Follow us on Twitter

AT Bouquets and Brickbats from the severe weather

There’s a lot that Auckland Transport do that we criticise them for and I so always like being able to give them praise when they deserve it. As such this is just a quick post to say that I thought their communication on Thursday about the impacts of the severe weather were good – at least on twitter anyway.

It started right from early in the morning with this tweet

Most people who use PT often have a choice between PT and driving and when the weather is bad the first instinct can be to revert to using the car, especially if the car is parked in an internal garage. Of course when that happens the roads get even more congested so having congestion free options – the rail network, the Northern Busway and the few roads with bus lanes on them – becomes even more essential. The great thing about the reminder above is most people can probably remember times when they’ve been on the road in those conditions and the gridlock that ensued.

I know the thought of driving crossed my wife’s mind before reminding her of what the roads would be like. A others clearly went through the same thought process and the reminder was timely in enabling them to get around the city.

 

 

And of course as expected the roads were madness, there were some horror stories out there of people taking multiple hours to drive around the city. This was especially the case in the eastern suburbs where Tamaki Dr was closed. Again on Tamaki Dr it seemed their communication was really good. This is just one of many tweets they had on the issue.

 

So for comms well done AT, you did a good job.

In saying this, it’s also worth thinking about why people changed their habits so much. One of the reasons is surely due to the lack of quality amenity at many train stations or bus stops. By that I mean the often appalling small and exposed shelters. Take my local station as an example (Sturges Rd). On both platforms there is only a single shelter with seating under it for about 10 people. That might be ok during off peak but in the mornings it’s common to see more 70 or more people waiting for the train (in the offpeak it’s not uncommon to see 30 people waiting for a train). On Thursday morning those people were all trying to cram under this single shelter and to get there they already had to dash across the open platform and access paths at either end.

Sturges Shelter

Sturges Shelter 2

Sadly most bus shelters are just as bad or in many cases probably even worse.

I realise there are a lot of competing priorities when it comes to PT funding but in my opinion providing better facilities would go a long way to improving the customer experience and would probably drive more patronage than $100 million spent on new park n ride facilities.

To end on a positive note though, my wife works in the Wynyard Quarter and until Thursday had always walked there from Britomart. She doesn’t mind if it’s raining lightly and had always ignored suggestions to catch the City Link bus as only every second one went there. However the weather on Thursday was pretty crazy and now that all City Link buses go to Wynyard it’s simplified the service and increased the frequency to the area so she gave it a go. In her words “it was a godsend”. A good example of how simplifying services and improving connections will get people using services.

Easter PT shutdown

It’s Easter weekend and that invariably means the rail network is shut down for works.

Auckland Transport advises the rail network will be closed for Easter and there are changes to timetables for buses and ferries during the holiday break.

Friday 18 April (Good Friday) and Monday (Easter Monday) 21 April are public holidays, therefore buses and ferries will operate on a public holiday (Sunday) timetable.

For more information about trains, buses or ferries go to www.at.govt.nz or phone 09 366 6400 to talk to our AT Contact Centre team.

Trains

There will be no trains or rail replacement buses operating on Good Friday.  For the remainder of Easter weekend, trains will be replaced by rail bus replacement services as ongoing track work continues, ahead of the first electric train services later this month.

To board a rail bus you need to be waiting at the temporary bus stop location and not a regular bus stop.  Signage directing you to the correct location will be posted at the station’s entrance and temporary timetables will be on display at rail bus stops. Buses will be marked Rail Bus.

All valid tickets and passes currently accepted on trains can be used on rail bus replacements.

Some of the work taking place along the rail corridor includes:

  • Extending the station platform at Middlemore and Avondale
  • Canopy works at Onehunga and Ellerslie
  • Wall drilling preparatory works at Parnell
  • General maintenance and electrification preparatory works

 Buses

On Good Friday and Easter Monday buses will run to a public holiday (Sunday) timetable.

Airbus Express and the Manukau-Airport service (380) will operate as normal.

There will be no Good Friday NiteRider services. Note however the NiteRider will run as normal on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Ferries

On Good Friday and Easter Monday ferries will run to a public holiday (Sunday) timetable.  There will be no services for West Harbour, Pine Habour, Gulf Harbour, Hobsonville and Beach Haven.

Motorway traffic:

The NZ Transport Agency anticipates that traffic on all motorways leaving Auckland will be heavy on Thursday and Good Friday as people head out of town, and it advises them to plan the timing of their travel to avoid congestion and delays.

The Transport Agency says there will be two significant project-related road closures in the city over Easter.   Wellesley Street east near the two universities will be closed for work related to the construction of the Grafton Gully cycleway, and the westbound Northwestern Motorway (SH16) off-ramp at Great North Road will be closed for work related to the Waterview Connection project.

Like I’ve said before about the Christmas shutdowns, I hope that with Electrification being completed this year I really hope this is the last Easter weekend we see large scale network shutdowns. While frustrating I do understand the need to do this work so I’m not complaining about that but one thing I do want to complain about is this line.

There will be no trains or rail replacement buses operating on Good Friday.  For the remainder of Easter weekend, trains will be replaced by rail bus replacement services

Both Good Friday and Christmas day are unique in Auckland in that AT completely shut the network without any kind of rail bus replacements. With AT and the council meant to be trying to dramatically improve PT in Auckland this is completely unacceptable. We (as a city) want greater numbers of people using PT and over time that means more and more people are likely to be living without a car and will rely on PT for getting around - in fact many do it already. This will only be heightened once the new bus network comes in and there are less competing bus routes.

So come on Auckland Transport, surely it’s time to drop the archaic practice of not even having a replacement bus service.

The Downside of Park and Ride

Flicking back through older Atlantic Cities posts led to one from last year about Park and Ride catching my eye. It’s a fairly well reasoned cautionary tale which highlights the pitfalls and potential perverse outcomes from something that would appear to be a good thing that encourages public transport use.

On paper, park-and-ride facilities seem like the ultimate transport compromise. Free or cheap parking near transit stations should, if the theory holds, make partial transit riders of metro area residents who used to drive the whole way into work. The system acts like a nicotine gum for daily commutes — weaning people slowly off the single-occupancy car.

The ‘nicotine gum’ analogy is not a bad one actually. Park & ride can be a useful “entry point” to public transport for those who are very much used to driving. This does, in theory at least, make them an important part of achieving ‘modal shift’ away from driving and towards public transport. So what are the pitfalls?

In reality, some transport experts wonder whether park-and-ride does more harm than good. A study of park-and-ride facilities from the early 1990s found they don’t necessarily ease congestion because they unleash latent demand for road space. Other research has come out similarly skeptical that park-and-ride reduces car use, though much of it has centered on bus-based transit.

A new study of park-and-ride at rail-based transit stations doesn’t offer much in the way of encouragement. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, Dutch researcher Giuliano Mingardo reports that park-and-ride facilities in two major metro areas create four measurable “unintended effects” that not only limit the benefits of transit but may even increase vehicle travel in the metro area.

Mingardo surveyed more than 700 travelers at nine rail-based park-and-rides around the Rotterdam and The Hague a couple years back — ranging in size from 15 parking spaces to 730. His questionnaires, given to people at afternoon rush, focused on what riders would do in the absence of the park-and-ride facility. Mingardo also conducted concurrent field observations of various stations.

Across both metro areas he found evidence for four unintended effects of park-and-ride facilities — two of which (asterisked) had never been documented:

  • Abstraction from transit. People who had once made the entire commute by transit now drove to the transit station.
  • *Abstraction from bike. People who had once made some or all of the commute on their bicycle now drove to the station.
  • Trip generation. People made more trips in general because the overall cost of transportation was lower.
  • *Park and walk. People parked at the station but walked somewhere nearby and didn’t use transit at all — potentially displacing transit riders and disrupting the area parking market.

In Rotterdam, Mingardo found that only about a quarter of park-and-ride users said they would use a car for their entire commute in the absence of the facility — which is the desired effect. The rest fell into one of the above categories. As a result, Mingardo calculates that there’s a net addition of 1,272 vehicle kilometers traveled, as well as an increase in carbon emissions.

All park and rides did not perform equally though – with some having more obvious positive impacts than others.

The situation wasn’t universally flawed. “Remote” stations — meaning park-and-ride facilities deep into the suburbs that captured city commuters early into the trip — performed well. And in The Hague, Mingardo did find a slight net reduction in vehicle travel and emissions. Still, even there, the presence of unintended effects seemed to mute most benefits of park-and-ride.

Generally speaking, in accordance with previous research, he believes that park-and-ride facilities “do present a net increase in traffic volume rather than a reduction”:

Indeed, the number of car-km saved from the P&R site to the inner city is usually more than compensated by the increase in car-km travelled to reach the P&R site by those users who switched from public transport services and bikes, those that were previously not travelling and (possibly) the Park and walk users.

Despite the findings, the takeaway here is not necessarily that park-and-ride doesn’t work. These facilities should certainly be monitored by cities to make sure they’re meeting policy goals — especially if that goal is traffic reduction. Additionally, it seems clear that suburban or “remote” park-and-rides fulfill more of that goal than those closer to the city center.

There are no huge surprises here. Park and rides “further out” are likely to serve areas where feeder buses, walking and cycling to access rapid transit are less viable options – both in terms of attractiveness and cost-effectiveness in their provision. But in more inner areas the benefits become decidedly dodgier – most likely because feeder buses, walking and cycling would work as alternatives to park and ride.

What’s not outlined in the Atlantic Cities post, but is also a clear potential disbenefit of park & ride in more inner areas, is the effect on land-use. One of the main purposes of high quality public transport is to shape the urban form and encourage the development of successful “transit oriented development” around train (and busway) stations. A sea of asphalt around the stations to provide park and ride is pretty much the antithesis of achieving successful land-use transport integration and transit oriented developments. This is important as one study I’ve seen (but can’t find right now) found that if the land used to provide parking was otherwise used to provide dwellings or employment for an equivalent number of people that you can get greater patronage gains. That provides a useful trigger point as to when we should be developing P&R sites and places like Orakei and Devonport surely fall into this category.

Fortunately, Auckland Transport’s Regional Public Transport Plan seems quite aware of the ‘balancing act’ in its policies on park & ride and only suggests that they be located in “selected peripheral locations to extend the catchment area of the public transport network and encourage patronage growth”. In saying that there are obviously some park n rides close to the city in the form of the ferry terminals and Orakei train station. How Auckland transitions away from these will be interesting to watch. They are also still planning for a huge amount of new parking to be built and are aiming to add around 10,000 carparks to the PT network for a minimum cost of $100 million.

AT Park n Ride plan

Quick progress on Fanshawe Street bus lane proposal

In early February the blog set out to once again highlight Auckland Transport’s lack of progress on implementing any bus lanes, and highest priority we thought was fixing the Fanshawe Street westbound, which consisted of a few isolated and dysfunctional sections, but mostly had nothing at all. We proposed a quick, easy fix solution, just consisting of reallocating some general traffic lanes, so the 70% of people in buses would get a faster road home.

This post gained the attraction of several councillors, and was followed up by the Campaign for Better Transport. This resulted in the proposal gaining the attention of  Auckland Transport Board chair Lester Levy, who asked for further investigation, which found the idea was feasible. This was announced in early March, and then they said the timing would be about three months.

However this afternoon Auckland Transport have sent out a new press release, showing that detailed design has been completed, and the design sounds very similar to what we proposed.

Bus commuters heading home along Fanshawe Street are to get a new predominantly kerbside bus lane.

The shore bound bus lane will start from Albert St and connect to the existing bus lane beside Victoria Park to keep buses moving to the northern motorway through this key traffic corridor.

Auckland Transport public transport group manager Mark Lambert says Auckland Transport has weighed up options for implementing a bus lane and believes that a kerbside lane after Hobson Street is the optimal solution. Between Albert and Hobson Streets the bus lane will be in the second lane from the kerb to allow for the heavy volume of traffic that turns left to access the southern and western motorway entrances.

“Further along the route, there is a significant traffic movement left into Halsey St which requires additional queuing space to operate effectively,” says Mr Lambert.

Seventy per cent of the people who travel on Fanshawe St at peak are in a bus and there’s a bus about every 40 seconds.

Mr Lambert says Auckland Transport has given priority to installing a new interim bus lane for shore bound commuters while longer term plans continue to extend the Northern Busway to and from the city centre.

 

P1050701

Multiple buses stuck behind a few cars will soon be a thing of the past here

What is really exciting is that a follow up email to their communications people revealed that the bus lane would be implemented between Easter and Anzac weekend, less than 2 weeks away! This is only just over 2 months since our blog post, and only one month since they agreed it was a feasible option. This is a very exciting development, as many of our frustrations with Auckland Transport relate to the speed at which they are able to implement their plans, and they do have plenty of decent plans around public transport improvements. Lets hope this is a sign of change within the organisation, and ensures they keep moving on implementing quick win projects, notably bus lanes, but also opportunities around walking and cycling infrastructure as well.

 

Dominion Rd upgrade open days

Auckland Transport are holding a couple of open days on their plans for Dominion Rd (first one this evening)

Feedback sought on detailed designs for Dominion Road Upgrade

Auckland Transport (AT) is planning a major upgrade of Dominion Road, for which detailed designs are being shared with the public at two open days this week.

The open days are being held tomorrow Thursday 10 April, 3.30pm to 7pm, at the Auckland Deaf Society clubrooms at 164 Balmoral Road in Mt Eden; and on Saturday 12 April, 10am to 1pm, at the Dominion Road Primary School hall on Quest Terrace in Mt Roskill.

Public feedback will be used to fine-tune the design before construction starts in spring this year. The feedback period closes on 30 April 2014.

The Dominion Road Upgrade is designed to bring many improvements – particularly in regards to pedestrian and cycle safety and public transport reliability – to those living, working and travelling along or near this key arterial route.

Dominion Road is vital to Auckland’s public transport network and carries about 1.8 million bus passengers a year. It is one of the few transport corridors in the city where there are more bus passengers than drivers in peak hours.

The upgrade will increase the route’s capacity to deal with an expected 67 per cent growth in bus travellers by 2021. Continuous peak hour bus lanes (northbound 7am to 9am and southbound 4pm to 6pm) will be introduced on Dominion Road from State Highway 20 in the south to View Road in the north. Parking will be available on these bus lanes outside of peak hours. The upgrade will also see bus stops located at 400m intervals, which means pedestrians are always within a four minutes walk of a bus stop once on Dominion Road.

The three village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill will be upgraded with new trees, lighting, artwork, seating and pedestrian improvements. The design has some elements consistent across the three centres but also emphasises the distinctive character of each village through the use of individual colours, patterns and plant species.

Village upgrades will include new footpaths, attractive landscaping, new seating and bike stands, improved lighting, planted rain gardens to reduce surface flooding and remove pollutants, additional stormwater bores to reduce run-off, and pedestrian-priority crossing and raised median to improve road safety. There are some proposed changes to the current on-street parking and loading areas along Dominion Road and some of the adjacent side streets to enable the upgrade to occur, and AT welcomes feedback on these plans also.

Implementation of the specially-marked cycle routes, to be created through quieter streets to the east and west of Dominion Road, is expected to start in May, prior to the main upgrade, and take about six months to complete.

The cycle routes will traverse about 12km long and are designed to make cycling an attractive, easier and safer option for the local community, in particular the area’s 12,000 school pupils, and will provide good connections to the area’s parks and 16 local schools.

Albert-Eden Local Board Chair, Peter Haynes says “We aim to upgrade the road without detracting from the colour and character that have made this one of Auckland’s best-loved streets,”

“It’s a special road, celebrated in song and remembered with fondness by many Aucklanders.  I can’t wait to see the major improvements to pedestrian safety, to the new cycleways that offer safer alternative routes, and greater public transport on the road.  We’ll be listening hard to what locals and local businesses have to say,” says Dr Haynes.

Julie Fairey, Chair of the Puketapapa Local Board says “The board is looking forward to collaborating with Auckland Transport and the local community to identify the elements of the much-needed upgrade at the Roskill Village shops.  We’ll be working alongside the improvements made through the Dominion Road Project to make some specific investments to revitalise the business area, which has much to commend it but is often overlooked because it has become run-down.”

More information on the Dominion Road Upgrade can be found online at www.at.govt.nz/dominion

I can’t make the open days but I am looking forward to seeing the designs. My biggest concern at this stage is that there is no proposed change to the times the bus lanes operate. The morning is probably fine but I frequently hear about buses in the evenings leaving town packed with people and getting stuck in traffic due to parked cars.

Speaking of parking, in light of the other demands on Dominion Rd, it seems odd that AT are also consulting on extending the amount of time people are allowed to park on the road in village centres.

Auckland Transport (AT) has been working with the Albert-Eden and Puketapapa local boards and the Eden-Valley Business Association on ways to improve parking throughout Dominion Road and the village centres of Eden Valley, Balmoral and Mt Roskill.

The existing short-stay parking restrictions of 30 minutes or less do not provide a sufficient amount of time to support the main retail and commercial activities. In addition, the current range of parking restrictions can be confusing and results in an excessive number of parking signs in a relatively small area.

In order to address this issue, AT is proposing to install a 60-minute parking zone (P60) throughout the main village centres. This proposal involves changing the existing on-street parking restrictions, which will reduce the number of signs and different restrictions. The type of signage used to describe those restrictions will change also.

The village centres are important and AT should probably change how they manage parking on side streets however they need to be removing parking from Dominion Rd.

Where to put a bus interchange in Henderson

With the new bus network set to roll out next year one of the important pieces of work Auckland Transport need to do is build or upgrade a number of transport interchanges to enable quick and easy transfers. The ones we know about so far are Otahuhu and Manukau. This year AT is planning on the consultation for a number of other areas with the biggest one being West Auckland so it can be tied in closely with the introduction of the awesome new electric trains.

There are planned to be a few Key interchanges in West Auckland with naturally a fairly large one being in Henderson. The map below shows all of the currently planned frequent routes (blue – at least every 15 mins) and secondary routes (green – at least every 30 minutes). On top of this there may also be less frequent local, peak only or school routes.

New Network - West

Henderson already has an interchange but it has a number of flaws including being a bit like Britomart and spread out all over the place. It’s also simply not big enough to handle the number of buses that will use it in the future – in part due to the horrible way Westcity interacts with the street including being the location of a loading zone and carpark entrance.

Henderson Interchange

All of this means that to support the new network, Auckland Transport want to expand the interchange. The most logical place to do that is just around the corner (behind the image above) but it seems not everyone is happy with that idea.

Retailers in Henderson are concerned that relocating a bus shelter will have a detrimental effect on trading.

Auckland Transport propose to move the bus stop outside the WestCity mall carpark on Railside Ave further up the road from 4-8 to 14-20 Railside Ave.

It is also looking to relocate an existing loading zone from outside 4-8 Railside Ave further north to outside the frontage of 382 Great North Rd, resulting in the loss of seven on-street car parking spaces.

Norcross Fishing World owner Robert Norcross has written to Auckland Transport and says the removal of parking spots will result in fewer customers.

“For the 50 years I have been here, people have complained continuously about the parking. We originally had parking on both sides of the street and we lost one side about 35 years ago and we have had to make do.”

Wait so you lost some parking 35 years ago and you’re still in business, that doesn’t sound like it’s been overly detrimental. There is lots of other parking in Henderson, including in the mall which is only 100m or so away. If 7 carparks are going to be causing that much problem for your business then perhaps there are bigger issues.

Mr Norcross feels there are alternative locations that would be suitable for bus stops.

“This is the narrowest part of Railside Ave and you’re going to relocate a bus stop there,” he says.

“The stupid thing is where the headquarters are at the moment they have acres of land which people have forgotten about. Another perfect site is right next to the railway lines on Smythe Rd.”

Auckland Transport will be increasing the number of buses servicing these bus stops over the next few years with increasing demand.

There is no room to expand the bus stop outside the mall because of the Westfield carpark driveway and the Edsel St intersection. The relocated bus stop will be long enough to accommodate three buses at any one time.

This certainly isn’t the narrowest part of Railside Ave, including the parking the road is about four lanes wide through the section. As for moving the bus interchange elsewhere, yes there is heaps of land that isn’t really being used right next to AT’s headquarters but there’s a major issue with it, the only way to access it is by Henderson Valley Rd and that would require detours for most buses and unnecessary longer bus trip for passengers. That’s definitely the last thing we want to do if we a) want people actually using the buses or b) are prepared to spend huge amounts of money to build road access over/under the rail lines. It would probably be easier (and a lot cheaper) for AT to let and encourage people going to Henderson to park at their headquarters and walk across the rail bridge.

Henderson Interchange - Smythe Rd

Smythe Rd might be just across the tracks but is adds 900m to a bus journey

Of course as AT points out, perhaps not all of their customers want to arrive by car, especially with a much improved PT network.

Auckland Transport media manager Mark Hannan says the proposal is at the consultation stage and all feedback will be considered before a final decision is made.

“Whenever we propose changes to bus stops and shelters outside businesses, we actively consider potential impacts upon those businesses as part of the design,” he says. “It must be recognised, however, that bus passengers are also potential customers for businesses.”

I hope AT hold their ground on this.

Note: I would be equally happy if AT were able to convince Westfield to redevelop that edge of their property as it’s so actively hostile towards anyone not in a car.

Winston Peters show’s he doesn’t get HOP

Winston Peters shows that he clearly doesn’t understand HOP - although I guess that shouldn’t be surprising

New Zealand First is urging SuperGold Cardholders who travel for free on Auckland public transport not to waste their money buying a prepaid card.

New Zealand First Leader Rt Hon Winston Peters says seniors are being pressured to spend $15 on an Auckland Transport prepaid HOP card and advises those who have done so to demand their money back.

“SuperGold Cardholders should demand their money back if they paid $5 for the card and the minimum $10 prepaid credit because the HOP card is simply an attack on the elderly.

“Auckland Transport’s HOP-card campaign has already signed up 11,129 SuperGold Cardholders.

“That means Auckland Transport has fleeced more than $166,000 from seniors who gain no advantage from buying the tag-on, tag-off card,” says Mr Peters, who introduced the SuperGold Card in 2007. “It is a grand confidence trick.”

“All they need for travel on the bus or for a train or ferry ticket is their SuperGold Card. They can travel free in Auckland from 9am on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays.

“A SuperGold Cardholder told us she would never use the $10 she was forced to load on the card and quite rightly asked, what is Auckland Transport doing with all the money,” says Mr Peters.

There are in fact many good reasons for SuperGold cardholders to get a HOP card.

  • While most card holders will likely be travelling off peak, many still travel at peak and a HOP card allows them to pay for their fare (and get the HOP discounts).
  • Perhaps more importantly is a SuperGold concession can be loaded onto a HOP card that means it automatically gives free travel after 9am.

If you wish to travel using an AT HOP card, you can have a SuperGold Concession loaded onto your card. This will save you having to get a free SuperGold ticket before you travel on trains and ferries. You may only hold one AT HOP card with a SuperGold profile on it. Travel commencing after 9am weekdays and all day on weekends and on public holidays will still be free and you will be able to tag on and tag off with your AT HOP card.

Travel commencing before 9am will be charged at adult fares to your HOP Money balance on your AT HOP card with at least 10% discount off single trip paper tickets (excludes NiteRider and Airbus Express bus services). https://at.govt.nz/bus-train-ferry/at-hop/at-hop-concessions/supergold-concession/

  • Using a HOP card to tag on/off at a train station is also easier than having to go to a ticket machine – something some older citizens seem to struggle with.
  • On buses the HOP card speeds up boarding making for quicker trips, not just for those with SuperGold cards but for everyone else and as we’ve discussed before that can have potentially big benefits for operational costs.

The reason I highlight this, is not so much for this specific example but that I wonder if this type of lack of understanding is perhaps a symptom of just how poor our PT has been for such a long time. Many people simply don’t understand why developments like HOP are so vitally needed. It’s also something that we need to be especially mindful of with an election coming up. In this specific case Peters would be better advocating for a HOP card that looks like a SuperGold card so that those eligible only need a single card in their wallet.

Auckland Transport’s draft Statement of Intent for 2014-17

Every year Auckland Transport agree with the council a new Statement of Intent (SOI) with the council. It sets out their strategic approach, priorities and targets for the following three years. They are currently in the process of setting the SOI for the 2014-2017 period and there appear to be some quite concerning aspects in the documents - which are found in the various agenda items for the Council Controlled Organisations Governance and Monitoring Committee. My understanding of the process is that the Council send AT a letter of expectation outlining their key priorities, Auckland Transport are meant to incorporate that into a draft SOI which is then reviewed by council officers. The comments from them get responded to by AT and then goes to the council for a final decision.

Last year the biggest change to the SOI as the lowering of patronage targets, most notably for rail. It’s also something that backfired on them with the Ministry of Transport highlighting it their first review on the progress towards the CRL targets the government, suggesting it shows AT don’t believe rail can grow by the amount required.

So this year what do we see? The same thing is happening again with in some cases AT wanting to drop their targets for all PT modes. In the case of rail especially this is to almost absurd levels. For example in their current SOI their target is 11.4 million trips by the end of June 2014 (which they might meet if they keep growing they way they are) while by end of June 2015 they are expected to reach a total of just over 13 million. In their new draft SOI they want the rail target for 2014/15 lowered to just 12.1 million. The target seems way to low considering that:

  • We’re already going to be at ~11.1 million (as we hit 11 million before the end of March)
  • There’s 15 months to go before the end of June 2015
  • In that time electric trains are expected to roll out to the Onehunga Line, Manukau and Southern Lines

Here’s a graph to show how the rail SOI target has changed over the last few versions of the SOI and how we’re actually performing.

Draft 2014 SOI Rail Target

My guess is that we could potentially blow past the 13 million trip target and this isn’t something that should be changed. For the other modes there are similar outcomes. The targets proposed in the 2014/15 year go

  • Total patronage – 78.16 million -> 74.24 million
  • Busway (NEX) – 2.59 million -> 2.51 million
  • Other Bus – 56.63 million -> 53.70 million
  • Ferry – 5.90 million -> 5.94 million

So only the target for ferries goes up which is interesting in itself as they are the mode currently going backwards. Overall this seems like a cop out and the councillors shouldn’t accept this (especially no on the rail figures).

The issue of dropping patronage targets is something noted by the council officers and by Councillor Chris Darby in a memo he sent to other councillors which is also online.

Darby’s letter also highlights that many of the “Key Focus areas for 2014/15 for Auckland Transport” from the council’s letter of expectation are not simply not reflected on in the SOI. These include

  • A strategic review of public transport fares
  • Increased priority for pedestrians and cyclists, and improvement of walking and cycling facilities that improve access to public transport.
  • Identification of and reporting on the delivery of any improvements to the quality of urban design outcomes.
  • Effective management of hygiene factors in the public realm such as cleaning, mowing, and tree clipping.
  • Identifying surplus non-strategic properties for disposal in conjunction with ACPL

On the issue of cycling he notes that many of the timelines set for projects are quite at odds with the presentation AT gave the councils Infrastructure Committee just over a month ago on The Role of Cycling in Auckland. He highlights this in the following table

Draft 2014 SOI cycling issues

Lastly here’s the programme of works proposed in the SOI. Darby thinks that added to this should be planning and route protection for a North West busway along SH16, the Te Atatu bus interchange and the list of bus lanes that will be added. I agree with him.

1. Planning and route protection
1.1 Complete the Auckland Regional Land Transport Plan by June 2015
1.2 Undertake planning and route protection for major new transport initiatives, including:

  • City Rail Link.
  • South-Western Multimodal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) network
  • Botany lo Manukau rapid transit network.
  • Mill Road corridor upgrade.
  • East-West Link (In conjunction with NZTA). including public consultation on the development and progression of a preferred option;
  • Penlink; and
  • Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

2. New transport infrastructure
2.1 AMETI:
Complete investigation and design of

  • Package 4 ( Panmure Roundabout. Lagoon Drive, Additional Panmure Bridge. Busway to Pakuranga, New Pakuranga Bus Station and car parking facilities, and Reeves Road Flyover) by 2017.

Complete construction of:

  • Package I Phase 1 (Panmure interchange) in 2014:
  • Package 2 (Sylvia Park bus lanes) by 2016:
  • AMETI Package 4 enabling works including local road changes and major utility diversions

Commence construction of Reeves Road flyover (to be completed by 2019)

2.2 Introduce new electric trains into service.

2.3 Local road improvements associated with State highway upgrades, including:

Complete construction at:

  • Tiverton Road to Wolverton Street upgrade by 2014 (Culvert upgrade by 2016); and
  • Te Atatu Road corridor improvements by 2017.

Complete design and acquisition for:

  • Lincoln Road corridor improvements by 2017.

2.4 Major local road improvements (over $5m). Including:
Complete construction of:

  • Dominion Road corridor upgrade Including dedicated bus lanes, 12 kin of parallel cycle routes, and 3 village centre upgrades by 2017:
  • Albany Highway North upgrade by 2017;
  • Murphy’s Road bridge improvement by 2016;
  • Brigham Creek corridor upgrade by 2017; and
  • North Western transformation protect (NORSGA) for the Northside Drive East, Westgate Bus Interchange, and Hobsonville Point Park and Ride by 2017.

Complete land acquisition for:

  • North Western transformation project (NORSGA) for Hobsonville Road by 2017.

2.5 Public transport Infrastructure, Including:

Complete construction of the following projects by 2016

  • Otahuhu bus/rail interchange;
  • Manukau bus interchange;
  • Parnell Station:
  • Pukekohe Station. and
  • Silverdale park and ride facilities stage 2.

Complete land acquisition and, subject to that acquisition, complete construction of:

  • Fanshawe / Albert / Wellesley streets bus Infrastructure improvements by 2017,

2.6 Complete construction of road safety Improvements at high-risk areas on the road network, including:

  • Great South Road / Bell Avenue Intersection ($09m) by 2014:
  • Piha Road by 2017 ($0.8m):
  • Ngapipi Road / Tamaki Drive Intersection by 2017; and
  • Whitford Road I Sandstone Road ($0.9m) by 2014.

2.7 Complete the construction to upgrade ferry terminals at:

  • Downtown by 2017;
  • Devonport by 2017; and
  • Half Moon Bay by 2016.

2.8 Extend the regional cycleway network. including:

Complete construction of:

  • Beach Road cycleway by 2017:
  • Dominion Road parallel cycle routes by 2015:
  • Northcote, Waitemata, Mangere. Mt Roskill, and Point England sate cycleway routes by 2017;
  • Upper Harbour Drive cycleway by 2016; and
  • Waterview cycleway connection (in conjunction with NZTA) by 2017.

Complete scheme assessment and preliminary design of:

  • Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive cycleway by 2017.

Another Belgian bus ad

Another neat ad from Belgian bus company De Lijn

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!