Every month I comb through the reports to the AT board looking at what the organisation is up to (that they’ll say in public). I’ve already covered the separate reports on additional bus priority and the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast so this post covers the rest of the reports for the meeting held yesterday. As such this post is a combination of a lot of little items
Once again all of the most interesting papers appear to be in the closed session which means we only have the agenda items to go off. The items being discussed are:
Items for Approval/Decision
- Budget Realignment
- Development Proposals
- CRL Update
- Parnell Station Update
- Wynyard Quarter Roading
- PT Security & Fare Evasion
- Ferry Downtown Access
- Ferry Services Strategy
- Off Street Parking
Items for Noting
- Deep Dive – Wharves
- Heavy Rail Strategy Update
- Customer First Strategy
Most seem fairly self-explanatory however two items draw a bit more attention for me. They are the vaguely titled Development Proposals – what are AT thinking of developing? – and the Heavy Rail Strategy update. The latter is interesting as it’s the first time I’ve seen AT refer to heavy rail as opposed to just rail and comes just after the herald suggested AT were looking at light rail to the airport.
On to the board report and there are number of brief updates on a range of projects. Many we’ve talked about separately or there hasn’t been much change in the report from last month but the ones that stand out are:
Onewa Rd – AT say they are going to be creating an additional westbound general traffic lane after the intersection with Lake Rd. It’s not clear why they are creating a general traffic lane and not a bus or transit lane seeing as westbound bus priority has been needed (and promised) on the road for a long time.
Electric Trains – As of the time of writing the report there were 31 of the 57 on order now in the country with 28 given provisional acceptance. From December four trains a month start arriving which means they should all be in the country by the middle of the year. They also say they have successfully tested modified software to control traction on the EMUs fixing issues from the overhead feed which was presumably the issue behind the problems earlier in the year. The report also talks about six car EMUs being in operation from mid-November however I suspect that’s been held off till the new timetable.
City Rail Link – There are a number of comments related to the recent briefings to the incoming minister about the CRL however perhaps most significantly they say:
The City Rail Link has recently been subject to an intense period of public scrutiny due to the Council’s deliberations on the Long Term Plan (LTP). Extensive media coverage on the project led to a significant amount of feedback, including positive endorsement of the CRL by a variety of proponents. This was a timely reminder of the need to continue to “tell the story” of the CRL and its benefits, especially across the entire region. For example rail-users (and potential new rail users) will see their journey times substantially reduced as well as a much more frequent service. More effort will go into promoting these and other benefits of the CRL story from now on, particularly in the lead-up to the beginning of the enabling works in the second half of 2015
AT telling the story of the projects benefits across the region has been something we’ve talked about numerous times. It will be interesting to see what they come up with this time.
Northcote Cycle Route – AT say that as a result of the consultation they are making changes to what they initially proposed, particularly in Queen St. I suspect this will mean AT are watering down the proposal to retain more car parking
Newmarket Crossing (aka Sarawia St) – was approved last month after an in dependant review looked at the options again. I’m sure some of the Cowie St residents will continue to fight the proposal though.
Pukekohe Bus Rail Interchange – AT say they have $1.5m in funding for this financial year to upgrade the station which I’m sure is something that will get the locals will be pleased about. AT will also be moving the facilities to refill diesel trains from Papakura to Pukekohe
Puhinui Station – The station will be getting an upgrade to the standard Auckland design to improve customer experience. It is expected to be finished by June 2015.
Grafton Bridge – From early next year AT will be allowing taxi’s to use Grafton Bridge as part of a one year trial. While they say they will review the impacts in 3 months. Overall this seems like it could be quite a bad outcome for those on bikes but we’ll have to wait and see.
Integrated Fares – The AT board signed off the business case for integrated fares last month although we’re still waiting to hear just what that will entail. What we do know from the report to the board is that integrated fares won’t go live till the end of next year. This is due to AT needing to re-program much of the system to handle proper integrated fares. As for HOP as it is now, once again the board report¹ says that the percentage of trips on the PT network using HOP has remained the same as last month, AT say they think the ” Get onboard with Jerome” campaign will improve results over the coming months.
Back in July and August, Auckland Transport consulted on changes to the bus network on the Hibiscus Coast as part of the region wide new network. The main driver for consulting on the changes now is that AT want to extend some Northern Express services to the future Hibiscus Coast busway station before the middle of next year and so it makes sense to reorganise the rest of the network in the area at the same time to take advantage of it.
The results of that consultation are now available and the final proposed network is going to the AT board today for approval. All up AT received 874 responses with 71% supporting or strongly supporting what was proposed. That’s quite a bit better than the 56% combined support for the changes to the network in South Auckland. One interesting aspect I noticed from the demographic information of submitters that stated their gender was that 59% were female. I think this is good as often transport discussions tend to be far too male dominated. The feedback has resulted in a number of changes with 10 of the original 11 routes being modified. The key issues raised and the changes as a response to them are below
I personally thought extending the NEX to Orewa itself would have been a useful anchor point rather than having it terminate at the Hibiscus Coast Station which is only accessible by car or local bus however AT say that to take the NEX through congested local roads would affect its reliability and therefore the quality of the service. In addition AT say some people wanted the new NEX services to bypass Albany busway station or in some cases all busway stations to ensure there was capacity for those going to the Hibiscus Coast. In response AT say they believe that there are greater benefits of access, simplicity, and legibility to be gained from keeping all NEX services running the same route at all times of day and serving all the busway stations. Further the buses to the Hibiscus Coast will be in addition to the existing NEX buses providing additional capacity and will be timed to leave at the same time as buses going just to Albany to help spread the load out. The proposed frequency for the NEX hasn’t changed from the consultation and will be every 15 minutes at peak (6am-9:30am city bound & 3pm-6:30pm outbound) and 30 minutes off peak.
One other aspect that AT will pulse buses at the busway station. That means for connecting buses there will only be around a 5 minute wait between services. The same thing will happen with the Gulf Harbour ferry.
I won’t go through all the details in this post however the consultation report goes all of the issues as well as the investigations and considerations AT undertook before coming to their final decision. One change I will cover though is that buses won’t use the Hibiscus Coast Highway like proposed and will instead use Centreway Rd. In addition all services except the express will loop around the town centre.
So here is what the proposed map looked like for the consultation.
And here it is with the changes that have been made (click to enlarge however unfortunately it isn’t super high quality).
While the AT board are expected to approve the changes today, staff note there are a number of risks associated with the changes that will need to be addressed.
- Hibiscus Coast Station won’t be built by the time the New Network is implemented, due to ongoing legal disputes (refer Attachment 1), which will mean the customers’ experience when making connections will be sub-optimal. It is important that high quality temporary facilities are in place. Four new shelters have recently been installed adjacent to the current park and ride facility for this purpose. Temporary toilets will also be provided.
- Because the full park and ride facility will not be built by the time the NEX is extended to Hibiscus Coast Station, there is likely to be dissatisfaction with the amount of carparking, although this will maximise the potential market for the feeder bus services.
- The cost of providing these recommended services is to be negotiated with the incumbent operators for implementation in mid-2015. Should the cost of providing the new services exceed expectations we may have to reduce the level of service from what is recommended in the consultation summary and decisions report.
- These service changes are proposed to be implemented before integrated fares are in place across the network. While customers with a monthly pass or a SuperGold Card will not be affected, all other passengers who make a connection under the New Network, will pay more than they do currently if required to transfer. This is likely to generate some negative publicity. An interim solution may be possible, however, service improvements are considered to outweigh this interim disbenefit.
- Feedback suggests that some people have a poor understanding of how connections will work or are concerned that they will be reliable. We will need to work with operators to ensure connections are reliable, and to clearly communicate how connections will work under the New Network.
On the busway station itself AT have given some more details about the environment court challenge it is facing.
Resource consent for the Busway Station (Silverdale Park and Ride), which was granted on 10 July, has been appealed against by two submitters who own adjacent parcels of land. Their principal area of contention is the traffic capacity on Hibiscus Coast Highway for future developments in the Plan Change 123 (Silverdale South) area. The appellants are arguing that the Busway Station affects the amount of traffic that can be generated in the Plan Change area, thereby placing potential restrictions on their developments.
So the argument is over how much traffic the park and ride may generate and who should be able to clog up the roads more. This is perhaps a good example of one of the main issues with park and ride in general that people often don’t think think about. The other being the cost of it at around $10,000 per space for an at grade carpark. As part of the consultation AT received a number of comments wanting to see the proposed 500 spaces expanded including buying some of the neighbouring land for it. They say there is no plans to do that.
Do you live on the Hibiscus Coast, what do you think of the changes?
Auckland Transport want to roll out 40km of new bus priority measures over the next 3 years to speed up buses, make them more efficient and support the new bus network being rolled out across the region. This is fantastic news as the lack of progress AT have made to date on rolling out bus lanes has been a regular cause for concern for us and since AT was formed in late 2010 only bus lane added across the region has was on Fanshawe St earlier this year – something we campaigned on.
AT say they are targeting for 15km to be added this financial year and the remaining 25km over the following two years adding to the 88km of existing bus and transit lanes around the region. The works won’t all be bus lanes, in some cases they will be improvements to stops, kerb realignments or pocket lanes at intersections. Many of the improvements are also about making the existing bus lanes work better by addressing the missing gaps in them. The focus so far has been on the routes that make up the Frequent Transit Network which are the routes that will have buses running at a minimum of every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week (below). As part of the new network AT are also rolling out a new contracting model (PTOM) for which stringent KPIs have been set in the areas of punctuality and reliability and these new priority measures play a critical role in operators being able to meet those KPIs.
And here are the list of the key projects bus priority projects over the next three years. AT say a road on the list doesn’t mean there will be a bus lane along the entire corridor but that these are the corridors that have high levels of congestion for buses and have priority measures identified that will increase the operational efficiency and customer experience.
The cost to roll out these bus priority measures is $12-15 million over the next 3 years which seems like fantastic value when compared to many other transport projects. That cost is made up of $2.2 million of capital expenditure (CAPEX) in this financial year and $5-6 million in the following two years as well an additional $500,000 in operational spending in those years for investigation and review. The big issue though is that currently following two years projects are not included in the base transport programme and so will need funding to be made available.
One thing that does help is they say recent stakeholder engagement internally and with NZTA, Local Board, business associations, emergency services and local residents has been positive. These are also not the end of bus priority measures and AT are conducting a systematic investigation of all future RTN routes.
It’s great to see AT finally getting on to this. I don’t know if any economic evaluation has been done but the benefits from freeing up trips for thousands of bus users per day must be huge, especially when you consider it will cost just 10% of some motorway interchange projects. It’s also about the same cost as the NZTA are about to spend on adding one lane to the motorway northbound at Ellerslie.
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
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.
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).
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
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:
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:
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:
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.
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 Road weekday evening timetable
This tweet from last Monday night shows the high demand for evening Mt Eden Road buses.
And from Julie Anne Genter last month, this time on a Tuesday night.
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.
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.
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.
This is certainly not nearly enough to meet demand. This tweet from last Sunday shows this results in packed buses leaving people behind.
This tweet from a couple of weekends ago shows this is a regular occurrence.
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.
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.
Again NZ Bus is causing issues by running small ADL 200 buses on these services when larger buses are available.
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.
And this is the bus leaving at 7.45pm. These 10 people were left behind as the bus was full of standing passengers.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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:
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!
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!
Finally, it’s worth reflecting on the policy implications of this analysis. The maths on transport costs suggest that:
So, what would you do with an extra $5,200 in your pocket every year?
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.
In the governments budget announcement last year they said the Northern Corridor improvements would cost $450 million.
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.
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
And as a reminder this is an image from August showing the motorway ramps under construction.
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).
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.
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.
Smales Farm Station
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.
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.
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.