What’s the deal with transport emissions?

This is a guest post from John Polkinghorne

There’s a difference between “pollutants” and “greenhouse gases”. Cars put out a few pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter – which means unburnt carbon (soot) and worse. These contribute to localised air pollution and health issues. In terms of these pollutants, though, cars today are much cleaner than they were a few decades ago.

Greenhouse gases are another story. In the car engine, petrol or diesel is combusted with oxygen, to produce energy and carbon dioxide (CO2). This chemical reaction is what makes your car move, and CO2 is the inevitable product. This is different from the other nasty stuff above, where the pollutants are byproducts and can be reduced through higher-quality fuels, better filters etc.

CO2 is of course a greenhouse gas, contributing to global warming. Cars may become more efficient in the future – in fact, new cars could become 20% to 40% more efficient over the next 20+ years – but CO2 will always be generated, as it’s the main product of the chemical reaction which powers the car. And it will always be created in proportion to the amount of fuel used, so saying a car is “low emissions” is the exact same thing as saying it is “fuel efficient”. As I showed in a previous post, our fuel efficiency doesn’t seem to have improved in the last few decades.

CO2 is sometimes referred to as a pollutant, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has now classified it as such, but it’s quite different from nitrogen oxides, soot and those other grimy things. It doesn’t have much of a local effect, but it contributes majorly to global warming.

How much CO2 do our cars produce?
According to the Ministry for the Environment (New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2010), the road transport sector accounted for 12,514.1 gigagrams of CO2-equivalent emissions in 2010. This is a rather silly unit in my opinion – although Quagmire from Family Guy might disagree – so let’s convert it to tonnes instead. With that cleared up, road transport accounted for 12.5 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in 2010.

New Zealand’s total ‘net’ emissions (after accounting for forestry, which removes CO2 from the air) were 51.7 million tonnes. So, road transport makes up 24.2% of our net emissions. But this includes freight and other non-passenger uses. We’ve got to dig a little deeper to find how much is generated by cars. For this, I turn to the very interesting Annual Fleet Statistics published by the Ministry of Transport. Figure 1.10 shows that 65.2% of road transport emissions come from the “light passenger fleet”, which includes passenger cars and vans.

So, this suggests that cars (and vans, let’s not forget the vans, although it’s only passenger vans and not goods vans and I really can’t imagine they make up a big chunk of this) are producing 65.2% x 12.5 million tonnes = 8.15 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in New Zealand each year.

That’s a little under two tonnes per man, woman or child in the country. It’s more than your car weighs, and it’s about 15.8% of our country’s net emissions total.

John P Emissions

What does this mean for you?
The average NZ car uses 10 litres of fuel to drive 100 kilometres, although this can be quite a bit higher or lower depending on the car, the driver and the traffic. Petrol produces around 2.3 kilograms of CO2-equivalent emissions for every litre – which is about three times as much as the petrol itself weighs, incidentally.

Every 100 kilometres you drive, then, you’re producing 23 kilograms of CO2. The average car drives some 12,000 km a year, producing 2.8 tonnes of CO2.

As consumers, the best thing we can do to reduce our contribution to global warming is to change our transport habits. Better driving makes a small difference, more efficient cars can make a bigger difference. Carpooling is better still, and public transport is much better than that. I’ll look at public transport emissions in my next post.

How cities fail their cyclists … Auckland

In this recent post Matt collated some stunning photos of Auckland. More than most cities, Auckland is blessed with a wonderful natural environment. But some of the comments on Matt’s post gave me cause to pause, because they noted that all the stunning photos of Auckland were taken from approximately 300m up in the air and/or at night.

“bbc” put it this way:

All cities look picturesque from above at night, the issue is at street level which is where you actually interact with a city. At the fine-grained level Auckland is a particularly ugly city, and has a long way to go.

To which “Steve West” responded:

So true. São Paulo for example looks awesome at night yet it is a bit of a hole too. New Zealand does not have attractive cities – it is only the natural backdrop which offset the harshness of the 1980s era concrete and glass box prefab which continues to this day. Thanks Rogernomics. Recent article in a UK paper to that point – natural scenery nice but Auckland a bit crap.

Having read Steve’s comment I went off scurrying for the article he was referring to. Instead of finding that one however, I uncovered another two recent articles in U.K. that discussed Auckland. The first one was published in The Sun and made particularly positive claims about Auckland being “hobbit forming”. Nice, we’re obviously doing something right.

I then stumbled across this article in the Guardian, which was rather bluntly titled “How cities fail their cyclists in different ways.” It started off discussing Hong Kong, which was interesting, but scrolling down the page a little more you find a sub-section titled “Cities where cycling should be more popular than it is. Example: Auckland. The content that follows is, I think, worth repeating in full:

Yes, it’s hilly in places and, once you reach the suburbs, very spread out, but Auckland really should be awash with cyclists. It has suitably temperate weather and that same spread out-ness leaves plenty of potential space for bike lanes.

But wander, with the eye of a regular cyclist, around the city centre, and you’re almost immediately struck by the lack of bikes on the road. Outside peak times they’re almost non-existent, barring the occasional cycle courier. Those you do see generally sport the Lycra garb and haunted expression of the cycling enthusiast in a bike-unfriendly environment.

The city is trying to boost numbers and, according to the most recent annual cycling survey, with some success, with 30% more riders on the roads than five years ago. But the numbers remain fairly small – just under 13,500 “cycling movements” observed on one day at 82 monitoring sites. It’s not helped by a compulsory helmet law, in place since the mid-1990s.

I was aghast to learn that the city’s harbour bridge, the main link between the centre and suburbs to the north, has no way at all for cyclists to cross. They must either plonk their bike on a ferry or take a fairly long detour. As an emblem for a city dominated by cars and roads it’s hard to beat.

Like with Hong Kong, it’s not as if Auckland couldn’t do with more cyclists. New Zealand might more or less define itself through sport but it’s simultaneously one of the more obese nations on earth.

The more I thought about it the more I found myself agreeing with the basic premise of the above article: Auckland is quite suited to cycling. One of the benefits of our geography is that there are pleasant views (like the ones shown in Matt’s photos) waiting  at the top of most hills and around most corners. And it’s not like we have a winter that’s quite as cold as Amsterdam, where I used to live (and cycle!).


I know we talk about public transport a lot on this blog and it is true that Auckland can do much better in this regard. However I’m increasingly wondering if we’re not over-looking opportunities for Auckland to become more of a cycling city.

A recent presentation on the Integrated Transport Programme, for example, apparently made no mention of walking or cycling, instead referring only to major (read “expensive”) road and public transport projects. I know it’s only a presentation and that we should hold fire until the ITP itself is released, but what message does it send when the summary to a 30-year strategic document developed by almost all the government agencies involved in transport planning does not identify one signature walking/cycling project? It’s amazing to me that walking in particularly can be so over-looked given that it still contributes almost 10% of journeys to work.

And the failure to mention walking/cycling projects from the ITP presentation came hot on the heels of this month’s AT business report, which also left out cycling statistics altogether. It seems like Auckland Transport is suddenly afraid of using the “c” word?

As a cyclist myself I’m obviously “biased” – but on the other hand let’s not ignore than a person on the other side of the world felt sufficiently motivated to use Auckland as an example of a city where “cycling should be more popular than it is.” This point is worth ramming home: A journalist in the U.K.  – who could have chosen any city in the world – choose Auckland. That’s not something to be proud of my friends, and it’s not something that will help us to become the world’s most livable city. While Auckland has and continues to make progress on many transport fronts, in my view our investment in cycling still lags.

In my opinion Auckland needs to become vastly more welcoming to cyclists before it can lay claim to being the world’s most livable city. And only then might you start to see beautiful photos being taken at ground level.

Does the East-West link make any sense?

There was a fairly lengthy opinion piece in yesterday’s Herald, authored by Michael Barnett from the Chamber of Commerce and Kim Campbell from the Employer’s and Manufacturer’s Association, discussing transport matters in Auckland. A lot of the start of the article makes reasonably good sense, pointing out how much Auckland is going to grow in the next 30 years and highlighting the need to focus transport investment in Auckland. Then the article goes on to discuss AMETI and the East-West link project:

In this article we discuss the importance of the Ameti/East-West link.

Developing the Ameti/East-West Link has been on Auckland’s transport plans from the 1950s, with land reserved for a portion of the route since 1965 and a connection on paper to the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway.

At present, local roads in the vicinity carry more heavy freight vehicles than most of New Zealand’s state highways. They represent the start and end point for many upper North Island freight services, both road and rail. The link is required to improve access to the rail freight hub at Metroport, New Zealand’s third largest container port, and the many major employment and distribution businesses nearby.

Freight traffic in the locality is about to double. With many local roads already congested for much of the working day, an efficient integrated Ameti and East-West Link is urgent.

It is true that freight volumes through this part of Auckland are pretty high – I remember seeing a graphic once showing that the Pakuranga Bridge over the Tamaki River carries a similar number of trucks each day as the Harbour Bridge. And a much much higher number than most of the government’s Roads of National Significance. AMETI is fairly well advanced, splitting out through traffic, local traffic and public transport from each other to a much greater extent so they’re each able to operate much more effectively.ameti-transport-strategyWhile the cost of AMETI is pretty eye-watering, it at least includes some pretty major public transport improvements in the form of a busway from Botany to Panmure and a large upgrade to the Panmure Station. Hopefully it should also take quite a lot of through traffic out of Pakuranga town centre, enabling its revitalisation and hopefully a bit of traffic calming along sections of Pakuranga Road.

Panning westwards a bit, we hit the area where the East-West Link project is located:eastwestlink-aerialWith State Highway 1 visible in the top right corner and SH20 visible in the bottom left corner, you can see the temptation of a project to join the two motorways up. Furthermore, with so much freight travelling through the area or originating from the area there does seem to be a logic in focusing on transport improvements in this corner of Auckland – especially if improving freight traffic is a priority.

In some ways this project could be seen as the westerns portion of AMETI, especially as the two projects so clearly link with each other and improving freight movements is seen as a goal of both projects (although it seems to be an even higher priority for the East-West link project). Essentially this is the argument that Barnett and Campbell make:

Some limited work is under way, but we have major concerns at the lack of progress to plan, design and build an integrated corridor as the Auckland Plan directs.

Our immediate concerns are:

Ameti (Stage 1) and planning for the East-West Link are being run as separate projects. Instead, the legacy Ameti sections are being developed primarily as a corridor for bus transport while the East-West section is being investigated with freight in mind.

The East-West section investigation presumes government funding will apply, which we strongly endorse, while the unfunded Ameti sections are not.

The disjointed approach is unacceptable. This route development will generate high productivity benefits by easing heavy traffic congestion, including to the MetroPort rail freight terminal, and it’s obvious that a reconfigured and integrated design of the whole link project is vital.

The project has also been consulted to death. Now a comprehensive integrated design package is called for, with a supporting overall business case, and a clear timeline to complete it by 2021.

The integrated Ameti/East-West Link is expected to cost $2.5 billion but generate the level of productivity benefits that easily justify it. Among them is a faster return on the multibillion dollars we have already spent on the new Manukau Harbour Bridge, Spaghetti Junction, the Newmarket Viaduct and Victoria Park Tunnel.

Investment in it is long overdue, if on the basis of nothing else than its large potential to make money and grow the economy.

While AMETI certainly seems like it’s been “studied to death”, I’m not sure the same argument can be applied to the East-West Link – which seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere into the final version of the Auckland Plan. Furthermore, while it’s clearly true there are a lot of trucks that travel through this part of Auckland, it’s not entirely clear whether this creates a significant “problem” which needs “solving”, or what that “solution” actually should be.

It has always seemed to me as though the transport system in this area has sections which operate reasonably well and other parts which don’t seem to work that well. Neilson Street itself, the main existing link between the two motorway corridors, seems to work reasonably well except for a few intersections at Great South Road and at Onehunga Mall. One wonders how much of the delays in this area could be solved through a couple of well focused intersection upgrades. Secondly, Neilson Street is a pretty extraordinarily wide road – as shown in the picture below – so perhaps some of that existing road space could be dedicated to truck-only lanes to ensure freight traffic is able to keep moving no matter what the traffic conditions are for general traffic.

What I’m saying, in summary I suppose, is that there are good reasons to take a bit of time to analyse a situation before rushing off into building a very expensive piece of infrastructure, which a full motorway link between SH1 and SH20 would most certainly be. We might well find that a few relatively minor tweaks can fix the problem – at least for quite some time – alleviating the need to spend large sums of money.

How much sprawl in Christchurch?

We tend to focus on issues related Auckland however a recently a video from the NZTA caught my attention. The main purpose of the video is to show some very pretty animations of what stage 2 of the Christchurch Southern motorway will look like. The project is part of the Chistchurch RoNS and is currently going through the Environmental Protection Authority process to get consent, it’s open for submissions. I guess the video was put together for to help show the impact.

I don’t know enough about the project to say if it is needed or not so won’t comment on that aspect. What struck me in the video is the amount of sprawl that is suggested will occur over the next 30 years. This is highlighted as occurring in Rollerston, Lincoln and Prebbleton. Showing each area separately helps to reduce the impact but when you look at the the areas shown, you see they all merge together forming one large continuous mass in an area that it appears would almost rival Christchurch for size. Here are the images I’m referring to:

Chch video Rollerston

Chch video Lincoln

Chch video Prebbleton

Now perhaps the video is just trying to show the potential area where growth could occur but if that is the case then it just seems sloppy. If that much land is actually planned for growth then I am very very worried for Christchurch and it would be another case of them making many of the same mistakes Auckland has made.

The NZTA have also put this video out showing what the road may look like from the drivers seat. Do they really have that much money floating around for crap like this? Silly question, of course they do.

The beginning of the end for working from home?

An area that often stirs much debate are discussions that look to the future – particularly when talking about future technologies or trends. Often the debate around the economic benefits of projects such as the council’s focus on the city centre, ends with a discussion on the impact of working from home. Some argue that more and more people will work from home in the future, diluting the need for expensive transport solutions, while others (such as myself) suggest that current patterns will continue and that there are huge benefits to be had through businesses and employees working closer together. The argument is that while we have the technology to enable working from home or other remote locations, nothing beats being able to quickly share ideas with colleagues in the workplace.

It’s interesting to see that the debate has been flung wide open thanks to the actions of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who in an internal memo to staff announced that she wants people working in the office rather than at home, in a bid to improve the company’s performance.

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

There are obviously lots of arguments for and against, with many people opposed to the move as the Forbes article notes below:

Unsurprisingly, the announcement rankled quite a few Yahoo employees, as well as supporters of workplace flexibility. Flexible work arrangements, from telecommuting to flexible schedules and condensed work weeks, are viewed by many as the way of the future. Flexibility has become an important tool for time-crunched workers, particularly parents, to better juggle work and family responsibilities.

I do like the idea of occasionally being able to work from home, but I don’t agree with primarily working from home and only occasionally making trips to the office. I have worked in teams before where people were frequently away from the office, and felt that the environment was never quite as productive. It will be interesting to see over time if Yahoo’s policy sees an improvement in performance and subsequently if other companies follow suit.

Fixing Level Crossings

A hot topic over the last few days has been the tragic accident that occurred at Morningside. A lady was struck by a train after one of the wheels of her wheelchair became wedged between the footpath and the rail. As you can see in this piece from Campbell Live, the state of the crossing was quite appalling. Its poor state had obviously been noticed by someone as there were even spray painted arrows indicating that a fix was required yet nothing had been done.

Morningside Crossing - Campbell Live

Click to watch the story

Works have now occurred to improve the crossing with some of the gaps filled in with asphalt. Such a simple solution that probably didn’t cost all that much and most likely would have prevented this accident begs the question of why it wasn’t done earlier.

Morningside Crossing - After

Photo thanks to Alex Burgess

While the crossing is now safer, it does once again raise the issue of level crossings in general. The ultimate solution is that we either grade separate the crossings or close the them all together. The former can cost a lot of money while the later can cut connectivity. After years of no changes, we finally saw some crossings removed as part of the New Lynn trench project, which was actually more a roading project than a PT project. AT are also talking about closing the Sarawia St level crossing, although I understand that some groups are pushing for pedestrian and cycle access to be retained, something I think is stupid.

The problem I have is that at this point in time, with the exception of Sarawia St, there appears to be no solid plans to actually do anything to resolve these level crossing issues. Level crossing removal sits the organisations statement of intent for 2011-2014 under major projects for study, investigation or design. Despite this the Regional Land Transport Programme for 2012-2015, which lists around $4.4 billion of spending over the three year time frame only includes $524,000 towards design, and even then it only occurs in the last year of the programme. The only level crossings that I know are planned to be grade separated in the future are Normanby Rd and Porters Ave, but they will only happen as part of the CRL.

If we want to get serious about fixing these danger spots, it is time that AT started acting on it. I would like to see AT re-jig some of their plans and commit a some real money, say $10m per year towards the progressive removal of crossings. Spending money to remove the level crossings in at least the urban area would likely be a far better use of taxpayers and ratepayers money than some of the dubious projects that were highlighted in my post yesterday.

Auckland’s such a beautiful city

Auckland is such a naturally beautiful city and as Fred Dagg says, “we don’t know how lucky we are”. This is just a simple post showing some amazing pictures of the city and if we can get our urban environment sorted, we will truly be the worlds most liveable city . I’m not sure of the details of who took them so if you want me to add credit for them then just let me know.

Photo: Chris McLennan www.cmphoto.co.nz

The next two are by Richard Wong

And the last one for tonight by Mattglogan

Why aren’t we getting what we want?

Yesterday the NZ Herald picked up on the UMR research poll on transport spending preferences – that Matt did a post on a few days back. Here are some of the key points in the Herald article:

Popular support for spending on public transport has almost doubled over 20 years, according to a poll of 750 New Zealanders.

The poll by UMR Research shows a reverse from 1992, when 43 per cent of those surveyed preferred Government money to be spent on motorways and other public roads, compared with 25 per cent support for public transport as the priority spending candidate.

By September last year, when the latest poll was taken with a 3.6 per cent margin of error, the tables had turned.

Those supporting priority spending on public transport had grown to 48 per cent, compared with 37 per cent favouring roads.

The portion who were unsure or supported equal spending on both categories fell to 15 per cent, from 32 per cent in 1992.

Survey participants were asked by phone of UMR’s wide-ranging annual Mood of the Nation review: “If you had to choose, should Government funds by used to improve motorways and public roads, or should funds be used to improve public transport?”

I’m always a bit sceptical of polling on issues like this, because you never quite know what slant is being put on the question to elicit a result one way or the other, but what is of most interest to me is how the results have changed over time because the same question is being asked. And between 1992 and 2012 there was a big increase, 25% up to 48% of people who would choose for funding to go into public transport, a noticeable decline from 43% to 37% favouring roads and quite a big decline in those choosing “both” or “neither”.

What’s really interesting is then looking at the extent to which funding is following the preferences of the public, which the Herald article touches upon:

Its policy directives have seen the Transport Agency allocate just under 14 per cent of a $12.3 billion land transport investment problem over the next three years to public transport…

…Although an allocation of $1.7 billion in the coming three years to public transport represents a 21 per cent increase on spending from 2009 to last year, about $700 million of that will come from local councils and much of the Government’s money will be spent on new electric trains in Auckland and Wellington.

There’s a bit of debate over these numbers because, as the article notes, a significant chunk of the public transport funding actually comes from local government rather than from Central Government. There’s also the issue of whether we’re talking about transport funding as a whole or whether we’re really focusing on where the money is being spent in terms of building new infrastructure.

If you look at NZTA’s spend over the next three years you get a better idea about where the government feels its transport priorities lie:NLTP 2012-15 Investment LevelsAnd take that one step further to just look at where the spending on new infrastructure is going to go and things become even clearer:spending-profileThe disconnect between what we are getting and what we want in terms of transport priorities is simply startling. Aside from the fact that people really don’t tend to vote in national elections based on transport policies, I’m pretty stumped as to how a government can get away with 97% of its new transport infrastructure investment going on roads when a greater proportion of the general public want to see the transport budget spend on public transport than on roads.

I suppose at the very least this should give opposition parties huge confidence that once there’s a change in government they should have broad support for an extremely radical change to transport spending priorities.

The Integrated Transport Programme

At the Auckland Transport board meeting yesterday, one of the topics discussed was a presentation on the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP). It wasn’t put online before the meeting so we couldn’t talk about it earlier but I popped along to the meeting to find out more. While the Auckland Plan provides the 30 year vision for Auckland, the ITP sits under that and is described as the programme that “Coordinates the investment and other interventions of network providers over the next 30 years”. Its a piece of work that has been put together by both Auckland Transport and the NZTA, and the intent is that the transport system works as one rather than all the agencies working in isolation. This plan will be used to form the next RLTP and LTP as well as various more detailed lower-level strategies.

ITP Role

The first part of the presentation talked a lot about challenges that the city faces over the coming decades, all of which relate to population growth in the city. As a reminder, it is expected that even with medium growth predictions (which are based on a lower level of growth than we have seen over the last few decades), there will be significantly higher population growth in Auckland than the rest of New Zealand combined. Auckland is expected to grow by over 700,000 residents while the rest of the country combined sees growth of around 400,000.


The Auckland plan also sets out roughly where both the residential and business growth will occur, and this has been fed into transport models to determine where the destination demand is. This is shown below and shows that the biggest demand and growth is for trips to the city centre.

ITP Destination Demand

Next up in the board meeting they discussed traffic and PT volumes. As you would expect, the traffic graph showed all routes flattening off in recent years. For PT, one thing that annoyed me was the comment that the big drop in PT trips was attributed to the opening of the motorways, with no mention of the simultaneous closing of the tram network.

Historic PT patronage

Coming on the ITP itself, AT has split the various aspects of the programme into what they call the Four Stage Intervention Process which determines what actions will be taken to manage the transport system. How this works is described below, with the second image showing the amount of money budgeted in each category over the next three decades.

ITP Intervention Process

ITP Investment Profile

The impact of the various investments has then been compared back to the the goals set out in the Auckland Plan, and the currently committed funding.

ITP Transport Outcomes

All up it sounds like an important document but perhaps not one that will get many people excited. There was however one slide that I found really interesting. It contained two maps showing the major transport projects – one with roading projects and the other with PT projects. Attached to each map was a table that included AT’s estimated cost of each project. The writing is too small to show properly on here so I have reproduced the tables below.

ITP Major Project Costs

I did have to make one change to the table – the note attached to the Southeastern Busway says that the costs weren’t included in the totals, but they had been. Also the map lists rail to the shore as $1b yet it isn’t shown in the table at all. Going through the lists a couple of things really surprised me:

  1. Rail to the airport from Onehunga is listed at only $491m, an absolute bargain compared to earlier estimates of up to $1b.
  2. Not including the current Waterview and SH16 widening projects, there is $2.5b attributed just to motorway widening.
  3. The cost of sprawl is shown with the cost of upgrading state highways, local roads and PT infrastructure in greenfields areas as a combined $3.4b.
  4. For just a fraction of the cost of all the massive roading projects, we could have a pretty kick-arse PT system.

The full plan comes out next month so we will have to wait till then to see what it looks like.

The true test of Auckland Transport

It’s now almost two and a half years since Auckland Transport came into existence: joining together the transport functions of ARTA and all the old Councils into one organisation. There was a lot of angst around Auckland Transport’s creation – why should something as political and as debated as transport be pushed away into a separate organisation from the Council? Would Auckland Transport follow the direction of the Council or that of Central Government? What benefits of having an operationally focused organisation that’s independent from the day to day politics of Council really bring?

While it hasn’t been an easy first couple of years (the mess of Rugby World Cup opening night being the absolute low-point for the organisation in my opinion) it seems that most people are reasonably happy with how Auckland Transport has gone over this time. However, with the next local government elections happening later this year and public transport patronage seeming to be in a fairly lengthy stalling phase, I think the next few months will really become a true test for the whole concept of having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation to the Council.

It’s clear that the patronage issue is starting to filter through to Auckland Transport, with the new Chair Lester Levy laying down the law pretty harshly at the December board meeting:

The Chairman noted this is not a new problem and simply restating the problem will not solve it. In his view, the rail patronage had not effectively grown since October 2011 and overall public transport patronage has not really increased since January 2012. More understanding about the root causes of this is needed and must be addressed in management’s comprehensive plan due to be present to the Board in February next year. The paper needs to address not only what will be done but most importantly how actions will be undertaken and why it is believed they will work. He re-emphasised that AT needs to be a customer led organisation which will require a mindset change within the organisation. Increasing public transport patronage needs to be elevated to the number one issue for AT.

Rail patronage not growing since October 2011. Gee I wonder what might have put people off.

The response to these comments, going to the Board today, sounds a bit like 25 pages of excuses and most of the ideas around improving patronage seem to be related to marketing (not that I’m opposed to marketing) instead of actually trying to make the system better. Some quick wins like better weekend rail frequencies still seem to be ignored yet again – for example, need I remind Auckland Transport that Saturday rail frequencies on the Western Line remain unchanged from 1994?

I’m genuinely hopeful that things will improved under the new Chair, who seems to have an extremely low tolerance of the normal excuses dished out by Auckland Transport management and who seems much more interested in telling a “genuine” story about how things are, rather than the typical Auckland Transport PR strategy of pretending everything’s hunky-dory no matter how bad they’re going. I guess I’m impatient for change though.

Another Board Paper reminded me of an issue that I think cuts to the heart of testing whether it’s worth having Auckland Transport as a separate organisation or not – the issue of bus lanes. Seeing a paper on bus and transit lanes going to the Board I was excited that there might be some discussion around future additional bus lanes – what are useful trigger points for them being necessary, which routes would benefit from bus lanes, what’s the timetable for the widespread expansion of Auckland’s bus lane system over the next few years and so forth. Instead, the paper discusses just about every other possible element of bus lanes except for the most important issue – where the next ones will be.

As well as bus lanes being something of a pet issue for me, I think they’re a good test of Auckland Transport’s usefulness for a number of reasons:

  • They make a lot of logical sense and provide significant benefit for low cost – but can be unpopular. Separating operation of the transport network from day to day politics through having a CCO is designed to enable sensible but potentially unpopular projects to occur where they contribute to the strategic direction the Council wants to go (i.e. improving public transport).
  • They assist other parts of Auckland Transport’s responsibility – most obviously in managing the public transport network. Before amalgamation it was ARTA who benefitted from the bus lanes but the city councils that needed to put them in, so there was little incentive to see bus lanes go in and probably a lot of arguing was necessary. I would have thought having a single organisation would increase the likelihood of bus lanes for this reason – but seemingly not.

There’s a lot that the public gives up in having Auckland Transport as a CCO – less direct oversight through elected members, probably less democracy in decision-making, certainly less information made publicly available. For that loss to be worth it, Auckland Transport needs to start delivering – delivering public transport patronage growth and delivering necessary but politically challenging improvements, like bus lanes. Otherwise we might as well just fold them back into the Council so at least we know what they’re doing.