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Transport in 2011: some steps forward, some steps backwards

Trying to get my head around whether 2011 was a good year or not such a good year for advocates of a more balanced transport system like myself, is a bit of a challenge. There were a number of good things which happened, but at the same time there were also a number of steps backward. Here’s my brief summary of the year.

The early months of 2011 were a time when Auckland Council and Auckland Transport were still very much “settling in”. We saw some really interesting first glimpses of what the council’s vision for Auckland’s city centre was in January, we found out that Len Brown’s goal for public transport patronage was 150 million trips a year by 2021 (and we wondered how that would be achieved). We also saw construction of the now open Wynyard Quarter tram loop. Submissions on preferred options for the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the holiday highway were written.

The February 22 earthquake in Christchurch obviously stands out as the whole country’s biggest event of the year, but seemed to have a remarkably little impact on the transport discussion here in Auckland. The government passed over a golden opportunity to back down over Puhoi-Wellsford (or at least downgrade it to something more sensible at a time when the whole country would have understood such a move), while Auckland Council sensibly pointed out that it would be many more years before serious money for the City Rail Link project was required. Behind the scenes, it was becoming fairly clear that officials reviewing the business case for the CRL were unlikely to come to agreement on the project’s merits.

In March the Auckland Unleashed discussion document was released, outlining the Council’s vision – at a broad-bush level – for Auckland over the next 30 years. We saw a great video of Len Brown’s rail vision for Auckland, but once again this positivity was tempered by the government’s feedback on the document (weirdly released before the discussion document) that pushed for more sprawl and more roads. Following hot on the heels of all that spatial plan discussion, we finally saw some progress on the implementation of a smartcard ticketing system in Auckland, with the launch of HOP. Unfortunately the complexity of the deal done between Auckland Transport, Thales, Snapper, NZ Bus, NZTA and so forth meant that the launch was generally met more by confusion than celebration.

From the optimism of those early months (earthquakes aside), the middle months of the year were a little more depressing – although the superb patronage stats throughout the year tempered this disappointment. The 2012 Government Policy Statement for Land Transport Funding turned out to be even stupider and more roads-obsessed than its 2009 predecessor, proposing additional RoNS that were so crazy they didn’t even end up being adopted into National’s election transport policy. But perhaps the biggest disappointment of those middle months was the review of the City Rail Link project, with the narrow-minded thinking of Ministry of Transport officials ignoring matters as fundamental as the bus and car capacity of the CBD when assessing the merits of the project. It was not a great year for the MoT, who also managed to forget to record the spending of around $180 million.

On a brighter note, the actual implementation of the HOP card went smoother than most (including myself) had expected. Bus loading times declined dramatically thanks to the speed of tagging on (although I still get annoyed at the cash-paying idiots who block the whole entranceway – any chance of some signage NZ Bus?) On a personal note, June was a pretty epic month with baby Adele arriving five weeks earlier than anticipated, leading to a couple of weeks of very regular travel to the hospital.

August saw the introduction of the Outer Link bus, as well as significance reconfiguration of all Western Bays services. Although further tweaks have been necessary (and probably will continue to be necessary in the future), overall the changes were very positive and have led to an increase in patronage exceeding what was forecast. After that, all eyes turned to the Rugby World Cup, which began on that fateful day of September 9th.

The transport chaos of RWC opening night was very unfortunate, but told us some very insightful things. As suspected, the CCO model of delivering many of council’s services through separate agencies did mean that they became siloed and didn’t talk to each other over matters as simple as the number of people expected to attend opening night. The highly fractured structure of running public transport in Auckland meant that everyone could point the finger at everyone else, whilst avoiding responsibility for that happened. But more positively, we also saw (and hopefully didn’t put off forever) an unprecedented willingness of Aucklanders to use public transport. There were over 140,000 rail trips around Auckland on September 9th, there probably could have been over 200,000 if we had the system to cope with them. I don’t think we’ve seen too much long-term damage from that evening, but perhaps we might see some long-term benefit with the realisation that it very much is Auckland’s public transport system that lets us down in our quest to become a truly world-class city.

During, and just after, the RWC, we saw draft versions of a number of really important documents that will help guide Auckland’s future. These included, the Draft Auckland Plan, the City Centre Master Plan, the Waterfront Plan and an Economic Development Strategy. I put together a fairly detailed submission on the Auckland Plan, and overall many thousands of submissions were received by the Council. Final decisions on these plans will be made in the first few months of next year.

In September we also  found out one of the best pieces of transport news for the year – that we would get 57 electric trains rather than the originally proposed 35. The excellent work by Auckland Transport to secure this deal probably hasn’t been given the praise it deserves, especially as many tens of millions of dollars were squeezed out of the government as their contribution to the additional trains. It was also very welcome to learn that the trains are going to look damn nice too.

After the RWC was finished, the election rolled around pretty quickly. While the overall result wasn’t particularly positive, as it seems we will see more of the same from central government, there were some interesting outcomes. We will have our first transport planner MP, in the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter, Labour’s new leader David Shearer has been a long-time supporter of public transport in Auckland, while Phil Twyford becoming labour’s transport spokerperson should also lead to a greater focus on Auckland transport issues. In the interests of fairness, we should give new transport minister Gerry Brownlee a chance before passing final judgment on him.

So overall it has been a pretty damn busy year when it comes to Auckland transport issues. As I noted at the start of this post, there have been a number of steps forward but also a number of steps backwards. 2012 should hopefully see the resolution of a number of these issues: a finalisation of the spatial plan, hopefully some agreed way forward on the merits of the City Rail Link, the proper implementation of integrated ticketing and many more interesting things.

I’m just hoping for a slightly less crazy year than this one.

21 comments to Transport in 2011: some steps forward, some steps backwards

  • Ben

    It has been a crazy up and down year indeed Josh. A big thanks and shout out from me personally on your blog, you and I might not always agree and see eye to eye on some issues but I always take pleasure in reading your blog and appreciate the work behind it – thank you :-)

    My moment of the year? RWC opening nigh as I was there with my co workers on Britomart Platform having (and this is me being honest) little regard to my own safety as I focused on one thing, getting passengers to the game, back from the game and then home – ALIVE!

    Well 2011 has been and gone, here comes 2012 and what will be a very interesting year
    And I’ll be back, with even more material of your two favourite sites Josh – New Geography and Macro Business ;-)

    Happy New Year and will the rain bugger off..:-)

  • Perhaps this first link is more relevant to the previous post as it helps explain how Paris streets can often be so good. Huge expansion of the Metró underway, as well as three new high speed rail intercity routes. The french understand the need to shift over to electricity based transport as a matter of urgency [all based on their nuclear supply but that's another issue, and not relevant to NZ as our supply is already 80% renewable]:

    http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2011/05/27/paris-region-moves-ahead-with-125-miles-of-new-metro-lines/

    And here an interesting article from China, where everything is bigger, but read down, these are often cities of under or around 1million people… so vital to speed interconnection with and through cities in order to allow neighbourhoods to function and retain their identities. The appeal of the low densities of Howick/Pakuranga, for example, can be best retained by solving the dreadful accessibility issues out there. Here’s how you do it:

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/usa/weekly/2011-12/30/content_14354880.htm

    So what do we need for next year…?

    • Ben

      You commenting in the right post Patrick? ;-)

    • Anthony

      That China article is just Wuhan following in similar footsteps to what happened in Beijing and Shanghai a few years ago, a subway line a year. Odd that it refers to a subway in Chongqing, unless something has changed recently, they have a LRT system. When riding it you can be underground one minute and elevated the next, or running alongside cliffs above a river. The terrain of the city is mountainous, ridges and valleys everywhere.

      • Nick R

        In Chinese terminology anything that is mostly elevated is termed ‘light rail’, even though the rolling stock and track design is otherwise identical to regular metro systems. In Wuhan for example they have several lines comprising a single metro system, but the insist on calling the above ground line light rail and the below ground ones metro.

  • For me the news story of the year was the re-election of a government that just doesn’t understand transport, and is pigheadedly ideological with its stupid-as, white elephant, gilded-turd, piss the money up the wall RoNS scheme and not backing transformational change for Auckland rail. By my estimation the delays caused by another 3 years of that clueless bunch is setting the country back about as much as the Canterbury earthquakes have.

    Wishing everyone (who didn’t vote National) a happy, prosperous, and fantastic 2012.

  • Anthony

    I don’t really see this year as having taken any steps backwards, there are just some areas that are stuck or haven’t moved forward in a positive way. It’s not like the holiday highway has progressed any further & it’s certainly not under construction. Equally, while the government is currently refusing to put any money in the direction of a rail tunnel, it hasn’t completely ruled against it pending further analysis, and has not stopped Auckland Council from pursuing it & working towards protecting the route & purchasing property.

    Something else that has happened is the tender finally being let for the construction of SH20 Waterview. For various reasons it has it’s detractors but at least now there is some certainty for those living in the area. Cycleways and rail enabling works are at least part of the mix.

    An area that has not progressed as quickly as it should have is the rollout of integrated ticketing, which has prevented the long needed shakeup of bus tendering, operation, routes & fares. This should be followed by improved service and better value for the ratepayers money.

    • Matt

      I would call the Policy Statement a definite step backwards. As you say, much of the rest is a lot of standing still, but the GPS was such a retrograde development that it can only be viewed as negative movement on transport policy.

  • Cam

    @Ben. dont think Matt was particularly harsh just calling it as it is.

    • Ben

      Oh dear. The only problem posting in text rather seeing facials is I keep forgetting to add the [/end_sarc] tag when I am either being sarcastic or using dramatic irony

  • Cam

    Apologies, you are quite right tone is something that can be hard to covey when using text to communicate.

  • Ben

    All good :)

    I wonder if Josh should set up a post for people to “blog” their travels over the Xmas/New Year Period.

    Although scouring the media it seems our holiday highway is escaping most mention at the moment.
    Probably due to our appalling road toll over the festive season.

  • The Trickster

    Speaking of holiday travelling.

    What I’ve found.

    1. Auckland – Hamilton

    Works on the Waikato Expressway seem to be rolling forward at a very fast pace including new (ridiculous) roundabouts between Taupiri and Hamilton which you cannot see over the other side and have to kind of ‘hope’ that nothing is wanting to turn right across you.

    2. Auckland – Lang’s Beach

    Heavy traffic, but nothing too serious. The lights at Warkworth seemed to cause a few queues southbound (both before and after New Years) although we were through there within 15mins today. Could definitely do with the re-alignment and bypass work proposed, but not the stupidity that is the Holiday Highway.

    Have to note that last time I went through there (mid July) that the lights there didn’t cause a single issue. Slowed for a moment and that was it.

    • Matt

      The roundabout at Taupiri is long overdue. That intersection was a nightmare for anyone turning right, especially out of the side road. And it’s enormous for a reason: you have to slow down. You can’t see what’s coming, which generally makes people cautious, and you also cannot just dart around it because it requires such a large deviation from a straight travel path. In order to be at risk of a collision, you need to be driving like a dick.

      Before you criticise a road element design, you should understand what it’s there to address.

      • The Trickster

        Don’t get me wrong, as someone who grew up down those ways and had a couple of mates have crashes at that particular corner, I most definitely agree that the roundabout is needed, however the design is extremely strange. I’d say the only thing that could see over it is someone in the top of a double-decker bus.

        Footprint size and deviations caused aren’t a problem, however the height of it is. Its the first time I’ve seen a design quite like that instead of allowing better sight lines.

  • HOP Man

    good comments on HOP. but the project staff turn over is huge affecting continuity. a lot of managers joined and left. heard the project director is also leaving soon to lead sydney project. an insider told me that thales is running cool on time and the project is delayed a lot by poor quality from snapper. snapper is struggling in the new field and i even heard that they may leave the market when the new company parkeon comes. in the end, it means the hope that hop card will be accepted on bus rail and ferry will remain as dream this year. it will break the advertised promise of integrated ticketing for mid 2012. no body will accept the delay, but let us wait for the final game. may be TAB can put few bets on this.

    • Sounds like a big fat SNAFU on Hop. That’s what you get for trying to reinvent the wheel (there is a public domain transport smart card solution out there after all) and then tender it like it is a huge defence project, awarding it to a defence company who will over-manage, over-engineer, and underperform, all whilst letting the private companies fluff around and dictate what they want to do causing delyas and compromises (read Snapper) when a clued-up minister, a quango with 3 electronics engineers, 6 developers, 1 development manager, 1 test lead, 3 test helpers, 1 overall manager and 18 months could have delivered the project on time, with the end result of a minimal set of road tested card hardware for all transport types, secure card technology, web and phone apps for passengers, backends for the financials and a nationwide integrated ticketing solution.

      Yep a staff of 12 and 18 person years total could have done it all by now.

  • HOP Man

    true matt. the project is managed by too many managers with 3-4 doers. thales doesnt cause a for the project. but they must definitely charging too much, over engineeing stuff, but at the end of the day they have the quality and robustness. snapper if u look under the hood is all smoke and mirrors.

  • Ben

    HOP might as well go hop and Snapper caught and steamed for din dins

    Look my suggestion was and still is for a integrated ticketing is/was: flatten the fares to three zones similar to the train monthly zones (CBD being the focal point) (City Monthly, All Zones Monthly and Regional Monthly (Pukekohe)) and have 6 types of fares: Standard (for single trip, 10-trip, Monthly and/or Day Rover), Child under 12, Super Gold, Disability, Kiddies Monthly and the Family Pass.

    Options for payment, cash (ticket vending machines on station platforms or as per usual in buses) or your Credit/Debit Card.

    The type of fare would be linked to your Credit/Debit card so you swipe and go, no fuss, can be pre-done at home and very universal.

    I am sure some city was trialing this system – not sure if it was London for the Olympics.

    An idea?

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