Just How Much Will Electric Trains Cost to Run?

One of the things that PT opponents and especially rail opponents like to bring up is the operating costs that are needed to run the services. Those costs can be quite high so I thought I would have a look at how things are now and compared them to what is likely to happen in the future.

First up lets look at the current situation. Figures from early last year shows that all up it cost about $87m to run rail services in the city which is obviously a massive figure so where does that money go. The table below shows the breakdown of that money.

Some of those things are pretty straightforward however some of them probably need a bit of explaining. The Veolia contract covers all of the passenger facing staff as well as about half of the drivers. There will also be costs in there for all of associated support staff but even so it is a pretty large chunk of cash and it would be nice to know more about where that money is going. Track access has recently seen a huge increase after the government forced Kiwirail to charge more. The number of services being run has increased since I first saw these figures as has the price of fuel so all up there will be substantial extra costs.

One issue that really isn’t clear is how much Kiwirail are charging out for their driver hire, this is especially important as I understand most of the new drivers are coming through them. I have heard rumors that Kiwirail charge out their drivers at a higher price so the more Kiwirail drivers there are the higher the operating costs go.

So what can we look forward to when our electric trains start rolling? I haven’t seen the business case for electrification but handily in one of the appendices to the CBD tunnel BC there is some information on this. It notes that Kiwirail and ARTA’s aspiration is to have 57 EMU’s running on the network (the current tender process is for 38 of these). The table below shows the operating and maintenance costs of each EMU although most trains will consist of two EMU’s coupled together.

So based on 57 EMU’s we get a total of $22m. Now if we compare that to the first table we can guess that this EMU cost will replace the fuel costs, maintenance, Kiwirail driver hire and probably at least half of the Veolia contract, all up that is about $52m. That represents quite a big saving on what we have now while also giving much more capacity than we have now. Interestingly the difference the two amounts just mentioned happens to be roughly what it would cost per year to service the loan the government is giving Kiwirail to purchase the new trains which doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

So my guess is that operating costs will end up being similar to what they are today however the EMU’s will be operating more services with much more capacity across the network. Add to this the new trains will be faster, quieter, and smoother than what we have now and patronage will continue to rapidly grow which means that the amount of subsidies per passenger will drop.


AMETI – getting the staging right

The next Auckland Council Transport Committee meeting is on April 5th (next Tuesday), and the agenda for that meeting was published today. Within the agenda is a report on the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) – a large transport project that I’ve discussed on quite a few occasions before. AMETI is a very large, very long-term project, and has been broken up into a number of packages and stages:

It’s a bit tricky to read much of what’s described above, but the first section where we’re likely to see some action is around Panmure. This is described in a bit more detail in the agenda paper: It’s interesting to look at the prices of some of these phases. Essentially it would seem that the road-building phase (the yellow phase 1) is what’s actually expensive – I wonder if that’s where the council’s transport budget is going – while the public transport focused section (the blue phase 2) seems much cheaper. This is quite interesting, as the blue phase is what generates the biggest benefits I think, the first step in creating a proper southeast rapid transit line.

Some of the later phases of AMETI, which include big projects like a duplication of the Pakuranga Highway bridge plus other grade-separation roading projects, once again seem to be where most of the money ends up being spent. I wonder if we need to take a good, hard look at what benefits we’re really going to get out of these stages, particularly if we focus first on creating a top-quality public transport corridor and potentially reduce pressure on the roading system by providing alternatives.

Some of the details for the Panmure phase are quite good – particularly the transport interchange between buses and trains. This is shown below: That is a kind of weird looking train. A single ADK carriage? (Or it it meant to be a bus?)

Top economist questions RoNS

It was heartening to open up the newspaper this morning in Wellington and read this opinion piece on the poor economics of the “Roads of National Significance” (RoNS), prepared by Dr Michael Pickford, the former chief economist at the Commerce Commission and now an independent economic researcher.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced the Roads of National Significance programme in March 2009, before knowing what the return on the proposed investment might be.

Nine months later, a final report from consultant SAHA International raised serious doubts about the programme.

The Government never published the report, and later sent it back for reworking. However, a copy of the original was obtained by an expressway action group on the Kapiti Coast.

And then that Kapiti group kindly sent me a copy of the report, which can be read here.

Though the programme as a whole could have a positive return, above-average returns on some projects can mask negative returns on others. Projects with negative returns should not be built.

The SAHA Report shows that three of the expressways had negative returns when assessed conventionally – the value of the benefits generated, in terms of travel time, fuel savings and reduced accident costs, is less than the sum of the costs to build and maintain them.

Among these is the Wellington to Levin expressway. It has a benefit-cost ratio, or BCR, of only 0.6, meaning that the project would generate benefits amounting to only 60 per cent of the costs.

The table below shows the results of SAHA’s economic analysis of the various RoNS. You can see why the government has tried to do everything it can to bury this report – given that some of the projects have absolutely pathetic cost-benefit ratios:

I’m not quite sure of the exact reasons SAHA’s assessments differ from NZTA’s assessments – and it would be interesting to find out a bit more information on that fact. But anyway, the article continues:

Mr Joyce has repeatedly claimed that building the roads would promote economic growth. This was tested in the SAHA Report, which attempted to incorporate the indirect or growth benefits of the roads.

These were measured in two ways, one being as “wider economic benefits”, or WEBs. When the “low” estimate for the WEBs was added, the BCR of the Wellington-Levin project remained below one, but it rose above one using the “high” figure.

The WEBs concept is relatively new internationally. The SAHA Report urged caution. It made repeated caveats about the poor quality of the data and the uncertain accuracy of the estimates. It cited the British Government’s Eddington Report, which found that “agglomeration benefits” of the type included in the “low” estimate could be up to 30 per cent of the conventional benefits in highly congested urban areas in London.

Yet the estimate for even the “low” WEB figure is much higher than 30 per cent. The Kapiti Coast is hardly a centre for economic growth in the country. The largest employer is thought to be either the local district council or the Pak’n Save supermarket.

The contentiousness of evaluating “wider economic benefits” is something that really needs to be resolved in my opinion. There are some projects that it would appear obvious will result in wider economic benefits – such as the Auckland CBD Rail Link – as it will encourage the concentration of economic activity in the CBD and therefore generate agglomeration benefits. For other projects, with the Puhoi-Wellsford road and the Wellington Northern Corridor Road, the veracity of these WEBs seems highly questionable. I’m yet to see how Puhoi-Wellsford does anything other than undermine agglomeration by encouraging the dispersal of economic activity.

The article sums up:

IN SHORT, the addition of so-called growth benefits fails to tip the scales in favour of building this road. The SAHA Report concluded that “accelerating the Roads of National Significance . . . may not be the optimal investment and funding outcome when considered in its broadest context against other roading projects and/or other government portfolio areas”.

After the unhappy experience with the Muldoon-Birch “Think Big” energy projects of the 1980s, New Zealand could be burdened with massive new debt to fund the Key-Joyce “Think Big” roading projects of equally dubious merit.

That’s a pretty damning assessment all round.

PT use at a 60 year high

Finally Auckland Transport have officially released patronage data, showing that PT use is now at its highest level in the city since the 1950s. Here’s the press release:

Auckland Public Transport Figures Highest in 60 Years

Almost five million extra journeys were made on public transport during the last calendar year, with big increases in passengers pushing numbers to the highs of the 1950s.

Auckland Transport released a patronage report today that shows total passenger numbers reached 64.07 million in the 12 months to the end of February, an increase of 8.3 per cent on last year.

Highlights include:

Northern Express bus passenger numbers for February increased 20.7 per cent on February 2010. Total Northern Express for the past 12 months reached 1.97 million passengers

Total bus patronage exceeded 50 million. An increase of 3.36 million boardings or 7.5 per cent growth

Rail patronage reached 9.2 million for the past 12 months with passenger numbers for the month of February up 17.9 per cent on February 2010. For the first time one million journeys were reached on rail in one month.

Rail patronage on the Western Line for the month of February increased 25.6 per cent on February 2010 to reach 305,208.

Ferry patronage totalled 4.6 million for the 12 months to February, with passenger numbers for the month up 12.6 per cent on February 2010

Of the 30,002 attending the Super Rugby Blues vs. Crusaders at Eden Park on 19 February 31.9 per cent took special event public transport services.

Wow, so we must have cracked 1 million rail trips in February? That’s something I wasn’t expecting until March.

Auckland Transport Chief Executive David Warburton says the increase in patronage shows investment by both central government and the Auckland region, in better public transport services and infrastructure is paying dividends.

“Greater use of public transport frees up our roads for more efficient use by carriers of freight and commercial vehicles.

“The last year has seen a number of improvements, particularly for rail. For example seven new or upgraded stations have opened and the Onehunga Line reopened after 37 years. There has also been a 25 per cent increase in services and some trains have been extended from four to six carriages.

“Public transport use has seen significant increases during the last five years. Passenger numbers have increased from around 50 million to 64 million during that time.

“Continuing investment in public transport will deliver further increases in passenger numbers, with the electrification of the rail network, the arrival of electric trains and further upgrades of stations.

“Auckland Transport will also be rolling out improvements to buses to offer services that work better for more people. For example, the proposed improvements aimed at making buses in the CBD and surrounding suburbs more frequent and easier to use”.

As I noted the other day, PT use has gone up by over 20% in the last three years alone. That’s even more impressive.

The Mayor, Len Brown, said, “Public transport usage in Auckland is now back at the levels of the early 1950s before they started ripping up tramlines and replacing them with motorways. These figures are proof that what is already being done to improve public transport is working.

“Imagine what it will be like when integrated ticketing and rail electrification is in place, never mind projects like the Auckland Rail Tunnel, the Airport Link and Rail to the Shore.

“Auckland deserves a decent public transport system and I have already made it one of my priorities to double PT usage within 20 years. But if we are to stop the gridlock we have to press ahead with those public transport projects that are so necessary for the future of the new Auckland and New Zealand.”

I thought he wanted 150 million trips by 2021? While that’s a very optimistic target, when you break it down it’s only an 8% growth rate a year over each of the next 10 years – something that we actually achieved last year. I hope Len keeps to his initial target – it is possible.

Overall this is, of course, excellent news. It is absolutely clear that PT patronage is booming – due to a combination of higher petrol prices and a slowly improving public transport system. As Len Brown notes, imagine what projects like electrification and integrated ticketing will achieve – let alone future large rail projects?

Wellington – and its RoNS

Well I’m in Wellington for most of this week, at the New Zealand Planning Institute conference for the next three days and then staying on at the weekend to check out the city a bit. It should give me the opportunity to ride a suburban Wellington train on the weekend, which I haven’t ever done before (I wonder if I can try to catch one of the new Matangi trains).

It’s interesting to discuss with a few other planners some of the transport situation in Wellington, and in particular matters related to the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance. While I’ve certainly not been keen on a few of the Auckland based “RoNS” – in particular the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”, but the more I learn about the Wellington Northern Corridor RoNS the more I think that this is the worst of the lot. Let’s have a look at the map of the route: The route has many of the typical problems associated with many of Auckland’s RoNS: like the poor economics of parts of the route (such as Transmission Gully, which has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.6) and the huge amount of money that could be better spent on other projects. However, in addition to those problems there’s also the massive issue of the environmental effects of many of the parts of the RoNS – such as the “improvements” around the Basin Reserve and the effect of the motorway on local communities as it passes through the Kapiti Coast.

Obviously many similar issues have been raised with the Waterview Connection project, and it would seem as though the Board of Inquiry for that project seeming to still have a number of big problems – and it will be interesting to see whether they’re willing to grant it consent. However, the Waterview project is still largely in a tunnel, which means that its effects are vastly less than they would otherwise have been. The same for the Victoria Park Tunnel – another Auckland based RoNS.

It seems, from what is admittedly a rather brief look, that Wellington is getting a a pretty raw deal with the urban effects of this particular road. The mitigation details might be further expanded upon compared to what I currently know, but at the moment it sounds pretty horrible. This reinforces my general feeling that there’s simply no room to build more motorways through our urban areas anymore, that we need to use our existing transport infrastructure more effectively and efficiently – rather than spending vast sums of money on more urban motorways, and in the process destroying the value of our urban areas. It will be interesting to see whether Wellington accepts the impact of this road on the city’s urban structure.

My thoughts on the proposed bus changes

The NZ Herald, both in the form of a general article and an opinion piece by Brian Rudman, have picked up on the proposed changes to bus routes in inner Auckland. Rudman in particular provides some useful feedback on the changes – supporting parts of them while having concerns about other bits.

In particular, he notes the need for bus lanes along Customs Street and Fanshawe Street: between Queen Street and Nelson Street.

The new Western Bay services will travel along Fanshawe St to Beaumont St then up College Hill. We’re told they will be able to “take advantage of the bus lanes” along Fanshawe St to provide a faster service.

This piece of wishful thinking was obviously written by someone who hasn’t been stuck in an 004 or 005 bus in the evening rush hour crawling along traffic-jammed Custom St and Fanshawe St to the Nelson St intersection, where the bus lanes begin.

As an expert passenger, I predict the only way this route will provide a “faster service” is if the Fanshawe St bus lane out of the city begins at the bus stop in Customs St.

Essentially, it would mean a bus lane along the following section of road:

What Rudman highlights is the need to consider route service changes and infrastructure changes in an integrated way. If we’re going to put more buses along a certain section of road that gets congested, then we need to provide a bus lane to ensure the bus can operate quickly and (perhaps more importantly) reliably. With the “Outer Loop” bus having such a long route, and therefore so many opportunities for delay, targeting congested areas with infrastructure upgrades is going to be critical in whether that route works or not.

Fortunately, we finally have a transport agency in Auckland that is responsible for both bus routes and the implementation of infrastructure upgrades like bus lanes, additional traffic lights and other potentially necessary measures to make their bus system work. In the past there have often been stupid situations where ARTA wanted to improve the bus system in a certain area but the local council was unwilling to upgrade the infrastructure – and therefore nothing happened. This is the chance for Auckland Transport to show us whether they’re really an improvement on the ‘old days’ and whether all their talk about integration actually means anything.

With that background, I have started to form some suggestions on how I think the bus changes could be tweaked – both through infrastructure improvements and through amendments to the proposed routes – to provide an even better outcome. It is worth saying right at the start that I’m generally supportive of what is being proposed here, with a few big question marks:

  • how will the outer loop stay reliable?
  • will Auckland Transport be able to provide sufficient frequencies on some of the simplified routes at peak time (like the 020 and the 030)?
  • will Auckland Transport be able to ‘integrate’ the service changes with necessary infrastructure upgrades?

If I start with a few suggested alterations to the proposed routes, in general these are fairly minor. I include the map below of what is being proposed: The first thing that comes to my mind is the question of why the 005 route continues all the way out to Pt Chevalier beach. My understanding of the 005’s point – now that it essentially duplicates part of the ‘outer loop’ – is that it adds capacity and reliability in this area during the peak times. This is potentially important, as some of the current 005 buses can get extremely busy with school children while I very much worry about the reliability of such a long, loopy, route. Personally, I think I’m likely to continue to catch the 005 unless the outer loop bus just happens to come along first. However, extending the route to Pt Chevalier Beach seems to achieve very little (most people would catch the 030 as the Great North Road bus lanes means it’s likely to be faster than the 005) but come at the cost of what the 005s entire purpose is: reliability and capacity for the Westmere to CBD corridor. So I’d probably keep the 005 as it is now.

The second matter, one that Cam Pitches raised in this comment, is the silly detour that 005 buses currently make down Jervois Road from West End Road before turning back on themselves. This silly detour doesn’t really bring the bus closer to many people at all, yet adds around 5 minutes to journey times. It is difficult to see whether this is retained – let’s hope not.

The third routing issue that I question is whether the Link Bus (not the outer loop, the current Link bus) should travel via Victoria Street rather than Wellesley Street. I understand that Wellesley is probably a bit more bus friendly and it means a simpler path up to the university, but I worry that it’s not quite central enough to the CBD. In my mind, the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Street is the real centre of Auckland’s CBD, and it just seems a bit strange to have the entire link route to the south of that centre. With the Link not travelling along Queen Street at all it may lose quite a lot of ‘visibility’ and therefore I think it’s necessary to ensure it runs right through the very heart of the CBD.

For now those are the main “route based” suggestions that I have in terms of how this could be further improved. I like many parts of the proposed routes, especially the simplified nature of the outer loop across the isthmus – always following main roads rather than the backstreet tiki-tour that the current 006 bus does.

In terms of frequencies on the 020 and 030, there was a comment identifying concern about the proposed frequencies not being enough to handle peak time passenger loadings. Well I am informed by Auckland Transport that while the map above says “every 20 minutes” for the 020, that only refers to ‘inter-peak’ and Saturday frequencies. Peak frequencies are likely to be a bus every 10-15 minutes. This is good to hear. I imagine/hope the same situation might be true for the 030 – essentially it should retain the same frequencies at the existing 045 bus (or better if resources are available).

The final two issues: integrating infrastructure upgrades and ensuring reliability of the “outer loop” service are intricately connected. Essentially, I think that unless we have some well-targeted and necessary infrastructure upgrades along the route of the outer loop, it will not be possible for such a long, looping route to be reliable. What Auckland Transport really should be doing is driving a few buses around the route during peak times, identifying where the delay points are and investigating measures to deal with those delay points. Already in this post I’ve pointed out (along with Brian Rudman) the massive delay point along Customs Street. I would suggest that bus lanes on both sides of Customs Street, between Beach Road to the east and Nelson Street to the west, is essential in providing reliability to this service.

The second area where I think infrastructure upgrades will be necessary is at the corner of Valley Road and Mt Eden Road – near the Mt Eden Village. Here buses travelling east will be expected to right-turn out of Valley Road and into Mt Eden Road, a very tricky proposition at the best of times and a source of major delay during peak times. The situation is shown in below (the red line indicating the route of the outer loop): I’m not sure what the impact of having two sets of traffic lights in Mt Eden Village so close to each other would be, but I worry unless these lights are put in place you will have enormous delays for buses trying to get out of Valley Road (or buses sitting behind cars trying to get out of Valley Road).

Probably the final thing I think is necessary is some improvement to the Albert Street bus lanes, which at the moment are very poorly patrolled and very stop-start. While I understand it’s a tricky street to have continuous bus lanes along, if we are going to put so many buses on this particular arterial it really does need to provide better priority and faster trips. Losing buses from Queen Street does have a negative impact – in terms of their loss of visibility and the requirement that more people “climb the hill” up to Albert Street. If buses along Albert can be fast enough, then I think the benefits will outweigh the costs. If Albert Street isn’t fast enough, then I’m not so sure.

I’m keen to keep hearing what other people think. I’m also keen to learn whether Auckland Transport really is the integrated transport agency it keeps saying it is – and can make infrastructure improvements to support public transport operation changes. This will be a good test of that organisation.

Feedback should be sent to Auckland Transport here.

Draft Annual Plan: my submission

As promised last week, I have done a model submission on the transport elements of the Draft Annual Plan. Submissions are due by this Friday, so it would be good to ensure everyone gets theirs off reasonably soon. Unfortunately, with the Annual Plan containing a massive lack of information on where the council will actually be spending its transport money, a lot of my submission is dedicated to the need for more information and more detail on what is going to be funded.

Further to that, I have put in a general request that the Council acts in accordance with the principles that got it elected and put a greater focus on funding public transport projects. In a specific sense, I think they should take a good hard look at expensive roading projects like Penlink, which potentially have viable and cheaper alternatives. And they should ensure money is available to get the ball rolling on major rail projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel and Rail to the Airport – even if the only thing funded at this stage relates to consenting and property acquisition.

As always, feel free to edit as you wish, adding or removing things – just make sure your voice is heard by submitting here before Friday.

My submission relates to the Transport Activity that Auckland Council intends to undertake during the 2011/2012 financial year. In particular, my submission relates to the proposed capital works throughout 2011/2012.

Auckland Council proposes to spend a significant amount of money over the 2011/2012 financial year on transport. This is detailed on pages 160-169 of the Draft Annual Plan. The council appears, from the data provided, to be spending the following:

  • $148 million on public transport operating expenditure (subsidies)
  • $89 million on road operating costs (presumably road maintenance and the like)
  • $90 million on transport strategy and planning (presumably mostly made up of Auckland Transport staffing costs)
  • $6.5 million on transport behaviour change operating costs
  • $21 million on parking and enforcement capital expenditure
  • $25 million on public transport capital expenditure
  • $307 million on road network capital expenditure
  • $8 million on capital transport planning
  • $5 million on capital transport behaviour change

In total, $336 million is proposed to be spent on transport operating expenditure and $368 million on transport capital expenditure. In addition to this amount, Auckland Transport proposes to spend a further $452 million on operating costs and $253 million capital costs – money that either Auckland Transport can raise itself or is raised from NZTA subsidies.

Overall, close to one and a half billion dollars is proposed to be spent by Auckland Transport on transport in the 2011/2012 financial year. This is a significant amount of money and is the largest part of Auckland Council’s budget in terms of cost.

Given the significant amount of money proposed to be spent, it is disappointing and surprising to see how little detailed information is available in the Draft Annual Plan on where the money will go. While a number of “key projects” are identified – generally with a public transport focus – the amount of money dedicated to these project appears relatively small compared to the overall budget. Furthermore, it is surprising to see little available information on where the $307 million proposed for capital expenditure on roading projects (plus the further $253 million from NZTA subsidies) will be spent.

Auckland Council, and in particular Mayor Len Brown, was elected on a platform of significantly improving the city’s public transport system. Given that, it is disappointing to see such an extreme “roads-focus” to capital expenditure in particular. It is accepted that some projects funded in the next financial year may be “finishing off” works started by previous councils – but this should be outlined more clearly. Secondly, there is the possibility that some projects that will mainly benefit public transport (like the Dominion Road upgrade) have been ‘lumped in with’ roading capital expenditure. This should be clarified.

I am concerned that the Draft Annual Plan may hide expensive and controversial roading projects within the proposed $307 million of capital expenditure. Projects like “Penlink” connecting Whangaparaoa Peninsula with State Highway 1 have potentially cheaper alternatives that should be explored – particularly as in difficult economic times the council has the desire to keep rates increases as low as possible. The Annual Plan does not mention “Penlink” once, so it is not known whether the project is intended to be progressed within the next 12 months.

My submission seeks the following amendments/improvements to the Annual Plan:

  1. That more detail is provided on which transport projects are to be funded over the next 12 months by Auckland Council. Particularly, that more detail is provided on which projects are included for funding within the $307 million that council proposes to spend on “road network” improvements.
  2. That clarification is provided as to whether any projects currently under “road network” improvements are actually mainly public transport projects – and that those projects be highlighted.
  3. That Council gives strong consideration to shifting money away from road network capital projects and into public transport projects – to reflect growing public transport patronage, rising petrol prices and static traffic growth rates.
  4. That the Annual Plan specifically include funding for the notice of requirement and associated property purchases required to progress the Auckland CBD Rail Link project.
  5. That the Annual Plan specifically include funding for the notice of requirement and associated property purchases required to progress rail to Auckland International Airport between Onehunga and Manukau.
  6. That the Annual Plan highlights the level of expenditure on walking and cycling projects, given the significant increase in cycling in the past 1-2 years.
  7. That the Annual Plan considers alternatives to funding expensive roading projects (for example, Penlink) if cheaper and more cost-effective alternatives are available (for example, by widening Whangaparaoa Road between Red Beach Road and State Highway 17).

Hopefully at the very least we might actually find out what transport projects our rates (both present and future, given the significant level of borrowing proposed) are being spent on.

The world has changed

You probably wouldn’t notice, at first glance, how the world of transport in Auckland has changed so dramatically over the past three years. Perhaps you might, if you caught a train and noticed that it was jam-packed instead of half-full; or a bus down the northern busway and struggled to get on it instead of having it to yourself. If you looked really close you might have also noticed the roads don’t seem quite so congested as they were a few years ago. But the world has changed, and if you look at Auckland’s changing transport trends close enough you can see some pretty huge things happening.

A couple of days ago I talked a little bit about one half of this change: the significant growth in public transport patronage – particularly throughout 2010. A few days before that I touched on the other half – that assuming traffic will always grow is turning out to be a false assumption. I’ve taken a bit of time to have a good dig through two main sources and tried to put this all together – with some very interesting results I think.

First – the data sources:

In terms of the traffic volume data, unfortunately there’s no easily accessible data on volumes for just Auckland, but NZTA do break down their trends into sub-regions: including what’s known as “Northland and Auckland”. I have used this data:

We can use similar traffic volume data to track back right to early 2008 (when I’ve started this analysis) on a month by month basis to see changes in traffic volumes on state highways in Auckland and Northland. While I certainly accept we’re not talking about the exact same two things here (Auckland PT patronage vs Auckland and Northland state highway volumes) it certainly gives us an idea about changing traffic trends in and around Auckland. I would imagine that a significant majority of state highway traffic volumes in this area would be on Auckland’s motorway system.

If we look at public transport patronage first, it really has been over the past three years that we’ve seen things take off. Starting in 2008 with the very high petrol prices (which have been repeated over the last few months), plus the effort that has gone into improving aspects of our public transport system – like the Northern Busway and the railway system – we have seen a huge increase in patronage. Overall, the numbers have increased by 21% over this period: from 52.4 million trips in 2007 to 63.5 million trips last year. This is shown below: Interesting that the biggest growth months have been April, June and September. January’s growth has obviously been hampered by closures to the rail network.

If we look at growth rates for traffic volumes on state highways over the past three years, we see a quite different story: We can see that the big petrol price spike in 2008 had a massive impact on traffic volumes over the period when petrol was well above $2 a litre: from around May to September that year as far as I can remember. While the volumes somewhat recovered in 2009 as petrol prices fell, over 2010 we once again saw a lot of months with negative growth – particularly in the second half of the year. This trend has continued into 2011 with January (shown earlier in this post) being well down on the year before, while February also has marginally lower volumes compared to the same month last year. Overall, traffic volumes has been pretty flat for the whole three year period.

Putting the two together provides an interesting picture of what’s happened to state highway traffic volumes and PT patronage over the past three years in and around Auckland: There does seem to be a fairly clear link between the two: when PT patronage growth is highest we see the biggest declines in traffic numbers. The only time when traffic growth outpaced PT patronage growth was in winter 2009: and we must remember that the traffic numbers were coming off an extremely low base the year before. (Ignore the October 2009 & 2010 figures as the bus lockout has thrown them out a bit).

Finally, if we take a comparison between 2007 and 2010, for both PT patronage and state highway traffic volumes – for each month – the results really are quite telling: For every single month of the year there has been massive PT growth over the past three years. Similarly, for every single month we have seen hardly any increase in traffic volumes on state highways in the region. In fact, for quite a few months we have seen state highway traffic volumes in 2010 being lower than they were three years earlier.

In short, this pretty much just confirms what most of us knew: public transport is booming in popularity and people are giving up on driving – because they finally have a decent alternative or because petrol’s getting too expensive or because they’re just fed up with Auckland’s roads. The numbers present a compelling argument for shifting funding away from building more roads (after all, why would we need more roads if there are fewer cars out there?) and into increasing public transport capacity.

Yet both the government and the council continue to plow the vast majority of transport funding into more roads. What is wrong with them? The world has changed in the past three years, it’s time they caught up.

Is the government insane?

The Herald today has put out a stunningly great editorial on the lack of vision the government is showing with its 1960’s thinking about transport needs for the future. Of course I should think it is great as even though the words used are slightly different the theme and arguments in it is pretty much identical to a piece I sent them a week and a half ago (not that I’m complaining as the whole point is to the message out there). The piece starts with:

The axiomatic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

It’s an idea that plainly hasn’t taken root in the Beehive. The Cabinet paper Transport Trends in Aucklandsuggests a vision for the region that looks in the rear-vision mirror.

It takes as a given “the dominant role of private vehicles in Auckland’s transport system along with the modest role of public transport” during the 30 years to 2006 and draws the conclusion that what we need is … more of the same.

Anyone who has commuted in Auckland for more than a few years knows that a stratehy that invests heavily in roading ignores the lessons of recent history. No sooner has the road network been expanded to meet demand than demand increases. It quickly becomes as congested as it was before the expansion.

One of the things great about this editorial is that succinctly covers many of the issues that have been raised on here before and ends with

This city missed its first chance, spurning Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposals in the 1960s. We won’t get another one after this. The question is not whether we can afford to do it; rather we must ask how anyone can possibly imagine we can afford not to.

It will be interesting to see what kind of response they get, when Rod Oram wrote a similar piece last year it prompted Steven Joyce to respond which gave us an even more frighting insight to how backwards the governments thinking is.

Big changes to city buses proposed

Auckland Transport has announced some pretty big changes to the central city buses – consultation on the changes runs from now until April 15th. The changes affect a whole pile of different routes:

  • The LINK
  • City Circuit
  • 004 or 005 – (Herne Bay, Westmere
  • 006 – (Newmarket – St Lukes – Unitec)
  • 007 – (Pt Chevalier – St Heliers)
  • 010 or 011 – (Ponsonby – Onehunga)
  • 015 to 018 – (Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Westmere)
  • 024 to 028 – (Richmond Rd, Westmere)
  • 034 or 035 – (Westmere, Williamson Avenue)
  • 042 to 045 – (Pt Chevalier, Unitec, Mt Albert)

Here’s a map showing how the new routes will work (a bigger map is here): There’s a lot to like about most of the proposed changes. We’re going to see a big simplification of the Western Bays bus services, cutting a huge number of routes down to the 020 and the 030. The 010 and 011 services are also simplified and improved. The extension of the 005 to Pt Chevalier is also a good thing, although that service will only run during peak times.

Many of the changes to the Link Bus are likely to be good too – with the detour at the southern end of the route no longer doing a long detour and now quickly connecting Grafton Bridge with Karangahape Road. In fact, there’s really only one aspect of the change that I have some doubts about – and that is the “Outer Loop”. On a piece of paper it looks great: I could catch a bus from the top of my street to all sorts of places: Pt Chevalier, Unitec, St Lukes, Eden Park/Kingsland, Mt Eden Village and Newmarket – as well as the city. However, when you think about how the service would actually operate, this is when I get worried.

Essentially, my concerns were discussed in the post I did on “loops” a while back. The Link Bus already suffers from bus “bunching”, long delays at Victoria Park, unreliability of services and so forth. One would imagine that with an “Outer Loop” being three times the length, it’s quite possible we could end up with three times as many problems unless more bus priority is introduced. Another potential problem with the route is at the intersection of Valley Road and Mt Eden Road, where a bus will need to turn right out of Valley Road and into Mt Eden Road – that manoeuvre is always a nightmare and I think signalising that intersection is essential in order to implement this route.

I guess it would be fair to say that I support about 90% of what’s proposed here. The western bays simplification, the shift of western bays buses onto Albert Street and off Queen Street to improve travel times (although I think Albert Street’s bus lanes need some work to improve their continuity), the new Queen Street shuttle service – which promises to be of more use than the city circuit and the Link Bus changes are generally good. I just really worry about reliability of the Outer Loop – such a long route, so much potential for delay, so many opportunities for the buses to bunch and so forth.

That matter aside, it’s good to see Auckland Transport finally undertaking some bus route changes that actually have a bit of courage and make a big difference. It will be interesting to see what feedback there is.