Roughan on CBD Tunnel

NZ Herald columnist John Roughan has written an interesting, if rather uninformed (he thinks we don’t yet have a Grafton Station) article on the CBD rail tunnel – and in particular on the support that it is getting among both local/regional politicians and also from Greens and Labour party politicians. In fact, the only two people in New Zealand who it seems don’t support the project are Steven Joyce and John Roughan (I’m sure there are more!) Here are some interesting parts of his article:

A gathering at Britomart railway station this week gave a hint of the damage a Super City could do. One Labour MP was there, with a couple of Greens, several Auckland local-body members and a Super City mayoral candidate, Len Brown.

They were trying to revive the idea of a railway line under the CBD.

It was the presence of Labour that worried me. The Green Party is not powerful enough to do much damage to the national economy but Labour could.

Goodness knows why he thinks that the project would “damage the national economy”. All signs are that its business case, which is due for completion later this year, will show a strong logic for constructing the project – in particular because of the significant economic boost it will give the Auckland CBD. If Roughan is really worried about a transport project doing damage to the national economy because it’s not cost-effective, I suggest he takes a good look at the holiday highway and its shoddy business case.

However, Roughan raises the interesting point that the future Super City mayor will be in a very powerful position to try to influence central government policies to the benefit of Auckland, and in particular to the benefit of projects that they support and they think Auckland needs. Roughan thinks that’s a bad thing, although I think that’s just because he doesn’t like this project (or public transport in general):

Right now Labour needs this new Auckland prize more than National. The question raised by the Britomart stunt is, have we created a terrible temptation for a major party of Government? The National Party will be in the same position one day.

It would be the easiest bribe in the world to promise a big city a glittering project at national expense. Who would turn down an underground railway if the Government was going to pay for it?

Labour deserves some credit here; at the Britomart gathering it did not, as far as I’m aware, give Brown any grounds for suggesting a vote for him could improve Auckland’s prospect of an inner-city subway.

More important – since all candidates quickly endorsed the project – Labour has not committed its next Government to the cost.

But the fearful possibility remains. The mayoralty of greater Auckland will represent one third of the population of New Zealand. Representational power always needs to be checked by the need to raise all its revenue from those it represents.

Considering that the majority of the country’s population growth is in Auckland, and that for many decades Auckland has suffered from chronic under-investment in its transport infrastructure, that fact that the Super City mayor will place great pressure on central government in their advocacy for Auckland is probably a good thing (at least from an Auckland-centric point of view). It is probably the fear of this situation that has put previous governments off amalgamating Auckland’s local government structure – a feeling that it was better to divide and rule the place.

Aside from Roughan’s ideological dislike for public transport, what seems to be worrying him is that “if this project was so good, why doesn’t Auckland pay for it?” He explains this in a bit more detail:

A rail loop from Britomart to Newmarket, with stops in Wellesley St for the universities and Grafton for the hospital, may be so well patronised that it pays for itself.

It may increase the use of all the Auckland lines and bring more people back to the CBD. Alex Swney, head of the “Heart of the City” business group, was also at Britomart on Monday.

But if we Aucklanders really believed that, we would pay for it, just as we paid for the Harbour Bridge. We would support a mayor who proposed that we borrow the money in the confidence that the loan and operating costs would easily be covered by the tolls it would collect.

If we could be convinced it would pay we would buy a first-class railway – fast, flash and so frequent we never needed to look at a timetable. But that is not the sort of railway a Government would pay for, and nor should it.

A Government is entitled to suspect that if Auckland needs national taxpayers to pay for its trains it is because not that many Aucklanders are going to use them.

The reason why this project is reliant on central government funding is because those who will benefit most from the project are actually road users (at least according to the way NZTA calculate benefits of public transport projects). As shown in the diagram below (sorry to have to post it AGAIN, but I think it’s critical that this point is driven home) for each new rail passenger at peak times, NZTA calculates that there is a $17 benefit to road users through reduced congestion: Now it would be really nice if Auckland, as a region, were able to raise money from road users to help fund improvements to the transport network. That would mean that we wouldn’t have to go begging to central government every time we want a new transport project – but unfortunately last year the regional fuel tax was cancelled, so now all funding generated by road users has to go through central government.

Of course Auckland will end up paying for some of the project. My guess is that the most likely way the funding will end up being split is that the Council (through the Transport CCO) will pay for construction of the stations, while central government (either directly or – more logically – through NZTA) will pay for the tunnel itself. The result might end up being roughly a 2/3rd (central government), 1/3rd (local government) split in the funding of the project – and that would probably be pretty fair as it seems likely that, under NZTA’s current method of calculating project benefits, the majority of the benefits will be to road users.

Roughan really should catch the train more.

New Lynn Station – progress

I went out to see what progress there has been on construction of the New Lynn train station today – and while there’s still a reasonable amount of work left to do, a lot of the scaffolding has been removed from when I was last there, so it’s now possible to get a bit better of an idea about what it will all look like when completed.

Starting off though, it’s good to see that a number of information signs have been added to entrances to the station, that will (eventually) show up how many minutes away the next train is:

As a slight gripe, I still can’t believe that we can’t get real-time information to inform what these signs say. If it’s possible to track buses in real-time to inform signs at bus stops, and the MAXX website now, I truly cannot understand why it has taken so long to get real time information for the trains. This should be so simple.

You can see from the photo below how the station will really stand out as a landmark for New Lynn. I personally really like the design, and the integration of the red bricks is a great link to New Lynn’s history as a brick-making area:

The next photo shows how the station will integrate with the new bus interchange, that will be shifted slightly so that it’s right next to the train station. While it’s great that the two are right next to each other, if there’s one thing that I’m a little bit worried about, it is that the station might end up being a bit like an island surrounded by a sea of roads. I hope there will be some good pedestrian priority for people trying to access the station!

As I was leaving, a westbound train passed through the trench. I must say that the two-car ADL set looked utterly tiny compared to the massively long New Lynn station platforms. I wonder when we’ll need to start running longer trains on weekends? Perhaps more importantly, I wonder when we’ll have trains at half-hourly frequencies on weekends – as hourly frequencies is pretty embarrassingly pathetic.

Most of the remaining work to do on New Lynn seems fairly minor, although a decent amount of construction work remains to change the bus interchange around. It seems like we’re probably still on target to have everything finished and opened by September/October.

France’s transport plan

The French government has just released for consultation its visionary transportation plan for the next 20-30 years, and while I can’t really understand French, if you are able to read French then it will probably make for quite an interesting read. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the plan is the allocation of funding to various transport modes, which is shown in the diagram below: Working in a clockwise direction, 0.5% of the budget is due to be spent on airports, 4.5% on roads (only!!!!!), 32.3% on urban public transport, 9.2% on river-based transport, 1.6% on ports and the remaining 51.9% on rail (mainly intercity I think).

As a quick comparison, this is the cost-breakdown of NZTA’s spending on transport in the Auckland region over the next three years: Whilst I don’t speak French, the excellent blog “The Transport Politic” has translated a few key paragraphs of the French transport plan in this blog post:

Mr. Borloo, a member of President Sarkozy’s conservative administration, has advanced what the plan itself argues is “a drastic change in strategy, a major rupture in resolutely privileging the development of alternatives to road-based transport modes.” The result: Two million tons of carbon dioxide economized each year, part of a nationwide commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020. In France, transportation consumes 68% of the nation’s gas and produces 28% of all emissions.

The plan, which is worthy of a read for French speakers, has four principal goals: Optimizing the existing transportation system to limit the creation of new infrastructure; improving the performance of the system in serving areas far from major metropolitan areas; improving the energy efficiency of the system; and reducing the environmental impact of the network. These priorities have resulted in what is a clear emphasis on improvements in the country’s already well-developed rail system. Not only will 2,300 kilometers (1,429 miles) of new (true) high-speed rail be under construction or complete by 2020, but two major north-south freight railroad corridors will be developed simultaneously to ramp up the country’s use of trains to transport goods.

In addition, €53 billion will be pointed towards the creation of new works of public transportation operating in fixed guideways, about half of which will go to the massive Grand Paris scheme. The doubling of congested highways such as the Paris-Lille autoroute have been eliminated from consideration, since road infrastructure projects will be kept to the absolute minimum. The program is likely to be approved by the government at the end of this year.

Though the state lacks a long-term funding source for the commitment, the plan suggests that whatever money that is available will go almost entirely to non-automotive modes of transport. Even if the government loses power in 2012, the plan’s goals won’t die off, since the opposition Socialists, in pseudo coalition with the Greens, are just as interested in advancing a similar transportation paradigm.

One particularly interesting paragraph from a translation of part of the plan is this:

The draft SNIT does not increase the overall capacity of roads or highways. Regarding roads, the projects will meet only the requirements of security, to improve access to legitimate concerns and regional fairness, and will erase some points of serious traffic congestion.

Yes, France has a much bigger population than New Zealand does, and yes it’s a more densely populated country. But the completely massive difference between the approaches to transport policy is striking: the French shifting almost completely away from spending money on new roads, while our transport plans focus almost exclusively on building roads of national importance.

In a future where oil will inevitably be a lot more expensive, I can’t help but think that France is taking the far more sensible path.

Who wants to run the Transport CCO?

The NZ Herald today reports that the Auckland Transition Agency is having a lot of trouble trying to find someone to be the interim CEO of the new Transport CCO.

A London Transport guru is believed to have turned down the top transport job in the Auckland Super City amid reports of senior council staff fleeing the new set-up because of poor pay and conditions.

With three months until the Super City comes into being, the agency setting it up has been unable to find an interim chief executive for Auckland Transport, a council-controlled organisation which will be responsible for spending about $680 million of Auckland ratepayers’ money.

Sources said that after long, drawn-out negotiations the preferred candidate from London Transport backed out about 10 days ago. An applicant from Perth is also believed to have been on the short-list, but withdrew.

Last night, the agency did not deny the reports that one, possibly two, candidates had turned down the job.

“Transport is a major strategic issue for Auckland and this is a significant role. It’s important to get the right candidate and the process is ongoing,” a spokesman said.

It’s both surprising, and somewhat unsurprising, that this role is proving very difficult to fill. I suppose that it’s surprising to the extent that it will probably pay somewhere around half a million dollars a year, and that it would be a pretty influential job: the best opportunity to change Auckland’s transport situation for many decades. But at the same time I can see why people might be turned off it – with the prospect of constant ugly battles with council, the Transport CCO directors and inevitably everything else that makes transport in Auckland such a horrific mess.

It’s a pity that the London Transport guru (whoever that might have been) has turned down the role. I do feel as though we need someone from outside New Zealand to becoming Auckland Transport’s CCO – someone who knows what other cities around the world are doing with their transport policies. Getting someone like New York City Department of Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan would be fantastic, although if I were her it’s probably the last job in the world that I’d want!

Tauranga Eastern Motorway to be tolled

Today the government and NZTA confirmed that one of the “roads of national significance”, the Tauranga Eastern Motorway, will be tolled to advance its construction. I don’t really know too much about this particular project, other than one of its major benefits will supposedly be “to stimulate development east of Tauranga”, which seems to mean “to enable urban sprawl”. In any case, here’s the media release:

Construction of the Tauranga Eastern Link road of national significance will start up to 10 years earlier than previously possible following the Government’s approval for the route to be tolled, the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) confirmed today.

NZTA Bay of Plenty Regional Director Harry Wilson says this decision clears the way for the NZTA to get the main construction underway in early 2011.

“Having confirmation that we’ll be able to start early is excellent news. The Tauranga Eastern Link will make an important contribution to the Bay of Plenty’s economic and social well-being and the earlier we can get the road built, the better,” says Mr Wilson.

The four-lane road will run from Te Maunga (near Baypark Stadium) in Tauranga to the existing junction of State Highways 2 and 33 (the Rotorua and Whakatane highways) near Paengaroa. It will be made up 17km of new road and an upgrade of six kilometres of existing highway.

As well as improving the efficiency of freight vehicles accessing the Port of Tauranga and beyond, the Tauranga Eastern Link will improve safety for residents along the current route of State Highway 2 and open up access to new developments planned for Papamoa, Mr Wilson says.

With an estimated cost of $455M*, it will be the largest state highway project ever built in the Bay of Plenty. The NZTA is currently evaluating tenders from two major consortia and expects to announce the successful tenderer in October this year.

“We’re excited about what completing this project will mean for the Bay of Plenty and are grateful for the support of our local government partners – Tauranga City Council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.”

Mr Wilson says tolls will apply to the section of new road from the Domain Road intersection to Paengaroa. A free-flow tolling system will be used to enable motorists to travel the 23km journey without having to stop or slow down to pay a toll.

“We know there will be a lot of interest in the project as it gets underway and we’ll be working hard to keep people informed of progress. This will include a dedicated website and an on-site visitor centre which is due to be opened next year,” says Mr Wilson.

The fact that this can be a toll road is because the existing State Highway 2 will provide the necessary free alternative that the current legislation requires.

Thinking about this, it makes me wonder whether the reason NZTA are going for a completely “off-line” solution for the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” is so they can toll it. However, the ability to toll a road certainly does not mean that it will be more cost-effective. I’m pretty certain that the dodgy business case for the holiday highway was predicated on the road being untolled, and all the predicted traffic between Puhoi and Wellsford being likely to use the road. If a toll was applied, and that put off a reasonable chunk of potential users of the road (and I can’t quite imagine the toll staying at a mere $2), then the time-savings benefits the project will supposedly create will plummet due to far fewer people using the route.

Of course the Puhoi-Wellsford road may not be tolled (although unless there’s an exit at Puhoi the whole Orewa-Warkworth section will be within the existing tolled area), but it would be interesting to know what the plans are.

Public Transport & traffic congestion

Jarrett at has another one of those “must read” blog posts up, this time exploring the linkage between public transport and traffic congestion – and seeking to answer the question “does public transport improvements reduce traffic congestion?” He starts off, quite interestingly, by stating this:

To my knowledge, and correct me if I’m wrong, no transit project or service has ever been the clear direct cause of a substantial drop in traffic congestion. So claiming that a project you favor will reduce congestion is unwise; the data just don’t support that claim.

However, before all the road-lovers start shrieking “ha, I told you so!”, he also says this:

To my knowledge, and again correct me if I’m wrong, there are exactly three ways for a city to reduce its traffic congestion measurably, quickly, and in a lasting way. (Widening roads is not one of these ways, because its benefit to traffic congestion is temporary unless new development in the road’s catchment is completely and permanently banned.)

Of course, the issue we’re talking about here is the effect of induced demand and the practical impossibility of trying to “fix” congestion through adding transport supply – either through widened roads or through public transport improvements. The matter of debate is whether we’re talking about longer-term or shorter-term improvements to congestion: as driving up the Northern Motorway yesterday at peak times the trip was amazingly uncongested – a situation which I think the Northern Busway has contributed to quite a lot.

Jarrett goes on to analyse the three things that he reckons would actually reduce congestion:

Economic collapse. Traffic congestion tends to drop during economic slowdowns, because fewer people have jobs to commute to, or money to spend on discretionary travel. A complete economic collapse, which causes people to move away from a city in droves, is always a lasting fix for congestion problems!

Reduction of road capacity. Ever since the demise of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, it’s been pretty clear that if you reduce road capacity for private vehicles, traffic will drop in response. Destroying the Embarcadero Freeway didn’t reduce congestion on the parallel surface streets, but it didn’t increase it much either. If you reduce road capacity, the remaining capacity is still congested, but this can still be called a reduction in congestion — especially if you use standard highway metrics like “lane miles of congested roadway.”

Correct pricing of road space. Congestion is the result of underpricing. If you give away 500 free concert tickets to the first 500 people in line, you’ll get 500 people standing in line, some of them overnight. These people are paying time to save money. Current prevailing road pricing policy requires all motorists to act like these frugal concertgoers. Motorists are required to pay for road use in time, rather than in money, even though some would rather do the opposite and our cities would be safer and more efficient if they could. Current road pricing policy requires motorists to save money, a renewable resource, by expending time, the least renewable resource of all.

So if public transport doesn’t reduce congestion, why on earth should we bother with it? Here’s what Jarrett says about that:

Transit’s role is essential, but its effect is indirect.

Transit raises the level of economic activity and prosperity at a fixed level of congestion. Congestion appears to reach equilibrium at a level that is maddeningly high but that can’t be called “total gridlock.” At that level, people just stop trying to travel. If your city is car-dependent, that limit becomes the cap on the economic activity — and thus the prosperity — of your city. To the extent that your city is dependent on transit, supported by walking and cycling, economic activity and prosperity can continue to grow while congestion remains constant.

Transit enables people who can’t drive to participate in economic life. This includes the disabled and seniors of course, but also the poor. During the US welfare reform debate in 1994-96, government began raising pressure on welfare recipients to seek and accept any employment opportunity. For the very poor living in car-dependent cities, the lack of commuting options became a profound barrier to these job placements. This is really an element of the previous point, since all employment, even of the poor, contributes to prosperity. But this has independent force for government because unemployed people consume more government services than employed people do. This benefit of transit should always be described in terms of economic efficiency, as I’ve done here, rather than appealing to pity or to alleged “economic rights,” as social-service language often implicitly does. The appeal of the social service argument is just too narrow, especially in the US.

Transit-dependent cities are generally more sustainable than car-dependent cities. They cover less land and tend to have fewer emissions both per capita and per distance travelled. The walking that they require is also better for public health, which produces further indirect economic benefits in reduced healthcare costs.

Intense transit service is essential for congestion pricing. Congestion pricing appears to be the only effective and durable tool for ensuring free-flowing roads while maintaining or growing prosperity. Congestion pricing always causes mode shift toward public transit, so quality public transit, with surplus capacity, must be there for a pricing plan to be credible.

Surface exclusive transit lanes (for buses, rail, and arguably two-wheelers and taxis) improve the performance of emergency services. This argument should be much more prominent, because even the most ardent car-lover will understand it. Few things are more distressing than to see an emergency vehicle stuck in traffic, sirens blaring. When confronted with this, all motorists do their best to help. But if the entire width of a street or highway is reserved for cars (moving or parked), and is therefore capable of being congested, it can be impossible to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle even if every motorist present has the best of intentions. Emergency response should be one of the strongest and most obvious cases for surface transit lanes. Motorists understand the need to drop to a low speed in school zones, to protect the life of every single child. Why do we not accept come degree of delay to save a child who may be dying somewhere else, because the ambulance is stuck in traffic?

I actually think it’s the first reason that Jarrett gives which is the most critical. Essentially, it is pointing out the difference between mobility and accessibility, that I have looked at in previous blog posts. Accessibility is, in my opinion, a measure of how easy it is to do the various things we want to do – while mobility is more of a crude measure about how fast one can travel around. Improving mobility can lead to improved accessibility, but that is not necessarily the case (and due to induced demand it may not be the case at all when it comes to road building and widening).

What public transport does is enable a more efficient use of the transport system, by most basically using the space the city dedicates to transport more effectively and intensively. If we take New York City for example, if it did not have the public transport system that it has then the 95% of people who work on Manhattan island and get to work via public transport would not be able to do so. The roads of New York City would be congested (probably quite extremely so) if there wasn’t the public transport system to carry the vast majority of people to work every day, but the streets are also congested now even though only 5% of the population drives to work if they work on Manhattan Island. The huge difference is the number of jobs that Manhattan is able to support because its transport system can get twenty times the number of people onto the island than it would be able to do if the only option was driving. That is an absolutely massive benefit to the economy of New York City, and probably the USA (and even the world) as a whole.

Bringing this back to Auckland, the same argument can be applied – both to public transport and to roads in general I suppose. Auckland’s level of congestion in the 1950s was undoubtedly far less than it is today, even though we’ve built all these motorways in the meanwhile. Does that mean it was pointless building the motorways – well that depends on what you were trying to “solve” by building them. If your goal was simply to reduce congestion, then the motorway building programme has been an utter disaster, and probably always will be. However, if you goal was to enable the development of the city and provide for people to access the places they wanted to access, then the programme could probably be considered a success.

I suppose the fundamental question now though is whether we can continue to provide for Auckland’s growth while retaining the current levels of congestion (or not letting them get too much worse) through building more motorways or through investing more in public transport. I’m strongly of the opinion that we’ve pretty much maxed out the number of additional roads that can be built, and also that our unbalanced approach to transport policy over the past 60 years has meant that our level of economic activity has probably been limited more than it should have (this recent post backed that up). In other words, our transport system has proven to be fairly inefficient at shifting people around the city, because it has been so heavily roads focused, and that has limited the attractiveness to businesses of many parts of the city (particularly the CBD) and/or has forced them into spending a lot of money on transport (in particular on providing parking) that would have more usefully been spent elsewhere to compensate for the poor public transport.

However, because current economic evaluation manuals and general political thinking on transport is so obsessed with “fixing congestion”, I am loathe to completely adhere to the “public transport won’t fix congestion” argument. Public transport, particularly rail transport because it’s completely ‘off road’, does have the ability to ‘take cars off the road’, which I think has a definite congestion-reducing benefit. In the longer run, yes that benefit will be eaten away by induced demand, but I think it will certainly last longer than any benefit created by widening a road: as that will just encourage more people to drive. I suppose in short I would agree that public transport won’t “fix” congestion, but I would say that it will probably do a better, and more long-lasting job, of reducing congestion than investment in new or (most particularly) widened roads could ever hope to achieve.

(Oh, and the social inclusion, sustainability and emergency benefits are certainly not to be sneezed at either!)

Bus service changes

ARTA are in the process of altering quite a number of bus routes around Auckland at the moment, with the main idea appearing to be a simplification of the current route structure – a reduction of the number of routes, which means an increase in the frequency of the routes and an easier system to understand. I have a few queries on the changes, which I have passed on to ARTA, and I will comment more on what I think of the amendments in the future – but as the deadline for submitting comments on the changes is not too far away it’s probably useful to at least have some debate and discussion on them right now.

I’ll work through the amendments one at a time.


The changes proposed to bus routes in Onehunga have arisen because of the upcoming reopening of the Onehunga Branch Line for rail services. For people who live south of the Mangere Bridge, it may be quite attractive for them to catch a bus over the bridge and then transfer onto a train (integrated ticketing would be helpful here). To make that happen, the buses really need to pass directly by the station – so some routes have been adjusted to do just that. Here’s a couple of maps (inbound and outbound) of what’s proposed:

Overall the changes seem pretty good, although I do wonder why we continue to bother with the Onehunga Transport Centre, especially as it forces the buses to make an extremely complicated detour to access the centre. You can send in your feedback on the Onehunga changes here. Make sure you do so by Friday August 20th.


The changes to the Waikowhai routes (the ones that travel via Gillies Ave, not the 277) essentially consolidate quite a few different routes into a single route that serves this area – the 299. A school bus is provided to serve the needs of getting students to various high schools, which means that it’s no longer necessary to complicate the route structure with what was just a school bus anyway. Below is the new route map, you can compare it to what exists here. At a simple level, I think the changes are good as we end up with a single route number: surely what we might hope to have along many more of our bus routes. There’s probably an interesting debate to be had about whether we really need a bus to operate along Gillies Ave, as it is pretty damn close to Manukau Road. It might make more sense for the resources to simply be focused on Manukau Road services (or wherever else they are needed). There are also potentially some minor details, like avoiding right-turns onto Mt Albert road, that perhaps could be fixed up. You can provide your feedback on these changes up until Friday August 13th.

Marua Road

The changes proposed to the routes between Ellerslie and Glen Innes, via Panmure, also seem to simplify a currently complicated and confusing network. One route, the 595, will provide a service linking up there three centres. It is anticipated to operate hourly, with some additional peak time services. The new route is shown below, and will replace a complicated array of existing routes. Obviously, once again the simplification here is good. During off-peak times it seems a fairly obvious “Local Connector Network”, so I am surprised that at off-peak times it runs all the way to Britomart: one would think that terminating it at Ellerslie, and then providing for people to transfer onto other buses or onto the train, would mean that the hourly off-peak frequencies could be reduced to half-hourly with the same resources. You can give feedback on the changes here up until Friday August 13th.

Green Bay

The changes to the Green Bay routes are a significant simplification of what was previously surely the most complex and bewildering array of bus routes serving any part of Auckland. I’m still trying to get my head around the changes and how they compare to the existing system, so I won’t say much more than they do provide a level of simplification, and you can see the proposed route map below:You can provide feedback on the Green Bay changes here, up until Friday August 6th (Friday next week).

Mahia Road, Manurewa

The changes in Mahua Road, Manurewa represent the significant extension of the existing 454 route. The route acts as an obvious Local Connector Network, linking up the area it serves with various train stations, and also links through to Manukau City. It’s shown in the map below: I must say I find it quite odd that the bus route structure in this area is so complex, when if you look at a street map of it, there’s actually quite a nice general “grid” of arterial roads: north-south you have Roscommon Road, Rowandale Ave, Russel Road and then Great South Road. East-west arterial include Browns Road, Wordsworth Road, Weymouth Road and Mahia Road. In so many parts of Auckland we struggle to create a bus network because of the lack of a gridded street network, it just seems bizarre that in one area where we have a grid, the bus routes completely ignore the benefits that the grid offers.

Anyway, you can offer your feedback on this change here, but make sure you do so by Friday 30 July (this Friday).

All up, I think the changes are good – especially as it appears as though they’re being undertaken on a “how can you make things better while spending no money at all” basis. If anything, I would probably argue they don’t quite go far enough in terms of simplification and trying to create the tiered RTN, QTN and LCN network that ARTA appear to want to have.

Integrated ticketing: wow, some news!

It has been a while since we heard anything about the progress of implementing Auckland’s integrated ticketing system, so it’s welcoming to see a media release by NZTA today saying that some progress is being made in the establishment of the national ticketing standards that will ensure inter-operability between all public transport smart-cards in New Zealand in the future.

Here’s the news:

Moves towards national integrated public transport ticketing have taken a big step forward with the development of a key agreement between the NZ Transport Agency and ticketing system providers.

The agreement paves the way for the creation of a set of national standards for integrated public transport ticketing.

NZ Transport Agency Group Manager of Regional Partnerships and Planning, Dave Brash says a wide range of industry representatives are participating in the development of the ticketing standards.

He says this is ensuring the best possible system for public transport consumers, transport operators, regional councils and the government.

“We can continue to move forward co-operatively to progress the creation of National Standards by the end of the year,” says Mr Brash.

“It’s important that we are able to work well with ticketing providers to establish a scheme within the overall national framework which creates a fair and level playing field for all parties,” he says

National operating standards define how the central core of a national system will function as well as how operator equipment such as on-board bus ticketing machines will interact with that system.

“This standards approach will enable us to establish a long-term integrated national system that regions throughout New Zealand can cost-effectively link into,” says Mr Brash.

Auckland will be the first region in New Zealand to adopt the national integrated ticketing system and it is anticipated that other regions will follow.

Mr Brash says national integrated ticketing is part of an overall strategy to establish a more efficient and effective public transport system. That is why it is a core part of NZTA’s leadership initiative in public transport.

“It opens the door to contestability on transport ticketing equipment while ensuring the development of a cost-effective, nationally-integrated system.”

The new national ticketing standard is being developed by the NZTA in consultation with industry players including transport operators and regional authorities.

Another big advantage of an integrated ticketing system will be the ability to easily collect common format strategic information about public transport usage. This will enable better long term planning and funding, which will result in a more efficient and cost-effective public transport system.

The national standards process is being assisted by Dutch specialists, Collis, who have also been involved with the development of other multi-modal integrated card systems in Europe and Dubai.

Organisations that are participating in the definition of the integrated ticketing standards are ARTA, Bus and Coach Association, Environment Canterbury, Electronic Ticketing Systems, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Init Pty Ltd, KiwiRail, Snapper, Thales, and HTS Group.

I’m not really sure about how excited I should be getting over all of this. It is certainly useful to hear that progress is being made on setting up the system to allow for nationwide ticketing, but what I really want to know answers to are more mundane questions, like the following:

  1. When will I be able to use the same ticket on all bus services in Auckland?
  2. When will I be able to use my bus pass on the train?
  3. When will I be able to board the bus without having to get the driver to press three buttons and for the whole exercise to take forever?
  4. When will I be able to get a free transfer from one bus to another, if both rides are within the same zone?
  5. When will I be able to get a free transfer between a bus and a train?
  6. When will I be able to top up my card over the internet, or automatically from my bank account so I never run out of stored value again?

Those are the questions that ARTA and NZTA really should be answering.

Auckland Public Transport: an interesting study from 2007

In the last couple of days I’ve come across a 2007 study that the Ministry for Economic Development did into public transport in Auckland. It makes for quite interesting reading in terms of its analysis of what Auckland’s transport problems are, and how they might be best solved.

Usefully, the paper looks at the connections between Auckland’s economic development and its transport ‘situation’. This is outlined below:

I think it’s useful that the term “transport accessibility” has been mentioned. In transport circles we can get obsessed about congestion whereas actually what really matters is accessibility. In many cases poor transport accessibility will be caused by congestion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Furthermore, while ‘induced demand’ can mean that it’s damn near impossible to actually “fix” traffic congestion, various things certainly can be done to improve transport accessibility.

The paper also sets the scene a bit for what the Auckland ‘transport situation’ is, and how that may be negatively impacting upon the city’s economic development.

We’re getting closer and closer to ‘completing’ these ‘incomplete road networks’ as there has been the accelerated road building programme over the past three years (and in the near future) that were proposed by this paper, so one would imagine that the other two matter: travel demand management and improving the public transport network, would start to be the focus.

It is on the issue of “improving the public transport network” that this particular paper focuses, as outlined below:
Since 2007 we have started to see the benefits of public transport projects that were under construction then, such as the Northern Busway and Project DART rail upgrades, start to be realised – and public transport patronage has risen at a more impressive level. But it’s clear that the public transport system still under-performs, and that is a significant reason for the poor transport accessibility that Auckland has.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things the paper does is outline a few of the policies that may have contributed to public transport under-achieving so much.
What this analysis shows is that the benefits of public transport projects may well have been under-estimated in previous analyses of transport infrastructure projects. Three key issues are outlined above: the high discount rate that under-values the long-term benefits of public transport infrastructure investment, the wider economic benefits of public transport that have been previously ignored and the interaction between land-use and transport planning: in particular the need to look at how transport contributes to whether strategy and planning documents actually achieve their goals.

Over the past three years a few of these things seem to have been changing. Lower discount rates (the standard is 8%, although the holiday highway’s BCR was also analysed at 4% and 6% to make it not look quite so bad) have been adopted, we are increasingly seeing the wider economic benefits of transport projects being analysed (although the quality of that analysis still seems debatable) and there is an increasing focus on the need to integrate land-use and transport planning, even if the technicalities of how we actually do that still leave a lot to be desired.

The conclusions of this paper are quite interesting, in terms of how they relate to the need for public transport to be improved in Auckland:

The whole paper certainly makes for interesting reading, even if it is a bit complex and technical at times. It’s surprising that the current government, with such a focus on developing policies that promote economic growth, haven’t looked more closely at this.

Give your feedback on the holiday highway

Up until next Monday NZTA are seeking feedback on their proposed option for the Puhoi to Wellsford “holiday highway” road of national significance. I have written enough posts on this silly project in recent times to not have to go over the whole thing again, but I do encourage you to send in your feedback. You can do so online here.

As a bit of a guide, here’s what I’ve said:

Part 1: First please tell us about any matters raised by the NZTA key principles that have been used to start the design of the new highway:

Passing to the west of Warkworth and to the east of Wellsford:
Bypassing Warkworth to the west is probably the only sensible aspect of the project that is proposed. Most of the traffic problems experienced along this road relate to the bottleneck that is Warkworth, and building a bypass of this town should help solve most of these problems. It does make one wonder why a significant amount of time and money is being spent on upgrading the existing road through Warkworth when a bypass will occur in the relatively near future.

The issue of bypassing Wellsford is more complex. The town appears to be highly dependent on through-traffic for its livelihood, as unlike Warkworth the main street is also State Highway One. The congestion relief benefits of bypassing Wellsford should be carefully weighed up against the negative effects on this town of being bypassed. A bypass to the east would not create good connectivity with SH16.

The advantages/disadvantages of an access point to the north or west of Warkworth and to the east of Wellsford:
As much of the traffic accessing State Highway 1 from Warkworth are vehicles trying to access the eastern beaches, it makes sense for the access point to be to the north of the town, so that this traffic can effectively bypass Warkworth before it links with the roads that travel out to the eastern beaches. As noted above, this Warkworth bypass could and should be built independently to the rest of the project, and the benefits of it examined before further work is undertaken. This process would ensure that all parts of the project are cost-effective, because if a Warkworth bypass solves most of the congestion problems then there will be little need to proceed with other parts of the project.

Regarding Wellsford, I consider that it may be very important for the town’s long-term viability for State Highway 1 to continue to pass through it. Unlike Warkworth, Wellsford appears very dependent on through traffic to ensure its economic viability, and therefore I would be extremely wary of bypassing the town.

Any other matters you think should be thought about in the overall design of the new highway:
As a whole, the proposed project does not appear to provide a cost-effective solution to the problems faced along this stretch of State Highway 1. The December 2009 business case analysis gave the project a traditional cost-benefit ratio of 0.8, showing that it wasn’t worth the money spent on it. The wider economic benefits included in that study were considered to be significant, even though an earlier March 2008 study on the same stretch of road found that the regional economic benefits of an upgrade to State Highway 1 would be very small.

There appear to be two main problems with this section of State Highway 1 – congestion caused by Warkworth and safety problems in the Dome Valley and on parts of the Puhoi-Warkworth section (particularly around Schedewys Hill). If those are the main problems then cost-effective solutions should be applied them: by bypassing Warkworth and by doing a major safety upgrade to the road – including wire/concrete median barriers through Dome Valley, by realigning particularly dangerous stretches of the road, such as around Schedewys Hill. Most of the necessary safety upgrade projects have been previously assessed by NZTA and have excellent cost-benefit ratios (in striking contrast to this project).

Second, please tell us about matter that should be taken into account when choosing the route for the new highway. The new route will be separate from the existing SH1 but likely to be within a few kilometres of it.

The matters you think we should take into account in route planning could relate to your property if you are in this broad corridor, the area where you live or your community. They could include:
historical sites you value
issues about noise, air quality, etc
natural areas important to you
cultural and community sites
landslips and unstable land
anything else you consider important.

The first factor that needs to be taken into account is a full and proper analysis of whether the project represents good value for money or not. The July 2010 SAHA report entitled “Roads of national significance – Economic assessments review” compared the economic benefits of all the different roads of national significance and found that the Puhoi-Wellsford road has benefits far far smaller than any other project. This, coupled with the very low cost-benefit ratio for the project in the 2009 Business Case, means that the cost-effectiveness of this road needs serious questioning.

In terms of other matters, it would appear as though building a new off-line motorway through this area will have significant adverse environmental effects. Many parts of the existing route pass through ecologically sensitive areas: such as around the Pouhuehue Viaduct and through the Dome Valley. Not only would building a new motorway through these areas result in significant destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitat, but it would also require an enormous amount of earthworks that would have sediment effects as well as dramatically altering the landscape of the area.

Further consideration absolutely must be given to cost-effective upgrades of the road’s existing alignment – for economic and environmental reasons.