decided Northport will fade into the history books – despite their obvious advantages of having the only truly deep water port in the North Island and the country’s largest refinery immeaditely adjacent to the port.

I hope he also wrote a letter to Steven Joyce demanding a rail head at Whangarei and an upgrade to the North Auckland Line – now urgently required to freight logs from Northland’s maturing forests to Auckland and Tauranga.

The name, Steve Newman seemed really familiar to me and I couldn’t figure out where I had seen it.

Update: As noted in the comments it seems that there are (at least) two Steve Newmans and they got mixed up. Many apologies.

Auckland Transport to be in Henderson

Some interesting decisions on where the different parts of the new Auckland Council, including where Auckland Transport will be located, have been released. Here are the details: Perhaps one of the most worrying things about the Auckland Council being largely based in the CBD and Takapuna, while Auckland Transport is in Henderson, is that the ‘divide’ between the two agencies may be reinforced through the physical distance between them. Some councils (Waitakere, and North Shore City was getting there) have gone to great lengths and expense to ‘bring together’ all their staff under one roof. This is so the different parts of them don’t get “siloed” off from each other.

Putting Auckland Transport out in Henderson appears likely to reinforce the dis-integration between the council and the transport agency. And that’s a worry in my opinion.

NZTA wrecks public transport

A few months ago NZTA released its “Draft Farebox Recovery Policy” for comment and submissions. Naturally enough I made a submission, pointing out the stupidity of having a set 50% farebox recovery ratio while accepting the need for better control over the quality of public transport spending. This feeling seemed to be echoed by a number of submitters, in particular the Auckland Regional Council who pointed out that having a “set in concrete” farebox recovery ratio would effectively become the public transport policy.

NZTA certainly took their time over analysing these submissions, and now around six months later they’ve come out with their “National Farebox Recovery Policy”. Somewhat surprisingly, given the submissions, the final policy is actually even worse than the Draft Policy. There’s a lot of fancy fluff talk in the final policy, about how many many things will have to be ‘taken into account when setting farebox policies, but ultimately this is what they have decided upon to be the policy:

The part of the originally proposed policy that had everyone ‘up in arms’ was the requirement that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch have 50 percent ratios. Instead of that, the requirement is now that the whole damn country, on average, have a 50 percent ratio.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with the 50 percent idea. Perhaps it is possible and desirable for that to be our farebox recovery level. The point I think many submitters made is that having an arbitrarily set level, based on absolutely no research (for example, most Australian, American and Canadian cities have recovery ratios of well below 50 percent but we hardly say they have terrible public transport because of that), is just stupid. What if a 45% ratio in Auckland, for example, is the level that has the most benefits for public transport users, road users, residents and so forth? Shouldn’t the actual outcome be improving economic efficiency, environmental benefits and improving quality of life (or even something more easy to measure like enhancing accessibility)?

What the new policy does is pretty much say that Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are going to have to go even higher than 50%, but that we don’t really know what that level is yet, because it’ll depend on what Invercargill does. The reason I say that what happens in Auckland will depend on what Invercargill does, it because of this graph – which comes from supporting information to the Farebox Recovery Ratio:

As you can see, many areas with smaller towns and cities served with public transport (like Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough and especially Southland) have pretty damn low farebox recovery ratios. This is not surprising, as generally in smaller towns and cities public transport is provided at a very basic level so that people without cars can get around. When that’s your over-riding goal it’s pretty hard to provide it in an efficient way – because you simply don’t get the huge peak hour rush to help subsidise the off-peak times.

So the really stupid thing about this most recent change is not only will the big cities have to up their farebox recovery ratios (potentially by raising fares or cutting services) even higher than 50% to counter-balance the low ratios in smaller towns & cities, but the extent to which the big cities have to do this is dependent upon the extent to which those smaller areas accept fare rises or services cuts. In short, quite absurdly, whatever Auckland’s farebox recovery ratio turns out to have to be, will depend on what happens in Invercargill.

Looking a bit deeper into why NZTA are rolling out this policy shows up some pretty scary stuff. Here’s a bit from the supplementary information:

In short, stuff public transport while we go build all our Roads of National (party) significance.

Argh. Looks like the Government Policy Statement is starting to have an impact.

April 2010 Patronage: steady growth

ARTA’s April 2010 monthly business report is out, and the patronage news is solid, if not spectacular. Here’s a summary of the April report: As we can see from the long-term patronage graph below, April 2010 is a big drop from March 2010 – but that is typical, because of school and university holidays. While the increase in patronage over the whole public transport (from April 2009 to April 2010) is only around 4%, when we look at the Rapid Transit Network (the railway lines and the Northern Busway) the increase has been almost 15%. The Rapid Transit network is the highest quality and fastest part of the public transport network, so these statistics say to me that if you give people a high quality public transport option, they will rush to it in droves.

Once again, the monthly business report breaks down the changes in bus patronage by sector, which gives us some interesting results: The October 2009 statistics, and to some extent the cumulative statistics, are very much affected by the bus lockout that happened back in October last year, but they still show us some interesting results. While bus patronage is making good increases in the north and south, on the isthmus in particular we are seeing some big drops. While there might be some shift to rail that contributes to this figure, I think that it’s a pretty good sign that ARTA needs to undertake a pretty dramatic revision of bus routes both in the west and on the isthmus – along the lines of the network effect map I put together a few weeks back.

As a final point, it’s exciting to see that the business case and concept designs of the CBD rail tunnel will be completed by September.

Can we actually “fix congestion” (and should we even try)?

As I blogged about a few days ago, I am reading the book “Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion” by Anthony Downs. This book is probably the most in depth look at the causes, and potential solutions to, traffic congestion that I have ever come across. It is also an extremely comprehensive look at the concept of “induced traffic demand“, which I think is generally ignored when making important transport related decisions in New Zealand. One of the main points of Downs’s book is that building additional transport capacity (whether it is extra roads or extra public transport) is unlikely to fix peak hour congestion – because of induced demand – but may still bring benefits.

Focusing first on the results of adding road capacity, here’s how Downs explains how that approach is unlikely to “fix” congestion:

“…once heavy peak-hour congestion has appeared in key parts of a region’s road network, building new roads or expanding existing ones there does not reduce the intensity of such congestion much in the long run. Once commuters realise the capacity of specific roads has been increased, they will quickly shift their routes, timing and modes of travel by moving to those roads during peak periods, thereby filling up the expanded capacity.

…the resulting triple convergence will soon bring congestion back to its maximum levels during peak periods. True, because of greater road capacity, peak periods of congestion may be shorter, and more drivers can use the roads during those periods – which are the most convenient times for their travel. Moreover, the overall mobility of the region is increased because more vehicles can use the expanded roads during peak hours and off-peak hours. So expanding existing road capacity does produce significant benefits, even if it does not end or greatly reduce peak-period commuting.

However, if the metropolitan area as a whole is growing rapidly, the traffic added by growth will soon overfill the newly built capacity, and periods of maximum congestion will go back to their prior length. Also, the added travel capacity may help persuade more people and firms to move into the region, or it may cause more residents already living there to buy and use automotive vehicles.”

So in the shorter run, there would appear to be transport benefits from widening roads, despite induced demand. If we take the widening of State Highway 16 as an example of a transport project that is very much likely to ‘suffer’ from triple-convergence, while the widening of that motorway will definitely not eliminate (or necessarily even reduce) the severity of congestion along it at peak hour, it is likely to shorten the duration of that peak hour – as more people who previously avoided the worst of the congestion by travelling should the “shoulder peak” periods will switch to travelling at peak time. This might be more convenient for them, and it might free up the road during those shoulder-peak periods. So there are some benefits in the shorter term.

However, in the longer term, widening SH16 is likely to encourage further development along the corridor served by the motorway (a process certainly likely to be helped by huge planned developments around the end of SH16). This development, plus a potential mode shift away from public transport and towards driving, appears likely to ‘eat up’ most of the gains from the SH16 widening project referred to in my previous paragraph. So in the longer-term, it really does seem exceedingly likely that the SH16 widening project will be a complete and utter waste of $800 million. That’s half a CBD Rail Tunnel.

So how about public transport? One of the things that slightly frustrates me about Downs’s book is how quickly he writes off public transport as a solution for most places because he says that urban densities are far too low for it to be viable. While it is true that many US cities do have extremely low urban densities (far lower than Auckland), my understanding of Paul Mees‘s books, particularly in relation to the network effect – as well as seeing how successful public transport has been over the past 10-20 years in very low density Australian cities like Perth and Brisbane  - is that public transport can be quite successful and popular in relatively low density suburbia, as long as you’re smart about how you provide it. Putting that issue aside though, what Downs says about the effects of expanding public transport capacity is quite similar to what he says about expanding road capacity – in terms of effects (or lack thereof) on congestion:

“…expanding transit capacity rarely reduces existing roadway traffic congestion that has reached high levels of intensity. This conclusion may seem counterintuitive. If all the expressways leading into a major downtown are jammed every day during peak periods, it seems reasonable to assume that building an extensive fixed rail system on separate rights-of-way also serving the downtown will divert thousands of commuters off the roads, thereby relieving congestion.

In fact, such extensive systems have been built since 1950 in San Francisco, Washington DC and Atlanta. But peak-hour congestion did not decline in any of these regions; in fact, it got worse. Because of the principle of triple convergence, any initial improvement in speed on the expressways caused by such diversions to the new transit system did not last. In the short run, all the auto-driving commuters who shifted from expressways to the new rail systems were replaced on those expressways by other auto-driving commuters who had formerly traveled on other routes or at other times or on other modes. In the long run, the expanded overall capacity of each region’s transportation network – including more highways built in the same time periods – helped encourage more people and firms to locate in those regions. The resulting “induced demand” for travel soaked up all the additional capacity of all types in each region. This outcome was certainly not caused primarily by transit expansion. But neither did that expansion succeed in reducing rising roadway congestion in any perceptible way.

True, the expanded transit systems surely increased travel choices, thereby producing benefits for those who used them. And they enabled more people to travel during peak hours on transit and roads combined, thereby benefiting many auto-driving commuters too. But they did not reduce the intensity of peak-hour traffic congestion.”

This is a particularly interesting point actually, that just as triple convergence ‘eats up’ many of the benefits gained from adding roading capacity, it also eats up many of the benefits to road users of adding transit capacity. So perhaps just as it’s really debatable to say that the Waterview Connection will produce $2.6 billion of time savings benefits, it’s also debatable that 85% of the benefits of the Onehunga Line are really benefits that will be enjoyed by road users through reduced congestion at peak times. Of course, that’s not to say there are no benefits of expanding transit capacity – in fact I would hugely argue the opposite (and so does Downs, to be fair) – just that it’s unlikely that adding transit capacity will reduce the intensity of peak hour traffic congestion.

So if all these things don’t reduce the intensity of peak-hour congestion, what would? Well quite a lot of Downs’s book is dedicated to answering that question – and in short it is all about measures that can ‘spread the load’, ways in which more people can be encouraged to shift from travelling at peak times to travelling at off-peak times. It would appear as though the most effective way of doing that is through road-pricing: putting a price on road capacity that relates to the demand for it. Effectively, if you charge a high enough rate on congested roads at peak times a certain percentage of people will choose to travel somewhere else, at some other time or via some other mode: effectively a “triple divergence”.

Of course road pricing has its problems too, particularly in terms of social equity (to generalise, it will be the poor who are priced off the roads to create enough room for the rich to drive). Another issue is that unless you can come up with some sort of state of the art pricing system that covers every single road, pricing motorways is likely to result in traffic spreading to local roads – not exactly a desired outcome. Ultimately, it does seem as though there are two ways of dealing with the typical “big city” situation of too many cars and not enough peak hour transport capacity: you either price enough people off the road to free up that capacity, or you live with a certain level of congestion.

Which brings me to the question of whether we should actually even try to “fix” peak hour congestion. Or more widely, whether reducing congestion is actually what transport policy should be about. Road pricing, whilst potentially quite effective, does appear to be inequitable and works in three ways (diverging times, routes and modes) – only one of which (diverging modes) may necessarily be a gain at an overall level. By that I mean the disadvantages of forcing people to travel outside the peak period may actually outweigh the disadvantages of congestion – clearly that seems to be the case at the moment as people choose to travel at peak time even though they know they’re going to suffer from congestion (perhaps they have to work set hours, perhaps the benefits to the economy as a whole of having most people work the same hours is worth the congestion issue). Furthermore, as I already noted, spreading traffic away from major roads and onto local roads is likely to degrade the urban environment quite significantly, hardly the kind of outcome we would want. Putting people off driving altogether, by encouraging modeshift, or eliminating ‘unnecessary’ trips (and in the longer run encouraging more intensive urban forms) appears to me as the only real, long-lasting, benefit of road pricing.

So perhaps we’re asking the wrong question here. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “how do we fix congestion?” Perhaps it should be “how can our transport system improve accessibility, making it easier for people to get around?” In a wider sense, I also think that we should also be concerned about questions like “how can we make our transport system more sustainable” and “how can our transport system help create a better Auckland”, but in a simple sense, it really does seem as though improving accessibility, rather than ‘fixing congestion’ needs to be the primary aim.

And there is a significant difference between the two. While building a new railway line might not fix congestion on the surrounding roads, it does provide potential capacity for 6 lanes worth of traffic in each direction to get where they want to go, at peak time, and be relatively unaffected by unexpected delays. In my mind, that is a huge transport improvement, even if all the people it “takes off the road” are quickly replaced through triple convergence. By contrast, although there may be benefits gained by doubling the width of a motorway – in that more people are able to travel at the time they want to – if all those people are stuck in congestion all you’ve really achieved is a situation where more people are sitting in traffic, not really a transport improvement in my mind.

Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s really possible, or even desirable, to try to “fix congestion”. The main tool for achieving such an outcome – road pricing – is potentially more trouble than it’s worth. But that doesn’t mean there’s no point in trying to improve out transport system, we just need to understand the reason we’re doing it: to improve accessibility, not to fix congestion.

Gareth Hughes on Transport

Green MP Gareth Hughes’s speech on the 2010 budget:

This bit is particularly good:

“Just one more win, and then I can finally quit.”, “Just one more motorway, then we can relieve congestion and finally stop building them.” But one motorway leads to another, then another, until we are building motorways to solve the problems caused by the other motorways.

This guy is really onto it.

Len Brown’s CCO Plan

With all the hoopla surrounding the various piece of legislation that are leading to the creation of the Super City in Auckland, it’s easy to forget that the election is only a few months away now, and in less than six months we’ll be living in the “brave new world” of a single-council Super City. While my general political persuasions are centre-left, I am keeping a relatively open mind about who I plan to vote for in the upcoming elections, largely because aside from the mayoral candidates I don’t really know who my options will be.

Turning to the mayoral candidates, it is interesting to read Len Brown’s (current Manukau City mayor) reaction to the select committee’s report on the Auckland Law Reform Bill, and how he plans to hold the CCOs accountable. Here’s his statement on the matter:

Manukau Mayor Len Brown will strengthen the accountability and openness of Auckland Council’s council controlled organisations (CCOs) should he be elected mayor.

“There is still considerable community concern over the establishment of CCOs. If I am elected mayor I will make sure they work in the interest of local communities,” says Len Brown.

Len Brown is proposing making sure the Auckland Council’s CCOs are effective and are held accountable for their performance through:
• rigorous statements of intent that include key performance indicators,
• regular monthly meetings with the mayor,
• open lines of communication,
• the publication of board agendas prior to meetings and, unless absolutely necessary, the requirement for boards to hold open meetings and publish draft board minutes as soon as practically possible after the meeting.
“I disagree with the establishment of the Transport CCO because I’m not confident it’s the best structure to run out the mayor and council’s vision for transport. I will, therefore, call for a review of the statutory Transport CCO after two years if I am not satisfied it is working well, with the option of promoting legislation to amend or repeal it.

“My experience of CCOs in Manukau has been positive because we have paid a great deal of attention to putting good governance mechanisms in place. The community is right to demand high standards of performance and ultimately we, the Council and principle shareholder, will be held accountable to the public.

“The Auckland Council has the power to appoint the directors, the chair and the deputy chair of each CCO. I intend to make sure these people are appointed on merit and are committed to working in the interest of local communities.

“I disagreed with the government appointing initial directors, but I don’t believe the best way for the Auckland Council to get off on the right foot is to start firing directors. However, it is important that the people who are appointed retain the confidence of the full council.

“I will make sure the Auckland Council and/or Local Boards have the final say on CCO bylaws and activities that will have a significant impact on local communities and I’ll ensure all CCOs give effect to the Spatial Plan and other Auckland Council plans and policies.

“In the end we need leadership to make sure the supercity changes work for local communities. It’s up to Auckland now.”

Clearly, he has cottoned on to the fact that it will be up to the Auckland Council to require the CCOs to operate in public, rather than that being set by the legislation. I like the plans he has for ensuring accountability and transparency of Auckland Transport in particular, although I would add a suggestion that the Auckland Council retain a number of transport qualified staff so that there can be better land-use planning and transport integration. I also like the idea of reviewing how effectively Auckland Transport is working after two years, and if it’s found to not be working, putting together a Bill to parliament to ‘bring it in-house’. Reviewing whether such a big change has actually had good results or bad results is a sound idea.

While in the past I have somewhat egged on the council to completely fire the board of Auckland Transport on day one of the council, now that it would seem the mayors will have a role in helping to choose these directors, I think that it’s sensible for Len Brown to state that it would be a bit silly to fire the lot on day one. However, if the directors do end up being “Steven Joyce lap dogs” (which is a bit of a worry I have) then I would absolutely expect the council to get rid of them so that Auckland Transport actually does what Auckland Council, not the Minister of Transport, wants.

A lot of people have commented that while Len Brown seems like a great guy, they’re not so sure there’s the experience, deep knowledge of how things work and ultimate toughness for him to take on the job of “super-Mayor”. The way he plans to hold the CCOs to account indicates that he may well have what’s necessary for the job. I wonder what John Banks’ plan for the CCOs is.

What is the point of the 004 bus?

Living in Herne Bay, I catch either the 004 or 005 bus into town each morning, and again either the 004 of 005 bus home again in the evening. There’s not much difference between the two routes, except that the 005 extends all the way to Westmere, whereas the 004 route terminates at Herne Bay. Here’s how the two routes compare on a map:Most of the Jervois Road buses are 005s, except for a few 004 services at peak hour. This is shown in the timetable below (with the 004s highlighted in red):

The question I have is “why on earth do we bother with the 004 route?” Going from the 004′s terminus on to Westmere only adds another three minutes to its travelling time, which means another 6 minutes for a bus doing that round trip. Not a huge different I would think. Furthermore, as well as the benefits of simplifying the route structure of bus services in this corner of Auckland, my experience in catching Jervois Road buses over the past year and a bit is that the 005s are far more popular than the 004s. So there could be some significant patronage gains by extending the route through to Westmere all the time.

Personally, I’d like the 005 bus to be extended all the way through to Pt Chevalier, and have its resources combined with those of the 045, but I guess eliminating the 004 would be a small step in the right direction.