Fallout for rail from the election result

The election result on the weekend was obviously not particularly conducive to achieving where I think the country’s transport policy should be heading, but I wasn’t quite expecting things to go bad quite so quickly. First, here’s new North Shore MP Maggie Barry talking about the City Rail Link and a duplicate harbour crossing (road based, one assumes):

Maggie Barry hit the ground running as the North Shore electorate’s first woman MP.

The morning after National’s resounding victory she sent a strong message to Auckland mayor Len Brown, saying there would be a CBD rail link before a second harbour crossing “over our dead bodies”.

And the former broadcaster also affirmed her support for the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway extension.

She attacked those who have labelled it the “holiday highway.

“I refuse to use the `H’ word. It will be an umbilical cord for the far north and its economy.

“It is an arrogance for the critics to take money already set aside for this purpose and use it for something else.”

It’s a bit difficult to know how much thought she has put into these matters before sounding off on them. Does she realise that the cost of a road-based tunnel is around $5 billion, or does she support a bridge option? Does she understand how pointless the additional crossing is in the next decade or so, because traffic across the harbour bridge is falling? One suspects not.

Second, we have the two councillors who continue to oppose the City Rail Link – George Wood and Cameron Brewer – using the election result to continue to push their argument (not shared by the rest of the council) against the project:

The returning National Government is unwilling to commit to Auckland’s city rail link and the project should be put on the backburner before the expensive plans topple the council’s credit rating, two city councillors say.

The proposed 3.5km underground loop would include stations at Karangahape Rd, Aotea Square and Newton at a cost of $2.4 billion and, according to council, unlock the economic potential of the inner city and transform Auckland’s rail network.

But uncertainty about how the project will be funded, and a lack of support from the National-led Government, is putting Auckland Council at risk of a credit downgrade.

Earlier this month Standard & Poor’s put the council on a 90-day credit watch due to projected levels of debt needed to fund major transport infrastructure.

Councillors George Wood and Cameron Brewer say as a result the council needs to consider reprioritising the ambitious project which the Government is yet to commit funding for.

The council has indicated it expects the Government to contribute 50 per cent to costs but incumbent Transport Minister Steven Joyce has previously said he is not convinced by the council’s business case for the project.

The details of the credit-rating downgrade show that its impact on borrowing cost is relatively minor. Most of the former councils have the same rating as Auckland Council now does.

I feel it’s going to be a long three years as we try to push forward with this project.

Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade moves forward

The upgrade of Tiverton Road and Wolverton Street, linking SH20 with New Lynn, is shifting forwards – with construction due to begin next year and continue for around two years. The project will effectively widen these two roads from being one lane each way to two lanes each way, as well as turning a couple of existing roundabouts into signalised intersections.

The project’s information page summarises what’s proposed:

Auckland Transport will be upgrading roads to enable a continuous four-lane carriageway for east-west traffic between Clark Street and New Windsor Road, while also providing better access for key business areas of New Lynn, Lansford Crescent and adjacent businesses on Rosebank Road.

Some intersections will be signalised to provide safe movement for vehicles and pedestrians across this corridor. Crossing points with refuge islands will be provided to improve pedestrian safety. Lighting will also be upgraded along the route with new poles and lamps.

On an alternative transit route via Richardson Road, White Swan Road, Hillsborough Road and Donovan Road, intersection signalisation and minor upgrades may be made to improve traffic flows and pedestrian crossings.

Wider footpaths (mainly 2.5 metres on the northern side of the route and 1.8 metres on the southern side) will support safer and improved walking.

The look of the corridor will be improved with the planting of around 105 trees and the undergrounding of Vector power and Telecom services.

Cyclists will be provided with a sign-posted cycle route bypassing Wolverton Street and Tiverton Road, to link the New Lynn town centre to the SH20 cycleway route. The bypass route is on Miranda Street, Margate Road, Mulgan Street, and New Windsor Road.

Fibre-to-the-door ducts will be installed to future-proof the corridor in readiness for ultra-fast broadband and some vehicle crossings and driveways will be upgraded where required for safety reasons.

Old asbestos cement water distribution mains will be removed, relocated and upgraded with polyethylene pipework. Storm water culverts will have flood protection improvements to strengthen the structures and minimise blockage.

Once the main structural works are completed, a major renewal of the road surfaces will be undertaken.

Auckland City Council started the project a few years back, completing a section between Blockhouse Bay Road and Whitney Street. However, budget constraints delayed the rest of the project which has proved to be quite a big problem as the opening of the SH20 Mt Roskill extension has pushed quite a lot of extra traffic onto this route over the past few years. The section already completed in shown in blue below, with the current project noted in red:  A few images showing before and after views are included below:

While no cycleway is proposed along the route itself, there will be improved cycling facilities along adjacent, much quieter, streets. This seems to be a fairly sensible approach (click here for more detail):In terms of being a necessary road upgrade, I’m fully supportive of this project. Opening SH20 without upgrading this road has put huge pressure on Tiverton Road and Wolverton Street – leading to significant congestion. It’s a bit disappointing that the upgrade doesn’t seem to cater much for public transport. While few routes currently travel along here, it seems a fairly logical route for service improvements in the future. Let’s hope that there are some details to the design which support PT – like bus stop placement, advance boxes at traffic lights and so forth.

PT Basics – operating costs

Human Transit has an excellently detailed analysis of public transport operating costs, which comes from Jarrett Walker’s upcoming book that’s bound to end up being a bible for public transport planners around the world. Each year we spend close to $150 million subsidising public transport in Auckland, so it’s utterly essential for us to ensure we’re running the most efficient system possible and making best use of that money. We need to have a good idea about how PT operating costs work and also look at where we can save money without reducing service quality/quantity. This is an issue I touched upon in this recent post.

Jarrett notes that there are a number of components to operating costs:

  • Time-based costs vary based on how many transit vehicles are operating and for how long. The dominant time-based cost is the wages and benefits of the driver and any other on-board employees, which we pay for by the hour.
  • Distance-based costs vary with the odometer reading of the transit vehicle. As in cars, most of transit’s maintenance and fuel costs are distance-based.
  • Fleet-based costs vary with the number of transit vehicles owned. Fleet size is based on the number of vehicles needed to run the most intensive part of the service day, typically the commute period which transit planners call the peak. Fleet size drives some maintenance cost, but it main impact is the cost of the vehicles themselves, and of the facilities needed to store and maintain them.
  • Finally, there may be some administrative costs unrelated to any of these, though in fact most administration costs are roughly proportional to the other measures of size.

One thing to keep in mind, when thinking about operating costs, is that getting an additional vehicle on the road/track at peak times costs a lot more than getting that vehicle in service outside the peak – because of ‘fleet-based costs’, and to a lesser extent ‘ time based costs’ (need more staff on expensive/messy split shifts).

Generally the biggest section of operating costs is spent on labour, especially for bus based systems where you have fewer passengers per employee. Labour is obviously a time-based cost, and if we can reduce time-based costs (like shifting to a ticketing system for our trains that doesn’t require a huge number of on-board staff) then we can save a huge chunk of our operating costs. I’m looking forward to seeing our per-trip rail subsidy plunging over the next few years as we shift to the new ticketing system. It is time-based labour costs which I suspect will end up providing the ‘tipping point’ for North Shore rail becoming financially viable: it will become hugely expensive to run hundreds and hundreds of buses from the North Shore to the city at peak times in the future. A driverless metro, like what Nick suggested in this post, would have massively lower operating costs than continuing to add and add buses.

Another key consideration in operating costs is what Jarrett calls “lumpiness” – where trip length is just above or just below allowing a logical number of vehicles you need to operate the service:

Lumpiness has important consequences when designing lower-frequency networks, such as local bus routes in low-density suburbs. In these cases, good planning designs routes to be of a certain length, so that they will run an efficient cycle. If our network of local routes is meant to all run every 30 minutes, for example, we try to design routes that cycle in 29 or 59 minutes, but not 31 or 61.

A small deterioration in speed can cause sudden big changes in operating cost. If we’re running 30-minute frequencies on a route that cycles in 29 minutes, that will require one vehicle. But if for some reason the line slows down just a little, so that it now cycles in 31 minutes, we have to add a whole additional vehicle and driver, doubling the cost of running the line. A mere 7% increase in the cycle time has become a 100% increase in operating cost. In that case, a planner may try to redesign the route to make it shorter.

The Western Line is a classic example of this, with a 53 minute running time between Britomart and Swanson allowing 15 minute frequencies with 9 trains and three and a half minute layovers at each end – but, the running time to Waitakere station of 58 minutes being just a bit too tight. This means an extra train is needed for Saturday services compared to what would otherwise be required, rather a waste of money and probably partly explaining why Saturday train frequencies on the Western Line are still a pathetic hourly service.

Of course one way to increase frequencies at no cost is to increase the speed of a particular service. If we think about Northern Express buses, because the busway allows them to travel so quickly we can get pretty high frequencies out of many fewer buses than would be required if each service took a lot longer to complete its route. This is the magic of bus lanes and other bus priority measures: not only do they make the trip faster and therefore more attractive for users (probably increasing farebox recovery rates and requiring a lower subsidy), but also the faster trip means that it takes fewer buses and fewer drivers to maintain a certain level of frequency.

To finish, Jarrett highlights perhaps the three most important aspects of thinking about operating costs when designing networks:

  • Every increase in frequency is an increase in service hours, and thus in operating cost. If you want to increase service on a line from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes, that will double the cost of running the line. This is why most transit agencies would like their service to be more frequent, but have trouble affording that frequency.
  • Every increase in average speed is a savings in service hours, and thus in operating cost. If we can cut the cycle time of a line by 25%, that cuts its operating cost by 25%. This is why transit agencies are always trying to control delay.
  • At low frequencies, operating cost is lumpy. Because you can’t run a fraction of a driver, small differences in speed or frequency can create large differences in operating cost, if the overall frequency is low.

As I noted at the start of the post, it’s critical for us to think deeply about these issues if we want to improve our PT network at relatively low cost.

Is the end of sprawl nigh?

A fascinating article in the New York Times looks at how changing demographics and the housing crash the USA has experienced over the past five years is changing the future form of their cities – away from car dependent urban sprawl and towards higher-density walkable urban areas.

Drive through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either…

… It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.

In the late 1990s, high-end outer suburbs contained most of the expensive housing in the United States, as measured by price per square foot, according to data I analyzed from the Zillow real estate database. Today, the most expensive housing is in the high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of the center city and inner suburbs. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas are Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington. Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, they have been transformed by gentrification.

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.

Certainly in Auckland we have seen some of the same process happening over the past 20-30 years. Parts of the inner-city, like Ponsonby and Freemans Bay, that were verging on being slums in the 1960s and 1970s are now some of the most sought-after places to live. We have also seen, over the past 15 years, a dramatic increase in the number of people living in the city centre.

What we haven’t seen so much is the real estate crash the USA has experienced, the vast empty parking lots (except for Manukau City of course), vacant strip malls, empty houses and so forth. I suspect that this is largely due to our urban limits – which made ‘over-building’ during the boom years that much more difficult.

An interesting question is how these trends might continue into the future, and here’s where demographic change becomes important:

The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.

Over all, only 12 percent of future homebuyers want the drivable suburban-fringe houses that are in such oversupply, according to the Realtors survey.

There still seems to be quite a lag in Auckland between our changing demographics and the types of housing which are being built. Even though an aging population means smaller and smaller household sizes, we continue to construct larger and larger houses. I’m guessing that it’s probably our planning rules at fault here, which prevent the splitting of existing houses into smaller units and generally discourage urban intensification. This is setting ourselves up for a huge imbalance in the future between the demand for smaller places and the supply of oversize houses.

The connections between these changes and transport shouldn’t be under-estimated. The article highlights that the transport decisions which will support our future urban form may be very different to those we have been making in the past. Critically, and I could not support this issue more, local government should have a greater say over how transport money is spent:

The cities and inner-ring suburbs that will be the foundation of the recovery require significant investment at a time of government retrenchment. Bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements — what traffic engineers dismissively call “alternative transportation” — are vital. So is the repair of infrastructure like roads and bridges. Places as diverse as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Charlotte, Denver and Washington have recently voted to pay for “alternative transportation,” mindful of the dividends to be reaped. As Congress works to reauthorize highway and transit legislation, it must give metropolitan areas greater flexibility for financing transportation, rather than mandating that the vast bulk of the money can be used only for roads.

For too long, we over-invested in the wrong places. Those retail centers and subdivisions will never be worth what they cost to build. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.

I really do hope the final version of the Auckland Plan takes these matters into consideration.

Auckland bucks the trend?

The interactive maps of the election results hosted on Scoop are a highly addictive tool to play around with. A map that I found particularly interesting runs a comparison of how Labour & Greens did in 2008 and 2011, with how National & Act did in the last two elections. Blue indicates the electorates in which the party vote shifted towards National & Act (obviously, without exception, predominantly to National) and red indicates electorate where the party vote shifted towards Labour and the Greens: You can see that pretty much the entire country shifted, to a great or lesser extent, towards National/Act. Some places more than others of course. Christchurch in particular seems to be an area where voters have shifted to the right over the past three years.

However, Auckland stands out as quite different to the rest of the country – as particularly the west and south of Auckland shifted back quite a lot to Labour & Greens compared to the 2008 results. There was a 9.8% swing to Labour/Greens in Manukau East, 8.8% in Manurewa, 7.1% in Mt Roskill, 6.7% in Mangere and even 4.4% in the National stronghold of Hunua. I’m not quite sure what’s behind this. Changing demographics? Dissatisfaction with the Super City? Perhaps something to do with transport?

Removing expensive bus/rail duplication

The weekend election results confirmed that money will be tight for public transport over the next three years. The proposed Government Policy Statement cuts PT infrastructure funding quite dramatically and while PT services (subsidies) funding increases, this will largely be eaten up by repayment for Auckland’s electric trains and the increased track access fee. With patronage continuing to grow, and therefore putting pressure on the need for more services in some areas, we are going to need to look really carefully at places where we can find efficiencies in the PT network.

The most obvious candidates are where our bus network currently duplicates the rail network. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the historic ineptness of the rail network, our bus system pretty much ignores the fact that we now have trains. Even where buses go past train stations the timing of their services typically fails to align. More commonly we have situations like at Onehunga – where the bus station is hidden behind the shops (horrible public transport must be hidden!) rather than being next to the new train station.

There are a few obvious examples of rail/bus duplication – with the 135 bus service and the Western Rail line being a classic case: The red line shows the Western Line, the blue line indicates the route of the 135 bus between Swanson and Britomart. At peak times, while it takes the train around an hour to make this journey (and it should be a lot faster than that!), the 135 route takes a lot longer: I can’t imagine many passengers willingly choosing to take the bus for the whole length of their journey if they’re in the outer parts of the route – unless it’s because of something like a lack of integrated ticketing or the lack of a feeder bus to get them to the nearest station. Surely most routes serving the Ranui/Swanson/Sunnyvale area should be feeder buses into Henderson and/or New Lynn stations? Most of their trip length is to get between New Lynn and downtown, something a train can obviously do much quicker.

Another classic example of pointless duplication can be found for bus services between Papakura and the city centre. Consider the map below – with once again blue being the bus route and red being the railway line:Added to this, there are a number of express buses from Papakura that travel up the motorway at peak times – although even they struggle to do the Papakura-town trip quicker than the train, which has a similar length of journey to Swanson-Britomart at around 50 minutes.

Here are all the Papakura buses in the morning peak:The time it takes some of these buses to make their trips is simply extraordinary. The 473 bus leave Red Hill at the eye-wateringly early time of 6.10am but doesn’t make it into town until after 8.00. The 471 leaves Pahurehure at 6.45 and takes almost two hours to make it into town. Even the express buses are timed to do their trip at around an hour and a quarter – 25 minutes slower than the train.

Now obviously everyone catching these buses (assuming people catch them) isn’t travelling the whole length of the route – many might simply be travelling to Manukau City for work or between stops along Great South Road – but having these buses do such incredibly long routes means that the vehicle and driver are basically occupied for the entire peak period within a single trip. In the three hours or so it might take to do a return trip between Papakura and the city (and I’m guessing most of the express buses run back empty and not in service), you could run that same bus on a feeder route three or four times at least. The “80” route already serves this purpose throughout Papakura, although it runs at stupidly low frequencies – presumably to discourage people from using it: I’m sure that with the resources currently wasted on long-haul bus services out to Swanson and Papakura we could have a far more attractive feeder bus system and probably still have a heap of money left over to plough into areas where we actually need to boost frequencies to cope with increasing patronage. The people of Papakura and Swanson would end up with a better, more frequent and faster service. The rest of the city would save money and be able to reallocate those funds to where it’s most needed.

It’s a clear win-win for everyone except the bus operator – who is currently making a tonne of money for operating empty buses all over Auckland.

Transport in the next three years

With special votes seeming likely to result in the Green Party getting one more MP, at the cost of National, and the chances of Auckland Central and/or Waitakere swinging from National to Labour being relatively (but not impossibly) slim, we have a fairly good idea about the shape of the future government.

  • We have 121 seats – a one seat overhang. This is down from the current parliament, which has 122 seats. This means that 61 seats are necessary for a majority.
  • National are likely to end up with 59 seats, which leaves them two short of a majority. They will require two “parties” (it feels a bit wrong calling one man bands of Act & United Future parties) out of United Future, Act and the Maori Party for support. This shouldn’t be too difficult. Ironically Labour might be kicking themselves for winning Te Tai Tonga as then there’d be a two seat overhang and National would need all three of these support parties – a much harder ask.
  • Interestingly, the total number of seats of parties generally supporting the government is down from 69 to 65 (assuming the Maori Party supports them), which gives a little less breathing space than we had previously. If either John Banks or Peter Dunne disagree with National on anything then they could make life pretty difficult – although I think this is unlikely as both will probably become defacto National MPs.

What does this all mean for transport? Well obviously the government is likely to continue with its current policies – as I outlined in this post we are likely to see further investigation of four additional Roads of National Significance. Personally I think these extra roads are more election bribes than anything else as there’s unlikely to be any money in the transport budget for major new projects for at least a decade if the government keeps pushing forward on their current RoNS.

In three years time obviously Victoria Park Tunnel will be fully completed and opened (I wonder if it will still be plagued by horrific congestion, I suspect so), construction on the Waterview Connection will be in full swing and widening of the SH16 causeway should be well under way. I’m not entirely sure what progress is expected to be made on Puhoi-Wellsford by that stage. Assuming that Labour and the Green Party stick to their pledge to scale back this road, a change of government in three years time could well mean that the “holiday highway” never happens, unless so much construction on it has occurred by 2014 that it’s impossible to back out of. I think that’s unlikely.

My pick for the big “elephant in the room” issue for road construction over the next three years will be declining fuel tax receipts putting enormous pressure on NZTA’s ability to actually deliver on the projects the government is promising. Already this year we are seeing NZTA finding it desperately difficult to “pay the bills”, having to put off many of its subsidies that go to Auckland Transport for a month or two here and there, so that they can manage their incredibly tight cashflow. If petrol prices continue to rise between now and 2014 this trend will only increase and we might find it very difficult to fund either the smaller projects (generally those with the best cost-benefit ratios) or we may have to be looking at delaying some of NZTA’s bigger projects. I feel that even increasing NZTA’s ability to borrow (as proposed in the LTMA reforms) will only delay this inevitability.

Of course it’s not all doom and gloom over the next three years. By late 2014 pretty much all our flash new electric trains should be running on the Auckland rail network, and judging by recent trends our rail patronage may be getting close to 15 million trips a year. With an enlarged Greens caucus, and key Labour MPs with a strong interest in Auckland transport issues (Phil Twyford, David Shearer and Jacinda Ardern) being returned to parliament and identified as rising stars, there should be an even better informed political debate over transport in the future. As I have noted in a few recent posts, I am particularly excited that Julie-Anne Genter has made it into parliament – I’m looking forward to parliament’s first questions on parking policy!

Like with many things, the real wildcard might be New Zealand First. Which side of the political divide they fall on transport policy is probably yet to be determined, but they may find it a useful weapon to attack the government on. Although Andrew Williams was clearly the worst mayor North Shore City ever had, the fact that he has been in that position means that he must have a reasonably good awareness of transport matters in the Auckland area – which must be a good thing.

Certainly, it’ll be an interesting three years.

Thoughts on the election result

Things went largely as expected last night with the election results, although a few of the results (particularly NZ First getting back in) were a bit of a surprise. Here are the preliminary party vote results – with another 220,000 odd special votes still to be counted: The 13 seats for the Greens Party (and they traditionally go up a seat on special votes) means that Julie-Anne Genter will get into parliament, which is pretty awesome as we’ll have a transport planner there to put the tough questions to Steven Joyce over the next three years.

Somewhat more frustratingly, if you look at the results for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye is just over 500 votes ahead of Jacinda Ardern – although there are still around 6000 special votes to be counted. If Nikki had lost Auckland Central to Jacinda it would have been quite a strong message sent to the government about the transport policies of the two major parties. Ironically, the current majority is well under the number of electorate votes for Green candidate Denise Roche – so all you Green Party supporters who couldn’t split your vote have undermined your own transport goals. Fools! There are quite a few interesting things about this result, moving forwards:

  • Because “Keep MMP” easily won the referendum (at least the advance votes, but the final votes should be pretty similar) it seems that we will definitely keep that system, which I think is overall a very good thing.
  • If you combine the party results into “centre-left” and “centre-right” parties, the vote split is remarkably similar to the 2008 election. National has just mopped up votes from Act while Labour lost votes to Greens and NZ First.
  • The turnout seems to have been remarkably low, at below 75% once special votes are counted. This worked against Labour as in electorates like Mangere (Labour’s strongest in the country) there were only 21,000 votes whereas in many rural  electorates there were well over 30,000 votes.
  • I wonder what NZ First’s approach to transport matters will be. I’d better have a search through their policies…
  • If the Greens can maintain something like their vote share at the next election (which I think will be a challenge against an inevitably revitalised Labour) then in 2014 I think we’re likely to see National remaining the largest party but not being able to form a government.

But perhaps the weirdest thing of the whole night is the electorate result for Christchurch Central. With the special votes still to be counted the Labour and National candidates are dead even.

The Election

After a comparatively short campaign, thanks to the Rugby World Cup, the election is upon us tomorrow. I have previously written about the transport policies of National, Labour and the Greens in separate posts so I won’t go over those again. Perhaps the most significant shift in transport policy over the past three years has been from Labour, who have shifted their emphasis away from so much of a roads focus to a more balanced viewpoint on transport.

Obviously transport policies form but a small portion of why people choose to vote the way they do. This situation frustrates me somewhat, not necessarily because people should take transport policy into greater consideration when making their voting choice – even I can recognise that there are many more important issues that would decide your vote – but because central government holds the purse-strings on transport decisions to such a great extent. In contrast, transport is a very high priority issue for people voting in local government elections, yet councils typically find themselves unable to implement their plans if central government doesn’t come to the party. A fundamental transport policy I would like to see in the future is giving local government more say over transport matters generally – because I think that would be more democratic.

As I noted above, the changes to Labour’s transport mindset over the past three years has been significant and is greatly welcomed. I think that the election of Len Brown last year on a strong public transport mandate has given Labour the confidence that even though only a relatively small minority of people actually use public transport on a daily basis, a much greater chunk of the population recognises that, particularly in Auckland, a more balanced world-class transport system is essential for reducing the impact of congestion and helping Auckland become a truly world-class city. I have gotten to know a number of excellent “up and coming” Labour MPs over the past three years and I’m confident that their transport policy will continue to move in the right direction in the future.

While the Green Party’s transport policy has always been excellent, one thing that really excites me about their prospects is the quality of MPs that may be brought into parliament if the Greens’ vote can match their recent polling (something which has traditionally been a challenge for them). In particular, at number 13 on the Green Party list (requiring around 10.5% of the vote, or more if NZ First reaches 5%) is Julie Anne-Genter, a transport planner by profession. Julie’s knowledge about the impact of things like parking policies on transport trends and land-use patterns is huge – as you can see in the video below.

While many aspects of National’s transport policy continue to disappoint me, in particular the cutting of funding for public transport infrastructure over the next decade in the Government Policy Statement, I have at least been heartened by many of their billboards including mention of “rail”, along with roads and broadband as key parts of their investment in infrastructure. We must also remember some of the good things National has done: like providing $90 million to enable the order of a much larger set of electric trains and the $500 million for the infrastructure part of electrification – which has come out of general government funds rather than having to be repaid through a regional fuel tax (not that I think a regional fuel tax is a bad idea, but Wellington’s electrification infrastructure was paid for by central government so it seemed unfair that Auckland’s wasn’t).

Finally, it’s extremely important to remember that there are restrictions on what we can and cannot discuss tomorrow, in terms of the election. The Electoral Act 1993 very importantly restricts electoral advertising on Election Day – which extends to internet media such as this blog. Russell Brown has an informative post up explaining the situation and I’m going to largely approach things the way he has suggested. It’s not just a legal issue though, as one of the greatest things about New Zealand’s democracy is how we can vote without a gun to our head or without any pressure over which way to vote on that particular day. So a few things to keep in mind:

• Tomorrow we must not discuss the election in a way that is likely to influence people’s votes.
• It is OK to discuss voting experiences we had (i.e. the process) and to encourage people to vote.
• After 7pm (when polling booths close) is it OK to start discussing results.

If I have the time and energy I may post results updates throughout tomorrow evening.

Please, do remember to vote

Wellington Street onramp to stay closed?

There was an interesting media release from NZTA today about the Wellington Street onramp, which has stayed closed since the opening of the Victoria Park Tunnel on Monday last week.

The NZ Transport Agency has deferred a decision on re-opening Auckland’s Wellington Street on-ramp until after the Victoria Park Tunnel Project is completed next year. The on-ramp feeds central city traffic to the northbound lanes of State Highway 1.

The NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker, says while the on-ramp was due to re-open this month, the Agency has opted to continue the closure while only two of the Victoria Park tunnel’s three lanes are in operation.

“Opening the on-ramp now would create an extra lane feeding traffic into a tunnel that is currently not operating at its full capacity,” Mr Parker says. “We need to complete the motorway improvements in St Marys Bay before we can open that third lane with any benefit to drivers. It is not in the best interest of drivers to open the third lane until that work is finished.”

Mr Parker says it was necessary to open two tunnel lanes now so that the NZTA could close the northbound lanes on the Victoria Park flyover and prepare them for southbound traffic in the New Year. The tunnel’s third lane will be opened in March when construction to widen the motorway through St Marys Bay is finished, and the moveable lane barrier on the Auckland Harbour Bridge is extended to Fanshawe Street to improve peak hour traffic flows.

Considering the mayhem that has happened since the tunnel opened, I’m certainly not surprised that NZTA are in no hurry to reopen this onramp. But what’s perhaps more interesting are a few of the next paragraphs, which suggest that NZTA is keen on keeping the ramp closed permanently:

Mr Parker says that the NZTA and Auckland Transport will jointly review how the Wellington Street on-ramp should operate in the future.

“The on-ramp has been closed twice during the tunnel project. During these closures our monitoring has shown that traffic has flowed more freely through the central motorway junction,” he says.

“After next March, when drivers have adjusted to the third tunnel lane and new layout through St Marys Bay, we will have a clearer understanding of the benefits the Victoria Park Tunnel project delivers to the Auckland network, including CBD traffic patterns. We will undertake a six-month review of, the impacts and benefits and expect to announce a final decision about the on-ramp around the middle of next year. “

Mr Parker says the Agency understands that the on-ramp’s future will have an impact on the surrounding community and the NZTA and Auckland Transport are committed to keeping the community informed about the progress of that review as it develops.

I’m actually somewhat surprised it’s taken this long for the idea of closing Wellington Street onramp to come through. I’d shift the ramp to Newton Road – something like this alignment: The problem with reopening Wellington Street, even after there’s a third northbound lane open through the tunnel, is that the onramp will need to merge with the three northbound lanes at a fairly tricky point on the network – just after the SH16-SH1 ramp has joined with the motorway and just before the road ducks into a tunnel. With the mayhem of the last two weeks I think that adding a whole pile of traffic at this point of the network would be a bad idea.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.