AT Metro Launched

Last week we mentioned about how Auckland Transport was launching a new PT brand. That occurred yesterday and as well as new look buses, they have also launched a new brand for their public transport operations – AT Metro.

Auckland Transport has unveiled its new look for public transport in the city.

At a ceremony in Auckland the Deputy Mayor, Penny Hulse and Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy launched the AT Metro brand which will be phased in over three years, starting with LINK services and the Northern Express.

The single brand identity will be differentiated by colour for different types of services and will gradually be applied to buses, trains and ferries.

Auckland Transport’s General Manager Marketing and Customer Experience Mike Loftus says a single identity will give Aucklanders and visitors a clearer understanding of what public transport is on offer, and how buses, trains and ferries serve different areas.

“Most metropolitan cities have a single brand network that is easy to recognise and enables clear, consistent communication with customers.”

“Currently in Auckland there is no single identity, we have a variety of brands and looks. Customers relate to buses by the operator name rather than the wider public transport network”.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport Mark Lambert says having a single public transport network will ultimately build public confidence in the developing and improving PT system. “Knowing that all the services are integrated and part of the same system will help grow patronage”.

The implementation of the livery is already underway and budgeted for the electric trains.

Costs for the bus fleet will be kept to a minimum through:

  • retention of ocean blue for Rapid Network services (Northern Express is already this colour).
  • retention of red, green, orange and light blue for existing targeted services of the City LINK, Inner LINK, Outer LINK and Airbus.
  • the rest of the bus fleet to be transitioned as part of new contracts and costs incurred through new contract rates.

Mr Lambert says Auckland’s bus operators are aware of the changes and are working with Auckland Transport.

The Auckland Plan looks to double public transport trips from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022. The Auckland Plan’s priorities for Auckland’s transport system include “a single system transport network approach that manages current congestion problems and accommodates future business population growth to encourage a shift toward public transport.”

I was at the launch and here are some photos of the new look buses. It is definitely a much simpler and less busy looking livery. My favourite thing about the look is that the windows are not obscured like they are on some buses now. I’m also not quite sure I like the bright yellow on the front of the Northern Express buses.

The Double Decker Northern Express

Double Decker

As a comparison this is what it looked like previously.

NEX Double Decker 7

A single deck Northern Express bus. The standard non RTN buses look the same but with grey and blue on the front rather than yellow.

Single Deck NEX

The Link Buses

Inner Link

Outer Link

City Link

Regional Land Transport Plan throws up a few surprises

Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP

  • Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
  • Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
  • Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
  • Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
  • Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.

The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.

What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.

That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.

Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.

1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity

Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.

This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.

….

Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.

While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past

4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money

Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.

….

It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.

And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport

Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).

Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.

And on the City Rail Link they say:

As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.

…..

More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.

Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?

There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre

While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:

  • Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
  • If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term

To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.

Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

The old Tram Network

And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.

Auckland Transport December Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport Board meet tomorrow and while it might be earlier in the month than usual due to Christmas, there’s no shortage of information. As usual here are the things that caught my attention.

The closed session is once again packed with reports, some are listed as being due to commercial sensitivity and others to allow free and frank discussion with the information released later.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Diesel Rolling Stock Sale
  • Managing 2014/15 Programme
  • AMETI
  • CCFAS2
  • Dominion Road
  • Bus Service Commercial & South Auckland Tender
  • PT Fare Annual Review
  • Street Lighting Acquisition
  • Te Mahia /Westfield
  • Southern Station Review

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Service Provision Options
  • CRL Update
  • Heavy Rail Strategy update
  • Service Extension Options
  • Te Atatu
  • EW Connections
  • Draft Statement of Intent 2015-16

There are a number of quite specific items there and one I’m surprised about is the annual fare review seeing as we just had fare changes implemented in July that resulted in fares for bus and train trips using HOP reducing. The Te Mahia / Westfield stations will be about whether AT close them as proposed in the new Bus Network. They are the two least used stations on the network with each having less than 100 people use them per day.

Onto the board report

Funding was approved for property purchase and construction for the $26 million Te Atatu Corridor project which will widen and upgrade parts of Te Atatu Rd and Edmonton Rd. Included in the project are some walking and cycling improvements however they are inconsistent. In some places cycle lanes will be on the street while in other places they will just be shared paths. I guess there wasn’t enough room for proper cycling facilities after the addition of a 2.5-3m median.

Funding was also approved for the design and construction of the Upper Harbour Cycleway. As someone who rides along this road weekly the improvements are welcome although I suspect they will ignore the biggest issue along the route being the Upper Harbour Dr/Albany Hwy intersection which is possibly the most dangerous in Auckland. Fixing that is likely dependant on a future 30m+ of an upgrade to that section Albany Highway.

Later on in the report an additional mention is made about the awarding of a number of service contracts. Two are singled out as providing much better value than anticipated with a combined saving of almost $5m compared to what had been budgeted.

  • Security Guard Services and Patrols – Contract awarded to Armourguard. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.1m compared with the two year budget forecast
  • Public Transport Facilities Cleaning – Contract awarded to City Cleaning Services. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.7m compared with the two year budget forecast

For specific projects AT are working on the ones that caught my attention are:

Penlink 

Auckland Transport is progressing a planning strategy to ensure ongoing security of the Penlink corridor. This involves lodgement of an alteration to the existing Penlink designation and a suite of consent applications to allow up to four lanes on the Penlink alignment to reflect the updated design, and to extend the lapse date by another 15-20 years to align with the current draft ITP. Some changes to the existing designation boundary are proposed, however, the majority of the proposal will fit within the existing designation footprint. Notification is proposed in early 2015 due to the Christmas and New Year period. Key Stakeholder engagement is continuing and two open days are also proposed to provide the general public with an opportunity to discuss the project and planning process in more detail.

Discussions on alternate procurement methods continues with interested parties. These will be brought to the Board if they progress to any substantial proposal.

I can understand the need to retain the designation but quite where AT will find the over $350m needed for Penlink is unclear.

Devonport Wharf Transport Interchange

AT say the project completion will be delayed by two months to May 2015 after the contractor encountered construction difficulties below the Wharf Boardwalk.

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange

Enabling works are underway and AT say the project is still on track for completion at the end of next year which they say is “to align with the expected roll-out date for PTOM (South) in February 2016“. This suggests that the roll out of the new network has once again been delayed as it had been due to roll out in the middle of next year.

City Centre Integration

City Centre bus infrastructure planning is focussing on the Fanshawe St Busway, Wynyard Interchange and Downtown Interchange. A series of workshops will commence in December with the University and AUT to progress issues and options for the Learning Quarter Interchange and east-west bus corridor.

A City Centre Transport Framework is being developed with NZTA to collate and map out transport initiatives and issues across the city centre, as context for future development. Completion due mid-2015.

 

It’s good to see the Fanshawe St busway progressing as that will help further improve the PT experience for bus users from the North Shore. It is particularly important as at peak times 60-70% of all people using Fanshawe St are on a bus despite buses only having 22% of the space in the corridor. While the amount of space buses have won’t change, what should improve are the bus stops which should become more station like.

CEWT Fanshawe St

Swanson Park and Ride

AT say the tender should be awarded by now with construction starting soon. They are expecting the project to be complete by April next year. It will see 136 new car parks added to Swanson station for a cost of $2.5m. It will include improved lighting, signage, CCTV, additional platform shelters, walkway canopies to the footbridge and stairs, and new platform surfacing and marking.

Other PT improvements:

AT say they are continuing to do shadow running of test trains on the Southern and Western lines. Electric trains will be introduced to the Southern Line in early 2015 with a fully electric timetable by April which I assume means the Western Line too.

The Manukau interchange is being targeted for completion by early 2016.

HOP

The usage of HOP dropped slightly to 70% in November which has attributed to less university and secondary school students using services due to exam breaks.

HOP ticketing usage Nov 2014

AT have a special day pass for use during the NRL 9s in late January which includes discounts to some tourist attractions. They can only be purchased from Ticketek, are $25 and as yet don’t say how discount from the attractions purchasers will actually get.

HOP NRL 9s HOP daypass

November 14 Patronage

The number of people travelling on buses and trains has continued to surge in November resulting in more than 75 million trips over the previous 12 months, the first time that’s happened in over 50 years. That means the number of trips taken in the last year is up by 5.7 million (8%). The Rapid Transit Network comprising of the Northern Express and the trains continues to be the star performer with the annual number of trips increasing by 17%. There has also been solid growth in the bus network which carries the majority of people in Auckland with patronage up 6.8%.

14 - Nov AK Patronage table

14 - Nov AK Annual Patronage

The rail network has the highest annual growth of all modes up 17.5% and patronage is up 12.3 million. Within that the two small lines currently served by electric trains are up 20-30% which perhaps gives an indication of what we can expect once the bigger lines go electric. For the month of November patronage on the Manukau Line services alone was up 50%. I imagine that sort of growth will only continue with the new timetable too. Apart from the electric trains one of the reasons given for the improved patronage is that train punctuality and reliability has improved with November recording the highest result Auckland has seen with 91.9% of all services arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes of their schedule. The Manukau line was the highest at 96% and the Western Line the lowest at 89.3%.

If you recall back to my post the other day and the most recent advice from the Ministry of Transport on the CRL from August where they said

Growth of 1.4 million trips for the year to June 2014 is the highest annual growth in Auckland rail patronage achieved to date.

If growth continues at 1.4 million trips per year, annual patronage would hit 20 million trips around 2019/20. We expect patronage growth to continue at a similar rate as for the year to June 2014 until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. After 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow and at this stage do not anticipate it is likely that the threshold of 20 million trips well before 2020 will be met.

Well patronage is now up over 1.8 million trips and not showing signs of slowing down.

14 - Nov AK Rail Patronage

The Northern Express is also seeing fantastic growth this year with annual patronage now up 14.4% and rising above 2.6 million trips.

14 - NEX AK NEX Patronage

What’s also notable about this is that over the same time period the number of vehicles that cross the Harbour Bridge every day has dropped by 2%. Of course the NEX doesn’t include all bus trips across the harbour bridge and it would be fascinating to see just how many there are in total.

AHB Nov - 14

New PT Brand on the way

Auckland Transport is to launch new bus livery next week that will eventually roll out across all buses in the region. Once complete there will no longer be the multi coloured mess we have now with every operator having their own competing brand. Where this is going to be particularly useful is in areas where multiple operators run services, for example along Gt North Rd which is served by buses from NZ Bus (Metrolink and Go West) along with Ritchies. Integrated ticketing has made catching the next bus easier and a common livery will help reinforce that the PT network is all part of a single system. As such this clearly represents AT taking greater ownership of the customer experience rather than just leaving it up to the operators.

Auckland Transport is about to give the city’s public transport network a fresh, clear, consistent brand.

Over the next three years the branding will be phased in starting with the LINK services and the Northern Express.

Auckland Transport’s General Manager Marketing and Customer Experience Mike Loftus says a single identity will give Aucklanders and visitors a clearer understanding of what public transport is on offer and which areas specific buses, trains and ferries serve.

“Most metropolitan cities have a single brand network that is easy to recognise and enables clear, consistent communication with customers. Currently in Auckland there is no single identity, we have a variety of brands and looks. Customers relate to buses by the operator name rather than the wider public transport network”.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport Mark Lambert says having a single public transport network will ultimately build public confidence in the developing and improving public transport system. “Knowing that all the services are integrated and part of the same system will help grow patronage”.

The branding will mean common livery across public transport vehicles but differentiated by colour depending on the type of service.

The implementation of the livery is already underway and budgeted for on the electric trains.

Costs for the bus fleet will be kept to a minimum through:

  • retention of ocean blue for Rapid Network services (Northern Express is already this colour)
  • retention of red, green, orange and light blue for existing targeted services of the City LINK, Inner LINK, Outer LINK and Airbus
  • the rest of the bus fleet to be transitioned as part of new contracts and costs incurred through new contract rates

Mr Lambert says Auckland’s bus operators are aware of the changes and are working with Auckland Transport.

The Auckland Plan looks to double public transport trips from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022. The Auckland Plan’s priorities for Auckland’s transport system include “a single system transport network approach that manages current congestion problems and accommodates future business population growth to encourage a shift toward public transport.”

The new branding will be unveiled next Tuesday 16 December.

This is something we first highlighted at the end of September after it appeared in the Auckland Transport Board report. In addition an image of what the buses may look like was included although it’s possible that there have been tweaks or changes to the designs since September so we can’t say for sure what they’ll look like.

Updated from AT: As you know We have the big brand reveal nextTuesday which is really important to us as part of our public transport and customer work. We would most appreciate it if you could take down the images of the branded buses until the launch.

Possibly related to all of this is this opinion piece from Pattrick Smellie highlighting that some of the operators aren’t happy with the new contracts that AT will be rolling out.

Instead, they argue that AT has produced draft contracts that contain almost none of the elements of the desired “relational” contract model, sticking instead with a pre-2008 “transactional” approach.

Not only that, but they argue AT is trying to lump private bus operators with contract terms that make them bear the risk of things that only AT can control, and which could see them financially penalised if things go wrong.

Especially galling was that AT had drawn up these draft contracts over a three-year period, yet made them available for feedback from bus operators only in September, at which point all hell broke loose.

Concerned not to be tarred with the easy accusation of “resisting change” when they have been seeking it, the bus operators – principally Infratil-owned NZ Bus, supported by the New Zealand Bus and Coach Association – sought expert advice from accountancy firm KPMG and investment bank Cameron & Company.

Both concluded that the draft contracts were seriously deficient, even after some of the most onerous elements were withdrawn.

There was insufficient security of tenure, risks were badly mismatched, and financial incentives were unlikely to work as intended because of the punitive mindset underlying the contracts.

The result was likely to be a cost-cutting, compliance mentality rather than a value-creating, innovative environment in which new investment would be encouraged, both sets of advisers concluded.

However, when final submissions on the new draft contracts closed this week, their basic shape had not altered significantly.

Bus operators now hope that the central government funding body, the New Zealand Transport Agency, which must sign off the new contracts, agrees that they don’t do the job. Transport Minister Simon Bridges is aware of the issue, but not yet engaging actively.

It’s hard to tell if this is just the bus companies having a whinge or if there is something deeper that’s concerning them. One suggestion I saw yesterday was that AT are going to be controlling the advertising both on and in buses. That should hopefully scale back some of the horrid full bus wraps we see regularly on some buses. The problem is that a decent number of our bus operators currently don’t have any advertising at all so this could see the practice become more widespread. Hopefully it’s something we’ll find out next week when the new livery is revealed.

The sticky mess of the transport budget

The big news that the Council will be pushing back its preferred start date for the main part of the City Rail Link was not a huge surprise – aside from the enabling works the project’s probably not practically ready to start so quickly, even if funding support was available from Central Government (which it’s not). However, this is hardly a “win” on any account, as reduced spending on CRL in the next few years doesn’t free up money for other projects – as we stressed last month. This is because CRL doesn’t have an impact on rates until it opens, and it apparently is the level of rates income that constrains the transport budget.

So what does the rest of the transport budget look like? Looking at the details, the result is quite a mess, particularly during the first five years. This will become a core part of the big LTP question around whether the public wants a much larger transport programme and if so, how we’d prefer to pay for it (rates & fuel tax increases or a motorway toll). Hidden away at page 252 and 253 of the November Budget Committee agenda (27MB PDF) is the 10 year transport programme (although this is from before yesterday’s decision to delay the CRL):

2015draftltp-capex-list

This reflects the list of projects “above the line” in Auckland Transport’s ranking of all projects and reflect’s what’s possible in the “Basic Transport Network”. I don’t have a huge concern about the project list itself, although there are a few pretty low value things in there like Mill Road. The issue is more about the timing and sequencing of the programme – especially in the first few years.

You’ll see a number of important projects in there that are based around supporting the new public transport network that Auckland Transport are implementing over the next few years. Projects like the Otahuhu, Te Atatu and Manukau interchanges. Or the necessary improvements to Wellesley Street so it can cope with becoming the main east-west bus route across the city centre. The big problem is that these projects don’t appear to be funded until 2021 or in some cases (like Wellesley Street) even later:

2015draftltp-newptnetwork

This is a pretty insane situation, especially for projects like the Otahuhu interchange which is utterly fundamental to any implementation of the new PT network in the south. AT have started on the project but it seems they only have enough money for early works and design. The other big issue is the walking and cycling programme – which appears to be the line item “W+C Programme Risk Management”, that doesn’t have any funding at all for the first five years of the budget period.

The numbers at the bottom of the table above tell a rather strange and difficult to understand story about the total amount of funding available for transport over each of the next 10 years, jumping all over the place from a low of $453 million in the 15/16 year up to a whopping $978 million in 20/21 before dropping back down again significantly. The CRL numbers will change a bit, but remember not the rest of the programme.

But even within the funding envelope available, it seems that Auckland Transport has made some strange decisions around the timing of projects. Why is Albany Highway such an extremely high priority that it sucks up nearly $40 million in the first couple of years? Why is there no funding for AMETI, then one year of funding, then no funding again? Some of the project costs raise questions too – how does a Te Atatu bus interchange cost $46 million? How can a Wynyard interchange cost $25 million and a Downtown one $24 million when a Learning Quarter interchange only costs $8 million? Should we really be spending $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover?

There seems to be an expectation that the “Basic Transport Network” is just an academic exercise, with the public supposedly hugely in favour of the motorway tolls scheme (or higher rates and fuel taxes) that will “save the day”. I’m a bit sceptical about this – the government has not greeted the tolls scheme warmly and the public seem to be screaming even about the proposed 3.5% rates increase. We could very well be stuck with the Basic Transport Network for the foreseeable future, which means it needs a hell of a lot of work to ensure the new public transport network doesn’t fail, to ensure momentum on the walking and cycling programme is not lost and to finally make some tough decisions around whether we should be spending $143 million on Mill Road, $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover or $135 million on the East West Connections project.

The currently proposed budget is just a sticky mess that seems almost designed to fail.

Is New Zealand getting public transport right?

Increasingly, the answer is yes – although we certainly can’t rest on our laurels yet. Read on if you want to know how and why…

I recently read Paul Mees’ excellent book Transport for Suburbia, which argues that high-quality, useful public transport services can be provided even in the low to medium density cities of Australia and New Zealand. Reader Warren S gave a glowing review of the book earlier this year.

Mees, who did his initial research on Auckland in the 1990s, was quite scathing about the decades of planning failures that led to the city having an underutilised and not especially useful public transport network. The user experience has suffered, he argued, due both to decades of underinvestment and a refusal to plan an integrated bus network that would be useful throughout the growing city.

The key to any good public transport network, Mees argued, is that it must function as a network. A 2010 NZTA research report (pdf) that he co-authored identified two key principles of network structure.

First, the network should be stable throughout the day, as shown on the right hand side of the diagram. In other words, the bus lines that are running in the peak should be running in the middle of the day, in evenings, and on weekends. This has important benefits for users, because it gives them a lot of certainty. For example, a working mother who rides the bus to work doesn’t have to worry that she won’t be able to make it home in the middle of the day in case of a medical emergency. The bus will always be running down the same streets.

Mees principles of network design

Second, frequent connective services are essential if public transport is going to serve a diverse range of trips. As Jarrett Walker says, frequency is freedom: when you know that you’ll never have to wait long for a bus (or to transfer between services), then it’s really convenient to choose to take the bus. The following diagram is somewhat difficult to read at first, but it depicts how much more mobility is enabled by a frequent connective network. This is really, really good for users, because it gives them many more choices about where to travel and how to get there.

Mees Squarevill example

Based on the best practice from overseas, Mees argued that New Zealand needed to make some crucial changes in three main areas. As the table below shows, we’re actually well underway (or finished with) most of these changes! Moreover, we’re seeing the benefits of many of these changes already, meaning that they will be easy to build upon and hard to reverse.

Of course, we’re not yet in the promised land of PT, and the devil is often in the details. While Auckland’s New Network represents a real improvement in the quality and usefulness of the city’s PT offering, Mees points out that there are many elements of network design that will require fine-tuning. That means things like rolling out bus lanes on more routes, getting bus stops in the right place, and making connection points between frequent routes comfortable and easy to use – all of which requires on-the-ground knowledge.

Paul Mees’ recommendation Are we doing it in Auckland?
1  Appropriate institutions and public processes:
Establish a public agency to plan the network across the whole urban region. Auckland Transport is doing this – it seems to be earning more bouquets than brick-bats in the process
Redirect private-sector competition into producing best-value tenders for the delivery of part, or all, of a publicly planned system. Done – changes to PT contracting under the last two governments have given transport agencies back control of network planning
Use well-designed public education and consultation programmes to manage changes. Done – AT’s consultation on the Southern New Network was praised
Provide a simple fare system that avoids the imposition of penalties for transfers. HOP cards have given us integrated ticketing; integrated fares are (hopefully) up next
2  Network structure:
Provide a simple and stable network of lines throughout the day. In progress – that’s the goal of the New Network
Base mode choice for different lines in the network on required capacity, comfort and speed. In progress – CRL and more busways planned in AT’s capital programme
Consider locations for suburban interchanges on the basis of predicted travel patterns and efficient vehicle operations. In progress – Panmure Station successfully implemented, Otahuhu to follow
3  Network operations
Simplicity and directness:
Organise the network on the principle of ‘one section – one line’. Done in New Network
Avoid deviations in the physical routes chosen for bus services. Done in New Network
Provide pendulum lines through key activity centres and interchanges. Done in New Network
Speed and reliability:
Aim for travel speeds comparable to, or faster than, door-to-door travel times that can be achieved by car. Already done on selected routes – e.g. the Northern Busway and some isthmus routes
Provide on-road signal and traffic-lane priority to allow buses to meet connections. In progress – e.g. with the quick win on Fanshawe St – but not fast enough
Aim to have vehicles stopping only as required to pick up and drop off passengers. Already standard practice
Frequency:
Establish ’forget-the-timetable’ headways (10 minutes or less) in key travel corridors. Key principle in New Network, although that aims for 15 minute frequencies as a minimum
Set up integrated timetables outside high-frequency areas. Key principle in New Network
Location of stops and access to services:
Carefully plan the location of stops to minimise the number of stops and ensure their optimal location in relation to major trip attractors, intersecting lines and pedestrian accessways. Hopefully underway as part of New Network route design… AT’s been doing some work on new bus shelter designs
Locate stops in car-free precincts close to important destinations, to give public transport a significant competitive advantage. We haven’t yet started to think about this – perhaps time to get started?
Change current access to ‘trunk’ services from ‘park-and-ride’ facilities to access by walking, bicycle, or feeder bus, in order to cater for long-term growth in patronage. More could be done
Ensure that walking distances between services in interchanges are very short: preferably no more than 10 metres.
Marketing for first-time and occasional users:
Create a simple line structure that makes the network easy to understand. Done in New Network – have you seen the maps?
Use maps, on-line information, vehicle livery and on-board displays to reinforce understanding of the line layout and transfer opportunities. Some bus routes (e.g. Northern Express, Link Buses) have branded livery; real-time information is improving but still spotty

Moreover, this is not just an Auckland phenomenon – other New Zealand cities are eagerly embracing the principles of PT network design. Wellington and Dunedin are at work applying the same set of principles to their public transport networks. This week, Christchurch’s own frequent connective network went live – a significant milestone for a city that’s still rebuilding following the earthquakes.

chc-network-map

In short, there has been a quiet revolution in public transport planning in New Zealand. Many regional transport agencies (and central government) have looked at best practice from overseas and gotten on with implementing it. Paul Mees might have torn his hair out when studying the mess that had been made of PT planning by the 1990s – but things are now turning around. Long may it continue!

Onewa Rd westbound Transit Lane

Auckland Transport have announced that they will finally add a transit lane westbound on Onewa Rd. The omission of a westbound transit lane has long been an issue so I guess it’s a case of better late than never.

Congestion on one of the North Shore’s busiest roads will be reduced with the introduction of a T3 lane for westbound traffic on Onewa Rd during evening peak.

The T3 lane is an additional lane on Onewa Rd operating between 4pm-6pm, Mon-Fri from Church St to 135 metres east of Birkenhead Ave and is made possible by the removal of car parking between these hours. Only vehicles with three or more occupants, buses, cyclists and taxis are allowed on T3 lanes.

The move will reduce travel times for all vehicles on Onewa Rd, says Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Public Transport Mark Lambert. “It will not only lead to quicker bus journey times and encourage carpooling and cycling on this section of road, but all traffic will see benefits. That is because vehicles with more than three occupants and buses will be able to use the T3 lane rather than the general traffic lane. That will make journey times quicker for everyone.”

To encourage cyclists of all abilities to use this section of Onewa Rd, there will also be an upgrade of the existing footpath to create a shared pedestrian/cycle path adjacent to the T3 lane on the south side of Onewa Rd.

The Kaipatiki Local Board is very supportive of new westbound T3 lane on Onewa Road,” says Kaipatiki Local Board Chair Kay McIntyre. “We want to encourage more people to use public transport. It is a big priority in our local board plan and this new T3 lane will help us deliver on this.”

The added lane will effectively prioritise higher occupancy vehicles along the proposed route. This will allow a more effective use of the available road space and improve efficiency of public transport which is Auckland Transport’s first priority.

As outlined in the Regional Public Transport Plan, AT is proposing future bus services along this route that are timetabled to operate at least every 15 minutes between 7am to 7pm, seven days a week, which will make the provision of bus facilities along Onewa Road even more important.

The survey results showed that 48% of passengers travelled in 7% of transit vehicles (buses and vehicles with three or more people).

Currently there is a T3 lane on Onewa Rd eastbound between 6.30am-9am, Mon-Fri. This is a well-functioning T3 lane with 65% of passengers travelling on 18% of all vehicles using the T3 lane.

What is happening?

Parking will not be permitted on Onewa Rd, westbound between Church St and 135 east of Birkenhead Ave between 4pm-6pm, Mon-Fri.

This creates a new lane between these hours which will be for T3 vehicles only.

The following modes of transport only are allowed on the T3 lane:

Buses, vehicles with three or more occupants, motorcyclists, cyclists and taxis

When is it happening?

Construction will begin February 2015 and be completed in June 2015.

Onewa-overview-road-map

There are a few things I’m not sure about, like why the transit lane doesn’t start till after Lake Rd instead of from the motorway and the closing time of 6pm seems too early, 6:30 or 7pm would be more appropriate. However overall this seems like a good project for bus users who travel along Onewa Rd.

There’s more information on the AT page for the project.

Today is NZ Transit Upgrade Day

Well for Christchurch Bus and for Auckland Rail users it is. Christchurch is launching its New Bus Network today:

CHCH new Network

PDF here. We are very keen to hear back from users about they think of this. In fact we’ed be very keen to run a guest post or two from interested PT users in Christchurch. Here’s what Christchurch Metro say about it:

Our city has changed, and so must we.  Public transport is a valuable asset to a modern, vibrant city. It helps to keep us, and our economy, moving, and so this new network has been developed to cover our emerging city.  The core of the new network features five high-frequency, direct services running across town.

Also today the new Auckland Rail timetables, especially for the Eastern and Southern lines in Auckland begin, as Matt described last month here:

Dec 8 2014 rail changes

This means the beginning of an all EMU service on the Eastern Line, and the beginning of our much more legible and frequent turn-up-and-go Metro-style rail Rapid Transit running pattern. This is the next step in the great upgrade of rail services for Auckland that is already being met with enthusiasm by Auckland travellers. Early next year the Southern Line with get its Electric Trains, followed by the Western Line towards the end, which will also come with frequency increases. Next year will also see the beginning of the roll out of the radical upgrade of the Bus system that is the New Network. Today will also see the beginning of regular use of electric six car sets on the network.

Again we are keen to hear from users how the new services are going.

Need to build missing modes to avoid congestion

Yesterday large parts of Auckland’s Motorway network was brought to its knees by a single crash.

A serious crash brought Auckland’s motorway network to its knees with motorists stuck in grid-locked traffic for up to four hours.

Three motorbikes and a truck collided on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge about 12pm yesterday, leaving two motorcyclists with critical injuries and a third with serious injuries.

Three northbound lanes were closed while emergency services attended the scene of the crash.

Auckland motorists were stuck in grid-locked traffic, making a normally 40-minute journey from the airport to the North Shore take up to three hours.

The tail of the traffic jam on State Highway 1 stretched from the base of the Harbour Bridge to Highbrook Drive, Otahuhu, before all lanes were re-opened at 3pm.

Traffic on the Northwestern Motorway was very heavy, with motorists diverting trips they’d usually take on the Northern Motorway in an attempt to avoid the snarl up.

Roads throughout Central Auckland were also backed up as motorists tried to get on the motorway and became stuck.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a screenshot but at one stage the motorway traffic map looked like this with a considerable amount of red as well.  In addition local roads all around the motorways would have been severely affected too.

Motorway affected

While the crash is unfortunate – and I hope those involved are ok – as I say in the article, there is very little that could be done to prevent the ensuing chaos it caused. We’ve seen in recent years the motorway network brought to a standstill numerous times by accidents and this is especially the case when they occur on some of the busiest sections of the network.

I happened to be travelling towards the city about 1½ hours after the Harbour Bridge was reopened and SH16 was still at a standstill all the way from Te Atatu to the city which also showed just how long the delays took to clear.

Yesterday’s incident also shows highlights that even an additional harbour crossing wouldn’t have helped. As people tried to avoid the hold up they flooded to use the North-Western Motorway and that too soon jammed up. With an additional crossing the same thing would have happened as masses of people diverted their trips to avoid the bridge. It’s also worth pointing out that the opening of the Waterview Connection isn’t going to make this any better either as the project is expected to see traffic volumes on the motorway increase. This is due to new trips being generated thanks to the connection as well as a lot of trips shift from local roads on to the motorway network. The result would be even more people stuck in congestion – many deep underground.

So what can we do?

What we need is a comprehensive multi modal network that is able to deliver real choice to Aucklanders in how they get around. That means a network like the Congestion Free Network as well dedicated walking and cycling options like Skypath combined with safe routes on road across the region. Those alternative networks won’t mean that everyone is going to suddenly use them or that people driving won’t suffer from congestion at times but it does mean that people can have a realistic option to make trips around the region knowing they won’t have the risk of suffering from congestion. As yesterday’s experience also shows, the key is also they are isolated from the rest of the road network. Because there is no dedicated route for buses over the harbour bridge all North Shore services were equally caught up in the chaos disrupting them too.

CFN 2030 South-GraftonNote: we’ll be creating a new version to incorporate the change to the CRL with Mt Eden soon.

A true multi-modal transport system is also a resilient one so let’s get on and build those missing modes.