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New train timetables

A series of new train timetables have been released, and will take effect from Sunday September 19th – the day the Onehunga Line starts running. The timetables are here:

Southern Line

Eastern Line

Western Line

Onehunga Line (yay – it actually exists!)

Here’s the Onehunga Line timetable – I just have to post it to remind myself that it’s actually happening. We’re finally getting another railway line in Auckland: As you can see, it will be half-hourly frequencies during the peak times and hourly frequencies at other times. I still think it’s a missed opportunity to not run half-hourly frequencies during the day time at weekends, as I think there could be a lot of people using the train to go shopping at Onehunga – particularly at the Dressmart which is notoriously short of parking. Hopefully over time the demand for weekend services means that half-hourly trains becomes a formality.

In terms of the other changes, there are some interesting amendments. Most of the express services have disappeared – I think because frequencies are getting to such a point where it become difficult to mix stopping patterns as some trains start catching other trains. There are a couple of remaining southern line limited stop trains in the morning peak, but that’s it. I wonder whether that will annoy passengers, or whether the higher frequencies will placate them. Other changes include the introduction of six-car trains on many of the services, which will be a welcome increase in capacity: particularly during peak times. The fact that Baldwin Ave on the western line is yet to be lengthened means things will be a bit messy there – with only some trains stopping. Western Line trains also run at 15 minute frequencies for a significant chunk of the day now.

Another good change is that the very popular Eastern Line has had its frequency boosted. Looking at morning peak time arrivals at Britomart for trains on the Eastern Line there are services arriving at 7.18, 7.26, 7.34, 7.44, 7.55, 8.02, 8.12, 8.25, 8.32, 8.47 and 8.53. That’s 11 trains in just over an hour and a half, or around one train every 8-9 minutes.

One last positive change is that the colouring of the Onehunga Line on the rail map has changed from brown (shown on many of the insides of the trains) to blue. I like this change because the brown was very similar to the colour of the Southern Line and the blue shows that the line runs from water to water, harbour to harbour. Our rail map is also starting to look half respectable. So all up it’s good to see all these extra trains running, and to see the Onehunga Line just about ready to go. I guess the interesting pay-off will be to see how those who currently catch express or limited stops services respond to their trips taking longer than before. Will the increased frequencies and longer trains make up for the slower ride? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Customer feedback: an interesting comparison

A few weeks ago I had a rather annoying bus experience, with at least a couple of buses not turning up or being exceedingly late. Usually that would be just somewhat annoying, but on this particular occasion my daughter’s parent-teacher interviews were set down for 6.10pm and because of the exceedingly late bus I was only able to make it there for the last couple of minutes of our alloted time. So I did what everyone should do when they have a poor public transport experience, and complained on the MAXX website.

The feedback I got from NZ Bus is very apologetic, but offers nothing in terms of “we’re going to try to make things better by doing this”.

Thank you for your email about the apparent late running of the 17:15 pm 004 service on the 5th August 2010. We would like to apologise for the very late reply.

NZ Bus aim to be the way the people of our communities choose to travel.

We aim to deliver a service that is reliable for our passengers and are always looking at ways to improve this. Feedback such as yours is very welcome as it allows us to identify areas that may need improvement.

We conducted GPS reports which confirm that the trip did run but was running 20 minutes late..

Further investigation at the depot confirms that the reason for this is, it is that the previous trip ran late due to heavy traffic.

Please accept our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience caused and I hope that the next time you travel with us, we are able to provide the kind of travel experience that meets your expectations.

I (finally) got a reply from ARTA today that is a little bit more constructive:

We are sorry to hear about your experience with the bus services on August 5th.

ARTA acknowledges your comments on the use of Hobson Street for buses and are currently considering a number of options as part of the work we are doing with Auckland City Council on bus routings in and around the CBD.

In regards the specific incident, the bus operator has confirmed the 004 trip started between 10 and 15 minutes late due to traffic, this is most probably the bus service that called your stop at around 5.40pm. As a consequence to the late start, the real time system would have been initially transmitting the ‘scheduled’ times and then ‘drop’ the service from the screen after the system failed to recognise any signal from the service starting.

In other words, if the real time system does not receive a receive a message within about 10 minutes after the trip was due to start – it will send out a message to all the GPS units asking which vehicle is running the trip. If no reply is received, it will initially display “DLY” in the screen. If no reply is received after a few attempts, it will drop the service from the sign -this tends to happen with the signs which are within about 10 minutes of the start of the route.

ARTA plans to enhance the real time system with a new lay out that will display both ‘scheduled’ and ‘real’ times. This is expected to be completed in April next year and will provide our customers with a clearer picture of what is happening.

We hope this helps you clarify the way the real time system operates. More importantly, please accept our apologies for a service experience that clearly fell short from the standard we aim to provide.

It’s interesting that NZ Bus said the bus ran 20 minutes late while ARTA said the bus ran 10-15 minutes late. But putting aside that discrepancy for a minute, I must say that I’m fairly impressed by this response (I wonder if I would have got something so thorough had I not been a transport blogger…. but that’s another story). It recognises that there’s a fundamental problem with running 004/005 buses up Hobson Street, it recognises that there’s a fundamental problem with the way the real-time information signs work and it says that efforts will be made in the future to remedy these issues.

I must say I’m impressed. Good job ARTA – now let’s make sure you follow through on those improvements.

Electrification works begin

After a few months of managing to generally avoid works to the rail network that require weekend closures, it seems that from this coming weekend things will swing back into action. Veolia’s website outlines the train disruptions over the next few months, with perhaps the most interesting thing being the reason behind these disruptions: it seems like electrification works will finally be beginning in earnest:

In order to continue the upgrade of Auckland’s rail network, there are times when train services need to be cancelled to allow work on the network that can only be done when the trains are not running.

Given the scale of works to be carried out, these closures will be a regular occurrence on Auckland’s rail network for the foreseeable future. These are generally held at weekends, public holidays, and evenings as there are usually less people traveling, and it means less disruption to peak-hour commuter services.

Although work on the duplication of the Western Line is now complete, significant work on electrification is now also commencing and this will continue over the next couple of years.

During these planned closures, replacement Rail Bus services will be provided and special Rail Bus timetables will be in place. We aim to have these timetables available at least 4 weeks prior to planned closures.

I’ve highlighted the important part of the above excerpt – it seems that the process of electrification really is finally actually happening. Pretty exciting!

Between now an the end of November, parts of the rail network will be closed on a number of weekends:

SATURDAY 28 and SUNDAY 29 AUGUST
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
SOUTHERN LINE: Britomart to Otahuhu (via Newmarket)
This will allow the completion of signal commissioning work on the new Onehunga Line, further improvement works at Newmarket and platform extension works on the Western Line.

SATURDAY 25 and SUNDAY 26 SEPTEMBER
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
Required for track renewal and maintenance works, electrification preparation works and platform extension works.

SATURDAY 2 and SUNDAY 3 OCTOBER
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
Required for track renewal and maintenance works, electrification preparation works and platform extension works.

SATURDAY 9 and SUNDAY 10 OCTOBER
EASTERN LINE: Britomart to Otahuhu (via Glen Innes and Sylvia Park)
Required for signalling works at Britomart and electrification preparation works.

SATURDAY 16 and SUNDAY 17 OCTOBER
EASTERN LINE: Britomart to Otahuhu (via Glen Innes and Sylvia Park)
Required for track renewal works at Sylvia Park, signaling works at Britomart and electrification preparation works.

SATURDAY 23 to MONDAY 25 OCTOBER (LABOUR WEEKEND)
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Newmarket
SOUTHERN LINE: Britomart to Newmarket, and Otahuhu to Papakura
ONEHUNGA LINE: Britomart to Newmarket
EASTERN LINE: Britomart to Papakura (via Glen Innes and Sylvia Park)
Required for track renewal and signaling works at Britomart, and electrification preparation works between Otahuhu and Papakura.

SATURDAY 13 and SUNDAY 14 NOVEMBER
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
Required for track renewal and maintenance works, electrification preparation works and platform extension works.

SATURDAY 20 and SUNDAY 21 NOVEMBER
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson (Note: Friday evening train services will be replaced by RailBus replacement services from approx. 8pm)
SOUTHERN LINE: Britomart to Otahuhu (via Newmarket)
ONEHUNGA LINE: Britomart to Onehunga
Required for track renewal and signaling works at Britomart, electrification preparation works, platform extension works and signaling commissioning works at Kingsland.

As you can see it won’t just be electrification preparation works that are being undertaken during these closures. Platforms are being extended, tracks renewed, signalling upgraded, final works for linking up the Onehunga Line will be required and so forth. I must say I’m always amazed and impressed by how much work gets done during the relatively short closure times.

Perhaps even more interesting are the planned network closures past the end of November, which have yet to be completely confirmed:

SATURDAY 4 and SUNDAY 5 DECEMBER (until 12.00pm)
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
SOUTHERN LINE: Britomart to Newmarket
Required for electrification preparation works and platform extension works.

SATURDAY 18 and SUNDAY 19 DECEMBER
WESTERN LINE: Britomart to Waitakere / Henderson
Required for electrification preparation works and platform extension works.

SATURDAY 25 2010 to SUNDAY 9 JANUARY 2011
FULL NETWORK CLOSURE
There will be no passenger rail services operating in the Auckland region between these dates.

MONDAY 10 to to SUNDAY 16 JANUARY 2011
EASTERN LINE: Britomart to Papakura (via Glen Innes and Sylvia Park)
SOUTHERN LINE: Otahuhu to Papakura

These closures are required to enable KiwiRail to carry out major works associated with the ongoing upgrade and electrification of Auckland’s rail network.

A major focus will be to achieve clearances necessary for the overhead masts and wires on the Southern and Eastern lines needed for electrification. During this time, work will be carried out to rebuild six road bridges; and to lower the track beneath two more on the Southern line, and inside Purewa Tunnel on the Eastern line. Significant track maintenance work and signaling improvements will also be carried out during this time elsewhere on the rail network.

Over the Christmas and New Year’s break in particular it seems like we will really start to see electrification take shape on the rail network. I wonder when we’ll start seeing the poles for the electric wires go up?

Obviously the closures will be annoying and disruptive, but at least they have an incredibly exciting purpose in rail electrification.

Last chance to give feedback on Dominion Rd

There are just a few days left for people to make submissions on Auckland City Council’s proposed changes to Dominion Road – submissions close this Sunday (August 29th). To give a brief history, back in June the Council’s Transport Committee considered a report on Dominion Road – which largely focused on changes to the long-standing designation. These changes generally related to a change in approach for the proposed bus improvements: instead of taking the buses around the back of the Balmoral and Valley Road shops the new approach was to put the buses through the town centres, which involved shared cycle and bus lanes.

Interestingly, the recommendations of the staff report mentioned nothing at all relating to T2 lanes. In fact, the staff recommendations were these:

To be fair to the Council, there was always going to be some controversy about this proposal in terms of the way it reduces on-street parking. If there’s anything that will rark up local businesses and residents it is removing on-street parking. I’m mixed on the matter, in that I can see the huge gains from having a continuous cycle lane and from having the bus lanes operating for longer hours than the 7-9am and 4-6pm timeslots they currently have; but at the same time I think on-street parking can bring a calming influence to busy streets, as they narrow down the street, provide more “friction” between the moving traffic and the side of the road – which slows down the traffic.

While I imagine the Council were aware of this potentially difficult issue, they then went on to compound the problem by suggesting that the bus lanes not actually be bus only lanes – but instead become “T2 lanes”, allowing vehicles with two or more occupants to use them. Those worried about the removal of on-street parking now had to worry about all four lanes of traffic potentially being full of cars, rather than two of the lanes being dedicated to buses only, and therefore being fairly empty of vehicles (though critically, not empty of passengers as each bus carries a lot of people).

It actually took me a while to register that the Council had done something this stupid, as I blogged a couple of times on the proposed changes before finally realising the crazy decision on T2 lanes.

A good question is “what’s wrong with T2 lanes for Dominion Road?” and the answer to that question is fairly complex. For a start, I think it’s certainly useful to recognise that in some situations T2 lanes would make a lot of sense. For example, along the section of Great North Road that passes through Waterview (one of Auckland’s busiest arterial routes) a lot could be gained from turning one of the lanes into a T2 lane during the peak hours. Many buses are held up in the congestion along this route, but the sheer number of cars that have little choice other than to drive along here (and it’s one of the great ironies of life that the Waterview Connection motorway won’t actually make a difference) mean that a bus lane is probably not feasible. A T2 lane could be a great compromise, making priority for buses possible while also encouraging people to carpool and make more efficient use of the roadspace that is clearly in high demand.

North Shore City has similarly created a number of T2 lanes that seem highly successful – largely because they operate along roads with a relatively small number of buses. But that is not the case for Dominion Road – where there are around 38 buses arriving in the CBD between 8am and 9am that travel along this route. That’s a bus every 90 seconds roughly. Allowing a number of cars to enter into this lane would hold up the buses – and also potentially mess with cars in the general lane as those vehicles using the T2 lane are likely to have to pull out into the general lane to get past a bus every time it stops to pick up passengers.

Looking first at the “saturation issue” of simply ending up with too many cars in the T2 lane, research by North Shore City Council into  the impact of turning the Onewa Road T3 lane into a T2 lane suggested some pretty staggering results:

The most significant result of the modelling done on Onewa Road is the revelation that if the T3 lane was turned into a T2 lane, you could actually end up with more vehicles using that T2 lane than would be using the general lane. That would mean the T2 lane would be more congested than the main lane – entirely defeating the purpose of the exercise and meaning that we have two congested lanes rather than one congested lane and one free-flowing lane.

Such an outcome seems likely for Dominion Road as it has many similarities to Onewa Road. For a start, both roads have a large number of buses at peak times. Secondly, both roads suffer from severe congestion in the general lane – giving people a strong incentive to use the ‘priority lane’ – whether it be bus or T3. Therefore, if Dominion Road’s bus lanes were to become T2 lanes, it seems logical to expect that we would end up with two lanes of congestion and everyone would be worse off.

The other study that is very insightful into the effects of turning a bus lane into a T2 lane comes from Tamaki Drive, where such a change was made earlier this year. Now Tamaki Drive is very different to Dominion Road – as it has far fewer buses travelling along it and – quite crucially in my opinion – the buses that do travel along it tend to stop far less frequently than they do along Dominion Road, particularly in the Mission Bay to CBD section as the bus route doesn’t really have much of a residential catchment. The council’s analysis of the change makes for interesting reading, particularly the following bits: The big winners in the change were the 374 vehicles that used the T2 lane and could make the trip in 100 seconds less than before. The buses were only held up marginally – largely because of the wide stop-spacing and the relatively low (13 per hour) number of buses travelling along the route. But, quite fascinatingly, the biggest losers were those single occupant vehicles that remained in the general lane – whose trip times increased by nearly two minutes, a bigger increase than the improvements gained by those in the T2 lane. This means that the average time taken for anyone to travel along the corridor increased from 189 seconds to 214 seconds – a sign of failure in my opinion (although oddly enough the council didn’t quite see it that way).

One could expect an even worse result for vehicles in the general lane if the same changes were applied to Dominion Road. This is because the buses stop much more regularly, forcing vehicles in the T2 lane to chop into the general lane – holding up traffic in that lane.  Furthermore, with the larger number of buses it seems reasonable to expect the delays for buses to be greater, and the gains for T2 vehicles to be not as significant as was seen on Tamaki Drive.

All up, the proposed change for Dominion Road’s bus lane to a T2 lane is complete and utter madness. It is what happens when Councils don’t properly analyse the effects of messing around with important traffic priority measures – effectively it is what happens when Council don’t think before they act. Fortunately, the one good thing the council has done is give us the opportunity to make a submission on the proposal and to tell them exactly how stupid it it. So make sure your voice is heard – make your submission here before Friday.

If you’re running short of ideas about what to say – my submission is here.

Vancouver’s “Buzzer” blog

While browsing through a few North American transport blogs I found myself looking at the “Buzzer blog”, from Vancouver. The interesting thing about Buzzer, is that it is a blog run by Translink – the organisation which operates Vancouver’s public transport system. Effectively, their version of ARTA (except Vancouver was smart enough to not sell off all its buses).

While obviously official blogs need to ‘toe the party line’, and outline an ongoing series of positive stories about what’s going on with transport in Vancouver – Buzzer is actually a surprisingly good read. Just tracking down some recent posts there are a whole range of things, including a detailed analysis of feedback Translink has received on the relatively new Canada Line, a post that lets people know about special public transport services to an event, photos from the opening of the Canada Line to mark the one year anniversary of that date, and a fantastic post that asks people for their suggestions about how route-mapping could be improved to better highlight the frequencies of services.

The great thing is that people can post comments, and there’s a dedicated person there to reply to them. Furthermore, the blog format allows quite a lot more depth – whether that be in the form of more in-depth discussion or just more photos – than would ever be possible in the old-fashioned media release.

Reading something like this got me thinking how it would be really fantastic to have something similar in Auckland. While blogs like this one and Jon C’s Auckland Trains provide “outside the tent” analysis on what transport upgrades are happening, we only know what is already out there and we while we may be important cogs in the wheel of getting people more interested in what’s going on in transport matters within Auckland – having an official blog published (most probably by Auckland Transport post Super City transition) would be a superb way for that organisation to truly interact with the public. They could use it to let people know about service disruptions, important milestones, special events, and so forth – in much the same way that media releases are done now. But perhaps most excitingly they could use it in ways similar to Vancouver’s Buzzer Blog – to put out suggestions for comment, to invite ideas, to let people really know what will be going on within what I imagine will be a pretty closed-off and secretive organisation.

B.Line: where to next?

I have been hearing that ARTA’s “b.line” initiative, which actually amounted to little more than putting up a few signs at bus stops and on buses, has led to significant increases in patronage, in the region of 20% according to some, on Dominion Road and Mt Eden Road bus routes in the last couple of months. It will obviously take a while to see whether those patronage increases are simply seasonal (public transport patronage jumps around quite a bit throughout the year depending on whether university is on holiday or not).

Assuming that the increases are long-lasting, then this would certainly allay my fears that the “under-promising” (saying buses every 15 minutes when they’re actually every 5-10 minutes) might actually do more harm than good. It also shows the importance of making public transport easy to understand: something that b.line really really focuses on. If such significant gains can be achieved so relatively easily and cheaply – remember that there have been no additional bus services (although there have been some new buses), no lengthening of bus lanes, basically nothing at all to improve the quality of the service apart from the new stock – then the question that comes into my mind now is “where to next?” Dominion and Mt Eden road services were a pretty easy target to start with, as they run at very high frequencies all day long and were already very well used.

A few possibilities come to mind (just looking at the isthmus area for now), and are shown in the map below. The existing two b-line services are shown in black (green is the rail network), with the possible additions being in gold:

The three routes would be along Sandringham Road, Great North Road and Remuera Road. All of these routes have fairly high frequencies at the moment, so you would probably effectively see the kind of gains that we’re getting out of Mt Eden Road and Dominion Road: increased patronage but not really a better public transport system.

Personally, I’d like to see some effort going in to creating a cross-town B.Line service. Probably the Carrington Road/Mt Albert Road corridor is the most likely for such a service to work, linking together many north-south route across the isthmus, then continuing on to Onehunga, Sylvia Park and Pakuranga. Pretty much like the blue “Route 3″ in map below: One of the main reasons people are put off using cross-town services is because they have notoriously poor frequencies (and are generally very unreliable in their time-keeping). The beauty of having an effective cross-town service would be that you have the beginnings of a true “public transport network”, and can start to take advantage of the network effect, even if just to a relatively small extent for now.

Over time it would be great to have the whole route network shown above as “b-line” services. That will obviously require a bit more funding, and some pretty hard decisions in simplifying the bus network, but for now it would be great to have the radial routes supplemented by a true cross-town “Quality Transit Network” – it would be the first step towards actually achieving what is stated in so many of our public transport plans.

Transport CCO: set up to fail public transport?

While John Banks appears to be backing away from his previous grand promises to help deliver a world-class rail system for Auckland, should he be elected mayor, most other candidates: both for mayor and for the council, seem to be focusing a lot of their efforts on the need to improve Auckland’s public transport system. While of course we won’t know the final composition of the council until voting closes on October 9th, and we also won’t know who the mayor is until then, I am reasonably confident that all sides of the political spectrum in regional and local government (with a few exceptions) accept the need for Auckland to improve its public transport system.

So it seems reasonably likely that, come October, we will have a council that is quite friendly towards public transport. As all local transport money will be lumped together into one pool of funds there is the potential for more money than ever before being available at the local level (if only I had so much faith in central government) to improve public transport. This is all positive stuff.

However, the way in which the future Auckland Council does transport will be fundamentally different to the way that any council (perhaps with the possible exception of the ARC) manages transport at the moment. That is because all transport activities, right down to decisions relating to the width and paving-types for footpaths, will be made by the Auckland Transport council-controlled organisation. I have written a significant number of blog posts on Auckland Transport over the past year, and over time my opinion of the agency has varied and changed at fairly regular intervals: so I’m quite pragmatic and realistic about what its benefits could be, but also mindful of how it could go wrong. My most recent position on the Transport CCO has been one of full support – largely because I have felt that many of the current councils (particularly Auckland City Council) are doing such a terrible job when it comes to transport that surely the new agency couldn’t do worse.

While that may well be the case, and while I also accept that integrating all aspects of transport into one agency – an agency that will hopefully avoid stupid situations like the Dominion Road T2 debacle by being one step removed from direct politicking –  some things that I am hearing about the way in which Auckland Transport is being established bring back many of my original fears. My ultimate fear is basically this: while if Auckland Transport is doing a great job, then its independence will be very useful; however if Auckland Transport start doing a rubbish job – if the agency isn’t visionary for Auckland, if it doesn’t have a strong public transport focus, if it gets taken over by road engineers who think that we’ve done a marvellous job building places like Botany Town Centre (after all they must exist, as those really wide roads exist) – then we’re really really stuffed. We are stuffed because the politicians, who are somewhat forced to listen to the people, only have limited control over what Auckland Transport does. Furthermore, the separation of transport planning from all other types of policy and planning (that the Auckland Council will be doing) will place great strain on our ability to integrated land-use and transport. If we can’t make that connection work, then we’re really stuffed in trying to create a better city.

So a lot comes down to the quality of whoever will be driving the vision of Auckland Transport – which is why I must say I feel a tad underwhelmed by the lack of urban transport experience held by the agency’s new CEO. A lot will also come down to the structure of Auckland Transport: what prominence will be given to public transport? Will there be some level of integration with land-use planning? What role will urban designers play in the work done by this organisation? So many questions whose answers will be crucial in determining how transport gets done in the Super City. And it is in these respects that some worrying signs are emerging. Here is the structure of the top level of management within Auckland Transport: Only one third tier role directly mentions public transport, and that’s only within operations. There’s no mention of anyone who will be specifically guiding public transport policy at this level, or a public transport projects manager or anything of this type. Furthermore, a few rumours that I have heard from various people around Auckland who have greater access than I do the list of positions available within the organisation is a glaring lack of roles that directly relate to public transport. Many of the more general transport roles apparently involve some level of involvement on public transport projects, but that is not the same as having numerous rail experts or bus experts or whatever. On the other hand, if the rumours I have heard are true, when it comes to job descriptions for roading projects there are a huge number of roles and they are generally very specifically defined.

It’s as though those putting this structure in place don’t really have a clue about public transport. Very worrying indeed. There is also apparently an almost complete lack of integration with land-use planning or urban design within the Transport CCO. Perhaps the road engineers who have had their plans for massively wide highways stifled by annoying planners and urban designers during in-house discussions now feel free to go ahead with their preferences after all – and a clear effort is being made to allow them to do so. I suppose this sets things up for a huge number of environment court appeals between Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, although it would be nicer to see this avoided by having, for example, an urban design team within the Transport CCO.

Now things might not be as bad as what I’m putting together from snippets of information. Dr David Warburton – the agency’s interim CEO – may in fact have fantastic vision for transport in Auckland and may restructure the whole organisation to ensure it isn’t siloed, has sufficient public transport experts and integrates extremely well with planning and urban design. I’m not quite sure what my chances are of that hope being real though.

Public transport’s health benefits

Todd Littman of the Victorian Transport Policy Institute has released a fascinating study into the health benefits of public transport. Here’s a brief summary of the study and its findings:

This report investigates ways that public transportation affects human health, and ways to incorporate these impacts into transport policy and planning decisions. This research indicates that public transit improvements and more transit oriented development can provide large but often overlooked health benefits. People who live or work in communities with high quality public transportation tend to drive significantly less and rely more on alternative modes (walking, cycling and public transit) than they would in more automobile-oriented areas. This reduces traffic crashes and pollution emissions, increases physical fitness and mental health, and provides access to medical care and healthy food.

These impacts are significant in magnitude compared with other planning objectives, but are often overlooked or undervalued in conventional transport planning. Various methods can be used to quantify and monetize (measure in monetary units) these health impacts. This analysis indicates that improving public transit can be one of the most cost effective ways to achieve public health objectives, and public health improvements are among the largest benefits provided by high quality public transit and transit-oriented development.

Considering the enormous amount of money spent on the health system in New Zealand (over $13 billion each year), looking at effective ways in which to improve health can potentially be extremely cost-effective. Add to that all the lost productivity from people dying earlier, or people being less healthy and productive and we’re talking seriously big numbers here.

Some of the connections between transport and health are obvious. The more we drive the more at risk we are of dying in a car accident. The converse to that is, because public transport is generally extremely safe, the more we use public transport per capita, the lower likelihood we will have of dying in traffic accidents. Statistics from US cities play out this correlation fairly well: There are also links between greater use of public transport, walking and cycling, and lower rates of obesity. This is once again reasonably obvious – as all public transport users are also pedestrians: while cycling is likely to keep you fit and therefore healthier in that sense:

Research also suggests that obesity rates tend to be inversely related to use of alternative modes (walking, cycling and public transit), as indicated in Figure 12. Rundle, et al. (2007) found that New York City residents’ Body Mass Index (BMI) ratings tend to decline significantly with greater subway and bus stop density, higher population density, and more mixed land use in their neighborhood.

Smart growth community design provides health benefits, particularly for children by encouraging physical activity (The American Academy of Paediatrics 2009). Residents of smart growth, multi-modal communities tend to walk more and have lower rates of obesity and hypertension than in sprawled areas (Ewing, et al. 2003). Frank, et al. (2010) found that residents of more neighborhoods with more and better transit service tend to walk significantly more and drive significantly less than residents of more automobile dependent neighborhoods. Research by Sturm (2005) found that, accounting for demographic factors such as age, race/ethnicity, education and income, the frequency of self-reported chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension and cancer increased with sprawl (Sturm 2005). Overall, 1,260 chronic medical conditions are reported per 1,000 residents; each 50-point change toward less sprawled location is associated with 96 fewer conditions. For example, shifting from automobile-oriented San Bernardino, California to transit-oriented Boston, Massachusetts would reduce 200 chronic medical conditions per 1,000 residents, a 16% reduction.

Another interesting link between public transport and better walking or cycling conditions is that a good public transport system makes it possible to remove many cars from city street, narrow down roads of pedstrianise them completely: which has huge benefits for walking and cycling. But critically, at the same time the good quality public transport will enable the city to keep functioning. It allows the best of both worlds.

I seriously do see the day when the Ministry of Health funds cycleways.

Mike Lee starts a blog

ARC Chairman Mike Lee has started a blog, in the run up to the Super City elections where he’s standing in the Waitemata and Gulf Ward for the Auckland Council.

The blog has backdated some interesting posts, and also has a great little piece on why Steven Joyce is a bit of a hypocrite asking for local politicians to be more cautious with their rail promises – while he goes and blows a billion and a half dollars on a holiday highway.

Auckland Transport finally has a CEO

The Auckland Transition Agency is finally got around to naming an interim CEO for the Auckland Transport council-controlled organisation, which is only a couple of months away from coming into existence. Rumours had been flying around that we might get some high-flying transport visionary from overseas, but that hasn’t happened.

Here’s the ATA’s media release:

Interim Chief Executive for Auckland Transport

The Interim Chief Executive of Auckland Transport is to be Dr David Warburton, the Auckland Transition Agency (ATA) announced today.

Dr Warburton, 60, has extensive senior management experience and is currently the chief executive for Australia and New Zealand of infrastructure and consulting company CPG, part of Downer EDI.

He will take up the role in September for a fixed term until 30 June 2012 and will live in Auckland.

Dr Warburton is the former chief executive of Wanganui District Council and serves on both Whanganui and Mid-Central district health boards. He has a PhD in environmental engineering from Massey University.

Dr Warburton said: “Transport is the number one issue faced by many Aucklanders and I’m looking forward to leading the team at Auckland Transport as it plays its part in making Auckland greater.”

ATA Executive Chairman Mark Ford described Dr Warburton as “an outstanding candidate for the role”.

Mr Ford said: “His background includes significant infrastructure leadership and he is experienced in working collaboratively with local government and other stakeholders. His experience will be invaluable to the new organisation as it delivers results for the people of Auckland.”

A former Auckland resident, Dr Warburton said: “I’m looking forward to returning to Auckland after being away for nine years. This is an exciting time for the city and I welcome the opportunity we have to address Auckland’s transport challenges.”

So he’s currently the CEO of part of an infrastructure building company, and formerly he was CEO of a District Council.

I look forward to seeing how Dr Warburton goes, and I hope he can be visionary for Auckland’s transport system in a way that doesn’t come back to “let’s build more roads”.