Notes from Sydney: Harbour Crossings

Thoughts of Sydney are inseparable from images of its harbour:


It’s naturally beautiful, but also much of what has been added around the harbour increases its appeal, particularly the Opera House and the Bridge:


The bridge is not only beautiful, and massively over-engineered, but also is an impressive multitasker; trains, buses, general traffic, pedestrians, people on bikes. All catered for.


Despite that when looking at the bridge its mostly covered with cars in terms of moving people the general traffic lanes are the least impressive of the three main modes, as shown below in the am peak hour:

Sydney Harbour am peak

It is its multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.

The Bridge has always been impressively multi-modal as the first toll tariff shows, and it carried trains and trams from the start:

Sydney Harbour Bridge 1st tolls

In 1992 it was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.

The evidence from Sydney shows that what we need to add next are the missing high capacity modes. And that we clearly aren’t using the existing bridge well enough. Our bridge was never designed to carry trains, but it does carry buses, and currently these could be given the opportunity to carry even more people more efficiently. And that very opportunity is just around the corner. In 2017 or maybe even next year the alternative Western Ring Route opens, described by NZTA like this:

The Western Ring Route comprises the SH20, 16 and 18 motorway corridors. When complete it will consist of 48km of high quality motorway linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. It will provide a high quality alternative route to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and take unnecessary traffic away from Auckland’s CBD.

Excellent, always great to invest in systems that take unnecessary traffic away. And there is no better way to achieve this than to make the alternatives to driving so much quicker and more reliable with dedicated right-of-ways. Here is the perfect opportunity to achieve that, the opening of the WRR should be paralleled by the addition of bus lanes right across the Bridge in order to lift its overall capacity. And at the same time perhaps truck priority lanes on the sturdier central lanes should also be considered, so the most important roles of highways, moving people and freight efficiently, can be more certainly achieved. Although the need for that depends on exactly how much freight traffic shifts to the new route [as well as the rail line and trans-shipping via Northland’s new cranes: ‘New crane means fewer trucks on the highway’]. Outside of the temporary blip caused by the building of Puhoi to Warkworth [much which will be able to use the WRR] heavy traffic growth on the bridge looks like it is predominantly buses.

Meanwhile our transport agencies should be planning the next new crossing as the missing and much more efficient Rapid Transit route. Cheaper narrower tunnels to finally bring rail to the Shore; twin tracks that have the people moving capacity of 12 motorway lanes. Here: Light Rail or super efficient driverless Light Metro are clearly both great options that should be explored:


But before all of this there are of course those two much more humble modes that can add their invigorating contribution to the utility of the Bridge, walking and cycling, Skypath:


The famous cycle steps on the northern side, there are around 2000 bike trips a day over the bridge [despite the steps]:


And there they were right at the beginning:

First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.

First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.

Central and East New Network Consultation

Today Auckland Transport their biggest consultation yet for the new bus network covering both Central and East Auckland. Being the largest consultation it will also run the longest with submissions open till 10 December. The previous consultations have been for South Auckland, West Auckland, Hibiscus Coast – which rolls out in a few weeks, Pukekohe/Waiuku and most recently the North Shore. Like with the rest of the New Network the focus goes is on getting more out of our existing bus resource by creating a simpler, connected network that has greater frequency.

Central Auckland

Central Auckland already has some of the best bus services in the region thanks to much of the area originally being designed around trams. The New Network turns up the dial on buses in the central area really showing what a frequent connected network looks like. To put things in comparison, the confirmed or consulted on networks for the North, South, East and West have two or four frequent routes (running at least every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7 days a week) whereas the central area has 15 including a few frequent crosstown routes. This is shown below.

Central Proposed New Bus Network

I’m not an expert on the bus routes in Central Auckland but a few things that are immediately noticeable:

  • There are a number of frequent crosstown routes. This will make it much easier to get locations on the other side of the city without having to go through the CBD.
  • The Outer Link – now the Crosstown 4 – has been cut open runs between the Mt Albert and Onehunga via the city.
  • I know Patrick will be happy his 020 route no longer takes odd detours around Freemans Bay so will be much more direct.
  • The 32 route appears to be an extension to one in the Southern Network and so would go from Mangere to Glen Innes via Otahuhu, Sylvia Park and Panmure.
  • Like the other new network maps, this one is considerably more legible, the current map is shown below.

Central Existing Bus Network

One big issue is how the new network will move around the central city. Over the coming years the whole area is going to be in a state of flux thanks to the construction of the City Rail Link however AT have included this map in the consultation.

Central Proposed New Bus Network - CBD

The biggest alarm bell to me the retention of buses eastbound on Victoria St. That’s because previous studies all pointed to Wellesley St being a dedicated bus corridor with Victoria St largely turned into a Linear Park. My understanding of the reason for the change is that it’s a compromise after the University strongly objected to having buses use the ramp between Wellesley St and Symonds St thereby going past their new building. I get the impression they care more about being able to show off pretty pictures to compete against other universities overseas rather than how their students actually get to their campus.

I guess one thing is that if AT build light rail it would address a lot of the problem as would get many buses off that Wellesley St route.

Victoria St Linear Park

The maps below show just how much the networks will change. For Central Auckland it is Sundays that will get a massive boost.

Central Bus Network - change

East Auckland

In East Auckland the changes are a little less dramatic and the focus of the frequent services is on trips between Panmure and Botany or Howick. What is also harder to see is that some of the routes south of Botany aren’t shown much as they were consulted on as part of the Southern Network. There are a few things that spring to mind when looking at this map.

  • There is no frequent service between Botany and Manukau.
  • I wonder if the person/people who decided on where to locate Flat Bush ever thought about how buses would run (I doubt it)

East Auckland Proposed New Bus Network

Here’s the existing map.

East Auckland Existing Bus Network

Here’s the map of the changes which also happens to show parts of the network from other areas e.g. South Auckland.

East Auckland New Bus Network changes

There are quite a few open days that will happen in both Central and East Auckland so if you’re interested make sure you check them out.

Lastly related to the new network, recently I got to have a quick look at the first double decker bus that Howick & Eastern have purchased to run one some of these routes – NZ Bus are buying some for a few of their routes too. It was pure coincidence as I noticed it parked up on my way home. These new ones are quite nice both inside and out and it will be good to see them out on the network.

H&E Double Decker

Double Deckers soon to be running in East Auckland

Time to cool your love affair with your car?

As noted in the post this morning, Auckland Transport have today launched a series of short videos with the theme of “Time to cool your love affair with your car?”


Love Affair heart break

Here are the five different videos all pushing a different alternative.

It doesn’t have to be a permanent split, but finding new ways to commute could give you a whole new lease on life. You could save money, improve your well-being and reduce your stress levels. Check out your options:

What do you think of ATs new campaign?


Guest Post: Silverdale Buses

This is a guest post from reader Bryce P

As you should be well aware by now, the New Bus Network for Hibiscus Coast is due to go live in late October. This brings a large number of changes for bus services on the Hibiscus Coast, notably the extension of the NEX to the Hibiscus Coast Park’n’Ride.

What I have noticed though is that while all services back to the Orewa and Whangaparaoa return back along Silverdale Street, the outgoing services to the Park’n’Ride miss the town centre completely.

Silverdale Town Centre Bus Route

The key reason for this will be due to Park’n’Ride buses not being able to return to Hibiscus Coast Highway from Silverdale Street due to no signalised intersection.

Signalising the intersection has been discussed for a number of years and, before the Super City was formed, was even funded by the then Rodney District Council. It is acknowledged as a key component to reconnect the Silverdale shops and the business area and is supported by both the Local Board and the local Business Association. Unfortunately Auckland Transport do not see this as a matter that needs attention and in fact have suggested that safety is a reason they have resisted installing traffic lights here (quite how they figure this has not been explained).

Aside from reconnecting these two areas of Silverdale, installing traffic lights would also allow all buses to utilise the bus stops outside the new Silverdale Town Centre. This, in turn, allows locals to shop or access the buses from the local area, including Millwater. Across the road there are already terraces beign built and now there is a plan for a new Farmers store. Silverdale is the new hub for the area.

Also, it looks like some locals have already worked out how well bikes and public transport work together.


So Auckland Transport, lets have those lights and open up another section of the New Network. But you might want to order some bike racks at the same time.

AT September Board Meeting

Tomorrow the Auckland Transport board have their next meeting and here’s the information from the reports that caught my attention. As usual I’ve started with the items on the closed session items for approval/decision that look interesting.

  • Northern Busway – Presumably this is talking about the latest plans for the busway. The NZTA should be building the busway but it will be AT who build stations and obviously run services on it. Of note, the NZTA said on Friday that one of the clear themes from their recent consultation was related to the busway

Strong recognition that the Northern Busway extension would help improve not only bus service speed and reliability, but also reduce motorway congestion further. The majority of feedback supported the idea of an additional bus station being considered on the extension, and many people talked about the importance of car parking at the stations.

  • LRT Alignment – This was also on the agenda at the last meeting.
  • Corporate Accommodation – Long Term Strategy – AT are currently spread out across numerous buildings across the city. Many functions are based in the city but they also have a decent presence in Henderson, Smales Farm and Manukau. Could they be looking to combine staff into a single building?
  • Masterbrands – AT seem to be splitting off different parts of the organisation into separate brands. One of those is AT Metro which is their public transport brand and another is AT HOP which is currently only used for PT but will eventually be used for other payments.
  • CRL Update

It would be interesting to know what was being discussed. Moving on to the main business report.

It appears that AT will get a decent saving on their insurance for trains which I’m gathering is due to the electrics being safer. It also sounds like they’re close to selling the old diesel rolling stock

Rolling stock insurance is due for renewal at 31 October 2015. Initial market quotes indicate that a saving of approximately $100,000 is likely to be achieved on the 2014/15 premium for a similar loss limit.

Further progress on the diesel train sale process was achieved during the month with a visit from representatives of the prospective purchaser and further discussions on shipping and payment arrangements.

AT are obviously impacted a lot by the growth that is or will be happening across the region. They say they are working with the NZTA on business cases to identify what transport infrastructure is needed over 30 years for the large greenfield development areas in the North West and South. They also say

A number of business cases are also being developed on the rapid transit network. These include the Northwestern Busway and a business case for the addition of a station(s) along the proposed Northern Busway Extension. A business case is also progressing for improvements to Fanshawe Street in the vicinity of the Wynyard Quarter.

AT have outlined a few consultation/public information days that will be coming up soon.

  • Consultation for the New Network covering the Isthmus and East Auckland starts 1 October
  • Consultation for the Quay St cycleway between Hobson St and Tapora St starts in October
  • AT’s Community Liaison Group on the Franklin Rd Rd upgrade starts later in October and is made up of representatives from Franklin Road, CAA, utility companies, the Waitemata Local Board and AT.
  • AT have outlined the changes to the city centre for Phase 2 of the CRL enabling works. There are open days in the council chambers at the Town Hall on Saturday 3 October from 11am to 2pm; Tuesday 6 October from 4pm to 7pm. The changes include bus lanes on Queen St north of Victoria St.


CRL City Changes Phase 2

AT are launching a series of short videos this week with the aim of reducing trips by single occupant vehicles during peak times. They say the theme is “cool the love affair with your car”. The posters below show.

Cool your love affair with car posters

See it here

For specific project updates:

  • The Te Atatu Rd project is now underway
  • Work at Parnell continues – The platforms are well advanced and work is focused on the connecting ramps and paths as well as the works for the old Newmarket Station building. Train passengers might also have noticed that the old Mainline Steam sheds are now completely gone as you can see from the image below from a reader.

  • The concept design for the new Manukau Bus-Train interchange is nearly complete and will go to the local board prior to public feedback. It is now not due to be completed till August 2017.
  • The architectural and structural design for the fixed walkway for the new Half Moon Bay Ferry wharf has been completed. There are also some new images of what is proposed

On progress towards their key PT priorities

  • AT say the software upgrade to deliver integrated fares is due in September with handover to testing by AT in November
  • AT are reviewing low patronage bus routes to see if they can free up any resources that could instead be used for highly patronised routes. They want this in place for the busy months of February and March next year.
  • AT have signed a contract Ambient Advertising (NZ) Limited. They say “This strategic media partnership will see outdoor assets progressively consolidate under a single advertising platform to leverage improved third party revenue from public transport and other assets.
  • They are going to start installing LED lights at train stations. Ranui was the first one completed and the next stations on the list are Henderson, Glen Eden, Orakei, Manurewa and Glen Innes
  • The increase in service to Gulf Harbour a year ago has seen patronage growth by a greater amount that predicted with recent months seeing over a 100% improvement. They are now looking to add more capacity.
  • A new ferry is under construction to improve capacity on services to Pine Harbour.
  • On safety and security they say “Strategy discussions are progressing with Police around an enhanced joint approach to Metro security and fare enforcement. This will be reported back to the Board by the end of the year.” It will be interesting to see if this relates in any way to an announcement being made tomorrow by Simon Bridges on new measures to combat Fare Evasion
  • Finally you may recall that AT published a table of all the changes that were intended to be made by CAF, Kiwirail, Transdev and themselves to improve the reliability and speed of the trains. There is an update at the end of the report highlighting what’s been achieved, what is a work in progress and in some case where the changes haven’t or can’t be made. For example they intended to increase the speed of the Onehunga line saving around 15 seconds per trip however they’ve found it would cost more than $100,000 to make the changes needed so they’ve put the changes on hold.

August-2015 Patronage

Auckland Transport have released the patronage results for August and for we’ve now passed 80 million PT trips in a year. In total patronage was up 4.9% on August last year and annually it is up 9.4% which remains one of the highest levels of growth the Auckland network has seen in recent decades. Highlighting just how fast patronage is growing, it was only just over 18 months ago that annual patronage was at 70 million trips.

2015-08 - Total Annual Patronage

2015-08 - Patronage Table

Given it was the first full month where all services (except Pukekohe) were run with electric trains it’s not surprise that once again the rail network remains the star of the show. It grew by just over 20% growth compared to August last year bringing the annual patronage up to just under 14.4 million, a 22.7% increase. The main growth remains on the Southern and Eastern lines which both saw patronage increase by over 25% compared to the same month the year before while at the other end of the spectrum the trips between Papakura and Pukekohe were down 0.8%. Another milestone is the average number of trips each weekday on the rail network for the previous year has now passed 50,000.

2015-08 - Rail Weekday use

I believe that by now the government will almost certainly hearing the message about the strong patronage growth and that we are likely to pass the patronage target for the City Rail Link years ahead of the government’s schedule. I note that the Ministry’s 6-monthly report on the progress towards the targets still hasn’t been released and they’ve told me it is with the Minister. Perhaps even the Ministry now believe we’ll easily surpass the target.

One aspect that will be helping improve patronage has been that electric trains have seen reliability improve dramatically. In August over 90% of all services arrived at their destination within 5 minutes of the scheduled time which was up from less than 75% in June. Interestingly the highest performing line was the Pukekohe Shuttle although that will partly be due to the nature of the route i.e it’s much harder to lose 5 minutes on a journey if you’re only going 18km non-stop than it is if you’re going 30km stopping at multiple stations along the way. Interestingly while AT are still reporting on performance to the final destination, they have changed the formal measure to be match buses and be based on whether a service started on time.

2015-08 - Rail Punctuality


Ferry patronage followed next in the growth stakes increasing 6% compared to the same month last year and is up over 10% annually. Of note the growth is happening more on the services contracted to AT rather than the exempt commercial ones of Devonport, Stanley Point and Waiheke.

Bus patronage saw the slowest growth at just 1.5% for the month although it is still up 6.6% annually. Within the bus patronage result the new split between the busway as well as the frequent buses outshone the rest of the bus network with the Rapid and Frequent buses up 5.1% and 3.6% respectively vs other buses at 0.6%. Overall the average number of trips on a weekday on the bus network is now 206,000

2015-08 - Bus Weekday use

Another piece of good news is that use of HOP continues to rise. In August almost 74% of all PT trips in Auckland used a HOP card with rail the highest at just under 78%. It’s good to see that there has been some growth in the number of ferry users using HOP.

2015-08 - HOP use

Also continuing to improve is farebox recovery which as of the end of July was at 47.4% – there’s always a 1 month lag with this measure. If current trends continue could hit 50% within a year which is above to the SOI target of 48% and a significant improvement on what we’ve achieved in the past.

Overall it’s pleasing to see that the trends are continuing to head the right direction, long may it continue.

City Bus Stop changes coming to enable the CRL

The reality of the massive impact the construction of City Rail Link will have is becoming ever more apparent as we get closer the start of works in November. Auckland Transport have already started installing new bus lanes on a number of roads to enable buses to avoid potential congestion caused by the works and now they’re detailing the changes to bus routes themselves.

Any bus route that travels on Albert St north of Victoria St will be affected. This means most of the bus routes that access the city centre from the North Shore, West Auckland and some of the routes on the isthmus are being changed. The changes take place from 18 October – which happens to be the same day the new network for the Hibiscus Coast rolls out.

For some unknown reason AT haven’t produced new versions of the route maps so it’s difficult to show the changes – AT you should really do this – however, they have produced maps showing where stops for individual services are moved to, an example is below.

CRL bus stop changes

From what I can gather the key changes are:

  • Most North Shore buses that currently use Albert St – all the NZ Bus and Ritchies buses will instead travel straight down Wellesley St, on to Halsey St and then Fanshawe St
  • Birkenhead buses will still use Albert St but only for a shorter section
  • Buses from the West and services such as the 030 will loop turn around at Victoria St and then head back out west via at least part of Hobson St.
  • The Inner Link will still use Victoria St but shift to Queen St between Customs St and Victoria St
  • Some citybound buses from the shore will use a new stop outside the new Fonterra building instead of outside the Air NZ building

To me the big impact of all this is it effectively splits the PT provision in the city centre into two separate largely unconnected hubs. At Britomart  we have the trains, northern express and a few other services that cross the city while 500-800m south there are the services for most of the North Shore, West Auckland again along with a handful of others. I say unconnected as it would normally be faster walking along Queen St than catch a City Link bus between the two.

This change presents me personally with a dilemma around how I get to work. I travel through the city on my way to work in Takapuna and currently catch the train to Britomart then will often walk to Albert St to transfer to a bus that goes directly to Takapuna. With the changes that are happening I see myself as having three main options

  • Walk the ~800m between Britomart and Wellesley St and then catch a bus to the Takapuna – another factor is that these buses run about every 15 minutes. (red below)
  • Catch the Northern Express from next to Britomart to Akoranga and walk about 1.6km to work from there. During the peaks the NEX runs every 10 minutes counter peak. (purple below)
  • A combination of the two above, catch a Northern Express bus to Fanshawe St then transfer to a Takapuna bus. The risk here is in introducing yet another transfer to the journey.

CRL bus transfer options

Of the first two options it is either an easy transfer to a more frequent service but with a longer walk vs a shorter walk but a less frequent service. I guess also a forth option is I could do the NEX option and leave a bike at Akoranga to ride between there and Takapuna.

That fourth option also highlights perhaps something else AT should think about and would allow them to finally put into practice some of the ideas we’ve heard about at many Auckland Conversations – quick, cheap and temporary facilities. Basically Queen St between Britomart and Wellesley St is flat and very easy riding. AT could easily take at least one lane and turn it into a cycleway. At each end a fleet of bikes could be waiting allowing people transferring between these two hubs to jump on one and ride safely between them, effectively a rudimentary bike share (they could even worth with Nextbike on it). That would not only remove some of the negativity of the changes but also make the transfers more fun and might help towards other goals such as getting more people on bikes.

A shot from a reader of the new bus lanes on Hobson St that have gone in.

Lastly these changes are just the ones needed for the works that will get the tunnel to Wyndham St. More changes including changing these ones will obviously be needed again when it comes time to build the rest of the project. Hopefully the government will come the party on this project soon because while the disruption will be painful, if they drag out a CRL decision it will be akin to pulling off a plaster slowly and spread the pain out over a longer period of time.


East Auckland State Highways?

In the latest saga that the issue of transport in East Auckland, the local MPs are calling for some of the roads to be turned into State Highways.

Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson is pushing for Pakuranga Rd and Ti Rakau Drive to become state highways.

Together with Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, Williamson says he is “putting all [his] efforts” into convincing Transport Minister Simon Bridges to bring the two roads under the New Zealand Transport Agency’s authority.

Auckland Transport currently looks after the two streets.

It appears to me that the primary reasons they are pushing for the roads to be State Highways are related to them trying to find ways to circumvent the current process so they can get the projects they personally want built – such as the Reeves Rd Flyover.


Speaking at a public meeting on transport, Williamson expressed his belief that more roading options are needed for East Aucklanders.

“I want to make it clear I am supportive of public transport, but it’s such a small part of what people in this area use when getting to work compared to the private motor car.

“We don’t have any state highways, busways, double tracking trains or electrification, It’s now time for proper transport options.”

His comments about the lack of public transport in the east echoed those made by Auckland Transport chief executive Dr David Warburton at a public meeting last year.

He told those present that public transport passengers from South-East Auckland are among the most poorly served in Auckland.

Williamson showed an image of Pakuranga Rd taken from his electorate office showing traffic at a stand-still on a weekday morning.

He also presented data which showed the busy arterial route had the third-highest daily use of any road in New Zealand.

Auckland Transport has two main solutions in the pipeline to unclog traffic on Pakuranga Rd – the Southeastern Busway and Reeves Rd flyover.

Williamson is supportive of the flyover but has some concerns with the proposed busway.

“The plan to drop two lanes in some places will just take space away from other road users.

“Something is wrong here, space is being taken from cars and given to public transport.”

So Williamson’s logic seems to be that because public transport to the east is currently crap not many people use it and therefore the solution is not to improve public transport but build more roads. That’s akin to giving a two year old going crazy on a sugar rush a lollies in the hope they’ll calm down.

It is absolutely correct that East Auckland has some of the lowest public transport use in Auckland and is tied directly to the lack of quality options that exist. The lack of any form of bus priority mean that the buses that buses will always be a slower option than driving. Combine that with not enough frequency and it’s no surprise people don’t use PT much. But that is exactly what AMETI is trying and address by building a busway from Panmure through to Pakuranga and eventually Botany. The first stage of AMETI – the upgraded Panmure Station and the new Te Horeta Rd – are now complete and AT are getting ready to lodge the Notice of Requirement for Stage 2 which will see a busway extend from Panmure all the way to Botany. That will allow buses to bypass congestion and feed passengers on to trains for a very fast journey to town – we already hear anecdotal reports of large numbers of bus passengers from the east transferring to trains at Panmure

AMETI Buslane - Pakuranga Rd

AT are also talking of extending bus lanes up Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park – the road is six lanes wide to that point. Combining the bus lanes, the busway and expected higher frequencies from the new bus network – for which consultation is due out in October – those bus lanes will almost certainly be moving more people than are possibly if the lane was left as a general traffic lane.

In the end it seems that Williamson like many other politicians on the right of politics these days are classic concern trolls. They all claim to support public transport as they know that’s what their constituencies want them to say but they oppose any actual public transport that comes to life and never actually provide any alternative options. They also only want public transport after they’ve built the roads they personally want.


Perhaps the only thing in favour of making these roads state highways is I’m aware the NZTA are strongly supportive of the busway plans and want it built faster than is currently planned. We also know that the NZTA don’t seem to muck around as much with getting routes designated like AT seem to. There would be a great irony if Williamson and co succeeded in getting NZTA to take over the project only to see the busway get built faster.

How important is public transport for reducing congestion?

In July, I started taking a look at the economics of public transport fare policies. In the first part of the series, I took a look at how traffic congestion can be a rationale for public transport fare subsidies. (Parts 2 and 3 dealt with different issues.) I observed that:

In the absence of congestion pricing (and in the presence of other subsidies for driving, such as minimum parking requirements), higher public transport fares can result in a perverse outcome – additional congestion and delays for existing road drivers. This is shown in the following diagram:

PT fares and congestion diagram

Effectively, a failure to price roads efficiently means that we have to provide subsidies for public transport to prevent car commutes from being even more painful than they currently are.

But how much congestion reduction can we attribute to public transport? How much slower would car commutes be if some people weren’t travelling by PT instead of clogging up the roads? And how much is that worth to us?

It’s not possible to test this experimentally – we can’t exactly build a bunch of cities that are identical except for their PT systems and see what happens. (Transport research budgets are not nearly large enough.) However, we can observe the outcomes from various “natural experiments” that disrupt public transport systems while leaving everything else unchanged, such as natural disasters and public transport strikes.

Stu Donovan pointed me towards a recent research paper that analysed traffic speeds during public transport strikes in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The authors, Martin Adler and Jos van Ommeren, use detailed traffic flow and speed data to model how 13 PT strikes that occurred from 2001 to 2011 affected traffic speeds. Because strikes prevent people from using PT without impeding road traffic, the outcomes observed during strikes give us some indication of what would happen to congestion in the absence of PT.

If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about the topic or the methodology, I highly recommend you read the paper. (It’s an excellent paper!) Here, I’d like to focus on a few key findings from the analysis.

First, the authors found that PT helps to speed up car journeys by reducing the number of people driving:

We demonstrate that during a citywide strike, car speed within the city decreases by about 10%. For highways, strikes exhibit a much smaller speed reduction of about 3%. During rush hours, the reduction in speed is more pronounced. These results imply that during rush hours, public transit provision reduces car travel time on inner city roads by about 0.2 minutes per kilometer travelled, whereas it reduces car travel time on highways by 0.02 minutes per kilometer. Hence, for cities such as Rotterdam, travelers on inner city roads benefit much more from public transit provision than highway travelers.

Intuitively, these results make sense. The benefits of PT for drivers are much higher in busier areas, such as Rotterdam’s inner city roads. However, Rotterdam’s ring road highways still derive some benefits.

The second interesting finding is that the popularity and ease of cycling in Rotterdam – even though it’s not exactly leading by Dutch standards – cushioned against some of the negative impacts of PT strikes:

a full-day citywide strike increases bicycle flow by 24% implying that a large share of travelers switch to bicycle use (rather than car use), which presumably reduces the car flow increase and therefore the speed reduction of a strike. Bicycle ownership and use is much higher in the Netherlands than in other countries in the world, so this result is likely specific to the Netherlands.

In other words, the availability of multiple congestion-free networks – public transport and cycling – meant that the roads didn’t have to accommodate all of the people who couldn’t get on the bus on strike days. In other words, the availability of multiple transport choices enhanced network resilience.

Third, the authors calculated the value of congestion reduction benefits attributable to public transport in Rotterdam. Based on some plausible assumptions about journey lengths and the value of time, they estimate that:

The annual public transit congestion relief benefit is then about €95 million (assuming 252 working days), so about €79 per inhabitant. This excludes any benefits of public transit provision on weekends that we assume to be negligible, so this is likely an underestimate. Given 721 million public transit passenger kilometers (OVPRO, 2014), the congestion reduction benefit per public transit kilometer is €0.13. This benefit is substantial given that the cost per public transit kilometer is €0.46.

In addition to congestion welfare losses there are rescheduling costs to car travelers. [Note: only 55% of the reduction in PT trips on strike days was balanced out by the increase in car and bicycle trips, meaning that a large share of people chose not to travel.] We do not include these costs, nor do we include the loss to public transit ticket holders or any other external cost of car driving that are likely an order of magnitude smaller than the effect through congestion.

The costs of providing public transit in Rotterdam are partially covered by subsidies, about €0.28 per public transit kilometer. So, the congestion relief benefit is about 47% of subsidies.

This is a really interesting finding! It puts a monetary figure on the congestion relief delivered by PT. (For Rotterdam, at least.) And, interestingly, it’s a large enough figure to justify a good proportion of PT fare subsidies. There are also other rationales for fare subsidies that I haven’t discussed here, such as social equity for people without cars and various types of network effects in PT provision.

But even if we leave those aside, this finding suggests that drivers should be happy to spend some fuel tax revenues to subsidise public transport.

What do you think about congestion and public transport?

New City Bus Lanes coming

Auckland Transport have highlighted this before but it’s worth repeating in the lead up to the start of the CRL works. As part of the effort to minimise disruption and encourage people to use public transport which is more spatially efficient they will be installing a number of new bus lanes around the city centre.

Auckland Transport is adding more than 1.2km of new 24 hour a day, seven days a week, bus lanes to the city centre to minimise effects on bus timetables when construction starts on the City Rail Link (CRL) later this year. The work on the bus lanes starts this week.

In November, a new stormwater main being tunnelled under the eastern side of Albert Street between Swanson and Wellesley Streets for the City Rail Link will affect traffic lanes at these and the Victoria Street intersections.

Some bus routes and stops are being moved to new locations away from these construction works and an information campaign will inform bus users of the changes.

The new bus lanes will be on:

  • Fanshawe Street between Daldy and Halsey Streets
  • Halsey Street between Fanshawe and Victoria Street West
  • Victoria Street West between Graham and Queen Streets
  • Wellesley Street West between Sale and Queen Streets
  • Mayoral Drive between Cook and Wellesley Streets
  • Hobson Street between Wellesley and Victoria Streets

The new bus lanes will be marked using a system called EverGreen which has been developed to align with Zero Waste Policies. It is made of 90% renewable resources and is made in New Zealand.

“The main construction work involves trenching along Albert Street and will start next year. The work is expected to take about 3½ years. Bus changes will be staged around construction during this time,” says Chris Bird, CRL construction manager.

“We’d like Aucklanders who usually access the city centre by car to consider alternatives next year to minimise effects on city congestion”.

Auckland Transport will run a campaign early next year, closer to the main construction work, advising commuters to reduce their car trips into the city and will also hold information sessions on travel choices such as public transport, walking, cycling, carpooling and flexible working hours.

On Street changes for CRL works