The problem with network pricing

I’m not opposed in principle to congestion charging, road pricing or road tolling. It’s clear that congestion occurs because there’s too much demand for road space at certain times of day. It’s also clear that building more road space doesn’t solve the problem – because it simply ‘induces’ demand. Pricing road space in one way or another therefore makes logical sense as a way of allocating the road space most efficiently.

That said, there are of course many other factors to take into account. Congestion pricing is effective (at least theoretically) because it prices people off the road at peak time – which has social equity implications. There are potentially adverse economic outcomes if, for example, we were to install a “cordon” based system around the CBD then we put the viability of the place at risk – particularly in Auckland because a relatively low proportion of people entering the city centre at peak time are on public transport (just under 50% compared to 80-90% in cities like London and New York). There are also issues relating to practicalities, whether the technology has reached a level to enable certain types of road pricing, and also what proportion of the money from road pricing goes into administering the system.

Many different types of road pricing have been analysed over the past few years: generally as a revenue-raising exercise rather than to reduce congestion. A few of them, like an off-street parking levy, probably are worth further analysis in the shorter term. One type of road pricing that seems to be ‘in fashion’ at the moment is something called “network pricing” – where people pay a certain amount at each motorway onramp to join the motorways. At different times of day the price can be adjusted to encourage the peak to be ‘spread’ more. This ‘network pricing’ scheme is being proposed by the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) at the moment – which an NZ Herald article today picks up on:

The Council for Infrastructure Development said tolls of $2 to $3 were needed on Auckland motorways to cover the bills.

Chief executive Stephen Selwood said investment in infrastructure was central to lifting the quality of life in New Zealand.

He said user pays is the fairest system.

“I think New Zealanders are now becoming aware that there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free infrastructure.”

He said direct user charges is is the next step in ensuring timely investment is made when it is needed.

At first glance the scheme has its advantages. Perhaps the biggest advantage is its simplicity and ease of introduction. There are only a limited number of  motorway onramps around Auckland and putting toll gates one them (with overheard cameras like the Northern Gateway Road) would be relatively straightfoward: at least compared to other schemes using GPS systems to track vehicles and the like. Another advantage is the huge amount of money something like this could potentially raise. There are nearly a million trips on the motorway network a day, so you could raise some serious cash with a levy on those trips: However, the proposal has a giant flaw – one which I would sum up with the phrase “diverted traffic”. Clearly, if people are faced with the possibility of having to pay to get on the motorway they are more likely to choose a route which avoids the motorway and therefore more likely to make their trips on the local road network. This has a number of huge problems:

  • Safety effects on pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Increased pollution in parts of the city where a lot of people are located
  • Clogging up streets where public transport services run
  • Increased pressure to widen local roads and less use of motorways which have had huge money spent on them

I’m sure there are other negative impacts. One thing the Council might want to keep particularly in mind is that shifting traffic off state highways and onto local roads puts more pressure on their part of the transport network – rather than the part owned by the government.

The diverted traffic issue is, in my opinion, a fatal flaw of network pricing. One of the good things that motorways do is draw traffic away from local roads. The last thing we want to do is completely undermine that.

Labour releases Auckland transport policy

Hot on the heels of National’s transport policy comes the release of Labour’s transport policy for Auckland.

The cornerstone of the policy is to cancel the $1.7 billion “holiday highway” Road of National Significance and replace it with a $320 million dollar package of safety and capacity upgrades to the corridor based on the “Operation Lifesaver” proposal developed by Admin and the Campaign for Better Transport.

The real star of this policy is that the savings from not building the new motorway will be used to fund 50% of the City Rail Link, in line with Mayor Brown’s plan to split the cost of the project between central government and Auckland Council.

Labour claims this proposal for upgrading SH1 to Wellsford and paying for half the City Rail Link will cost less than National’s plan for just the road corridor alone.

This seems to be a thoroughly sensible transport policy for the Auckland region. The city get the rapid transit revolution it so desperately needs yet SH1 north of the city also receives a staged upgrade years before any new motorway could be built, all for a slightly cheaper price.

An excerpt from the press release:

Labour will cancel the “holiday highway‟ to fund Auckland‟s essential City Rail Link.

Aucklanders are overwhelmingly in favour of the rail link proposal.

The Government invested significant resources into restructuringAucklandgovernance so thatAucklandwould speak with one voice. Now it has and Aucklanders are saying loud and clear they want this rail link in order to unclog the roads.

Unlike National, Labour is listening.

We are committing to central government’s half of the bargain.

Labour will partner with the Auckland Council to give Aucklanders the world-class transport system they deserve.

Labour will provide funding of $1.2 billion from the Land Transport Fund for the rail link — half the proposed cost — on the understanding that the Auckland Council is responsible for funding the other half.

Labour will fund the $1.2 billion by cancelling National‟s plan to construct the new so-called “holiday highway‟ between Puhoi and Wellsford.

Labour supports the so-called “Operation Lifesaver‟ improvements to the existing Puhoi to Wellsford road rather than the gold-plated option.

This alternative, which includes a Warkworth bypass, would fix the crash black spots and traffic bottlenecks at a cost of $320 million, delivering most of the benefits more quickly and cheaply than building an entire new highway.

The combined costs of “Operation Lifesaver‟ and our contribution to the Auckland Rail Loop comes to $1.6 billion, less than the $1.7 billion Steven Joyce has already budgeted for the “holiday highway‟.

It also seems Labour have started to think logically about more efficient ways to move freight by rail and sea, and it sounds like they will not be afraid to de-hypothecate National Land Transport funding to make it available across all classes of transport.

Putting the Roads of National Significance on the block is a good idea too, some are a plain loopy, but aspects of these corridors may indeed be worthwhile. Getting a fresh look at what the priorities are and how they should be built might just get a lot more value out of these roads sooner (rather than simply saying they need to be built as full motorways regardless of the cost, ill effects or the time it takes to plan, consent and build the monsters).

The press release continues with other policies for Auckland:

Other elements of Labour’s Transport policy include:

  • Tagging funding from the National Land Transport Programme to facilitate an increase in coastal shipping so that at least 30 per cent of inter-regional freight is carried by sea by 2040
  • Committing to reduce transport emissions by 40 per cent by 2040.
  • To urgently investigate the viability of upgrading the rail link directly into the Auckland container port
  • Promoting walking and cycling as credible active transport‟ options;
  • Keeping New Zealand’s rail in public hands, and investing in maintaining and modernising KiwiRail as a viable and sustainable transport solution;
  • Engaging with the working group on establishing aHamiltontoAucklandcommuter rail service;
  • Re-evaluating which roads of national significance make sense. Labour disagrees with four more projects being added to the existing list;
  • Investigating and prioritising improvements to the “East-West‟ corridor proposal inAuckland;
  • Setting ambitious new road safety targets.

A CBD Bus Tunnel?

An article in Friday’s NZ Herald noted that someone called Tony Randle had taken a detailed look at the business case for the City Rail Link, and by re-analysing the numbers has come to the conclusion that a bus tunnel option (which was looked at in the business case)

Tony Randle believes a business case for Auckland’s $2.4 billion central city rail tunnel proposal under-cooked the costs to make it look more attractive than an underground bus system serving more people.

He said presumed costs of a bus tunnel considered in the business case were exaggerated…

…The $5 million business case, commissioned by KiwiRail and the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority, said a 3.5km rail tunnel from western Britomart to Mt Eden could be built for 60 per cent of the cost of a 3km bus version.

But Mr Randle said that was largely because of the “unjustified and undocumented” inclusion of a duplicate bus tunnel and nine extra busways, and a failure to provide for extra bus passengers to complement the rail project.

This assessment is pretty unusually detailed – you can read the whole thing here – so it’s worth looking at in a bit more detail. Here’s some more from the Herald article:

Mr Randle has prepared an 89-page critique of the rail project in his spare time assisted with data which he said he received from Auckland Transport only after the Ombudsman intervened.

He said the net present cost of a rail tunnel, estimated in the business case at $1.52 billion, worked out at $2.24 billion if a realistic level of bus infrastructure was added and operating cost errors rectified.

The net cost of a bus tunnel would be $1.85 billion, compared with the business case estimate of $2.64 billion.

Mr Randle said the rail tunnel had been assessed in isolation, without assuming investment for a doubling of bus passengers needed even if the trains carried a capacity of 24,900 people through it a day.

Bus patronage into central Auckland was predicted to grow from 23,180 passengers a day to 42,814 by 2041 even if a rail tunnel is built.

A more realistic bus tunnel option would be much fairer in providing a rapid transit service to more commuters across more of Auckland than any rail system.

As I said above, a bus tunnel option was looked at in the initial business case. The rough location for the tunnel is shown below: linking the Northern Busway with a pile of bus routes at its southern end: The bus tunnel’s operation was described in the Business Case’s alternatives assessment as follows:

A two-lane CBD bus tunnel would have ample capacity to accommodate the expected up to 534 bus movements per hour (two directions) assuming no crashes or breakdowns. The capacity constraint for the bus tunnel would be the operation of the bus stations as well as the level of traffic congestion on the shared road corridors beyond the tunnel. Efficient operation of the bus stations would be critical and would require active management of bus and pedestrian movements. Bus stations of this type are proven technology in New Zealand, though operating costs are high.

However a bus tunnel of this length would require safe exits in the case of fire, necessitating fire-proof separation. Each separate direction would then need to allow passing in the case of breakdowns, so would probably need to be two lanes, implying two by two-lane tunnels.

Extensive bus tunnels on the other hand are not used to date in New Zealand. In contrast to surface streets where options may exist for buses to bypass congestion, crashes or broken down buses, this may not be possible in a two-lane tunnel, so the efficient operation of the underground facilities would be susceptible to breakdowns and other incidents. In Seattle for example, a single bus breakdown has blocked southbound bus operations for 40 minutes during peak times.

One of the big issues raised in Mr Randle’s report was that he couldn’t understand why the bus tunnel had been costed at the price of two two-lane tunnels. The paragraphs above explain the reason for this pretty well I think. The real issue with a bus tunnel is what you do at the southern end of it with all those 500-odd buses an hour (things are handled fairly well at the northern end with the Northern Busway). The Business Case says that the following would be necessary: When I first read through the Business Case the bus tunnel idea had me quite intrigued – that was until I saw the map above. Constructing a full blown busway along New North Road all the way out to Mt Albert and down Great South Road all the way to the Harp of Erin, just past Greenlane. That includes a full busway through Newmarket, which seems a bit hard to envisage. Not only would these busways be incredibly expensive, their urban impacts would be pretty severe. It’s also pretty dumb to duplicate the existing rapid transit corridors to the west and south (those being the railway lines).

Along with the cost of the bus tunnel, the other main point raised by Mr Randle is the issue of what extra bus infrastructure will be needed if the rail tunnel is built. He argues that the business case says very little about how an additional 19,000 bus users will get into town at peak times above current numbers, even if the rail tunnel is built: I actually agree that the business case has a problem here. If the number of bus travellers into the city centre is going to more than double by 2041 – even with the City Rail Link – then that’s not going to work without significant extra bus infrastructure. However, I don’t necessarily think the answer is building more bus infrastructure – especially to the south and west – but rather to reconsider how we operate our bus services from these areas. After all, if we’re going to invest around $2 billion in our rail network then we’d be stupid to continue to undermine this investment by running a huge number of buses the duplicate our rail services – so obviously we’d turn many of those route (especially the long-haul ones) into feeder routes, where people would transfer onto the rail network.

So ultimately I don’t think that we would necessarily see another 19,000 bus passengers by 2041 with the City Rail Link in place. It seems to me that most additional patronage would come from the North Shore (potentially highlighting the need for North Shore rail if the city can’t cope with that many buses) and from inner parts of the isthmus, which may require routes like Dominion Road to be upgraded to light-rail if it can’t cope with the additional buses. What we don’t need are busways duplicating the inner parts of the southern and western lines – which is what Mr Randle’s document suggests: While Mr Randle’s assessment points out a flaw in the project’s business case, that it says we’re going to have nearly 20,000 more bus passengers into the CBD without highlighting how we’re going to deal with those passengers, I think ultimately his analysis falls into the same trap as the Ministry of Transport’s review of the project – they assume that bus numbers can and will increase without constraints. The Ministry of Transport preferred the surface bus option, without realising that the city’s streets don’t actually have unlimited capacity to cope with buses (or to question whether we might want 1000 buses an hour grinding along Fanshawe, Albert & Symonds Street). Mr Randle’s point is a little smarter, but once again misses the point (though so did the original business case) that the number of people on buses isn’t just a natural outcome, but something we can influence. If we want to cap the number of buses entering the city centre at peak times then we can, shifting more to feeder buses.

Ultimately a bus tunnel isn’t a sensible option because it puts more traffic onto our roads, particularly those arterials to the south of the tunnel, rather than the rail tunnel which eases pressure on the roads. A rail tunnel can unlock latent capacity throughout the entire network, enabling all that existing infrastructure to be used much more efficiently – rather than something which requires us to duplicate huge chunks of our rapid transit system.

National releases Auckland transport policy

Somewhat surprisingly, National have decided to bury the release of their transport policy for Auckland to a Saturday afternoon – with almost no fanfare. There are few surprises in the policy, with pretty much nothing mentioned that we haven’t heard before – a lot of focus on current projects and very little on what will happen after that.

Their list of achievements is quite interesting:

• Boosted funding for state highways and fast-tracked construction on two of the Roads of National Significance in the region – the Victoria Park Tunnel and the Western Ring Route.

• Completed train station upgrades and double-tracking of the Western Line, and started the $500 million upgrade and electrification of Auckland’s rail network.

• Provided $590 million in loan and grant funding to Auckland Transport so they can purchase 50 per cent more electric trains.

• Cancelled Labour’s Auckland regional fuel tax.

• Opened big motorway projects early:
− Manukau Harbour Crossing.
− State Highway 20 to State Highway 1 link.
− Hobsonville Motorway.
 − Victoria Park Tunnel.

• Reduced traffic congestion at key motorway bottlenecks on the Northern and Southern Motorways, and the Western Ring Route.

• Increased patronage on public transport.

• We will begin construction on the Waterview connection and complete the Western Ring Route.

I find it somewhat amusing, although on the other hand I suppose quite heartening, that National is taking some credit for increased public transport patronage. You can’t quite imagine previous National governments trumpeting public transport achievements (even if their contribution to them is somewhat debatable), so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

In terms of whether congestion has been released over the past few years – that’s a somewhat debatable issue. Here’s what NZTA State Highways Manager Tommy Parker said in a recent letter to Auckland Council:Congestion may be up and down at various times of the day (note the focus on “morning peak” in the document) but overall it seems that congestion has been increasing, not decreasing, over the past few years.

On the key issue of improving access to Auckland’s CBD, we see no real advance on the position we already knew about: that we’re unlikely to see any support for the City Rail Link project: It would be nice to have some timeframe around this “further work” with Auckland Council to evaluate the best multi-modal access solutions to the Auckland CBD. It is obvious, with the Council and Government still taking such different positions on whether the project is worth the expenditure (and ongoing debates over the methodology of assessment), that more discussion and analysis is needed. But we don’t want that to drag on forever, and it would be good to see how National might fund the project by 2021 if it stacks up. Without a funding plan, one can imagine that the Government’s going to have a huge incentive to make the project’s assessment not stack up.

Overall, I guess I understand why National buried the policy announcement on a Saturday afternoon with no fanfare – because there’s really nothing to it. Nothing new, just a trumpeting of the huge amount of money they’ve been spending on motorways and some lies about the impact of that expenditure on congestion. A bit of a disappointment really – no vision for Auckland’s future.

Te Atatu Rd upgrade: more “PT-wash”?

I just noticed today that Auckland Transport have come up with a bit of information on a proposed upgrade to the notoriously congested Te Atatu Road, between the motorway interchange and the roundabout with Edmonton Road. My understanding is that at peak times this is one of the most congested parts of the roading network – in some respects having similarities to Onewa Road on the North Shore as it’s the only connection to the motorway for a pretty large chunk of West Auckland. Here’s a map of the area the upgrade covers: The need for the project is pretty obvious as the stretch of road suffers from really bad congestion problems as well as safety issues. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to cross at peak times. Here’s some background information from the AT website:

Te Atatu Road is a regional arterial road which provides a gateway for some 38,000 vehicles per day that access the North-Western Motorway (State Highway 16), Te Atatu, Henderson and greater Waitakere.

This part of the road network has a high incidence of accidents, with some 170 reported crashes occurring in the past five years. Although none of the crashes was fatal there were a high number of accidents involving turning rear-ending, and overtaking collisions. There were unfortunately a number of serious injuries involved.

There is also considerable congestion at peak hours along the project corridor, and travel times can be inconsistent for those using the road.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is also planning to upgrade the Te Atatu Road Interchange as part of the State Highway 16 Waterview to Te Atatu widening section between approximately 2013 and 2014. The upgrade of the Te Atatu corridor will support the improvements planned at the motorway interchange.

I would say that some upgrade to Te Atatu Road is utterly critical to occur at either the same time, or before, the northwest motorway is widened. It’s fairly typical of NZTA to widen their motorways in a way that will inevitably dump a huge amount of traffic onto particular local roads (think Maioro Road, Tiverton Road & Wolverton Street). In terms of safety, wow 170 accidents in the last five years along a pretty short stretch of road seems really high.

The project description makes some promising noises about public transport benefits too:

Features

The project will:

  • Address road safety concerns
  • Provide road improvements for all modes of transport
  • Enhance public transport infrastructure
  • Encourage modes of transport other than private motor vehicle
  • Upgrade pedestrian facilities
  • Expand Auckland’s cycle lane network and connections with the regional cycle network
  • Provide easier vehicle access and turning for connecting roads off Te Atatu Road

Design components

Te Atatu Road:

  • Cycle lanes in both directions (on or off road)
  • 2 to 3 metre wide flush (painted) median
  • 2.4 metre wide footpath on the West side and 1.8 metre footpath on the East side
  • New traffic signals at the Edmonton Rd/Flanshaw Road intersection
  • Upgraded traffic signals at Vera Road/Jaemont Avenue and Covil Avenue intersections
  • Street landscape treatment/planting where possible
  • Northbound bus advance lane on Te Atatu Road at the approach to the North-Western Motorway (SH16) eastbound ramps.

Edmonton Road:

  • Cycle lanes in both directions
  • 2.5 metre wide flush (painted) median
  • 1.8 metre wide footpath on each side
  • Street landscape planting where possible

Sounds reasonably promising. Great that there will be cycle lanes (although would a two-way protected cycle-path on one side of the road be better than suicide lanes next to 35,000 vehicles a day?) Great that there will be a median strip making life easier for pedestrians and making turning movements safer for vehicles. Potentially great that something’s said about bus priority, particularly in the ‘features’ part of the project.

So let’s look at the maps and see where the bus priority is:
For the full size map click here. From what I can see, bus lanes are provided in one place only – on the westbound off-ramp. A transit lane is proposed on the city bound onramp, and that’s it. A cross-section view confirms that in reality there’s not much priority for buses in this project at all: Looking a bit closer at where the northwest cycleway crosses Te Atatu Road also highlights another problem with the proposal – that cyclists will need to cross four sets of lights (which of course will be timed to benefit cars not the cyclists) before they can continue on their journey: Unfortunately, much like many other transport projects in Auckland, it seems as though this is a classic example of “PT-wash“, much like ‘greenwash’ trumpeting the public transport credentials of a project when the actual benefits to PT are negligible or non-existent. And this is really a pity, because I wonder whether an Onewa Road T3 solution here could work quite well.

September patronage details

About a week ago I blogged about some basic patronage statistics for September – which were pretty spectacular. Auckland Transport has now released the detailed patronage report for September, which confirms the huge numbers (partly due to the Rugby World Cup of course). Here are the highlights:

Auckland public transport patronage totalled 67,682,156 passengers for the 12-months to Sep 2011 an increase of 6,059,096 boardings or +9.8%.

September monthly patronage was 6,634,342 an increase of 1,045,140 boardings or +18.7% on Sep 2010. Record growth is due in part to increased patronage due to Rugby World Cup 2011 matches held in Auckland during September.

Rail monthly patronage for September is 1,178,586 an increase of 285,538 boardings or +32.0% on Sep 2010. This is both a new monthly record and growth due in part to patronage from Rugby World Cup 2011 special event rail services.

Northern Express bus service carried 2,153,830 passenger trips for the 12-months with a growth in Sep 2011 compared to Sep 2010 of +14.5%.

Here are the details:These were record numbers for the rail system, with the Western Line numbers particularly reflecting the world cup game crowds. Even for services that you wouldn’t think were too impacted by game crowds: like the ferries and the regular buses, there were big increases. This is probably because of the large number of visitors who are using PT to get around. School holidays being shifted into October might have also bumped up the September numbers.

The report also has more detail on the RWC crowds – perhaps most interestingly noting that around 140,000 rail trips were taken on September 9th: surely a daily record for Auckland by miles:

Rail along with the Northern Busway forms the Rapid Transit Network. The month of September saw a huge increase in demand for travel on rail as the Rugby World Cup 2011 swung into action. On the opening day of 9th September 2011 alone final estimates indicate that rail services carried more than 140,000 passengers to and from normal business day activities (compared to an average 43,000 weekday movement), the opening match at Eden Park and the opening night celebrations at the Fan Zone outside Britomart station. The number using rail across the region to travel to or from these activities was more than three times the normal business day demand, concentrated during the early to mid-afternoon and this resulted in crowding on most services from around 1:30pm. On 17th September more than 25,000 fans were carried by rail to Eden Park and the Fan Zone and the following weekend of 24/25th September more than 60,000 supporters were carried over the two days in addition to normal weekend travel demand.

Here are the graphs showing monthly rail patronage over the past few years: Looking at details of bus patronage you can see that numbers on the isthmus were up pretty hugely. I guess that might include the shuttle buses to rugby games?

There’s also quite a lot of interesting data on the number of PT trips to and from the games: What’s good to see is that even after the chaos of September 9th, around 40% of people continued to travel by public transport to the Eden Park games, while the percentage of people travelling by PT to North Harbour Stadium games increased over time.

How to pay for the City Rail Link

A presentation by Mayor Len Brown today gave us some clues about how the Council hopes to fund the City Rail Link project over the next decade, with a target date for opening being 2021. Here’s a couple of key images from his presentation, with further detail in this document and also within these spreadsheets.
Here’s the well worded justification for the project’s need, which comes from the more detailed document:

Auckland’s population is forecast to reach 2.3 million people by 2051. This will mean a dramatic increase in people movements into and around Auckland’s city centre. We can only cope with this kind of growth by investing into our public transport network.

The Britomart transport centre’s capacity for trains will be reached in early 2012. Bringing the Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) into operation will extend this capacity for another 12 years. Meanwhile critical parts of the City Centre bus network, in particular Symonds, Fanshawe and Albert Streets, will all reach peak capacity between 2014 and 2020. On Albert Street alone, this will mean eight buses per minute at peak.

The City Rail Link (CRL) provides another exit point from Britomart. This initially doubles its capacity for rail passengers from 12,000 to 24,000 people per hour and provides options to double this again to 48,000 per hour. It achieves this without spoiling and actually improves the quality of the urban environment. This “future proofs” commuter rail needs into and from the CBD for the next 60 years, while freeing up road capacity for freight and vehicle use.

Existing rail and bus constraints have to be resolved if Auckland is to achieve its interdependent goals of liveability and economic transformation. Most economic growth comes from services and services are people intensive. Auckland’s economy is highly dependent on immigration to supply skilled labour to its service industries. The most significant drivers for migration decisions are liveability factors. Auckland needs to be internationally competitive in this regard. This is why global human resources companies such as Mercer pay so much attention to liveability.

The project will commence with the land designation process in 2011-12 and will continue with property acquisition in 2012-15 and construction from 2016 to 2021. The rail link will be in operation in 2021.

And some further detail on the funding:

The Council is still investigating funding options and further discussions with government are scheduled. It is proposed to fund the $2.4 billion construction cost (in 2010 dollars) from the following sources:

• New Zealand Government financial assistance 50%
• Development contributions 2.5 %
• Alternative funding sources – 30.9%
• General (region wide) rates – 16.6%

The Council is preparing a discussion paper addressing key issues around transport funding. Central to this is the need to develop new sources of revenue for funding essential local transport systems as we deal with an approximate $10 billion funding gap. This paper is to be released in the early part of next year to give the community the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The paper will address issues such as the effect of local road user levies on low-income households.

The City Rail Link is a key part of our public transport future but there are others. Included in my proposal is additional funding for public transport subsidy – bus, rail and ferry. I have asked Auckland Transport (AT) to optimise the distribution of this funding between the modes. As part of this additional funding I want to see the public transport needs as identified through the Southern Initiative addressed first. Public transport connections between places of work, education and residence are to be improved to assist these areas of need. Improvements to rail stations, ferry terminals and bus lanes (with particular emphasis on the latter two for north of the harbour bridge) are also projects that are priorities for my proposal within the overall capital budget of AT along with extensions to the walking and cycling networks.

So effectively the Council is proposing a 50/50 funding split with central government for the project. I’m not quite sure whether this split makes sense more than in the simple “we’ll pay half if you do” sense. If the project’s transport benefits to road users are a certain level, then you’d think that NZTA should stump up for that; if the project’s productivity benefits result in existing tax takes of a certain level, then the government should stump up for that. Higher land values could be captured by way of betterment levies (the most likely alternative funding source I think) and so forth.

Overall it’s good to see some funding plan for this project, even if it is reliant upon funding from the government that is not yet forthcoming. This is all very interesting timing with an election just a few weeks away. For example, already the Green Party says they’ve got a plan to fund 60% of the project.

Election 2011: The Future of Auckland’s Transport

The general election is now less than a month away, and unsurprisingly things are starting to heat up. One event that you won’t want to miss is being put on by the Campaign for Better Transport:

The Campaign for Better Transport has invited the main political parties in the forthcoming general election to tell us their vision for the future of transport in Auckland. Confirmed speakers for the public meeting include:

David Bennett, MP (National)
Shane Jones, MP (Labour)
Gareth Hughes, MP (Greens)
Don Brash (ACT)

The event is being held on Thursday 10th November, 7:00pm at the Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall, Freyberg Place, Auckland Central.

Space is strictly limited – reserve your place by getting your free ticket from http://bettertransportnov11.eventbrite.com/

Each speaker will be given 10 minutes to explain their party’s stance on all modes of transport and issues that affect the Auckland region in particular.

We are requesting each speaker address the following two issues within their speech:

1. What does your party believe to be the best way to allocate centrally-held funds to different transport modes (road/rail/sea/active) and why.

2. What does your party propose to do over the next three years to improve transport in Auckland?

It should be a great night! Again space is limited and you will need a ticket to get in. Go to http://bettertransportnov11.eventbrite.com/ to secure your ticket now.

It’s a pity that Steven Joyce didn’t want to come along and speak, but it should certainly be a great opportunity to see what the different parties have to say about those two questions (perhaps particularly the second one), and also in response to any questions from the floor.

Integrated ticketing moves forward (slowly)

Further detail on the painfully slow implementation of integrated ticketing in Auckland was outlined in the October business report to the board of Auckland Transport. With the project being somewhat distracted by the silly A-Pass over the past few months, hopefully with the World Cup out of the way we might start seeing some real progress in the next few months: There are two interesting things to note in the paragraph above, first is that in February next year we will start to see something of a further rollout – with what’s called the “Limited Functionality Pilot”. From what I know (mainly from information provided by Thales at a couple of Campaign for Better Transport meetings over the past year) this is likely to involve a pretty basic system across NZ Bus services and trains, allowing stored value use on both the bus and train. Effectively what we have now on the HOP card will be able to be used on the trains (though still no confirmation from Auckland Transport over whether we’ll need to swap our current HOP card for a new one).

The second interesting matter to note is that there’s no set ‘completion date’ noted in the business report, just that the core system rollout will be from mid-2012. That word ‘from’ is quite concerning, as I was under the impression that by the middle of next year we would have a smartcard able to be used on all buses, trains and ferries in Auckland, even if more complexity fare issues (like whether we have fare-capping, whether we shift to zone based ticketing and so forth) will occur at a later stage. Hopefully Auckland Transport provide some clarification on these dates in the relatively near future.

On the subject of the A-Pass, which seems to have been put in place largely for political reasons (the embarrassment of not having an integrated ticket during the World Cup), the Business Report has a bit more information on the popularity of this ticket:

At the time of writing 1228 special A-Passes had been sold to RWC visitors. Over half of those (57%) were purchased through the ticket office at Britomart. Initial expectations were that the pass would be utilised for ferry travel in particular. However, use has been highest on bus (70%), followed by ferry (23%) and rail (7%), indicating that visitors have been travelling outside of the inner CBD during their time in Auckland.

A-Pass sales are highest on match days, suggesting that people are sightseeing as part of the overall match-day experience. Other significant sales periods are one day either side of matches. 

A graph showing the sales volumes is also provided: I do hope the A-Pass was useful in helping test the systems for integrated ticketing, as opposed to just delaying the rollout of the HOP card onto trains, ferries and other bus companies.

My Auckland Plan submission

Submissions on the Auckland Spatial Plan close on October 31st. I cannot stress how important this plan is in guiding Auckland’s future – as I outlined in more detail here. Auckland Council has put together quite a pretty video outlining the broad goals of the plan:


My submission is outlined below. I’m happy for people to use parts of the submission or use the ideas for inspiration. Just make sure your voice is heard.

Email your submissions to: theaucklandplan@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

1.     Summary of submission:

My submission primarily focuses on land-use and transport matters. Therefore it primarily relates to Section D: Auckland’s High Level Development Strategy, Chapter 8: Urban Auckland, Chapter 9: Auckland’s Housing and Chapter 11: Auckland’s Transport. The main points the submission makes are as follows:

1.1.    Urban Auckland:

  • Without further detail on its suitability, Warkworth should not be included as a priority satellite centre due to its poor transport infrastructure (currently it has no public transport service at all) and its fragile surrounding environment.
  • The inclusion of Westgate and Sylvia Park as metropolitan centres is questioned. Both these centres have one dominant landowner and are developed (or will be developed) largely in the form of traditional shopping malls. This is not a metropolitan centre in the same way that Newmarket, New Lynn and Takapuna are.
  • A number of development corridors should be given higher priority, potentially instead of some of the broader development areas located near the urban periphery. These include:
    • Development along the Northern Busway (particularly around Akoranga and Smales Farm stations)
    • Development along the inner part of the Western Railway Line, especially once the City Rail Link project has been completed.
    • Development along the inner part of the Southern Railway Line, between Newmarket and Penrose, an existing major employment corridor.
    • Development along the inner parts of Great North Road and New North Road.

1.2.    Housing:

  • Greater clarification is needed to show how the goals will be implemented, particularly with regards to improving housing affordability.
  • An urban development agency, with the authority to acquire land to amalgamate sites, is necessary to ensure that intensification actually happens.
  • Development bonuses and/or relief from development/financial contributions should be provided to incentivise the provision of affordable housing.
  • Direction should be given to the Unitary Plan to ensure planning rules do not undermine the provision of affordable housing:
    • Focus on quality urban outcomes rather than fixed “minimum lot size” rules.
    • Allow provision of ‘granny flats’ in most parts of the urban environment.
    • Allow existing houses to be ‘split’ into units without the need for expensive consents.
    • Do not require excessive amounts of parking, which add to the cost of housing.
    • Ensure that land within areas proposed for intensification is not compromised through lower-density development (ie. have minimum development levels).

1.3.    Transport:

  • Principles for deciding which transport projects should be prioritised needs to be spelled out more clearly.
  • Puhoi-Wellsford road is not supported as a priority, because there are cheaper and more cost-effective alternatives.
  • Connections between transport decisions and other outcomes sought from the Auckland Plan need to be clarified. For example, the transport chapter proposes a large number of additional roading projects that may undermine attempts to reduce levels of CO2 emissions.
  • An additional Rapid Transit Line (probably in the form of a busway) should be placed along State Highway 16 to provide the northwest corner of Auckland with a Rapid Transit option and to support the development of Westgate.
  • Cheaper options to another road-based harbour crossing should be explored, such as building the rail tunnel first.

1.4.    Areas of support

Although my submission makes a number of suggested amendments to the Draft Auckland Plan, I generally support many of the key decisions that have been made in the formulation of the plan. In particular I support:

  • The high priority given to improving public transport
  • Creating a rural-urban boundary to ensure the provision of infrastructure to urban areas can be done efficiently and our natural environment protected
  • Strong initiatives to improve housing affordability and social equity

2.     Land-Use Planning (section D & chapter 8 )

This part of my submission relates to the land-use planning matters throughout the Auckland Plan, mainly issues relating to where and how Auckland should grow over the next 30 years. Fundamentally I support the High Level Development Strategy outlined in Section D of the Draft Plan – subject to a number of amendments to its details. In general, it is my opinion that making the amendments proposed will result in a plan that is more consistent and is more likely to achieve its broader goals (rather than disputing those broader goals).

2.1.    Quality Compact City Approach

I support Auckland’s future development being based around the concept of a “Quality Compact City”. The Future Land Use and Transport Planning Project undertaken by the former Auckland Regional Council in 2010 assessed three different development options for Auckland. It made the following key observation about the cost of servicing different development patterns with infrastructure:

The compact scenarios utilise current infrastructure more efficiently, thus reducing the need for additional infrastructure investment. Transport infrastructure costs are greatest, with the expansive scenario requiring the greatest additional investment in the transport network. The expansive scenario would require additional road infrastructure worth approximately $31.4 billion compared with around $15 billion for the compact scenarios. Yet despite the additional investment in transport infrastructure, the expansive scenario provided the worst accessibility compared with the compact scenarios.

Furthermore, a focus on a compact city approach helps protect Auckland’s rural environment and helps reduce Auckland’s ecological footprint through reducing car dependency and creating more energy efficient environments.

The Quality Compact City Approach will, however, constrain the amount of developable land and therefore will inevitably push up land prices. This has the potential to conflict with the Auckland Plan’s desire to improve housing affordability unless significant steps are taken to ensure housing supply can be significantly boosted (in a way that has been unable to happen over the past ten years) through urban intensification.

So while I do support the Quality Compact City Approach, it is utterly essential that an adequate supply of housing is provided if there is to be any hope of improving Auckland’s housing affordability. The previous Auckland Regional Growth Strategy was inadequate in achieving this outcome as its implementation was very poor.

2.2.    The Location of Development Areas

Maps D1 and D2 highlight development areas where intensification is suggested will occur. The maps also show the location of areas where greenfield development will be investigated.

As an overarching comment, I am concerned that the location of many of the development areas does not match up with where demand currently exists, or is likely to exist in the future, for intensification. As per above, it is essential that intensification actually happens in Auckland if housing affordability is to be improved, therefore it is necessary for a greater level of alignment between where the Auckland Plan envisages intensification and where there is a market demand for intensification. Simply put, if there is no market for intensification in an area, then it will not happen, housing supply will not be increased and house prices will continue to go up (and thereby the pressure for urban sprawl will increase).

Generally, demand for intensification will exist in places where land values are highest – because to capitalise on those land values it becomes viable to invest in getting more units on each site. The map below shows land values across Auckland: This map indicates the places where intensification is most likely to be economically feasible. These are the city centre and its immediate surrounding suburbs, the central isthmus and coastal areas to the north and east of the city centre.

Suitability for intensification also relates to other issues, such as heritage constraints and the location of transport (and other) infrastructure. Combining these matters leads to the following locations being obvious priority areas for intensification:

  • The City Centre, with care taken with regards to effects on heritage.
  • Takapuna (already proposed as a metropolitan centre)
  • The City fringe area, particularly in areas with less heritage constraints such as along Great North Road, New North Road, around Newmarket and the inner parts of Dominion and Mt Eden Roads.
  • Onehunga (proposed as a town centre)

The map above clearly highlights that proximity to the city centre is a key factor in determining land values. This means that intensification is most likely to be attractive to the market the closer to the city centre the particular site is.

Significant infrastructure projects outlined in the Draft Auckland Plan are likely to change the map above once completed. For example the City Rail Link will bring sections of western isthmus within a much shorter train trip of the city centre, likely resulting in a boost to land values and thereby an increase in the market viability of intensification.

While ‘corridors’ are proposed in Map D2, along a number of arterial roads in the inner isthmus, these development corridors are generally planned to be developed later on in the life of the Auckland Plan. If these corridors are market-attractive, then it may make sense for development along them to be prioritised to a greater extent, especially ahead of development in the outer parts of Auckland’s urban area.

Overall, I propose a number of amendments to Maps D1 and D2 in relation to the proposed “Development Areas”:

  • There should be a greater focus on areas that are market-attractive, lacking in heritage constraints and are well served by existing infrastructure (especially public transport infrastructure). Less development, or development that happens at a later stage, in more peripheral areas that have relatively poor transport infrastructure. This would result in the following changes:
  • More (and sooner) development proposed in the following areas:
    • Great North Road between Karangahape Road and Grey Lynn shops
    • New North Road between Eden Terrace and Kingsland
    • Great South Road between Newmarket and Penrose
    • The Western Line rail corridor between Avondale and Mt Eden stations (both in advance of the City Rail Link and more particularly once it has been constructed)
    • Around stations on the Northern Busway, particularly Akoranga and Smales Farm station, which are closest to the city centre
  • Development directed away from (and/or delayed) the following areas:
    • Warkworth as a satellite centre (because of its heritage constraints, its poor transport infrastructure and its peripheral location)
    • Area 5, Kaipatiki – until congestion issues relating to Onewa Road have been resolved (if this is possible).
    • Area 8, Whau – until a Northwest Busway along State Highway 16 has been constructed providing improved public transport access to the northern part of this area. New Lynn should still be prioritised as a metropolitan centre because of the significant investment which has occurred in its infrastructure.
    • Area 11, Central South – until other investments have boosted land values to the point where redevelopment is market-attractive. Until such a time it seems unlikely that intensification will occur here, unless led by Housing New Zealand Corporation.
    • Area 13, South – for the same reasons as area 11 above

More detail is necessary to clarify the size of the proposed satellite centres – whether they are envisaged to grow by 50%, 100% or more throughout the period of the Auckland Plan.

2.3.    Areas for Greenfield Investigation

I support the relatively limited extent of the areas for greenfield investigation. As noted above, to ensure Auckland’s rural environment is protected and to ensure efficiencies with infrastructure provision, it is necessary for most development to occur within the existing urban limits.

I do have some concerns about whether 25% of Auckland’s growth can be accommodated within the relatively small areas identified, further detail on this matter is probably necessary to ensure that there is some certainty the areas for Greenfield investigation will not get much bigger. Further detail is required about the extent of greenfield development envisaged to occur in each of the satellite centres.

If greenfield development is to occur, then I think Map D2 indicates the most appropriate places for this development to occur.

3.     Housing (chapter 9)

This part of my submission focuses on chapter 9 of the proposed plan, although there are clearly links with chapter 8, as land-use planning regulations will need to be amended in order to achieve the goals of chapter 9.

As noted above, I support the ‘big picture’ goals of the Auckland Plan in relation to housing. Housing has become increasingly unaffordable for Aucklanders over the past decade in particular, leading to the potential for enormous inter-generational inequity, with many people who did not own a house by 2000 potentially never being able to do so, because prices have increased so much more than average income.

A key part of making housing more affordable is to increase its supply. Therefore I support the target to increase dwelling construction to 10,000 a year by 2013.

I do think that “Priority 1: increase housing supply to meet demand” needs to be more directive about how this will be achieved. In particular, it should give direction to the future Unitary Plan to have planning rules that promote housing affordability and the easier construction of residential intensification. For example, the Unitary Plan could be required to consider the following matters:

  • Focus on quality urban outcomes rather than fixed “minimum lot size” rules.
  • Allow provision of ‘granny flats’ in most parts of the urban environment.
  • Allow existing houses to be ‘split’ into units without the need for expensive consents.
  • Do not require excessive amounts of parking, which add to the cost of housing.
  • Ensure that land within areas proposed for intensification is not compromised through lower-density development (ie. have minimum development levels).

While I support “Priority 4 – improve housing affordability”, once again I think it needs to be more directive to future planning documents about how this will be achieved. Many cities overseas provide developers with bonus floor area, in return for the provision of affordable housing units. A bonus system, or other similar planning regulations, should be analysed to encourage a much more detailed and focused approach to matching up land-use regulations with housing affordability.

4.     Transport

I support the Auckland Plan’s strong focus on improving Auckland’s public transport system. As the opening night of the Rugby World Cup most clearly illustrated, it is the poor quality of the city’s public transport which holds Auckland back from becoming a truly world class city.

4.1.    The need to prioritise:

As an overall comment, I think that the Auckland Plan risks not being able to achieve its transport goals by not making difficult decisions about which projects should proceed and which projects should not. While the wording of the Plan wishes to create a significant shift away from Auckland’s car dependency, a number of exceedingly expensive (and disruptive) roading projects are proposed (beyond those already approved):

Project Cost
Puhoi-Wellsford $1.4 billion
Neilson Street east-west link $1.25 billion
State Highway pinch-points $1.2 billion
Airport road access improvements $730 million
Additional Waitemata Crossing $5.3 billion (up to)
Port-Grafton Gully connection $1 billion
Total $10.88 billion

This level of expenditure on roading projects will not only have the opportunity cost of reduced funding available for other transport projects, but is also likely to undermine many of the Auckland Plan’s transport goals: especially goals of increasing non-car peak trips and increasing public transport modeshare.

Many of the projects listed above have the potential to generate significant adverse environmental effects. This has the potential to undermine many of the principles outlined in Box 11.1 – especially those that seek to create a balance between movement and place.

4.2.    Which projects to prioritise:

It is clear that the Auckland Plan needs to make some tough decisions about which transport projects it wishes to prioritise, particularly if it becomes difficult to find additional funding sources. To ensure that the prioritisation process is done effectively, there should be a number of clear principles included in the Auckland Plan (which link back to the goals the plan is trying to achieve) that help this process.

The transport targets in the Auckland Plan (page 159) are supported, but need further elaboration in the surrounding text of the Plan to make it clearer that projects will be prioritised according to their contribution to these goals. It is noted that the targets generally fit into three categories:

  • Improving alternatives to private vehicle travel
    • Target 1:  increasing non-car trips in peak period to 37% by 2040
    • Target 2: increasing PT modeshare to the city centre to 69% by 2040
    • Target 5: have 80% of growth centres on the RTN or QTN network by 2040
  • Reducing congestion for freight traffic
    • Target 4: 20% reduction in peak time congestion for freight by 2040
  • Improve road safety:
    • Target 3: no more than 40 deaths and 288 serious injuries in 2040

These goals give very strong direction that the Auckland Plan’s project prioritisation should be based around placing far more emphasis on public transport improvements than has happened in the past. It is notable that there are no targets relating to general traffic, which means the Plan wishes to focus on other matters to a greater extent.

Given the focus of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets, it is surprising to see so many roading projects proposed – up to $11 billion of projects as outlined in the table earlier in this submission. There are also some key public transport projects which have been missed out from the Plan. Specific comments on projects are outlined below:

Projects that should be given a lower priority:

  • The Puhoi-Wellsford road should not be a priority for the Auckland Plan because it does not contribute to achieving the Plan’s transport targets and may well undermine its land-use aspirations by encouraging more urban sprawl. Many of the problems faced along this route could be resolved through safety upgrades and a Warkworth bypass – measures that should be prioritised.
  • The Neilson Street east-west link should be assessed with greater rigour before becoming a priority project. While a roading upgrade along this route would help achieve Target 4 (as it is a very busy freight route) there may be much less expensive ways to reduce congestion for freight than a fully-blown motorway. Any motorway to motorway connection with State Highway 20 is likely to be unconsentable, as previous proposals to upgrade the Neilson interchange with SH20 were declined consent.
  • Many of the State Highway pinch-point projects should also be assessed with greater rigour to determine their cost-effectiveness and contribution to the Auckland Plan targets before being included as high priority projects. Motorway widening tends to only induce further traffic, rather than ease congestion (most of Auckland’s widest motorways are also its most congested), while other projects such as a SH18-SH1 connection seem unnecessary except to “look nicer” on a map. The Auckland Plan should split out each project included in this bundle to ensure they are cost-effective and contribute positively to the plan’s targets – as some will and some won’t.
  • While Airport Road Access improvements are necessary to support growing visitor numbers and a growing employment node at the airport, they should be undertaken in a way that’s integrated with public transport improvements in the area. For example, the grade separation of SH20A from Kirkbride Road should make provision for a future Airport Railway Line.
  • An additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is completely unnecessary in the timeframe of the Auckland Plan, as traffic across the Harbour Bridge has been falling over the past five years. The current proposed crossing adds traffic capacity between Akoranga and the city centre, but nowhere else on the motorway network – this will only encourage more cars into the city centre (completely undermining the City Centre Master Plan and Target 2 of the Auckland Plan). A rail only crossing option should be looked at as a cheaper alternative.
  • The Port-Grafton Gully project is likely to help benefit freight, but once again its significant cost should be analysed properly before the project is included as a priority. At-grade upgrades to The Strand and Stanley Street may be able to provide most of the benefits of a fully grade-separated solution, at a fraction of the price.

Projects that should be considered for inclusion:

  • A Northwest Busway along State Highway 16 should be included in the Auckland Plan to help support Westgate as a priority Metropolitan Centre. Without this project, Westgate risks becoming extremely auto-dependent in the future, undermining the goals of the Auckland Plan.
  • Further detail on the implementation of high quality bus corridors (or light-rail where appropriate) throughout Auckland, giving effect to the Quality Transport Network.

All the roading projects highlighted above may also undermine targets in the Auckland Plan relating to other matters, such as reducing CO2 emissions and limiting urban sprawl. A key purpose of the Auckland Plan is to ensure better integration across Council activities, but the current proposed list of transport projects is inconsistent with this goal – by undermining both the targets in the transport chapter and other targets throughout the Auckland Plan.

4.3.    Transport Principles:

There have been some changes to the transport principles from the Auckland Unleashed discussion document to what is outlined in Box 11.1. One key principle outlined in Auckland Unleashed that has not been carried forward into the Draft Auckland Plan is the need to be adaptable. This oversight is considered unfortunate, as we should build transport systems which are resilient and robust to change over time: whether that change be sudden shocks, new technologies or long-term shifts.

Increasing oil scarcity and the need to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions are two examples of global issues which require the decision-making process about which transport projects to prioritise to keep the need for adaptability in mind.