How Can The Council Facilitate Transformation?

It won’t be enough for the council to just say where it would like development for the expected growth of Auckland to take place will be, it will have to actively facilitate growth to take place in the most desirable areas. How could it do this? Well it could do a lot worse than by starting here:

This is an award winning analysis of how to accommodate Melbourne’s expected growth along transit corridors by Professor Rob Adams. It is well worth reading the whole document, it is not overly technical, well illustrated, and short!

Melbourne faces the same issues as Auckland, only more so; expecting to double it’s population from 4 million to 8 million by 2050. The stresses of this are enormous. This study expands on earlier work based around the rail corridors so therefore is only focussed on the road corridors, however the principles are the same; build along the transit corridors and preserve the character of the existing dormitory suburbs. It concludes that it is possible to accommodate 2.4 million extra people on about 6% of the city’s land. It starts by considering the additional costs of continuing to spread:

The need for change there as here is obvious:

The authors identify the areas where it is appropriate to facilitate growth:

And areas to maintain the current quality:

And importantly the scale of development is firmly controlled in the areas of stability but higher density building is actively facilitated in the proscribed areas:

There is a great deal of detail around where and how to achieve this in the study. The scale of the problem in Auckland is smaller, but so is the available land. Wouldn’t it be great to see if this approach is possible here?  Of course we’ll also have improve the standard, reach, frequency, and quality of the city’s public transport as well.



Regional Land Transport Programme out for consultation

Auckland Transport’s first Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP) has been released for consultation (not to be confused with Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan) – with submissions due by 4pm on Friday 23 March 2012. You can read the draft RLTP as a PDF document here. The RLTP does not set transport policy, in the way that the Government Policy Statement (GPS), Regional Land Transport Strategy (RLTS) and Auckland Spatial Plan do, but rather shows how the transport policy set by those other documents will be given effect to over the next three years. Importantly, a transport project needs to be included in the RLTP for NZTA to then include that project in their National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) for funding. The web of transport policy in New Zealand certainly is complex, but the RLTP plays a fairly critical role in setting out the transport programme for the next three years – providing detail to what we had perhaps only previously thought about as high level strategy.

The RLTP picks up on the general direction of the Auckland Plan, by saying that Auckland’s significant population growth over the next 40 years will place a huge amount of pressure on the transport network – meaning that serious investment will be required. There’s a useful graph highlighting that between 2006 and 2051, Auckland’s population growth will account for around 75% of the whole country’s growth. In other words, Auckland will add three people for every person the rest of New Zealand adds: That graph is a useful thing to roll out every time someone says Auckland is focused on too much when it comes to transport spending.

Perhaps the next most interesting thing in the RLTP (after we get past all the usual pretty talk about transport investment contributing to economic growth, the ‘one system approach’ etc. etc.) is some genuine funding set aside for advancing the City Rail Link project – showing that the project really is shifting beyond being something in “far future strategies” to an actual realistic project with a path well established that will lead to its eventual completion.

Even with the CRL’s construction, roads expenditure seems to dominate what happens over the next decade though – suggesting that there may be a number of large-scale roading (especially state highways) projects that may prove to be unnecessary and could be cut back to free up funds for projects like the CRL if there’s a shortage of money (and the RLTP suggests there is): Looking at the graph above, it would seem that 2018 and 2020 would be the only years we end up spending more on the CRL than we spend on building new motorways. A pretty strange situation considering the Waterview Connection is supposed to “complete” Auckland’s motorway network (and it’s due to be finished by 2016/2017). Presumably the big spending on state highways in the later years is due to the Puhoi-Wellsford road, suggesting that the two projects do compete for funding at around the same time (contrary to what many National Party MPs were suggesting before the election).

The other interesting thing to note in the graph above is the steady, or even declining, amount of money proposed to be spent on public transport services (bus, rail and ferry subsidies). The funding demand for PT services has skyrocketed over the past decade, at a much faster pace than patronage has grown – meaning that to achieve the graph above will require a radical change to the way we operate the public transport network to make it more efficient. The very low amount of money set aside for PT infrastructure continues to be quite confusing, part of this is because the big money for projects like the AMETI busway, Dominion Road upgrade and other PT infrastructure projects will actually be coming out of the local roads allocation.

A more detailed funding allocation table is included below – which focuses on the first three years, those of direct relevance to the RLTP (later years are given just for indicative purposes): Once again probably the most interesting line in the above table relates to the City Rail Link. If we’re proposing to spend close to half a billion dollars on the project over the next three years that suggests some pretty serious progress being made on it – actual construction works beginning and not just consenting, design work and property acquisition I would guess. As an interesting comparison, here’s a very similar table from the 2009 RLTP: Looking at the total spend each year in the forthcoming RLTP has a bit more than what was proposed to be spent in the current/previous RLTP, which suggests that it’s not a completely unaffordable programme as a whole, but rather that it just needs a bit of “fat” cut off it here and there.

Another table that’s very interesting compares the amount of money Auckland is effectively asking NZTA for with the amount of money available across the whole country in that particular activity class – so we get an idea about the proportion of the whole country’s transport spend in different areas that will be dedicated to Auckland: You can see the draw on NZTA funding for public transport infrastructure and new local roads will be pretty dominant, but even for new state highways Auckland will have not far off half the country’s total spend over the next three years – which is pretty incredible as Waterview is pretty much the only large state highways project to be built in that time period.

It is difficult to know what to suggest people submit on, as the RLTP is very much a “details” document for strategic decisions that have already been made, so there’s little point submitting to say that the funding split should be radically changed – for example. Perhaps the most useful submissions might be on some of the details – is there a small-scale transport project that should be done in the next few years but has been missed? Is there a project that should have money set aside for its further investigation – particularly if changes to the Auckland Plan which have occurred in very recent times (presumably the RLTP is based on the Draft Plan) might necessitate such a change. Bringing forward further investigation of a busway along State Highway 16 might be a good example of this, if the Auckland Plan proposes to vastly increase the number of people living in Auckland’s northwest corner.

Flat Bush’s town centre advances (but in the wrong place?)

For a long time Flat Bush has been a rather strange part of Auckland: a pretty massive residential area without any town centre at its heart. You can see the weirdness of the situation by looking at an aerial photo of the area: 
Seemingly random areas have been completed, other parts are surprisingly empty, the whole area just seems extremely strange when you’re out there. But finally, as reported in the Bob Dey Property Report, it seems that we’re going to see Flat Bush get a town centre – although oddly it seems like it’ll be called “Ormiston”. Here are some of the details:

Todd Property Group Ltd’s plans to develop the Ormiston – formerly Flat Bush – town centre have been approved and work on the ground should start in the first half of 2013.

The “illustrative masterplan” for the revised project, as Todd managing director Evan Davies described the design, was unveiled this morning. It shows a shift from a commercial area centred on the main east-west thoroughfare, Ormiston Rd, to a town centre with 2 important & walkable commercial streets, called Main St & Arbour Lane.

Main St would cut across Ormiston Rd and Arbour Lane, taking the commercial centre further north. Ormiston Rd would remain the main thoroughfare through the area, and would be the access road for several large retail outlets, with parking lots on the south of 2 of the big boxes and specialty stores between them & Arbour Lane.

Mr Davies said today: “What we’re aspiring to develop here is not simply a shopping or retail centre for Flat Bush but a town centre in the historical, traditional sense of those words, that genuinely provides a heart.”

It would have shops, other commercial activity, provision for live-work buildings, about $30 million of community facilities that would include a library and an aquatic centre and some medium-density residential development on the periphery of its 19ha.

Plans to develop the centre, at the heart of a residential area eventually intended to house about 40,000 people, has been going for about 15 years. The former Manukau City Council called for expressions of interest in 2006 and signed an agreement with Melview Developments Ltd (Nigel McKenna) to develop it in 2007.

Melview produced a masterplan in 2008 but the global financial crisis and the demise of Melview put paid to those plans. Mr McKenna was adjudicated bankrupt in April 2011 and Melview Developments was wound up in May 2011.

So quite a complicated history, and it seems as though the design is a step in the right direction away from what we’ve typically seen as “town centres” over the past few years (Albany, Botany, Westgate etc.). We also see a  master-plan:

It’s twisted a bit so north is actually on the right of the picture. Compared to Albany, Botany and the original/currently developed parts of Westgate, the proposed design is vastly superior (the new Westgate development is an improvement  on the past). We actually see shops fronting the street along Main Street and Arbour Lane, like a traditional town centre. Also, in most locations the surface parking is hidden behind shops that front the actual street, although there are a few exceptions to this rule which hopefully can be changed to ensure that all the surface parking gets hidden behind the shops, as putting parking out the front destroys the character of commercial areas almost like nothing else. The street network is highlighted a bit clearer in the image below, which also shows where the town centre fits within the broader area of Flat Bush (which I assume will keep its name rather than reverting to Ormiston):

It’s once you zoom out a bit that Flat Bush’s fundamental flaw gets highlighted – how on earth does it link in with high quality public transport? This flaw exists because Flat Bush is located on neither of the two main north-south arterials through southeast Auckland: Te Irirangi Drive and Chapel Road. They are shown in the map below, with the town centre area roughly highlighted in red: 
The logical place to have located the town centre was right around the intersection of Ormiston Road with either Chapel Road or Te Irirangi Drive, with high frequency public transport along either of those routes providing a fast connection with Botany in the north and Manukau in the south. But instead, those prime locations are given over to school playing fields, a park (which could have been relocated further east) and low density housing. Which means that public transport servicing Flat Bush for eternity will need to take annoying detours. This is something that really frustrates me as it shows that we still haven’t learnt from the mistakes of the last 60 or so years of developing the city.

We can only hope for more integrated land-use with transport better in the future but at this stage I’m not holding my breath.

AT Prepares for March Madness

A few weeks ago I asked if we were ready for ‘March Madness‘ and there was some good news today with AT announcing it has put on extra buses to cope with March which is a nice change from previous years where extra capacity always seems to have been added too late. Here is their press release:

Continue reading AT Prepares for March Madness

Council’s Numbers Don’t Add Up

I have been reading through the council’s draft Long Term Plan which looks at what will be done by the council over the next 10 years and how they fund it. I will do a post on the details of some of the spending related to transport in the next few days but as I was reading through it I decided to check a few numbers and I could quickly see that some things just didn’t add up so first I want to address some of these weird transport numbers in the document.

The document has a table that shows the current and expected patronage broken down by mode over the next 10 years. The current patronage most closely matches Decembers results but they are not exactly the same (note: numbers are in thousands)

At first glance things seem OK and look like they move fairly logically but that is until you look deeper, specifically at the percentage increase year on year. Looking at rail specifically I have added on the annual patronage results since 2003 for a comparison and put it all into a graph so this post doesn’t become a huge amount of boring words and numbers.

The key things I have taken from this are that we go from a period of consistent double digit patronage growth down to low single digit increase over just a two year period. This is just as we finish getting our nice and shiny EMUs, which are much cleaner, faster and quieter than what we have now plus will have almost double the capacity yet we see  patronage increases drop away to about 3%. What you can see from looking at the numbers is that from 2016 they have just increased the total by 500k per year which seems to have no relevance to what has happened in the years before this and it is pretty clear that someone has just put an arbitrary number in. One part of me thinks that this is OK as it means that when we get to that point we will see patronage well ahead of projection but the other part thinks that this underselling on the impact of electrification is quite serious, after all one of the reasons the government rejected the CRL business case was that they said there was still plenty of capacity available after 2021. It also goes against the ‘sparks’ effect seen in a number of places where electrification leads to big increases in rail use and one of the best example is Perth where it was truly transformational as Patrick mentioned yesterday.

On the issue of rail projections, when putting this post together I went looking through other recent documents to see if there were any similar tables. Sadly none of the other official plans or strategies and this info and the closest I could find was some post electrification figures which tell an interesting story in their own right. ARTA’s 2006-2016 Passenger Transport Network Plan suggests there will by 15.6m trips on the rail network by 2016 (with 79m trips across the entire PT network), another document, a working group report on electrification from 2009 suggests 15.7m trips by 2016. Fast forward a few years to now and we see patronage expectations are now over 17m per year by 2016 which is quite a jump and by the time 2016 actually rolls around it could be quite a bit higher again.

These odd numbers aren’t just for rail though, the busway projections also have some quite big questions in them.

Patronage has been increasing at about 15% for a number of years now yet it is only forecast to increase by an average of about 5% from now till 2018. At that point it then jumps by quite a bit for a two years before settling back to lower than it was before. There is nothing in the plan that suggest why this would be and the only reference to further development of the busway is a station at Rosedale/Greville but that is planned for the very end of the 10 year period.

There are lots of other oddities in the plan and I won’t cover all of them but I will look one more and it isn’t a patronage forecast but an expected revenue source. In the financials it breaks down where the money is coming from to pay for these things. There is one particular line that seems to refer to the amount of money that will be collected by fares as it is called Activity user charges and fee (this is a generic title used in other parts of the document). As you can see in the table below there is one month that stands out above the others with no explanation as to why this is, I have added on the % increase (numbers are in thousands of dollars).

In my submission on the plan I will be saying that these need to be clarified and because at the moment they almost seem like a joke but more worryingly is if we are basing our infrastructure development off them then we could easily be spending big money at the wrong times for the wrong projects.

What does ‘Transformational’ actually mean?

The word ‘Transformational’ is turning up frequently around discussions about Auckland’s future. I am encouraged by this as it surely means change. More than that doesn’t it particularly mean making bold decisions precisely designed to lead to different outcomes than we have now? This is important because it goes to the heart of the debate between the Council’s plan to invest in public transport versus the road lobby’s determination to prevent that and continue to build ever more motorways.

Here are a couple of examples, the first is mayor Len Brown talking a few weeks ago about the MIT campus that is now being built directly on top of the yet to open Manukau City Station, big ups-ing its transformational nature:

“The Hayman Park site is a superb example of an integrated, transformational project aligning MIT with the local community, business and industry, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.”

And here is Bill English a little less sure that he has any transformational projects but sure he’d like some:

“I mean, if there are transformational ideas out there we will grab them with both hands and do them. We just wish there was a few more.”

So it is an idea that gets politicians excited, and why not, because generally that’s the way they can try to improve our world: Change things. And transformation is a kind of change with bells on. Transformation is required when things need to be ‘turned around’. It implies a bold and imaginative quality. Transformation suggests a break with the past, a ‘fresh start’. A complete change.

Here is a dictionary definition:

Transformation is the process of changing from one state to another.

So it was interesting to hear Councillor Quax on Morning Report argue in the context of the council’s transformational plan to prioritise investment into public transport over roads that:

‘nothing can be transformational if it only moves a small amount of people and freight around, that’s why roads need to take precedence over rail’

In other words Quax is arguing that because we are not already in the new transformed state, the place the transformation is intended to get us to, we shouldn’t make the necessary changes to get there. Errr? Are you sure you understand what the word means, Dick?

This is clearly an absurd argument; the whole point of the transformational is to change those numbers around, so in fact, the current imbalance between road and non-road movements is the very reason for changing what we invest in. Because you get what you invest in. More roads: more driving: new alternatives; less driving. Which will then, of course, free up the existing and extensive road network [along with all the other improved health, energy use, and quality of place outcomes we know come with increased PT use].

It is interesting to see that Quax is not arguing against transformation, as you might expect, but rather simply that he can’t imagine it happening. Like Bill English above who is presiding over an enormous and expensive continuation of last century’s highway building plans [while preaching austerity] simply because he too can’t perceive any transformational projects. Is the inability to see and understand the transformational because these men are looking in the wrong place? They don’t seem to grasp that the transformational, by definition, requires a break from the past.

The problem is that if you are only prepared to look backwards it will be hard to see a better way forward. This is the hegemony of the status quo, it takes a little more effort and enquiry to see how things could be different. Because the future is uncertain isn’t it?

So to be fair to Quax it is worth rephrasing his rather wooly headed statement above into a more useful question;

‘if we do invest differently, ie if we stop building ever more motorways and instead build a rail and busway network will we get the transformation we desire?’

What evidence is there that we can change things in Auckland? If we do invest boldly in new rail and busway infrastructure for the next decade or so will people use it? First of all it is clear that we can’t, as Quax is doing, just look at the current state to see what future we could have, so we will have to look elsewhere for a model. But we can also look at what trends there are already present in Auckland to see if we get changed outcomes from changed investment.

The clearest model from the recent past is Perth. Because it is culturally not dissimilar to Auckland, a similar size, is in fact an even more spread out city, and has done many of the things that the Auckland Council has been arguing we should do here to transform both our habits of movement and the quality of the whole city. So what happened?

This is Rail patronage in Perth and Auckland to 2011[Auckland is now around 11 million]. Perth’s first jump was on the back of electrification, bus coordination stations, and the construction of an underground CBD line. Patronage from a level similar to where Auckland’s is now, trebled, then doubled again with the addition of the all new Mandurah Line. This is what Transformation looks like. Before the early 90s investment rail use was bumbling along. It is clear there is no point in looking at the 1980s figures to see what could be achieved though changed investment.

Now that we’re all facing the right way let’s see what else could happen if we are really bold, like Mayor Len Brown said he was going to be when he started his term, proposing new transit infrastructure throughout the city:

Here we’ve added Vancouver. Greater Vancouver has about 2.3 million people. So where Auckland is expected to get to quite soon this century. Vancouver’s extremely successful Sky Train only began in the 1980s and is being added to constantly because it is a huge success and means that the city does not need to spend billions and billions on highways and parking and all the other hidden costs of auto dependency. This technology is ideal for new lines in Auckland like across the harbour to the North Shore. Nick argues here that this would be considerably cheaper than any further road crossing and certainly would help transform more than just the North Shore. It also could be the answer to the transport problems in Dick Quax’s Eastern suburbs too.

Well that’s great for Perth and Vancouver, but would that happen here in Auckland? Well here is the pattern of change in Auckland since the construction of Britomart and the other improvements to our existing rail network, and remember these changes were only about fixing the existing badly neglected system, and doesn’t yet involve modern electric trains or the great changes that the CRL will bring to the whole network, let alone extending the network to new areas. So not yet what you could really call Transformational investment:

So a very consistent uptake by Aucklanders, give us a good quality alternative to driving and a lot of us will take it, leaving more room on the existing road network for the rest. The numbers are still low but are very much beginning to make a big difference especially at peak time. But really we are just at the point that this existing resource could become a very significant influence on patterns of movement and also quality of place in Auckland. So transformation is without a doubt possible but only if we choose to make it happen. What we build will determine what we get and how we live. And it is absolutely certain that if we mostly just continue what we have been doing- building roads- all we will get is more driving and more over-crowded roads no matter how much we spend. And no transformation.

The best way to live in the 21st century is to stop living in the 20th century

Umair Haque Havard Business Review

Council chooses sprawl

An article in Wednesday’s NZ Herald confirms the worst-held fears of many: that Auckland Council is shifting away from mostly focusing on growing the city over the next 30 years through intensification to putting a larger number of people on the urban edge.

Auckland Council has eased up on its vision of squeezing residents up closer by keeping 75 per cent of new housing on existing land and just 25 per cent outside the limits within the next three decades.

Instead, it is now discussing a 60/40 split, which the development sector is hailing as a victory after intense opposition and lobbying and independent reports which criticised the original scheme as unworkable.

Admin did quite a few posts on the sprawl/intensification split in the draft Auckland Plan, highlighting that even that plan actually provided for a significant amount of urban sprawl. While the yellow boxes look fairly small, put them together and you get an idea about how much current farmland is proposed to be turned into housing over the next 30 years – even under the proposed plan! One does wonder how much bigger these boxes must be to accommodate an even greater proportion of population growth in areas outside the current urban limits. Plus, of course, the 60/40 split is not actually a split between greenfield and intensification, but rather a split between development inside the urban limit and outside the urban limit. There are still significant areas inside the urban limits that haven’t been developed yet, like Long Bay, Flat Bush and Takanini. There’s room for around 30,000 dwellings in these areas – a not insignificant amount!

So, let’s take a look at the numbers in three scenarios, known generally as 75/25, 70/30 and 60/40: So if we put percentage values on this we actually find that the 60/40 split, for example, is much closer to 50/50: 

By way of comparison, in 2006 there were 145,000 dwellings in the whole of the former Auckland City. Less than the number of “Greenfield outside the MUL” dwellings proposed over the next 30 years.

At the very least, I suppose, we can hope that the planning for these new greenfield communities would be done well and perhaps they could become excellent urban areas where we put all our learnings of the past 50 years about how not to do urban development into practice and actually, for a change, build new areas that aren’t mind-numbingly depressing like Dannemora, Albany and what’s been built of Flat Bush so far. But, it seems that won’t happen either, as much of the urban sprawl will be rushed in during the first decade (which also undermines all our efforts at intensification during that time). Back to the Herald article:

The image of high-rise hell in heritage waterfront suburbs such as Birkenhead and Northcote caused an outcry and Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said yesterday he was pleased about the apparent relaxation in the council’s policy.

“The really interesting thing is that the 75/25 split was due to kick in at the start of the plan. I understand the new arrangement places high emphasis on greenfields development in the first 10 years, with a requirement for high quality dense development to get the market used to it as an approach.” 

So we build sprawl like mad for the first decade and maybe do some intensification later. Sounds a bit like our transport policy: build heaps of roads now and maybe some public transport later.

It seems like the Auckland Plan is turning into a transformational shift – transforming us right back to 1950s planning and transport policy.

AMETI Starts

Auckland’s second most important project officially kicked off today by Len Brown. AMETI which is a range of road and PT projects is to help improve transport in East Auckland which is probably the worst urban area in the whole region when it comes to transport options. It started life after the eastern highway idea was canned and was quite a big roads fest and while that is still quite, thankfully over time it has incorporated stronger PT improvements which will eventually include a busway between Panmure and Botany. The first stage is a $180m project and is focused around Panmure and here is some of the benefits that AT claim will be a result of the project:

AMETI Panmure transport benefits

  • New AMETI road will cut ten minutes off the journey time between Glen Innes and Mt Wellington when open in 2014 (phase one)
  • It will carry 20,000 vehicles per day, including 2,400 trucks as a result of the better connection for business and freight traffic
  • The new road will reduce traffic on Mt Wellington Highway (40%), Ellerslie Panmure Highway (33%), Jellicoe Rd (40%) and Apirana Ave (20%). Much of this reduction will be freight traffic – heavy commercial vehicle flows on Jellicoe Rd are forecast to reduce from 3200 trucks per day to less than 400 and on Ellerslie-Panmure Highway past Panmure station from 3600 to less than 700.
  • Reduced traffic through Panmure roundabout, providing benefits for Pakuranga, Howick and Botany drivers and allowing an upgrade to a signalised intersection in phase two
  • 6km of new cycle lanes/paths and 5.5km of new or improved footpaths, 12 new signal controlled pedestrian crossings when both Panmure phases are complete
  • Lagoon Drive busway to be used by 21,000 passengers per day, 5.5 Million per year (phase two)
  • Improved Panmure rail station will attract 6,500 passengers per day, 1.7 million per year.

Here is a map of the current focus of the project:

And here’s Len officially kicking things off.

Len using a pretty new looking digger

On the PT improvements, one interest fact is that AT claim Busway is eventually expected to have 5.5 million passengers a year, compared to the current 2.2 million using the Northern Busway (although that doesn’t count other buses that use the busway like express buses). Like New Lynn I think that Panmure is one of the biggest opportunities we have for urban renewal based around an existing train station but only time will tell how well it goes.

The Panmure roundabout living on borrowed time


Solid January patronage stats

Auckland Transport have released the public transport patronage statistics for January, and they’re pretty nicely solid for what’s usually a pretty quiet month. Here are the highlights: The statistics are fairly impressive because quite a lot of the rail network was closed for a fairly significant chunk of January (although this happened last year too). Here are the details: One interesting statistic to note is that the 12 month rolling total for patronage is very very close to 70 million trips now, just around 250,000 trips away from this figure. As is shown in the figure below, it was only April 2010 when we passed 60 million trips as the 12 month rolling total, so in less than two years we’ve added another 10 million PT trips a year – getting from 50 million to 60 million trips took a lot longer! And the graph below shows our longer term data – don’t stress about the recent drop-off, it happens every year in December and January! One of the reasons why patronage in December and January is often so low (along with the holiday period) is because the rail network gets closed down for infrastructure works – the one chance every year we have to really advance large-scale projects like electrification (and Project DART before it). This year parts of the rail network re-opened earlier but had bus replacements between Grafton and Britomart, the impact of these bus replacements is listed below and it’s interesting to then see that despite the extensive closures and replacement buses, rail patronage was up on last year: One particularly interesting table is the one which looks at bus patronage changes across the various sectors of the bus network. We see once again what a huge impact the introduction of the LINK bus service changes from August onwards has had on isthmus bus patronage: It’s also easy to forget about ferry patronage, but in January we probably saw an all time (at least since the harbour bridge was opened) patronage record for ferries in Auckland, this is partly due to AT trialling extra services which definitely seem to be a success: Finally as mentioned the other day, surely the proposed 15 minute frequency of Howick and Eastern bus services between Panmure and the city, seven days a week, could this be the long-awaited next b-line service? I’m really looking forward to seeing what March’s patronage statistics will be.

AT Finally starts Marketing the CRL

One of the frustrating things with the City Rail link has been that the council and Auckland Transport have done almost nothing to really get information about the project and its benefits to the public so it isn’t surprising that often misunderstood. Thankfully that finally seems to be changing with Auckland Transport this week updating their information about it and starting to present it in a more useful way. It seems they have even created a logo for it. Hmmm….?

AT have put up a number of PDFs on their website about the CRL. Including an Overview, and this Fact Sheet. This is very good to see but these do seem to me to be fairly disappointing efforts. They do get information across but neither is an ambitious attempt to sell the project. It is clear that the Fact Sheet is aimed at reaching a more general audience while the Overview is pretty much an uploaded powerpoint doc using images from engineers.

There is a lack of sophistication of visual communication in both with far too much reliance on numerical and technical ideas flatly presented that seem to expect an audience of only analytical types already interested in transit systems. While there is certainly a place for a plain description of the facts there is also a need for an active attempt to sell the concept.

I am particularly disappointed, for example, that there is no Tube style map of the whole network post CRL that shows the wider city and how it will unite the existing lines into a network and therefore that it is as just as much about Henderson and Manukau City as it is about Queen St. And how it is really about a whole new way for us to conceive of our city. And even another showing possible future expansion, especially to those areas currently outside of the reach of the rail network. Perhaps AT are so used to dealing with the doubters from the ministry that they have lost the sense that this project is really the difference between Auckland having a real alternative to road and petrol based transport and not….? And about it being a whole city and not just a collision overgrown provincial towns.

Instead we get technical graphics like the one above which is only intelligible and interesting to transit wonks and meaningless to most other people. It is clear that there is a need to communicate the transformational aspect of the CRL, how its value extends to the entire network and in fact beyond to the whole form of the city and its image of itself. There is a misunderstanding of the project that imagines it is only about the ground above the actual route of the new tunnel. While the document mentions the current capacity constraint and uses phrases like ‘critical to improve accessibility’ it fails to really communicate the change it represents.

Yes it includes statements like:

And yes this is an accurate one sentence summary of the value of the project at a practical level but I doubt this will ring true in the minds of any but those who already get it. I guess this ia part of the problem of proposing truly transformational projects. It is extremely hard to show a change that is yet to happen; the hegemony of the status quo. Yet I know enough about communications to be sure that with more effort into visualising the heart of the project than merely getting the facts straight the power of the idea can be unleashed. It really is a battle over the meaning of the idea of Auckland itself and the bigger the change the idea represents the harder you have to work to pitch it.

Hopefully this is just the start of the communications and a more dynamic layer of visual communication will be added.