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No more buses in the City Centre? Is light rail an answer?

An idea that crops up quite often is whether we can get rid of all the buses in the city centre. This idea is normally backed up with the suggestion that buses are dirty, smelly, noise loathesome things that have no place in a civilised city.

Now right up front I don’t agree with that suggestion. Modern buses are actually pretty clean and quiet, especially new hybrid and battery electric models. If we design our bus routes and infrastructure properly they can be very low impact and contribute nicely to the urban environment, but where we treat them like poor cousins or try and “paint the bus routes on afterwards” they can be horrendous.

But let’s ignore that reality for now and run with the premise: what would it take to get rid of buses from the city centre. I can see four general options:

  1. Stop all buses at the edge of town and make everyone walk in. I think this is a non starter, Auckland Central is just too big for this to work. Some people would be happy to walk a kilometre or two to get where they are going, but most want to get a lot closer than that. This idea also kills off any chance of connecting between buses to get across town.
  2. Stop all buses at the edge of town and transfer everyone to a light rail shuttle, tram loop or monorail circulator, etc. This I think is also a non starter. It overcomes the walk issue above but simply trades it for the inconvenience of a forced transfer on every trip. That’s not just unnecessarily inconvenient, it also requires some pretty massive terminus infrastructure to turn around hundreds of buses an hour at various points on the city fringe and get everyone over to some sort of shuttle thing. It also makes transfers across town awkward, although not impossible.
  3. Feed all buses into rail or busway tunnels and only have underground train/bus stations in the city. This is feasible, but would be very expensive. Given the current and projected bus patronage we would require two or three city rail links, or bus equivalents, to move the numbers. It also means you lose the easy street level access for more local trips, and would need to divert lots of local isthmus buses quite out of the way to link to connecting stations or bus tunnel portals. So without building something comprehensive, and expensive, like an underground metro network it’s hard to see how this could work, and indeed all the cities with the busiest metros still have masses of buses and trams running at street level.
  4. Convert all city bus routes to light rail, and only have light rail trams on city streets. This is the question I want to explore today, is it feasible to reinstall the Auckland isthmus tram system and only have light rail vehicles running on city streets?

Having only light rail on the streets is an appealing idea, people seem very fond of trams and the idea of an extensive tram network has little push back from architects and urban designers who are concerned with the look, feel and experience of the city. It’s hard to argue that trams aren’t nice to ride on, or that they don’t look cool. If done properly it would mean dedicated lanes for every transit route reaching the city, nice station style stops and permanent and legible ‘proper transit’ for a proper big city.

Light rail on street would have a few unique advantages too. One is that the corridors can be quite narrow given that the vehicles are stuck to their rails. The trams they use in Adelaide and Madrid, for example, are only 2.4m wide. This means a double tramway can fit in only 5m of road width, between stops at least. That could be very useful for our fairly narrow arterial roads, streets like Dominion Rd or Mt Eden Rd which are only 20m wide in total and where even basic bus lanes are difficult. Putting narrow trams in the middle might buy us enough space for cycle lanes, or a row of parking.

Skinny but capacious tram from Madrid.

So if we put aside the fact you can actually do much the same with buses, if you give them the same level of investment and attention, why wouldn’t we want this?

Well the simple answer is that it would cost a lot of money, money that might be better spent improving frequencies and adding new services rather than changing the existing ones from rubber tyres to steel wheels. So the question is how much would it actually cost, so let’s see. To work out this cost, I have taken the bus network published in the Regional Public Transport Plan and identified all of the routes that end in or pass through the city centre. I then grouped those together into bunches that run on the same corridor in town, giving six groups:

  1. Quay St: Tamaki Dr to Jervois Rd/Pt Chevalier, plus the Inner Link loop
  2. Symonds St: routes from Remuera Rd, Great South Rd and Manukau Rd
  3. Queen St: Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, New North Rd
  4. Albert St: Great North Rd, and Richmond Rd
  5. The Northwestern Motorway
  6. The Northern Busway

 

Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

Indicative light rail corridors and groupings.

One thing to note here, I tried to be conservative with the track and make stuff as small as possible. To that end I’ve not replace some of the smaller bus routes that enter the city at all, I guess the idea is they would terminate at somewhere like Newmarket, Ponsonby or Parnell and people would have to swap to the trams.  This might not be the best way to run things for the network, but it seems to be a simple way to do it.

Adding these corridors up, we arrive at the following figures for the total track required (the total route length is longer because the routes share tracks near the City Centre).

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

Estimated cost of converting all routes reaching the Auckland City Centre to light rail.

For the city routes I’ve applied a cost of $12m per kilometre for track, power and roadway reconstruction. That’s a mid range estimate taken from review of recent light rail projects in Australia. I’ve also allowed for one pair of platform style stops for every 500m of track, costed at $500k each. On the Northern and Northwestern routes I’ve allowed for the addition of tracks to busway and motorway shoulders, and in the case of the Northwestern, some new stations at $10m each. This does assume that we can simply run light rail tracks on the busway, motorway shoulders and over the general lanes of the harbour bridge, probably in mixed traffic. Again that might not be the best way to do it, but it’s the cheapest. In addition, we’d need a maintenance depot and some stabling yards, total of $100m allowed there.

Finally, I worked out what would be required for a peak frequency of one tram every five minutes on each street level route (giving better frequency where they overlap), while I allowed for one every three minutes on the Northern and Northwestern corridors. Overall that requires 94 light rail vehicles, each costed at $5m.

All together that adds up to 152 route-kilometres operating on 119.7 kilometres of double track electrified tramway, with 119 stations served by 94 vehicles running every five minutes at peak times. That would leave Auckland in a sort of Melbourne like position. Heavy rail for the main trunk routes from most of the region, light rail filling in some other radial corridors, the inner suburbs covered in street level tram lines and buses relegated to feeder and crosstown routes well away from the City Centre.

So, what is the magic number to get rid of buses by building a light rail network covering all routes entering the City Centre? Add it all up and we get an estimate of $2.36 billion dollars (I actually think that is a bit light, not for the street level stuff but I fear the Northern and Northwestern motorway based ones could in practice get very expensive indeed).

The question is, is it worth it? Could we do better with that money?

Well at a service level it’s really no better than what we will have with the New Network buses, at least in terms of frequency and accessibility. Spending that money would buy us a lot of reliability, assuming that the tram tracks would be closed to traffic for the most part and the trams could run without interference at any time of day. However we could do the same with an aggressive programme of bus lanes for a lot cheaper. Likewise with the new station style stops, the corresponding street upgrades, the modern cool looking and comfortable vehicles. We’d get all that, but the question remains could we not do the same with our bus stops and save a whole lot of money in the process. Another point is this would deliver a multi-billion dollar transit boost to the isthmus and the North Shore… which are, excluding the CBD and parts of Glen Innes, precisely those areas that see the least allowance for development in the Unitary Plan.

I’d love it if some minister turned up with two and half billion for such a project, and I do believe Auckland would be an amazing place if this were done. But is it really something to aim for, or can we do better with our money?

Curiously the cost of an isthmus tram network is about the same as the CRL, so should we do that instead? I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, the CRL would need to come first, or at least at the same time, before we look at anything like this. I can see two reasons for that stance.
Firstly a light rail system wouldn’t actually add that much capacity, because it is simply replacing the buses we already have. There would probably be some boost to speed, capacity and reliability, but not that much if it is a case of just changing vehicles and guideway on the same corridors. By most estimates the CRL gives us the ability to run about 48 trains an hour in total, or an extra 28 over current capacity. Twenty-eight full size EMUs is equivalent to about eighty-four light rail trams an hour, or 420 buses!… and that’s new capacity.
The second point is that the CRL really supercharges the regional rail network, which focuses on the suburbs outside the isthmus more than anything. As noted above it’s the rail served suburbs of the west and south that really have the potential to grow under the unitary plan, not the isthmus, so we should build the transport they need first.

Let us know what you think, I hope to see lots of juicy debate on this one!

101 comments to No more buses in the City Centre? Is light rail an answer?

  • Peter Olorenshaw

    You seem to be assuming the trams wouldn’t run on the train lines, is there a reason for that? Secondly the whole thing with trams is that you don’t need platforms – you have stops just like buses as the trams would be low floor like good buses. Trams have a couple of advantages that shouldn’t be ignored: because they are confined to precisely defined routes, you have no worries about them running you over when they are weaving through city centres. This is different to buses that rely on (fallible) human drivers. Like heavy trains they have the efficiency of steel wheels on steel rails.
    But the biggest issues I see here is that you start from the premise that it should be all trams or all buses and somehow the trams and trains are different. Surely none is suggesting this, rather it would just be trams on the main arterials with shuttle buses feeding them.
    Lastly why aren’t all the trains actually trams? This would give them much more flexibility by being able to drive on roads, round tight corners, through busy squares etc, but being able to zoom across the existing train lines out to the suburbs. Our relatively narrow train gauge could be an advantage here, they are eminently suitable for tram lines.

    • Tim A

      Trams also have less wind resistance due to a lower, smaller profile. They are considerably more efficient than buses, even when comparing electric with electric.
      They also carry more people per linear metre, as two buses require a safe following and maneuvering distance. Many bus stations in town already appear at capacity, with buses frequently queuing across traffic lanes waiting for a space at the stop to clear.
      Trams can also allow passengers to embark and disembark through multiple doors at once, making for much faster loading/unloading times, particularly at terminus stations where many people get off at once.
      There are probably more advantages I’m missing? Nick did already mention that they look cool…

    • Because there are faster and higher capacity trains on the train lines, serving a far wider area. This is about the issue of on-street Transit. The rail ROW is finally in process, right now, of getting sorted so that isn’t the issue addressed by this post.

    • SteveC

      mixing light and heavy rail is a nono due to the very different performance (particularly stopping braking) profile, buses and light rail can co-exist on a shared right of way

      • Mike

        Someone had better tell the Germans, the French (and soon-to-be the Poms) that mixing light and heavy rail is a “nono”! Correctly set up, light rail can and does share tracks with heavy freight and high-speed trains. The main issue is automatic train protection, to avoid collisions – and Auckland’s rail network has already got that.

        • mfwic

          Karlsruhe has mixed light and heavy rail vehicles for well over 25 years. They were promoted as the example when Auckland went through the whole light rail debate that delayed any reasonable rail improvements for 10 years. The fact is you actually dont want Lrt on the heavy rail tracks as it will congest the lines for heavy rail services which are a far better way to serve our spread out city. Light rail has the advantgae of being able to pass through city streets without ruining the nature of the street. What Auckland lacks is an inner city distributor and CRL isnt going to help that much. ( how many people would find a station go down into it, wait for a train and get off one or two stops later then walk again to their destination, you would have to be a slow walker or someone who doesnt value your time). A light rail or tram system as an inner city loop would allow people to use the heavy rail and NS Busway to get to a much larger area of the city. But frankly light rail is no substitute for heavy rail.

          • mfwic absolutely agree that we don’t want or need tram-trains. Transferring between modes run well and frequently will deliver a better overall solution than trying to give every destination a ‘one seat ride’. And in the end that’s the point of half-pie cross-mode solutions like tram-trains. A multimodal city is better than a city with multimodal systems.

            But i strongly disagree about short trips on the CRL. These will be well used. Remember frequency on the CRL itself will be around every 3 mins each way during the day; in effect zero waiting. Britomart or even Aotea to K’rd is a hill eater. And K or Aotea to Parnell will be a no brainer. The Inner Link routinely takes 40 mins from Ponsonby to Parnell [my son does this daily to get to his study- handy to the yet-to-be Parnell Station, on the surface that takes too long]. Yesterday I walked from Britomart to the Aotea Centre and it was a beautiful autumn evening and a great pleasure, but in the rain or a hurry even that Metro ride would be a good option.

            Personally it’ll be so much better for me to be biking to K’Rd then riding the fast and frequent trains to all sorts of near and far locations rather than trying to guess how long my Link or meandering 020 will be held up in traffic or when I don’t feel like fighting city traffic and hills to ride all the way. As it is I do ride to Kingsland occasionally, but the train frequency is too low to rely on this [also one more big hill] and of course unless heading to Grafton or Newmarket it’s too indirect [soon Parnell; which will be worth it].

            AT have been surprised by how many intra line [short] trips the HOP data is already showing particularly on the Western Line, just wait till that’s working at a much better turn-up-and-go 10 min frequency and that’ll surely jump. Post CRL it’ll be real big.

            This is not only a Commuter system already. Unfortunately I’m not confident many in our institutions are yet able to understand the many advantages of a Metro Style running pattern. The government and the MoT only talk in terms of dormitory suburb to and from workplace trips, they don’t seem to grasp the nature on contemporary work and living arrangements.

          • Yeah Nah

            Like Patrick, I disagree mfwic that the CRL won’t be an effective “inner city distributor”. Working near K Rd, I would gladly take a train to Britomart for lunch or for a beer after work for example, not to mention on to other inner city stations like Parnell, Newmarket or even Mt Eden.

            When I lived in London, I worked near St James Park tube and regularly took the train to Victoria station for lunch. Sometimes I would even go to Victoria, then transfer lines to get to Oxford Circus (where my partner worked). Anecdotally, it seemed like a lot of people did the same so I have to disagree with you here.

          • Yes I took short tube trips when I lived in London too, and still do in the many cities I visit, the certainty of the route and the frequency and reliability of the vehicle [no traffic issues] …. There must be data on this; anyone know of a source?

          • mfwic

            If they do actually put trains through at 3 minute headways then perhaps. It seems unlikely to me that there will be frequencies better than the district and circle line during the day or more frequent than Sydney has from Central to circular Quay. If you start 10mins from a station and need to finish 10 mins from a station I just dont see it working. If trains are at 10 minute headways your average wait is 5 mins so that is 25 minutes plus the train trip time. I used to walk from the ferry to Vincent St in less.

          • We already run trains every three minutes into Britomart, why would they reduce it with the CRL?

          • But at the CRL stations they will have to be far more frequent than 10 mins, as the near term aim is ten min frequencies at the outer suburban stations and those lines perforce double and triple up through the CRL, there’s just nowhere else for them to go. This is one of the few advantages of our tight little network: you must have seen how the lines on our CFN map multiple through the CRL? 6-8tph from South and East and whatever from Onehunga [depending on its degree of upgrade] have to pop out the other end of the Britomart as 20odd tph. 60/20 = 3: one train every three minutes. The tunnel will run the trains on autopilot in, we are told, 2.5min blocks. So its possible and pretty much unavoidable.

            Sure they could run fewer but only so many fewer in order to meet both frequency and capacity demands. Through routing means a super frequent inner city Metro for Auckland. The CRL is the Killer App for our city. Even just 6tph from Parnell and 6tph from Orakei make for 12 tph up the CRL and the same coming the other way from Grafton and Kingsland. So at least, at the beginning a train every 5 minutes each way.

            But it’ll have to be more by then.

          • mfwic

            I think it is about 15/hr tp Britomart 7-9am and 8/hr 10am-2pm. That is headways of about 4mins peak and 7.5mins off peak. That is adding the trains from Newmarket to the trains from the eastern line. Presumably routing through will allow less trains to be used ie some from the east will go out west etc so I am guessing 10mins off peak. I havent seen any data just working from how we would have worked it out at British Rail. Yes growth should mean more trains but most growth is likely to be the peak when peoplemore easily be moved from other modes.

          • The Regional Public Transport Plan indicates ten minute headways all day per line after 2016. Even if you through route the four lines into two pairs that is still five minute headways each way in the tunnel all day.

            At peak presumably it would be back down to 3 or 4 minutes, but in both directions rather than terminating.

    • Yes Peter, the trams wouldn’t run on the train lines because we have trains to serve the train lines, and need to serve the residents and destinations of the street corridors with something.

      There are various technical, operational and legal reasons that make running trams on our rail lines very difficult. Not least because or tracks are already full with no room to add more vehicles.

      All our trains aren’t trams because that would reduce capacity at the same time as drastically increasing operating costs. We need trains on the main regional corridors to do the heavy lifting.

      If you read the first paragraph, the title of the post even, you will indeed see that the premise of this post is the feasibility of getting rid of all the buses by replacing them with trains.

      Platform stops are essential to meet accessibility requirements, even with low floor vehicles. You can’t get a wheelchair onto a low floor tram stopped in the middle of the street. Anyway, even for able bodies people we can’t just expect them to wander out into the traffic lanes the way people did in the 1920s.

    • bbc

      It would be a complete disaster for any tram system in Auckland to use the same narrow tracks we have on the main-lines, if trams are expanded they would use standard gauge (as the Wynward Tram already does), otherwise we’d be missing out on the ability to buy off the shelf trams like the rest of the world. Narrow gauge trams would be an expensive and unattractive option especially when there’s not legacy network stuck with that. The previous trams in Auckland were also standard gauge.

  • Tim A

    What about the case to slowly implement light rail across the network?
    And don’t forget to factor in the environment, please – trams run on locally produced electricity, and that’s an important aspect.

    Saying that buses -can- be electric, quiet and clean is not the same as having buses which actually are. So a like for like comparison would need to factor in the cost of replacing the bus fleet, including additional infrastructure to move to electric. It will still be the cheaper option, but it starts to level the playing field. What if we replaced a bus route at a time, allowing companies to retire older buses and re-direct assets to other routes?

    I’m in to pitch for the “let’s get rid of as many vehicles in the heart of the city as possible” team. But don’t misinterpret that; I think we should aim to get vehicles off Queen Street, Ponsonby and K Roads, and parts of Quay Street and Victoria Street. That leaves places like Symonds Street (which I feel should be almost bus-only), Albert, Customs and Wellesley Streets for drop-off locations, plenty close to be practical for people walking into the city. So the “deliver-them-close” argument doesn’t immediately rule out ALL buses from the city, it just pulls them off streets which could be heavily pedestrianised.

    Next up comes routes which can be mode shifted by feeding onto rail or proposed light rail. That includes the North Shore, which should be shifted to rail, although this would probably be the last route to actually be completed. Early wins are those blue and red lines which virtually run parallel to the rail network as it stands – feeder buses & cycleways to rail stations, please.

    Then there are routes which just plain ol’ make sense. Unfortunately we are going to receive the Dominion Road Sidegrade at a cost of $50mil+ to keep it as a carpark, but as identified in the article and the propsed CFN, this street would be perfect for a tramway – it would then fit dedicated cycle lanes and even a bit of parking here and there. The same can be said for Mt Eden Road.

    So, we’re starting to reduce the routes to the point where, long term, you may not need any buses driving through inner city streets, at least not those suited to be pedestrian malls. With such a reduction in bus numbers, perhaps an underground station could become more likely in the future (though I’m not convinced it’s necessary).

    I also wouldn’t argue that light-rail could supplant or should be prioritised over the CRL. Like almost any other transport improvement in this city, it is dependent on the CRL going ahead first.

    • bbc

      Indeed, buses in Auckland in general are of very poor quality especially the old fleet that NZBus operates. It’s not surprising they manage to uncercut and win bids for bus routes when they’re running buses which are dirty, noisy and unpleasant for people on the street and inside them. Unless we compare the cost of running good quality buses with good quality trams then it’s all just meaningless.

  • There would be substantial gains through traditional bottlenecks like Mission Bay on Tamaki Drive, where most of the bottlenecking at rush-hour occurs and where there are no bus lanes (and I would wage there probably won’t be due to car parking). Ironically it would make the Local Board’s extended sea wall proposal make sense, but that’s an extra cost.

  • Garth Houltham

    Mate ya dreamin

  • Garth Houltham

    Sorry couldn’t resist a light hearted response. I am glad you clarified the need for CRL at the end.

  • Barney

    Birkenhead buses already drop their passengers off at the edge of town (Lower Hobson St) resulting in a long and often wet & windy walk into Downtown.
    In San Francisco the trains emerge from the subway tunnel at West Portal and then cheerily travel along the roadways.

  • Fund each line through ‘a targeted rate’ on each catchment.

  • Start with the Tamaki – North Wharf service, build from there. How much just for that?

    • Well, that would be about 10.2km for North Wharf to St Heliers. Plugging in the unit costs gives us $122m for track, say ten stops at $50m, and nine vehicles at $45m. So that $217m plus a stabling facility.

      But why Tamaki Dr? There is basically no catchment out there. After Britomart you’ve got maybe one stop near Quay Park and then several kilometres with ocean to one side and water, park or cliffs to the other. Where would people get on and off? The mini golf course? Kelly Tarltons? Okahu Bay… not really drivers of regular all day patronage. You’re basically looking at a light rail line with only three real stops, Mission Bay, Kohimarama and St Heliers… all of which have half their catchment in the water. It would be an exercise in feeding buses to terminate at the tram, I’d ask the question of why not just run the buses along actually.

      I do agree with the sentiment though, but if we’re starting with one route it should be Queen St, followed by an extension to Dominion Rd or perhaps Mt Eden Rd. Britomart to K Rd is currently the second busiest bus route in Auckland, the city link is only second to the NEX. It certainly has the most boardings per service-km of anything (by comparison the combined Tamaki Dr is about number 20 on the list). Queen St would be 1.7km of track and need only three vehicles to maintain better five minute headways, assuming it were free of traffic and the trams could average about 15km/h overall. Plug in six stops and we are looking at about $40m… so it’s a fifth the cost to move five times the people.

      Then you can extend the rest of the way to Mt Roskill, or beyond. That is actually a bit less distance than North Wharf to St Helliers, but runs right down the middle of prime transit ridership territory the whole way. If you combined the catchments of the City Link and Dominion Rd bus lines into one route it would be busier (in terms of boardings) than any bus route in Auckland.

      If you had to pick one to start with, Queen St makes the most sense, followed by an ithsmus extension. Tamaki Dr is a nice idea for tourists but it just wouldn’t carry that many people, so it would be quite far down the list of priorities. Personally I think if were were serious about trams in Auckland then we should do Queen St then subsequently add in Dominion Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Sandringham Rd in that order. Those are the best candidates for short, direct but busy street level routes, they can all feed into Queen St easily, and turning them into trams on Queen means more room for other buses on the remaining city corridors.

  • Ari

    An interesting idea, but so unlikely it isnt really worth discussing. I just dont see any practical advantages over buses. Pure electric is great for the environment, but it’s a bonus, not really enough of an advantage over buses. Being slightly narrower has some advantage, but not that much even on our narrow corridors like Dominion road. You would still lose a lane each way. Trams would need their own phases at intersections which just makes intersections more complicated than they are now. And those lines pass through some major intersections.

    • Yes you still need a lane for trams, but on most of those corridors we have at least some sections that are already bus lanes. The advantage is that you can reinvest that width into the footpaths or cycleways, not traffic.

      Why do trams need their own phases at intersections? Can they not follow the main straight through phases that already occur? All of the routes above are generally just running the length of a main road, that’s the movement that is already prioritised by the lights.

  • Andrew Mackenzie

    This is a great plan. But one thing sticks out for me: you have at least three lines running in parallel to the existing railway lines. The New Market to City section of the Link route makes sense. However, with suburban buses feeding the railway stations the Great South Rd and Great North Rd links seem superfluous.

  • Christopher T

    The parallel route out west is New North Road; Great North Road would benefit enormously from a tram.

  • Bryce P

    If anything, it’s the corridors like the Northern Busway and potentially the NW busway that would suit some form of rail (light metro?) in the nearer term while leaving buses to feed these main routes. We just need to get more bus lanes in the city streets like Ponsonby Rd, NNR, Dom Rd (which is happening of course).

  • Neil

    I am old enough to remember tram rails, and their effect on cyclists and motor cyclists. Not good a good combination.

    • bbc

      Spent any amount of time in Europe and you’ll see that it’s really not a problem. Sure bike accidents happen now and then when wheels get stuck in the tram tracks but the reality is cycle-safety is a red-herring, cars and the lack of any bike infrastructure is the real danger to people on bikes in Auckland, not a future with tram tracks (which will return, I have no doubt).

  • Mike

    Narrow-gauge trams expensive, unattractive and not off-the-shelf? All nonsense, I’m afraid, as anyone familar with Switzerland’s extensive metre-gauge network knows.

  • Ted E

    The rails would be a large item in the cost so wonder if the trolley bus would be an alternative. Certainly we need to be phasing out the on street parking and the South American bus station in the street centre option would obviate the pick up drop off and ticketing problems speeding up the loading unloading.

  • Chris O

    Seems like trying to replace *all* the buses would be a significant expense for modest benefits (although there are probably some specific routes where trams would work well). I’d say stick with buses until PRT pods usher in our new utopian transport future (/ducks and runs for cover). At the current glacial rate of progress that should happen sometime… after the flying car goes mainstream but before we launch people into orbit with giant trebuchets. (I’m a big fan of the concept of pods, but like fuel cell cars and nuclear fusion, its a technology that’s been “just aruond the corner” for decades now)

  • Exaucklanderinsydney

    For the same cost you could build airport rail and the Mt Roskill Spur and maybe still change left over.I know which option I would prefer to spend that money on.
    As for converting heavy rail lines to trams, are you mad?! Trams simply cannot compete with heavy rail when it comes to speed, comfort and capacity. I’ve been on the new light rail here in Sydney and whilst it’s great, you definitely appreciate how much more smoother the new trains are in comparison to the new trams.

  • tomtom

    Lol.

    You’re seriously suggesting that we should discuss implementing trams all over the place in Auckland just because they’re “cool”, satisfies architect and planners desire for their particular idea of city “look and feel” and because you think it’d make Auckland an “amazing” city. Especially at a price about the same for a CRL but with far less benefits/return?

    Auckland needs a CRL, yes. The CRL will hopefully reduce buses heading into the city through use of convenient transfers to frequent and fast trains, thus negating your entire premise anyways.

    Does it need trams everywhere? No. Trams (in separated lanes) are only needed for very few reasons, for example:
    – capacity on a single trunk route
    – use through tunnel(s) where it would be impractical/expensive to use diesel fume extracting equipment

    As for costs – yeah. That’s light. GoldLinQ on the GC is 1.6 billion AUD for 13km (although it does include a bit of grade separation at places.)

    • No I’m not seriously suggesting it, I’d hope that would have been clear that I’m actually rubbishing the idea…

      Although I don’t agree that the CRL will reduce buses, all the suburban bus routes are already shifted to rail feeders with the New Network. What is left even before the CRL are just those routes above that run on the isthmus or the busway.
      The CRL won’t change the fact you need buses on Dominion Rd or Remuera Rd etc, and in fact we can expect overall PT demand to increase leading to more buses, not less.

      The Gold Coast line is Gold Plate mind, a very techno focussed solution, big stations and a lot of rebuild. I’ve focussed on a basic delivery. But yeah in reality there might not be an appetite for basic and it would end up costing more.

      • tomtom

        Oh. Excuse me haha.

        I think I would support the idea of a Dominion Road tram in theory, but I wonder if you’d even get a significant capacity boost. I suspect you would not be able to run a long vehicle through that many intersections at a decent frequency each way.

        • I think that Dominion Rd is one scenario where you would see capacity gains, simply because it is so constrained. Quite obviously you just can’t fit Northern Busway style bus stations on Dominion Rd, you can’t even fit indented bays in most places. There the level boarding through multiple doors of a tram is a clear advantage. Pretty sure in practice you could load one tram on Dom Rd faster and easier than the equivalent of three buses. If you time things right you could have one tram passing through each phase of the lights, again thats the same as about three buses at each phase of the lights (which means three buses arriving at the next stop together too).

          One tram every two minutes equals 7,500 people an hour with fairly normal sized vehicles. That’s about what the busway carries across all services at peak.

    • JimboJones

      If you think the only advantage of a tram over a bus is that they are cool you are fooling yourself. When a you go to Melbourne you are met with a tram system that you can easily understand, use and like. When you go to Auckland you are met with three train lines that go to a handful of useful places and a million and one bus routes that even the most diligent PT user can barely understand. You could argue that the bus routes could be as good as tram routes – but we’ve had buses for years and they are still crap, Melbourne has had trams for years and they have always been good.

      • Lived in Melbourne for four years and their trams are often complete crap, according to this guy who relied on the tram and train system for almost all of his travel needs.. Maybe for the casual visitor who never leaves the CBD grid it’s fine, and on some corridors they are brilliant, but for most suburban routes they are crap. Low frequency, slow, always delayed, stuck in traffic. The point is trams can be good, and the can be bad. Likewise with buses. The fact we have crappy buses doesn’t mean all buses must be crappy. The fact that the 67 Carnegie tram is a heap of the proverbial however does prove that trams aren’t automatically awesome.

      • tomtom

        Did you read my comment in full?

        I outlined some of the advantages of trams, such as capacity increases or use where busses would be incredibly impractical to use (for example San Francisco’s MUNI where the light rail runs through various tunnels through hills and under the heavy rail system in the city proper.

        The fact that bus routes have not been improved or given their own lanes is not the fault of the technology, it is the fault of the political environment. The Northern Busway, while expensive and unable to be replicated in design terms in an urban area, is an excellent example of what busses can achieve.
        Using your logic, I could claim that commuter rail is useless, because the service (until a few years ago) was utter crap and that it went nowhere most people needed to go before Britomart and still doesn’t even get right into the city centre. Even now, due to the political environment and other factors such as fiscal restraint in central government, means that the CRL will probably be delivered years after capacity has been maxed out.

  • Jon Reeves

    Buses look terrible after 10 years in service on busy routes and usually get pulled off. So you need to factor the costs of the buses required over 40 years (probably replacing the bus fleet 3 to 4 times) vs. trams which will last 40 years with a cosmetic refurbishment every 15 years.

    Some of the Zurich and Basel trams, in daily use, were built in the late 1950’s – how good value is that!!!!!

  • Konrad Kurta

    I’ve become increasingly indifferent to trams after living in Melbourne for a few months. Unless they’re run on grade-separated ROWs (like the Docklands Light Rail) they’re no faster than buses, and if one breaks down it stops every other tram behind it until such time as a technician can get out and fix it. They also can’t go around queues at intersections, which is a massive pain. The only thing I think they can offer over buses in a mixed traffic environment is a capacity increase – one that would require a massive amount of capex to achieve. I’d much prefer money was spent on a state-of-the-art bus fleet, and on painting bus lanes on existing roads. It’s not quite as sexy, but it’d be cheaper and just as effective.

    • I think the article does assume that they have dedicated ROW on-street.

    • Melbourne is a great example because they have instances of just about every way you could do trams, from fully offline railway style light rail lines down to streetcar trams rolling along narrow streets in mixed traffic.

      Yes I had assumed we take out some traffic capacity to give the trams a dedicated permanent lane.

      • Konrad Kurta

        Yeah, I’ve certainly experienced how different a tram experience can be based upon how it operates. I guess my argument was more that they need to be totally grade-separated (ie no interference from intersections or red lights) in order to function in a way that could justify that massive investment. Trams down St. Kilda Road, for example, have what is effectively their own right of way but they still have to stop at intersections for car and pedestrian traffic, which makes them no faster than cars even in peak hour traffic. If you swapped those trams for modern busses I don’t see what the difference would be, save a moderate capacity and opex difference. My experiences here lead me to think trams are best utilized in environments where they are grade separated and/or on routes with really large passenger volumes that aren’t served by rail and that busses can’t handle. That’s why I think Dominion Road (as per the CFN) would be a good place for trams, as would Tamaki Drive if you somehow managed to find room for a tramway.

    • JimboJones

      You obviously haven’t used an Auckland bus then! When it takes 5 minutes at some stops just for people to get on and off, you soon work out why everyone drives everywhere!

  • While trams are narrower than buses, they need a dedicated ROW, unlike a bus lane which can be used for other things (eg. off-peak parking, left turns etc), which makes bus lanes more flexible. But you could turn that argument on its head and argue that that is precisely why bus lanes arent good enough — because they can so easily be compromised to serve functions other than moving buses quickly and reliably.

    I think the real benefit of the trams is not the improved emissions, noise, speed, reliability or capacity (which as you rightly point can all be achieved with the right investment in buses), but the improved perception that they enjoy among some people. If people who “would never consider getting on a bus” are willing to board a nice little tram, it might be worth investigating if its worth spending $2B to get them on PT.

    Also, your costing (understandably) only includes capital costs, and not operating costs. Trams might have lower operating costs because of: fuel and reduced labour costs (if we use fewer faster articulated trams instead of pumping our roads with a lot of slower and smaller buses)

  • Why not start with one route, and then expand? An obvious start would be Dominion Rd, both because it is almost straight and wide, and has one of the highest bus counts, if not the highest. Take it from Britomart up Queen St and down Dominion Rd to the Southwestern motorway, and remove all buses from that route (any others that currently use Queen St would need to use Symonds St instead). Ideally, much of Queen St would become trams/pedestrians only (Mayoral Dr to Quay St) but there’d likely be some resistance to that. There’s probably room at Upper Queen St to build new parking buildings, but also at Balmoral (tie it in to the new Warehouse development) and possibly at Mt Roskill (multi-storey behind the shops). A 3-5 minute interval and 15-20 minute travel time (at rush hour) would be very attractive I would think. Platforms would enable off-tram ticketing to speed up the travel.

    First extension would be to follow the SW motorway to the airport, second would be along the waterfront to St Heliers (with car parks at Onehunga and ideally near Kohi, though that may be more difficult). That would give something very like the first stage of the Vancouver Skytrain – in fact, perhaps a similar overhead system might be an even better option. If all that works well, then keep extending. A line following the NW motorway would be fairly straight forward, branching off at the top of Dominion Rd. Eventually that could loop around the North Shore back to Britomart. The waterfront line could continue (with some care!) down to Manukau and connect back again via Puhinui Rd to the airport.

    • I agree, like I’ve suggest above start with Queen St then extend to Dominion Rd. Removing traffic from Queen St north of Mayoral Dr is a no brainer (and could be done with the City Link bus anyway). Not sure why there is any need for more parking buildings, plenty of walk a connecting bus opportunities. The whole Dominion Rd corridor is walking distance to the street, while at the Mt Roskill end feeder buses from further south would do very well.

      Not sure about the airport, that is probably better as a heavy rail extension, while St Heliers just doesn’t have the catchment or demand to justify it.

      • Greg

        Why more parking buildings? I think it’s worth also attracting people who don’t/won’t/can’t use a feeder bus service – perhaps there’s not one close enough, or maybe they need more flexibility at one end of the day, or even they just have an aversion to buses.

        Airport – all I know is that the best airports to fly in to have some sort of light rail connection, e.g. Skytrain in Vancouver, BART in San Francisco. I don’t see the advantage of heavy rail at all, in fact I think light rail would do much better at opening up Onehunga/Mangere.

        St Heliers – the commuter demand is probably not huge, although both Tamaki Dr and Kepa Rd are (by all accounts) stationary at rush hour – though I’ve never lived out that way so I don’t have first hand experience. But a tram seems the best way to connect the city to the rest of the waterfront, and I think usage would not be insignificant – particularly from a tourism point of view. And by the time you consider Parnell, Mission Bay, Kohi, through to Glen Innes/Panmure, the potential is certainly there.

    • @Greg: I think a more natural follow up would be to do the other isthmus corridors (Sandringham, Mt Eden, New North) as they would utilize the same infrastructure as the Dominion Rd tram on Queen St. And these are the highest frequency buses in Auckland.

      • Greg

        Sure, and add Manukau Rd to those (Gt South Road is duplicating the rail line, and so really is New North Rd). My concern was the ability of Queen St to easily handle more than 2 or 3 lines at a sufficiently high rate.

        • The question is how frequent will they be? There is next to know passenger benefit to increasing frequencies beyond five minutes. So if trams are running full at five minute frequencies, you would just make them longer by adding a car (and therefore reduce labour cost per passenger as there would still only be one driver) rather than more frequent.

          Therefore queen street would have to handle a tram every five minutes from 5 tram lines say (NN, Sandringham, Dominion, Mt Eden and Manukau) or roughly a tram a minute, though they are unlikely to be evenly spaced out. That should be easy enough to handle on Queen St as long as stops can handle two trams arriving in a single signal phase.

          • Not sure if double trams are much of an option. I’m already assuming 30m vehicles, two of those would be 60m. That requires a pretty massive stop… at every stop on the route (not just Queen St).

  • Nick what about a Vancouver Sky Train type system running from Panmure Station to Botany, then to Manukau and onwards terminating at the Airport in say around 2025-2030 to replace the CFN Busways for the area? ?

  • I think one of the main focuses should be to get a bus exchange in place in the central city. The current dispersed pattern is hopeless and discourages people from trying a new route. First you have to figure out which of the many locations it leaves from. Hopefully something better than the terrible sawtooth design for Manukau and Chch.

    It used to be great in Chch at the old exchange ebcause you could just turn up, figure out which platform you neede and wait for the bus. Of course, Chch also had integrated ticketing way before Auckland.

    The other is to get more buses passing through the central city rather than lingering. A central exchange should encourage that.

    The new battery powered buses in Sweden with charging at either end on pads should be the way forward. That would make a big difference to air quality in areas like QE2 Square.

    As much as I love trams from living in Melbourne and Prague, any reintroduction will have to be piecemeal, with the Wynyard Quarter/Queen Street/Dominion Road route being the obvious starter.

    Light rail (driverless?) across the bridge and down the Northern Busway must be the second surely?

    • That cursed Saw Tooth design in Manukau made for an interesting debate last week over a pot of tea. Needless to say AT really need to dump it and start a fresh if it does not want to attract the ire of the South

    • Luke Christensen

      Auckland much too big for one centralized interchange. However the new system with the New Network will vastly simplify operating patterns. All buses will go down either Symonds, Wellesley Fanshawe or Pitt/Albert. Having much fewer routes will make it much more legible.

      • There are appropriate places for bus-bus and bus-train and bus-ferry interchanges; Onehunga, Panmure, New Lynn but nowhere in the inner city. A Station for Wynyard maybe?, but not a grand one stop shop for everything to meet. In fact I would argue that isn’t the best model for CHCH either… better to do it all on the street where people want to be and not all in one place which just separates people from their destinations. Through route the buses, don’t terminate in the centre.

        • As someone who used the old Chch exchange a lot, I really have to disagree.

          I agree with this post: http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/01/25/guest-post-the-christchurch-bus-exchange/

          The central exchange in Chch was much better than street access. It was more like catching a train or tram with comfortable inside seating and constant up dates on when the bus would arrive. No buses terminated at the exchange – all of them went through and terminated in the suburbs – unlike in Auckland where buses sit idling on already crowded CBD streets.

          It also encouraged new trips and transfer between bus lines because you knew you could go to one place and be able to find the bus easily. Not the case in Auckland where you have to tramp around trying to find the obscure stop designated by one small sign.

          Bigger cities than Auckland have central exchanges that work well, usually linking with the train network (e.g. Stockholm http://www.visitstockholm.com/en/Travel/To-Stockholm/centralstation-stockholm/4043).

      • Sailor Boy

        WE are also kind of getting this at the rail stations on the CRL (must it be a prereq for everything!?) with all of the bus routes crossing there.

  • Sailor Boy

    I think it would be a good aspirational goal but very long term and done more for capacity than street scape reasons

  • JimboJones

    I’m a bit sceptical about your pricing, but if you could do trams for the same cost as the CRL then it is a no brainer in my opinion. The CRL just makes PT a bit better for those that happen to live near a train station – new tram lines would give decent PT options to lots of people. If you asked the people of Melborne if they would exchange their trams for buses and a couple of extra kilometres of train track I’m sure they would laugh in your face!

    • Jimbo- I think it’s an “and” thing.

      CRL will give massive benefits to the Southies, Easties and especially Westies.
      Trams will do that for the inner suburbs, many of which are nowhere a train station.

      The other bonus to be factored in the fuel. Domestic electric vs imported diesel?
      I know what’ I’d rather breathe in…

    • >> The CRL just makes PT a bit better for those that happen to live near a train station – new tram lines would give decent PT options to lots of people

      The CRL helps a lot more people than those just living close to a train station. The NN pushes a bunch of feeder buses onto the train network replacing buses to the city. In most cities, the rapid transit core (i.e. trains and BRT) get much more patronage than their trams.

      And in terms of what the trams would do for the isthmus, they would improve PT quality (but we’ve already argued that buses can be improved as well), but to an area that has no intensification in the unitary plan.

      The CRL is a much more transformational than a isthmus tram service.

      • JimboJones

        I still can’t see many train stations with much housing within walking distance – when I was looking to buy a house I really wanted to be near a train station but couldn’t find anywhere that suited. Yes the unitary plan will supposedly change that, but I think we are talking many moons away. It seems like we are spending 2 billion on the people who already have a reasonable PT option and ignoring the 95% of the city that don’t. Not saying we shouldn’t do the CRL by any means, but I really don’t see that it will transform Auckland as much as people seem to think. Of course if you happen to live near a train station it would be fantastic ;)

        • Depends what you consider as “near a train station”. At a 3km catchment (10min cycle ride) you are capturing about 95% of the Isthmus and large swathes of West and South Auckland.

          If you reduce it to 800m, so the old tram catchment, you are talking a large minority of Auckland’s population.

          The CRL will be transformative as it will transform the way the city works and where things are located (like housing). Looking at the city now and thinking not much will change is ignoring the very thing that will make it so successful (and makes it so scary for a lot of people), change.

    • More people use the Melbourne city loop stations each day than their whole tram network. If you asked them if they wanted their city loop or their trams the majority would say the city loop.

      The difference is of course they already have both.

  • JimboJones

    You can argue that buses ‘could’ be as good as trams, but they never will be. For example, to make Dominion road as good as trams you would need to:
    a) Have 24/7 bus lanes
    b) Have buses with big double side doors and no need for the driver to see you tag on
    c) Make the route direct and not detour via Mt Eden road
    d) Remove a lot of the stops
    e) Have bigger buses (double deckers or bendy buses)

    Even though most of these things would cost pretty much nothing to achieve, none of them have happened or even look like happening (except maybe the removal of some stops in the Dominion road upgrade although I imagine AT will succumb to the complaints of locals that use those stops). So instead it takes 40 minutes to get from Mt Roskill to the city (even off peak), which is almost 3 times as long as driving off peak and probably longer than a new train will take from Papakura to the city. I’m sure a tram would take 20 minutes max. That’s a big difference, a game changer.

    • Steve D

      > none of them have happened or even look like happening

      Well yeah, but that’s the same with bringing back trams, too. The question is what you choose to push for.

      • JimboJones

        I think unless it is a big multi million dollar project no one is interested in making it work well. Major compromises always seem to be acceptable on a bus network for some reason, that goes for all cities.
        The only time I have used a bus that was anywhere near as good as a tram or train was the 207 service from Acton to Shepherds Bush in London. The big bendy buses would turn up every 3 minutes with massive double side doors, people could get on and off in no time. But even that service had way too many bus stops and not enough priority at traffic lights. I think Jeremy Clarkson convinced Boris to get rid of the bendy’s?

    • Luke Christensen

      Mount Roskill rail would take 20 mins to city with the CRL, from stations at Motorway corridor. Probably cheaper and easier in short term.

  • Great article, very interesting and thank-you for doing the homework.

    As various people above have suggested, tram and bus networks aren’t really comparable, even if they follow the same route map, and so you aren’t paying $2bn for something that you already have. Tram networks are far more efficient, both in terms of energy consumption and land usage. They offer higher acceleration and braking and thus allow a denser service pattern to be run. Low floor trams with matching platforms are more accessible and user friendly for those in wheelchairs, mothers with strollers etc. You might even allow bikes to be carried, at least off-peak. Trams are quiet and the well documented ‘Sparks effect’ means that services using overhead power are perceived to be higher frequency, faster and more reliable than an independently powered alternative.

    If you look at recent new-build tram projects, many of the risks lie in the fact that you have contractors, utilities and local authorities doing this work for the first time and thus not interacting properly (and charging big risk premiums). You also tend to see big-ticket infrastructure such as depots, signalling and power supplies being relatively under-spec’d to reduce the costs of phase one and then having to be expensively upgraded in subsequent phases. Arguably if you committed to build the network over 20 years, you should be able to build skills and capabilities progressively (project management, electrification engineers etc), resulting in a much cheaper build and lower overheads. If you were canny, you should also be able to negotiate framework agreements with suppliers of trams, power supply, signalling etc, reducing those costs significantly. Presumably $150m or so of capital investment a year would be fairly acceptable to the ratepayers.

    As mentioned above, buying off-the-shelf will make things much cheaper and so standard gauge is preferable to cape gauge. Gauge apart, the principal issue with tram/trains is that they are a good way to make lightly-used infrastructure productive (e.g. to extend an older railway into a built-up area), but they are not a great mix with an intensive heavy-rail service when you start having to integrate signalling systems, service patters etc. If you’re talking about having 10-minute headways on most of Auckland’s heavy-rail sections then I can’t see that there’s the capacity to add trams into the mix, with all the headaches that entails.

    • tuktuk

      Likewise agreed, great article and good feedback. I think that one interesting question is: what is the total through-put capacity of a busway like Auckland’s Northern Busway? Now, say you swop about half those buses for modern 200 passenger capacity trams, do you still get to maintain the same level of frequency as the all busway option? If the answer is yes, then Auckland has a flexible solution to augment the capacity of the Northern Busway in future by adding trams, while at the same time, retaining its currently flexibility: being able to incorporate “through” buses from beyond the limits of the busway, as well as the dedicated busway-only NEX service.

      Remember that trams have some pretty phenomenal brakes exactly so they can safely mix it up with buses and other road traffic. In theory this could mean that the safe following distance between tram and bus at operational speed is the same or similar as a bus and another bus.

    • Matt, the flip side of that is whether we need higher acceleration for a denser service pattern, or big capacities etc. If we have a bus route running at five minute headways that is great, if you replace it with a tram then you’d be looking at about 15 minute headways for the same level of capacity and opex. In other words, it’s more expensive and/or results in pooerer service levels to swap out bus routes except the ones that are very very busy.

      Low floor buses and stops with Kassell kerbs are equally accessible and user friendly for those in wheelchairs etc. You can’t fall into the trap of comparing a two billion dollar tram network to a 99c bus network. Obviously it will be far better.

      Tuktuk, Converting the Busway to trams might actually decrease the capacity. The issue being that one tram arrival at the station would occupy the entirely of the inbound platform, precluding three or four buses from using it, i.e. the platform would be only trams or only buses, with a delay between the two.

      If you wanted to run light rail one the busway I think you would have to keep all the buses on the feeder platforms and only run trams on the main line platforms.

      • tuktuk

        ‘If we have a bus route running at five minute headways that is great, if you replace it with a tram then you’d be looking at about 15 minute headways for the same level of capacity and opex.’ Understood, however my question was a technical one – that running buses and trams at 5 minute frequencies is OK….. from a technical point of view. We want to increase capacity, not simply re-allocate capex and/or opex.

        ‘The issue being that one tram arrival at the station would occupy the entirely of the inbound platform, precluding three or four buses from using it, i.e. the platform would be only trams or only buses, with a delay between the two.’ Understood. However, lets say the current North Shore busway platforms appear to vary between ~30m (Sunnynook) and between 40 to 50m for the other stations. Then if all platforms can be extended to 50m, then that sets the overall capacity limit, not whether the mode happens to be several buses or a tram. A 50m platform will fit 1X 200pax 33m tram modern Melbourne style tram with 64 seats, 210 standing capacity, 2 actual and 2 theoretical wheelchair spaces, and 1X 13.5m standard tag axle commuter bus to current specification with seats for ~40, 2 wheelchair spaces and standing room for 30. So – total passenger capacity lined up at the platform is 344. If you were to line up 3X 13.5m tag axle buses and 1X 10.5m single back axle bus at that same 50m platform, you might end up with perhaps 270 max passenger capacity lined up at the platform. A win I think to the tram/bus combo.

        Looking at OPEX. 1 driver driving a 270 capacity tram is going to cost less than 4 bus drivers carting an equivalent load. End of story. I do accept that you could argue that a Bogota or Curitiba style bi-articulated bus will achieve equivalent economics. I also accept that North Shore Busway has the means to increase capacity for some years yet by going to artics and or double decker buses.

        So, let the discussion shift onto two further factors –

        Power mode. Diesel engines and in particular, diesel engined buses are among the most potent tools available for delivering cost effective passenger transport. I absolutely accept that fact. As I do that with Euro 5 Emissions standards, in particulates, diesels can be far cleaner then they ever used to be. However, they generate CO2 emissions and some day there will be a day of reckoning when transport economists do need to place an appropriate value on carbon-free alternatives. I accept that this is currently not the case, and diesel buses are in any case dramatically more efficient than an equivalent carrying capacity of singe occupant cars.

        Yes, there are networks in Europe using batteries and super-capacitors to try to avoid the costly overhead of stringing up trolley bus cables. However, as yet they are not internationally proven, cost-effective options.

        Quality. A beauty of diesel buses is their bullet-proof operating economics which is just one reason why they will always be the dominant mode in Auckland. The cost is that at a mechanical and structural, fundamental level, they are “cheap”. I’m talking noise, vibration, harshness, ride quality, expected service life. When manufacturers make them higher quality – eg trolley buses or hybrids or battery-powered etc – they definitely do fundamentally improve in quality…but, they are no longer cheap to buy and operate. Same thing happens when you dramatically improve the infrastructure. That North Shore Busway is a wonderful asset but it cost real money to build, and even now it is a far from continuous corridor, with big compromises for buses when they get stuck in traffic across the bridge. Same issue with Wellington’s trolley bus overhead infrastructure which also carries an ongoing maintenance cost.

        And so any discussions about diesel buses and other alternatives needs to consider the trade-offs between economic costs, and ability to attract customers. Auckland has many years before it has outgrown the growth potential of low cost diesel buses with the various strategies for better network planning, more buslanes and targeted investment in busways, and integrated ticketing underway and proposed. Which is great.

        However, that should not preclude consideration of other modes such as trams for specific purposes. And yes, I think trams and buses can happily co-exist on busways generating extra capacity and a better transportation experience for customers when the time is right.

        • Tuktuk, don’t disagree with any of you’re comments, except perhaps you might be glazing over the operational difficulties of trams and buses sharing the same platform. Simply issue is trams can’t pull around a bus in front, and a bus likewise can’t really pull in front of a stopped tram. Sounds like a recipe for both delaying eachother.

          Not a problem in my opinion if we did want to take this path, we would simply have to make the main platforms tram only, and the offline platforms bus only (that would however require an additional platform at Constellation and Albany to make them more like Smales Farm). Buses could either act purely as feeders to the offline platforms, or they could stop at the offline side then join the bus/tramway to run express without stopping again until they reached the city or otherwise left the main way.

          One question though, where do you propose the tram tracks go between Akoranga Station and Fanshawe St? I’ve suggested they just run in the motorway and over the bridge above for arguments sake, but not sure if that is realistic in practice.

          • Run ‘em up the middle if it’s a weight issue, along the clip-ons if it’s not.

            Gotta be cheaper than a $5B tunnel however you look at it.

          • The lesson from Perth is that turning mainline bus routes into station connectors when the mainline is converted to rail works extremely well for both modes; more buses carrying more people but on shorter journeys perpendicular to the new rail line, which then benefits by receiving the vast majority of its riders from the feeder buses [80%]. There the bus ‘platforms’ are directly above the rail ones, clearly not sharing the same space.

            The busway should remain a busway until there is the dedicated rail line across the harbour, and then Light Metro or standard rail, not trams on the bridge.

          • How would the tracks get to the middle, and how would they work with the variable barrier system?

          • Fair point. A “don’t block the box area” would allow for crossing, but the median barrier is a doozy.

            Up the clippies it is…

  • Seems like Sydneysiders are loving their new light rail:

    http://smh.domain.com.au/real-estate-news/trip-the-light-fantastic-in-the-inner-west-20140329-35q1w.html

    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/dulwich-hill-tram-extension-proving-too-popular-20140402-35y81.html

    Everytime a new PT project is built in Australasia it really puts a lie to the myth that we are all obsessed with cars and hate PT. Build it and they will come.

  • Malcolm M

    No-one in this discussion has mentioned Adelaide’s tram as a comparison. Prof Peter Newman believes that an extension through Adelaide’s CBD has been so successful that he is using it as a model for what Perth should be doing.

    Adelaide’s tram line has a popular free section through the CBD, where it functions as a local circulator and replaced a free bus that served a similar route. The tram is much more noticeable and has an impression of being faster than the bus. Its faster multi-door boarding is a big improvement on the bus, where most enter through the front door from the habit of paying a fare. Through the CBD its average speed is only 12 km/hr, which is OK for a circulator. It helps connect with the railway station, which is on the edge of the CBD. A similar function in Auckland could be connecting Queen Street, Brittomart and the Wynyard Quarter.

    At its southern end, the Adelaide tram moves through 2 hostile car-oriented traffic light sequences onto a former rail right-of-way, where it has priority over traffic, and one grade-separated crossing. Here it achieves an average timetabled speed of 30 km/hr, and eventually terminates at the seaside suburb of Glenelg. When the tram line was extended through the CBD and new trams introduced, the trams became so overcrowded they had to bypass stops. More trams were ordered, but delivery times for trams are much longer than for trains. The full order of new trams has now been received and peak frequency increased to one every 5 minutes. While this has taken the overcrowding off the newspapers, there is little room for growth. A service interval of less than 5 minutes would place too many constraints on traffic capacity of the cross streets. A lesson from this is to be cautious in converting a rail reservation to trams, particularly along corridors where there is likely to be growth. Trains can be extended to 6 or 9 cars with only modest investment, whereas tram length is constrained by the length stops in the CBD and tend to have a limit at about a 300 passenger capacity. So I believe Auckland made the right decision to retain its Western Line as heavy rail rather than converting it to trams.

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