October 14 Patronage

October’s patronage results show Aucklanders are continuing to flock to buses and trains. It’s especially true for the rapid transit network which is seeing staggering growth, up over 20% compared to the same month last year. It’s showing that the public really value and are responding to services that have a decent priority so are less affected by congestion. Here are the results

14 - Oct AK Patronage table

14 - Oct AK Annual Patronage

We already knew that rail had passed the 12 million trips in a 12 month period mark earlier in October however it seems the growth continued on strongly with the October figure over 12.1 million trips, an increase of over 200,000 trips compared to the 12 months to the end of September. It’s also the second month in a row and the third month out of the last five months that patronage is up over 20% compared to the same month last year. The real stand outs are the Manukau and Onehunga services which of course are the only two lines so far that have the new electric trains on them. I suspect some of their growth is from existing users at stations served by both old and new trains changing their travel patterns so they can get electric services however there is also likely to be a lot of new users too. Of course the non electric lines are also showing strong growth too.

14 - Oct AK Rail Patronage

AT’s figures show that on weekdays, the average number of trips on the rail network has risen from around 38,000 to around 44,000. If you assume two trips per person that means an extra 3,000 people are catching the train a day.

The Northern express is also seeing staggering growth and as I talked about in this post, even counter peak is leaving people behind due to being so busy (it happened to me last night).

14 - Oct AK NEX Patronage

Considering there hasn’t been much in the way of additional services put on in the last year this patronage boost must good for farebox recovery.

And it’s not just the Northern Express that’s busy, other buses which provide the bulk of patronage in Auckland are up significantly too even off peak and on weekends.

Not everything is going up though unfortunately, patronage on ferries is down and AT attribute it to “the poor weather conditions throughout October, decreasing the number of noncommuter/tourism related passenger trips“. They say the trips on the contracted services (services except Devonport and Waiheke) were actually up however as the Devonport and Waiheke patronage makes up the bulk of the ferry numbers, decreases from them dragged the result down. Going forward I wonder how much the launch of the new Explore ferry service to Waiheke will affect things – and if they’re included in the patronage figures.

The other disappointment is that cycling numbers were down again too. I wonder if that’s also weather related as the morning peak numbers continue to show an increase in people cycling

Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

More buses needed on weekends and evenings

Crowding on peak public transport is a well known occurrence in Auckland. This is a rather complex issue to fix due to bus congestion in the city, and high cost of adding extra buses and drivers to run one service a day. Working on bus lanes to improve efficiency and addition of double deckers is the best way to fix this issue.

However we are now seeing regular reports come in of crowding on off-peak services, notably on evenings and weekends. Even on popular inner isthmus routes, evening and weekend services are still stuck in a bygone era, not recognising that the city centre is now far from an 8am to 5pm destination. Weekend services also haven’t been updated to reflect the popularity of the CBD on the weekends and the regular special events that draw people in, especially over summer. Sunday services are usually a lower frequency than Saturday services, which may have been fine when the shops were all closed on Sundays, however it is not appropriate in 2014.

Services at off-peak times should also be able to be added relatively cheaply, as they just involve using existing buses and drivers more often, rather than pushing the need for extra buses and drivers. In some cases the issues may be able to be helped by running larger buses, instead of leaving these sitting in the depot at weekends.

They key services than seem to suffer the most from overcrowding issues are Dominion Road, Mount Eden Road, Tamaki Drive and the Northern Express.

Mount Eden Road

The issues on Mount Eden Road seem to largely come from the sparse evening services. Services drop from 15 minute frequency to 30 minutes after 9pm, which is much too early.

Mt Eden evening timetable

Mt Eden Road weekday evening timetable

 

This tweet from last Monday night shows the high demand for evening Mt Eden Road buses.

Andrew W 277 Monday

And from Julie Anne Genter last month, this time on a Tuesday night.

JAG Mt Eden Road

A few extra 274 services to give at 15 minute frequency until 11pm or so would probably sort the issues. An extra service at 12.10am would probably be popular as well.

Dominion Road

The issues on Dominion Road come from both evening and weekend day time services. Buses are often so full that they are leaving people behind, which is unacceptable.

On Saturdays buses run the 258 and 267 run at a 20 minute frequency, giving a 10 minute frequency along Dominion Road from Mount Roskill. However this doesn’t seem to be enough to meet demand.

Geogoose Saturday

However on Sunday the timetable is totally archaic, and belongs in the 1970’s. The 258 and 267 both run every 40 minutes, only giving a 20 minute service all day.

Dom Rd Sunday timetable

This is certainly not nearly enough to meet demand. This tweet from last Sunday shows this results in packed buses leaving people behind.

Kate Dom Rd Sunday

This tweet from a couple of weekends ago shows this is a regular occurrence.

Geogoose DomRd Sunday

Evening services are also an issue. I heard that Dominion Road buses were leaving people behind at the Symonds Street bridge last Friday night, and am told this is common.

Some of the issues seem to arise from the use by NZ Bus of small ADL Enviro 200 buses, which have much lower seating capacity than the bigger buses available. This is very poor customer service from NZ Bus, as they are sure to have plenty of empty large buses sitting at the depot on weekends, however choose to run small buses to save on operating costs. This is unacceptable.

Tamaki Drive

On nice days in summer the 15 mintue frequency and small ADL buses used on the service cannot handle the demand for trips to Mission Bay. Last Sunday afternoon I saw a bus packed full of people leaving town, and this meant it could not stop at the first stop on Quay Street near Countdown to pick up more beachgoers. I have heard this is a common occurrence on summer weekends.

James Pole MIssion Bay

Again NZ Bus is causing issues by running small ADL 200 buses on these services when larger buses are available.

Northern Express

Northern Express services running on weekends and evenings are often seen to be at capacity. The timetable for weekends and evenings has not been updated since May 2011, despite major patronage growth since this time. Buses leave Britomart every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight, however demand seems to outstrip this. The NEX needs to run at 10 minute frequency for another hour or 2 to cope with the patronage.

As an example this was the queue for the NEX at 7.40pm last Thursday, nearly 50 people long.

B2TU_bPCcAAE7B4.jpg-large

And this is the bus leaving at 7.45pm. These 10 people were left behind as the bus was full of standing passengers.

B2TWrv9CUAAaKhr.jpg-large

 

Weekend frequency is also an issue. All day weekend frequency is every 15 minutes. However I have regularly seen buses leaving the city full of standing passengers. At a 15 minute frequency the Northern Express cannot handle special events. This is a scene from the Auckland marathon just over a 2 weeks ago where a surge in patronage left the NEX unable to cope.

Nick R NEX wknd

This suggests the Northern Express needs its frequency upgraded to 10 minutes on weekends, at least for the busiest parts of the day.

I am keen to hear more reports from readers about issues with public transport overcrowding, including stories that both confirm the above reports, as well as issues on other services that they have come across.

Fixing these issues would help raise public confidence in the bus system, and ensure people catching a bus have a good experience. It would also provide a great boost to public transport patronage.

What happened to the promised bus lanes?

It has now been nearly 6 months since Auckland Transport opened their first bus lane. This was one Fanshawe Street, and followed a suggestion from this blog back in February. We were very impressed with Auckland Transport’s initiative in moving quickly on this, and it took less than 4 months from blog to bus lane. No doubt this was due to board chair Lester Levy following things up.

When the Fanshawe bus lane was announced Lester Levy promised that this was the sign of a new way of doing things.

Dr Levy says increasingly Auckland Transport needs to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place while working towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is a good example of this type of approach.

Fanshawe Day1

Fanshawe Street bus lane on day 1 of operation, April 28

However since April it seems to be business as usual for Auckland Transport with no progress being made on any new bus lanes, and nothing even seeming to have made it to consultation phase. A few months ago there were some promising lines in the AT Board reports. This from July:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being developed.

This similar statement was in the August 26 and October 2 meetings:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being finalised.

However in the October 28 report nothing was mentioned at all.

This is somewhat worrying. The period around Christmas and January seems like a good time to get any work done due to low traffic volumes. It would be great to have any new bus lanes in place for the annual March madness when tertiary institutions start their semesters. Therefore any consultation would need to get done quickly.

There is no shortage of obvious candidates for bus lanes on busy routes around the city, so here are a few to get AT started:

Onewa Road Transit Lane:

First there is the Onewa Road westbound Transit Lane. This project was even consulted earlier this year (following a failed consultation several years prior). The design is done, and this even has a full project page on the Auckland Transport website. However there are no hints of any progress.

onewa_road_new_500x699

Auckland Transport plan for Onewa Road Transit Lanes

The blog has also already outlined in detail a few priority streets in previous posts.

Upper Symonds Street:

I described the desperate need for improvements on Upper Symonds St in March. There is no city-bound bus lane between Mt Eden and Karangahape Roads despite there being 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one every 40 seconds. This leads to severe delays, on a bad day I hear it is quicker to walk 40 minutes from Mt Eden to the University rather than catch the bus, largely caused by congestion of buses around Upper Symonds.

Mt Eden Road:

I described the need for a bus lane along Mt Eden Road in detail in May. Despite perceptions, Mt Eden Road only has bus lanes along 30% of the total 10km (5km each way) route length from Mount Albert Road to Upper Symonds Street. In peak hours there is a bus at least every 3 minutes along this section, and the lack of bus lanes cause severe delays. Another simple issue is that parts of the bus lane only operate from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. This means that if you catch the very busy 5.05pm from Britomart, the bus lanes won’t be operating when you get to Mt Eden village!

There are plenty more obvious areas, however here are a few quick ones I know from around the city.

Park Road and Khyber Pass Road:

The Central Connector was the flagship project for bus transport in Auckland City in the mid 2000’s, and was supposed to provide a very high quality public transport link from Britomart to Newmarket via the University and Hospital. The Symonds Street section is generally good, however as soon as you get across Grafton Brdige is is back to usual with a few stop start lanes, especially heading towards Newmarket. On Park Road by the Domain, 15 carparks are seen to be much more important than thousands of bus passengers. The same issue is seen on Khyber Pass, where the buslanes only go part way along, and then parking is seen as more important for the last 300 metres towards Newmarket.

Park Road buslanes

5pm bus jam outside the hospital. Congestion caused by a handful of carparks immediately south of here.

New North Road:

The bus lanes along New North Road do no begin until west of the Dominion Road flyover, before this is just a peak time clearway. Then they only run for 500 metres until just before the Sandringham Road intersection before they become a clearway again. Very simple to change these clearways to give consistent bus lanes from Newton to Morningside.

Sandringham Road:

Similar issues as to Mt Eden Road. Listed as having bus lanes, however there are still plenty of gaps which cause significant bus congestion.

Constellation Drive interchange:

While Northern Express buses can fly up to from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes, it can take almost as much time to travel the last 5 kilometres to Albany station. This is largely caused by the need to exit the station, travel along Constellation Drive, under the motorway and enter the northbound on-ramp. While the obvious solution is extending the busway to Albany, in the short term things could be improved with a combination of bus lanes and smart traffic signaling helping the buses get through.

Constellation Drive buslanes

Constellation Drive. 2 buses can be seen stuck in traffic, having just left Constellation Station bound for Albany.

I would also be keen to hear a few more readers suggestions about places where buses get severely congested at peak times, and bus lanes could be built to help sort the issues quickly and easily.

Bus lanes are the best value investments that Auckland Transport can make that help people get around our city. Sorting out these 7 heavily used bus corridors would help tens of thousands of commuters each day. Not only would this reduce journey times, but also improve service reliability and reduce costs for bus operators and Auckland Transport.

So why not get on to it Auckland Transport, would be great to see progress over summer, and we look forward to congratulating you on more implementation of bus lanes.

 

Can public transport save households money?

People sometimes argue that we should provide more public transport because it will reduce households’ transport costs. But is that actually true?

I took a look at this issue in a recent working paper on Location Affordability in New Zealand Cities that I presented at the 2014 New Zealand Association of Economists conference. In that paper, I found that:

…housing costs tend to fall with increasing distance from city centres, while commute distances, which drive variable transport costs, tend to increase. All other things being equal, higher rates of public transport use did not appear to improve transport affordability due to the fact that New Zealand’s public transport fares are comparable to or higher than car operating costs. However, car commuting is likely to be more costly in areas where parking is priced – a factor that we were not able to robustly estimate.

Car ownership rates, which drive a large share of transport costs, tend to be fairly consistent outside of city centres. One of the benefits of providing public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure is that it enables households to reduce car ownership costs. Conversely, policies such as minimum parking regulations tend to encourage higher rates of car ownership by ensuring abundant and low-priced parking.

In short, public transport can save households money, but whether it does in practice depends upon what how much they would pay for parking and whether they own a car or not. (A classic case of an economist saying “on the one hand… on the other hand…“!)

Here, I’d like to take a closer look at transport costs using a concrete example: my regular commute from Mount Eden to Takapuna. Here’s the Google Map view of the route between Mount Eden village and central Takapuna that I use on the days when I have to drive. (Note: The addresses on the map do not show where I live or where I work.) At 12.9 km, it’s a little bit longer than the average Aucklander’s 11.5 km commute:

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 1.48.16 PM

Time for some maths. According to data from AA’s 2013 Petrol Car Operating Cost Report, a compact car costs approximately $0.25 per kilometre to run. This figure includes the cost of petrol, oil, tyres, and regular repairs and maintenance, but excludes the cost to own the car.

As a result, I’d expect to spend around $6.45 per day commuting by car (12.9km x $0.25/km x 2).

What would the same journey cost on public transport? According to Auckland Transport’s journey planner, the best way to do this is to take the 274/277 bus from Mount Eden village to Symonds St, walk down the hill, and hop on the 839/858/875/879 service, which runs to central Takapuna. Because both buses run frequently all day, this is a really easy connection. (AT’s New Network will be adding frequent, connecting services to many more parts of Auckland – which is really great news for south and west Auckland and the North Shore!)

As I use a HOP card, which offers discounts on the cash fares and also a $0.50 discount if you transfer between services, the entire trip costs me $4.05 – or $8.10 per day to commute in both directions.

So far, driving is coming out ahead – the costs to operate a car are a bit cheaper than the cost of bus fares. But wait: we’ve forgotten to account for parking costs!

Albany P and R

How could we forget about parking when there’s so much of it in Auckland? (Photo: Albany park-and-ride)

Wilsons operates the closest parking garage on The Strand in Takapuna. They charge $11 for all-day parking. If I pay them for parking – and I don’t have many other options in the area – that means that a car commute now costs $17.45 ($6.45 + $11). That’s over twice as expensive as taking the bus!

In short, when people must pay for parking, public transport is a much cheaper option. However, a lot of people don’t pay directly for parking, due to the fact that minimum parking rules have resulted in an uneconomic oversupply of parking in many areas. (They still pay for parking indirectly – through lower wages, more expensive groceries, or higher housing costs. But these costs, while significant, aren’t as obvious to people on a day-to-day basis.)

And we haven’t yet accounted for one of the big costs of driving to work – the fixed costs of car ownership. Based on data from the AA’s Petrol Car Operating Cost Report and the Ministry of Transport’s data on the NZ vehicle fleet, I estimated that it costs around $2,900 per annum to own an average car (i.e. not a new car). This includes the cost of registration ($288), insurance ($790), and warrant of fitness ($49, twice a year), as well as the interest payments and depreciation on the car itself (assuming that the average car is worth around $8,000).

$2,900 per car per year is obviously quite a big cost for most households, and I’m sure a lot of people would rather save the money and spend it on other things. Abundant public transport and walking and cycling options can give households the option to downsize on car ownership and save thousands annually.

Here’s a summary of my calculations. As you can see, by taking public transport rather than driving I save $9.35 every day I commute to work. Over the entire working year, this adds up to a lot of money – over $2,300!

And by choosing to take the bus and not to own a car, I save even more money – over $5,200 every year in total. If I choose to save that money instead, it will add up to a large sum of money over time. According to Sorted.org.nz’s savings calculator, if I put an additional $5,200 in my Kiwisaver account every year and get a modest 6% return, I’ll have more than $200,000 in retirement savings after thirty years – which is enough to let me retire three or four years early.

In other words, our driving habit is literally squandering our lives. Sell your car and retire early!

Commute costs Mt Eden to Takapuna

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on the policy implications of this analysis. The maths on transport costs suggest that:

  • Distortions in one market (parking) can affect outcomes in an adjacent market (public transport). When parking is available for free, it makes taking the bus or train much less attractive from a financial perspective. This in turn makes PT seem less viable than it would be if parking wasn’t heavily subsidised. And it’s simply unrealistic to expect parking to be free – space is expensive in cities!
  • Councils have in the past regulated for an oversupply of parking by setting highly prescriptive minimum parking rules. In addition to forcing property owners to pay for supplying too much parking, this makes it impossible for people and businesses to price parking to reflect the true cost of providing it. This is insane, and we need to stop doing it.
  • While public transport can save households money on a day-to-day basis, the big gains arise when people cut back on car ownership. Transport and urban planning can enable households to make this choice – or prevent them from doing so.
  • When councils choose to put in new PT services or infrastructure, they should always ask: what do we need to do to turn a neighbourhood with a frequent bus route into a neighbourhood where you don’t need to drive for daily necessities? Neighbourhoods need to pass the “five minute pint test“: can you get a pint of beer or a pint of milk within a five minute walk?

So, what would you do with an extra $5,200 in your pocket every year?

Northern Motorway consultation

The NZTA are holding open days this week to show their initial designs for their Northern Motorway projects.

People will have their first opportunity to look at the initial concepts and provide feedback for the Northern Corridor Improvements in Auckland at open days being organised by the NZ Transport Agency from next week.

The initial concepts for the important upgrades along Upper Harbour Highway (SH18) and the Northern Motorway (State Highway 1) have been identified and public feedback will help shape the next stage in the design, says the Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon.

The project is one of a number of key works included in the Government’s accelerated programme to improve transport infrastructure in Auckland.

“We’re quite excited about these open days as we’re presenting concepts to the community and getting their input before we start the detailed investigation process. It’s important we get feedback when developing these significant projects so we can incorporate ideas, where possible, from the people who use these connections on a regular basis. We would really encourage the local community to come along and provide input to the Northern Corridor Improvements project,” says Mr Gliddon.

Open day information (feel free to drop-in at any time during these session times):

Wednesday 12 November, 5pm – 7pm: Northern Corridor Information Hub, 33A Apollo Drive, Rosedale

Thursday 13 November, 6.30am-8.30am & 4.30pm-6.30pm: Constellation Bus Station, Parkway Drive, Rosedale

Saturday 15 November, 10am-4pm: Westfield Albany, next to New World, Don Mckinnon Drive, Albany

Mr Gliddon says the Northern Corridor Improvements will help address the connection issues and pressures the Northern motorway is currently facing and also support the growth of businesses and population in the area and beyond.

“Most people who travel this route on a regular basis know that there are several bottlenecks getting between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway. This can cause significant delays for motorists and commercial vehicles. By upgrading this section of the network, we hope to help create an efficient network and provide more reliable travel times,” Mr Gliddon says.

Key components of the Northern Corridor programme focus on creating a seamless motorway to motorway connection along the Western Ring Route – the Hobsonville, Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (SHs18, 16 and 20) – between Albany and Manukau to the south, upgrading the Upper Harbour Highway to a motorway, and investigation and consenting to extend the successful Northern Busway from Constellation to the Albany park and ride station. The Transport Agency is also investigating walking and cycling connections as part of the project

The northern motorway projects include these components however crucially the extension of the busway is only being consented after the government pulled funding for it’s construction (supposedly against the NZTA’s advice). It also ignores the massive success the busway has been.

Northern Corridor Improvements

 

In the governments budget announcement last year they said the Northern Corridor improvements would cost $450 million.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

A new graphic on the NZTA’s page for the project includes the claim that traffic heading northbound (presumably from SH18) will save 11 minutes in 12 years-time.

NZTA Northern Corridor map

Of all the projects the SH1 to SH18 motorway to motorway link is going to have a huge impact on the area as it will require large ramps to connect the motorways, like what is currently going in at Waterview. The image below was from an earlier strategic study into the project and highlights one of the potential options

package3-sh18

And as a reminder this is an image from August showing the motorway ramps under construction.

Waterview Ramps Aug 14

Northern Busway Success

The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s biggest success stories. Opened in February 2008 it’s helped transform transport on the North Shore with perhaps the most stunning statistic being this quote from a NZTA report on extending the busway to Albany and Silverdale – something that government cut from the package of works to widen the Northern Motorway.

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

The primary service that uses the busway is the Northern Express (NEX) who’s growth has been a direct result of the congestion free route the busway provides – although it uses the busway for just 41% of its journey. As of September over 2.5 million trips were taken on the NEX over the previous 12 months which us up from about 700,000 before the busway opened (NEX services started in late 2005 as a precursor to the busway).

14 - Sep NEX Patronage

The NEX is only one of a number of services that use the busway for some or all of their journey and many more people benefit from the infrastructure. With HOP it’s made it even easier to catch non NEX services that use the busway e.g. the 881. We don’t know the actual number of people using the busway however I’ve heard estimates that it’s in the range of 5-8 million trips a year. Another important feature of the busway is that buses using it travel at about twice the average speed of buses elsewhere in Auckland. That means the same number of buses and staff can run more services for no extra cost compared to other routes making them much more efficient. Because of all of the positive aspects mentioned we’ve also heard that services run at or close to full cost recovery so little or no subsidy is needed for them. In other words it’s a success on many measures.

NEX buses run every 3 minutes in the peak direction while counter peak – away from the city in the morning and towards the city in the evening – and off peak during the day they run every 10 minutes.

NEX Timetable

As many know I work in Takapuna and normally commute using PT. Recently instead of catching a bus direct to Takapuna I’ve taken to catching the NEX to the Akoranga station and walking from there (15-20 mins) as part of increasing the amount of walking I do. In addition due to the timing of the direct buses and transfers it often works out not much longer to get to work. It means I’m travelling counter peak and one thing that’s surprised me, as it does with buses direct to Takapuna, has been just how busy they are. In the case of the NEX this is particularly surprising considering just how poor the land use is around the busway stations.

This image was taken a few days ago while heading over the bridge in the morning with the bus full of people both sitting and standing. This is now a common sight at many times of the day in both directions.

Full NEX

The mornings are often busy however the afternoons have been seen buses packed, often to the point that people at Akoranga are missing out and having to wait for another 10 minutes for the next bus. While it is a sign of the popularity of the service it leaves those having to wait angry and frustrated. Those who get on and are standing on the bus don’t feel that much better either due to how packed it is. In addition buses extremely packed quickly fall behind schedule as they have to dwell at stops for a lot longer which can have knock on effects for future services. To make matters worse, those waiting on the platform for a bus will often see 2 -3 NEX buses plus up to half a dozen non NEX buses race past towards the city not in service so they can ferry people from the city back to the shore.

After this happened a few times and no response from Auckland Transport on social media about it (although they have been better lately), I went to AT directly about the issue. They pulled the data for the stop in the direction I was travelling for October and provided this graph which shows that around 5pm in particular many of the services are very very full.

NEX counter peak afternoons Oct 14

As a result they are now working with Ritchies to put on an additional service which they say will likely be at 5:05 to help cater for the demand. They will also closely monitor some of the other service s that look quite full such as the 4:30pm service.

This is a good outcome and should hopefully really help address some of the issues although I would have thought a 4:55 might be useful too. I think ideally AT should be looking to move to 5 minute frequencies in the afternoon peak which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as the buses are having to get to the CBD anyway. In addition this information was only pulled because I highlighted it, I hope to see AT getting to the point that services are regularly full are automatically highlighted to them so these issues can be addressed sooner.

Dude, where’s my hoverboard?

The 1989 sci-fi comedy film Back to the Future II gave audiences a glimpse of what transport would be like in the far-off future date of 2015. Flying cars would merge and flow seamlessly in midair motorways, allowing for cities to be large, low-density, and free of congestion. (Something that is ordinarily a geometric impossibility.) And, of course, there was Marty McFly’s famous hoverboard:

Back to the Future hoverboard

Now it’s 2014, and I’ve got to ask: Dude, where’s my hoverboard? Why haven’t any of the promised revolutionary breakthroughs in transport technology actually happened?

Or, more generally: Should New Zealand wait for new, unproven technologies to solve its transport problems, or should it invest in existing technologies instead?

A few people, including the new Minister of Transport, have called for New Zealand to look to driverless cars as a solution to road congestion. Matt reviewed the state of the debate in a recent post. I’d like to look at the issue from an economic perspective instead.

Economists often use the concept of a “production possibilities frontier” to display the alternative production and consumption options available to an economy at a point in time. Here’s an example of a hypothetical PPF for an economy which only produces two goods (“guns” and “butter”). Points inside the curve (like point A) represent underutilisation of resources, while points outside the curve (like point X) are impossible to sustain.

Production_Possibilities_Frontier_Curve.svg

Source: Wikipedia

Importantly, the shape and position of an economy’s PPF depends upon the technology (and techniques) that are in use. Over the long term, economic growth means shifting the curve outwards by adopting better, more efficient technology. And I’d like to stress “adopting” rather than “inventing”. While some countries have done well by developing new technologies, the best way for underdeveloped countries to raise their living standards has been to adapt proven technologies. Technology transfer is almost always easier and cheaper than inventing totally new technologies.

This is how east Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and (most recently) China have become wealthy. They didn’t wait around for unproven pie-in-the-sky ideas to come along – they just figured out how to do the same things that successful countries were already doing. If Japan had decided, in the 1950s, to await the semiconductor revolution rather than figuring out how to make cheap copies of American consumer electronics and cars, it would still be a poor country.

The same is true for New Zealand’s transport system. In economic jargon, our transport system is far behind the technology frontier. While we have an extensive and relatively well-managed road network, we have failed to adopt a number of technologies and techniques that have been proven elsewhere. As a result, Auckland has:

  • A suburban rail network that can’t provide metro-style levels of service due to the lack of the 3 kilometre City Rail Link tunnel – in spite of the evidence from numerous overseas cities that frequent rail systems are efficient ways of moving a lot of people without congestion
  • A serious lack of safe cycling infrastructure – in spite of the fact that cities that have made cheap, efficient investments in cycling have reaped the rewards in terms of health and wellbeing
  • A single busway, and slow (but steady) progress on further busways – in spite of the fact that they are a cheap and easy-to-implement ways of getting high-quality rapid transit to underserved areas of cities.

Because these technologies already exist, we could implement them now and reap the benefits immediately. If we want to rapidly improve our transport system – i.e. move our PPF outwards – we should look to existing but underutilised technologies rather than awaiting this decade’s version of Marty McFly’s hoverboard.

A recent CityLab series on the future of transportation makes this point clearly. The cities that are moving ahead rapidly are largely investing in proven technologies like bus rapid transit, light rail, and cycling infrastructure. (As well as low-cost improvements to existing technologies like bike share.) They are not holding off on smart investments while awaiting new technologies.

PPF_expansion.svg

Auckland desperately needs technology transfer (Source: Wikipedia)

By contrast, there are three big reasons why waiting on unproven technologies like driverless cars will make us worse off.

  • Waiting for new technologies imposes a significant opportunity cost. If we use the future promise of driverless cars as a reason to avoid investing in the City Rail Link, safe cycling infrastructure, and busways right now, we will sacrifice years of better transport outcomes.
  • Waiting for new technologies is risky, because new technologies may not ever succeed. An in-depth Slate article on driverless cars highlights how far they need to come before widespread deployment. There are big problems to solve in navigation and safety in poor weather conditions. Computers are still not very good at dealing with unpredictable situations.
  • Even if the technology was available today, it would still take decades to replace New Zealand’s entire vehicle fleet. New Zealanders own 2.7 million passenger cars, and it would cost tens of billions to fully replace them. New cars entering the fleet today will still be on the road in 15-20 years. In other words, we wouldn’t see the benefits of a fully driverless vehicle fleet until the 2040s or so.

In addition, many people actually enjoy driving quite a lot and wouldn’t really want to be chauffeured around by a robot. Driverless cars are not a good substitute for a V8!

While driverless cars (or hoverboards for that matter) sound exciting, we can’t afford to pin all of our hopes on them. The pragmatic, proven way forward for transport in a big city is the same as it’s always been: Give people good transport choices by investing in efficient rapid transit networks, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling options.

It may seem boring, but as an economist I’ll take tried-and-true over utopian fantasies any day.

AT Staff Shuttle Fails

Earlier this year we learned about Auckland Transport’s staff shuttle between its offices in the CBD opposite Britomart and Henderson where the building is part of the train station. The shuttle was put on because AT didn’t believe the PT services were good enough for their staff to use. In my view the shuttle was idiotic and it highlighted AT as being out of touch, after all if the organisation that runs our PT system isn’t prepared to use its own services then why should others.

I actually happened to see it just a few weeks ago (empty) and thought it was a past the time it should have been gone. The shuttle was said to be on a 6 month trial however it turns out it’s use was extended a month due to a cancellation clause in the contract. In addition the trial has failed badly, Radio New Zealand reports:

The trial has been a flop, costing more than expected at $140,000, often travelling empty and failing to make the hoped-for savings.

The council-owned Auckland Transport launched the shuttle in May, when it was criticised by public transport advocates who said if services were too slow, they should be improved for everyone.

Auckland Transport hoped to save more than $300,000 a year in staff travel costs between its head office in Henderson, west Auckland, and its downtown office, opposite the Britomart Transport centre.

Savings were to come from cutting the agency vehicle fleet by 20 cars, and removing most of the $95,000 a year reimbursed to staff who drove in their own cars between the offices, claiming $32 per round trip.

However, the two 11-seater minibuses often ran empty, with patronage rising at the end of the six month trial to only 2.5 passengers per trip.

Only three of the hoped-for 20 fleet cars have been cut, and big savings have been made on paying staff to use their own cars, simply by banning the practice between Henderson and the CBD.

So hardly any staff used it, only three cars have been cut and the major savings come from a change that could have been made without the shuttle trial. David Warburton’s response to the failure highlights they still have some way to go in coming up with solutions to the size of the vehicle fleet.

“It has been money well-spent”, said Dr Warburton. “We have established some changes in the operation, and that has to be allocated across the future efficiency of driving the business, and going forward.”

But the agency admits it has more work to do to try to reduce its vehicle fleet, tighten spending on reimbursing private car use and look at other options such as video conference.

Dr Warburton said the direct bus and rail services which operate from the door of both offices did not suit much staff travel, taking 40-45 minutes and not suiting meetings which start at the top of an hour.

He said it was not easy to schedule meetings to better suit public transport travelling times because many involve other parties, although the agency would try that with internal meetings.

On the last point in particular there is nothing to say a meeting has to be on the top of an hour, starting a meeting at other times is perfectly possible. There is however another solution which is completely within AT’s power and would allow them to keep meetings to the top of an hour, they could always change the timetables to make them more suitable for those going to meetings. They could further improve the usefulness by increasing the frequency of the western line from the half hourly off peak timetable that currently exists to at least services every 15 minutes.

Perhaps AT could even prepare a pack for its employees which includes a HOP card loaded with a concession for free travel and a copy of the relevant timetables (both physically and electronically).

And here’s the audio that goes with the story.

or listen here.

AT’s good AMETI video

Auckland Transport have released this new video for AMETI

I really think AT have got the messaging and tone right with this video which is nice to see. Also I really like that they talk about the poor situation currently for buses meaning they aren’t a good option and how that is a key reason for low use of public transport in the East. Even better is AT picking up on the terminology of providing congestion free choices when talking about the busway improvements that will eventually link Panmure to Botany.

As far as I understand, one part that isn’t quite right is the suggestion that the South-eastern busway will carry more people than the Northern Busway. It is true when comparing patronage on the Northern Express however the Northern Busway also carries a large number of other buses that boost patronage on it substantially. Still the South-eastern busway will be a very good addition once built.