Yesterday Auckland Transport announced that at the end of the month they are changing some public transport fares after just reducing them less than six months ago when the rolled out their Simplified Fares scheme.
Bus, train and ferry fares will be changing from 29 January 2017.
Auckland Transport is required to review fares annually to ensure they keep pace with operating costs and a portion of cost recovery from fares.
Colin Homan, Group Manager, AT Development says Auckland Transport has a target to recover 50 percent of the cost of public transport from fares, but this is currently at 46.3 percent.
“Compared to many other cities, Auckland short distance fares are relatively low so we have targeted some small increases for fares for some shorter trips. Fares for longer trips, beyond 4 Zones will not change. We want to promote reducing congestion by making public transport fares attractive for people making longer journeys.”
Mr Homan says public transport in Auckland still represents very good value for customers. Auckland Transport has added a number of new services over the past year, such as the introduction of 65 double decker buses, the roll out of a new bus network in South Auckland, the addition of 19 km of bus lanes in the year to June 2017, rail service increases on the Western Line, as well as Simpler Fares (which allows customers to take a bus, train or combo and pay just the one fare for the entire journey).
Mr Homan says that over the past 12 months Auckland Transport has reduced the cost of public transport by on average 7 percent through Simpler Fares and encouraging customers on cash to transition to HOP, which represents at least a 20 percent saving.
He says in the year to the end of December 84.8 million trips were taken on public transport in Auckland, an increase of 4.6 percent since July.
“Even though the average fare increase is 1.7 percent, the average cost of travel for customers remains lower than it was at this time last year.”
- AT HOP bus & train fares for 1 Zone, 2 Zones and 4 Zones increase by 5 cents and 10 cents
- Cash bus & train fares for 1 Zone and 2 Zones increase by 50 cents
- AT HOP tertiary student bus and rail fares increase by 4 to 8 cents between 1 Zone and 4 Zones to ensure a consistent discount compared to AT HOP adult fares
- AT HOP Monthly Bus & Train Pass increases by $10
- Ferry fares reflect a mix of increases and decreases to continue the alignment by distance travelled in preparation for full ferry fare integration
- AT HOP adult and child fares are at least 25 percent lower than the equivalent cash fare
- AT HOP child fares are at least 40 percent lower than adult AT HOP
- AT HOP tertiary fares are at least 20 percent lower than adult AT HOP
Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about this, in no particular order
If you’re paying by HOP, and you should be, the main changes suggested certainly aren’t huge at 5 to 10 cents per trip. For a regular commuter doing two bus or train trips a day this equates to $25-50 a year. Also, note that the 3-zone fares actually come down slightly too. The new Adult bus and train fares are below.
As a reminder, four zones cover all trips from the main urban area to the city centre
But what I do find odd is that this comes so quickly after Simplified Fares rolled out in mid-August. With Simplified Fares one of the aims was have as few people as possible negatively affected by the change. Perhaps AT didn’t get their modelling quite right and went a bit too far in this regard. We’ve certainly been seeing the farebox recovery rate (below) fall in recent months since the introduction of Simplified Fares and the later the New Network in the South.
I also get the feeling some in the organisation might have panicked without giving the changes a chance to settle in. Big changes like the New Network or fares, are not quick fixes and time is definitely needed for the public to adjust their travelling behaviour based on those changes.
One group of customers that have had some wins is users of some ferry services, most notably Hobsonville Point users who see some decent trip savings – 50c per trip for Adult HOP users. This is part of AT’s goal of aligning ferry fares for similar distance trips.
One area I find extremely disappointing is that AT have once again put up the monthly pass, this time by another $10 to $210. Monthly pass customers tend to be some of AT’s most loyal. As a regular monthly pass user myself, I find I’m much more likely to use PT for a wider range of trips when I have a pass than when I don’t have one. AT continuing to push up the price of the pass seems to be part of a wider strategy to stop people using it all together which, in my view, would be a huge mistake. If anything, they should be doing the opposite and trying to make it more attractive to encourage more people to use PT.
A wider issue at play here is the NZTA’s arbitrary farebox recovery target that by mid-2018 50% of all PT operational costs nationally need to come from fares. Whilst that sounds good in theory, it’s a really blunt instrument that is likely meaning we’re not extracting the most value out of our PT system. For example, what if a 40% farebox ratio delivered a better overall economic outcome due to moving more people and taking an the edge off congestion.
What do you think of the fare changes?
‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol
Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.
It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.
We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:
1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?
People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.
Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.
2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.
However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.
This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.
3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).
There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic]. For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.
This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.
Same as it ever was.
Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work
Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:
You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.
The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.
The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.
So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.
There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.
Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.
On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:
- City Rail Link
- Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
- Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
- LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
- North-western Busway
When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.
Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.
Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.
Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.
Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:
- Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
- Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
- Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.
This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.
But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?
The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.
The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:
- Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
- Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
- Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
- Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).
As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.
Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.
In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.
Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.
Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.
None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.
It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.
What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?
And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.
P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.
Another great video from the ever excellent Street Films highlights the work being done in Seattle to make the city particularly more PT friendly but also more bike friendly. Seattle is a perhaps one of the more useful comparator cities for Auckland due to its similar geography and topography challenges.
One big takeaway is the off board fare collection and all door boarding on their RapidRide bus services which sound equivalent to the frequent network Auckland Transport are rolling out as part of the New Network. I especially was surprised to see they achieved a 20% increase in the speed of the service. This is something AT need to roll out to the Northern Busway as soon as possible and eventually to the entire frequent network.
It was also interesting to hear that now, 70% of trips to the city centre are by non-car means and that is expected to increase to 75% in coming years. By comparison, Auckland currently has around 50% access by car and the numbers arriving by car are about the same as 15 years ago with all the growth coming from PT and active modes – and this doesn’t even count all the people who now live in the city centre who don’t cross the motorway boundary.
While on the topic of Seattle, if you have a spare hour or so, you may also be interested in this Auckland Conversations style video from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies from Seattle on the findings of their trip last year to Auckland about the things they learnt from us.
In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.
City Rail Link
With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.
Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.
The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.
If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.
The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.
I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.
New Network Rollout
In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.
Parnell Station and new rail timetable
In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.
Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.
We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include
- The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
- Quay St extension to The Strand
- The next sections of the Eastern Path
- Ian McKinnion Dr
- Franklin Rd
We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.
After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.
SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange
The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017
The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.
The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.
Auckland Plan refresh
A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.
We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.
All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year
As the year rapidly draws to a close it’s a good time to look back at all the important events that have occurred. Because there’s so much to cover, I’ll be splitting this up over multiple posts, starting with public transport.
It’s been a huge year for public transport. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught in the day to day details which makes it easy to forget that a lot of really positive things happened in 2016. So, here’s my summary.
City Rail Link
We started the year with the great news that the government had come to their senses, agreeing the main part of the project should start as soon as possible, not be delayed till sometime after 2020 like they had previously said. This was primarily due to two things, we were continuing to see stellar ridership growth following electrification, well ahead of what was projected and with Auckland in a building boom with $billions planned to be spent, developers wanted certainty around the project.
While some of the earliest signs the project was underway began at the end of 2015, in June the project officially exploded into action in a ceremony outside Britomart.
In September the government and council signed an agreement that would see them share the costs of the project equally.
The project is now hard to miss in the city centre with works in full swing from Britomart through to Wellesley St. One of the first big pieces of work is to move a water main out of the way along Albert St and that has involved digging some deep shafts to enable a small tunnel boring machine to dig and install a new pipe. Auckland Transport kindly gave us a tour of the sites in October. On Albert St the project is now hard to miss with large parts of it closed to traffic and a huge piling machine busy at work.
In just a few weeks another milestone will be reached as passengers will start using the new, temporary entrance that has been built at the back of the CPO building to enable the CRL tunnels to be dug under the CPO.
Not everything has been great though. From what we’ve seen so far, Auckland Transport’s plans for the streets being re-instated after the CRL is completed have been a disappointment, especially so on Victoria St. In fact more than that they appear to be trying to actively undermine the Council’s publicly consulted City Centre Master Plan by removing key pedestrian space so a few more car lanes can be squeezed in. This is obviously something we’ll be following very closely in 2017.
August finally saw the introduction of Simplified Fares, another of the key steps in bringing public transport in Auckland up to a more modern standard. It introduced fare zones instead of stages and meaning people can transfer between multiple buses and trains and only pay one fare for their journey rather than how many buses or trains they used. This also had the advantage of reducing fares for many trips.
AT have also started work to integrate ferries into the system.
New Network and Otahuhu Station
The new bus network in South Auckland was another of the big puzzle pieces to slot into place, finally rolling out at the end of October
At the same time as the new bus network, the impressive new Otahuhu Station opened which is a key interchange on the network.
Also tied to the new network, the bus station at Manukau got underway in 2016
Progress on rolling out the new network to other parts of Auckland has progressed too. West Auckland is confirmed to roll out in the middle of next year while AT are currently assessing tenders for Central, East and North.
Double Decker rollout
A big feature of this year has been the roll out of double deckers on many routes. They are now almost exclusively used on Northern Express services and have rolled out to other routes too, such as Mt Eden Rd and the 881 from Albany to Newmarket. In 2017 we should see at least Onewa Rd added to this list.
Government agreement on Strategic PT network
The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was a big feature of the year, especially after the final report was released in September. I’ll talk about that more in a separate post but one particularly good point in relation to PT was that we now have agreement between the government and council on a future rapid transit network. While there are still finer details to be resolved such as exact modes and routes, it’s good to finally have the need for this agreed at a high level.
Use of the PT network has seen solid growth over the year and the big star of that has been the Rapid Transit Network (busway and Rail) which has primarily driven that growth. Usage on the RTN in the 12 months to the end of November grew by a staggering 22.2% over the 12 months to November 2015.
As mentioned at the start of the post, the stellar growth on the rail network was one of the reasons the government had to change their position to support the CRL. That growth has continued this year and as of now there will have been over 18 million trips during the last 12 months. This is well ahead of where it needed to be for the silly target the government set in 2013 and that the Ministry of Transport once said it was unlikely we would achieve.
These are of course only some of the big changes and discussions we’ve had over the year and many of them are likely to continue to be discussed over 2017 but on the whole, I think it’s been a pretty good year for PT in Auckland. We’ve definitely made many more steps forward than we have back.
Are there any key changes I’ve missed?
Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus on walking and cycling
The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s major public transport success story’s, helping ever increasing numbers of people get around the city while avoiding congestion. It’s been a key factor in seeing around 40% of people crossing the harbour bridge in the morning peak now doing so on a bus. And despite the busway itself opening in 2008, there’s been seeing a surge in usage over the last year or so which has coincided with the introduction of Double Decker buses – which are now standard on almost all Northern Express services.
Yet this success comes despite the busway only being about 7km long, just 41% of the distance between Albany and the city.
One important win that’s occurred in recent years is that the NZTA will extend the hugely successful Northern Busway all the way to Albany in the coming years – although it only comes alongside a massive motorway project. However, an article on Stuff raises concerns about an important aspect of those plans, that authorities can’t seem to agree on where to put a new station.
The exact location of a new bus station on Auckland’s North Shore will finally be decided in 2017.
First mooted in 2015, the bus station is part of a project to improve the Northern Busway and has received “overwhelming” public support.
But, after two years of investigation by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and Auckland Transport (AT), a precise site for the new station has still not been chosen.
The Northern Corridor Improvements project will see the Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station in Mairangi Bay all the way through to Albany Bus Station.
Original project plans proposed the new station at Rosedale, as part of the wide-ranging works.
However, the new bus station has been left out of plans that were lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in November.
NZTA’s Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon says the bus station is still being “actively investigated” and a final decision on the location will be made next year.
This is what the NZTA have said in relation to the busway in the past and it also hints at what some of the problem might be.
A station linked to Rosedale Rd makes a lot of sense, given there’s a decent little patch of employment within easy walking distance.
I suspect part of the problem of why it’s taking so long to make a decision might be hidden in the text from the NZTA, specifically:
Auckland Transport are also investigating a new bus station and Park & Ride options at Rosedale. It is envisaged that, like Smales Farm, this proposed station will be a destination station for the many people who work, go to school or attend sporting activities in Rosedale.
Destination stations are usually reserved for important locations such as large centres or interchanges, for example, New Lynn, Newmarket, Otahuhu, Panmure and of course, as mentioned in the text, Smales Farm. These stations are normally impressive but are both costly and/or where bus interchanges are concerned and they can consume significant amounts of land. This would be especially so if they also plan to include a park & ride. As such, it would be no surprise if we were to learn that cost of such a station, both monetarily and in land use, was a sticking point in the decision.
In my view a destination station is wrong for Rosedale and instead something more akin to the Sunnynook Busway Station, a fairly simple but efficient station, seems more appropriate. What’s more it could span Rosedale Rd to give easy access to footpaths on either side of the road and to bus stops for local bus services.
Let’s hope they can get the details of this busway station sorted soon so the NZTA don’t leave AT behind.
Auckland Transport kindly provided me the public transport ridership numbers for November and once again show spectacular growth on the Rapid Transit Network as well as a new milestone being achieved on ferries.
The numbers for the month were helped by an extra weekday compared to November-2015 but are still good regardless. Over all modes, ridership in November was up 7.9% (adjusted to 6.3% taking calendar and other impacts into account). That saw total ridership increase to nearly 84.5 million trips in the 12 months to the end of November.
The milestone for ferries is that over past 12 months, now more than six million trips have been taken on them. This is the result of solid growth, having only passed 5 million trips around 3 years ago and is thanks in part to improved service. The good news is that it is likely to continue, projects like the new Half Moon Bay ferry terminal are close to completion and AT are currently tendering out all non-commercial services (all except Devonport and Waiheke). They say that should help improve amenity and hopefully will increase the number of services too.
Below is the annual ferry patronage since 1920 and you can clearly see the massive – and expected – impact the opening of the Harbour Bridge had with a revival in usage beginning about 20 years ago. At current rates the last bar will end up at about 6.2 million trips for the year.
While ferries have been going well, what has really been driving big growth in PT use has been the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) – the rail lines and the Northern Busway. Those services are showing an impressive a 20.8% increase over the same month last year. The RTN is increasingly cementing it’s place as the backbone of the PT network, a trend we expect to continue in coming years, especially if AT and the NZTA can get a few more routes build, such as the Northern Busway extension, the AMETI Busway and the NorthernWest Busway.
The rail part of the RTN is close to a new milestone of its own, to the end of November there were 17.9 million trips and so based on current growth, hitting the 18 million mark is likely to happen any day now. That’s great news as it means trains are filling up faster than expected, a great success story but also means we’re going to need more capacity sooner than previously expected.
To address this there are still improvements we can make to timetables and dwell times to speed up services, freeing up trains to run more 6-car services. We could also improve capacity by reconsidering the seating layout of the trains, something I wrote about this just over a month ago. But we’re ultimately we’re going to need more of them, a point discussed at the council yesterday by AT CEO David Warburton with the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee. He says a decision on them will likely need to be made next year. With about 20 likely to be needed and at around $10 million each that’s around $200 that will be needed.
As for the rest of the PT network, there was some growth in November but it remains low. There is no new information as to what’s happening in the Southern New Network as a result of the made at the end of October. Hopefully this is something we’ll see in more detail soon.
AT have also recently published the latest bike counts from their network of automated counters. The good news is there are some excellent results for bikes too. Here’s AT’s take
At 14 regional count sites:
- 1.67 million cycle trips were recorded for the year of December 2015 to November 2016, an increase of 8.5% on the previous 12 months.
- 145,422 cycle trips were recorded in November 2016, an increase of 4.5% when compared to November 2015.
At 13 city centre count sites:
- 1.77 million cycle trips were recorded for the year of December 2015 to November 2016.
- 147,468 cycle trips were recorded in November 2016, an increase of 12.8% when compared to November 2015.
There are many cycleways seeing good growth but the two counters on the NW cycleway at Kingsland and Te Atatu have seen consistently high growth this year. This can be seen below with each month of 2016 being significantly above the same month in previous years. Overall the number of trips at this spot has more than doubled over the last five years.
Similar can be seen on the NW Cycleway at Te Atatu.
I suspect projects such as Lightpath and the improving bike lane network are having a huge impact on this and that this trend will continue as the network improves.
The new bus network is the right approach but it will only work if implemented well. So far there are some positive looking numbers.
- Train boardings at Otahuhu and Manukau have increased, with Otahuhu doubling over the first three weeks of operation;
- Total transfers across South Auckland up by 147%,
- Bus/bus transfer up by 94%
- Bus/train transfers up by 207%.
Although what would be more useful to know is if this was resulting in more people actually using PT.
While mostly the change appears to have gone relatively well, and it’s good to hear, not everything has. We’ve been hearing reports of issues with some buses and some of these were highlighted in this article.
But some of them specifically identified the 309 route as having issues ranging from break downs, to lateness and drivers getting lost.
An opinion piece on the new network singled out route for the same issues. In particular, buses were late or didn’t show up.
In one case a bus breakdown meant a 45 minute way for regular commuters. Occasionally some of the bus doors would not open automatically.
One woman wrote on Neighbourly that the bus had always run late every time she went to catch it.
The connector service runs from Mangere Bridge to the city via Mangere Bridge and Onehunga. It’s scheduled to run every 30 minutes.
Issues such as a lack of bus lanes are are almost certainly impacting on the network and I’ve heard that significant additional buses have needed to be run to maintain timetables. The cost of doing that will almost certainly be eating into the $3 million annual savings AT touted back in February. Getting on top of this and ensuring the operators are performing well, including knowing the routes is critical.
Worryingly though, it seems there’s some passing of the buck going on
A spokesperson for Auckland Transport couldn’t comment on the specific issues relating to the bus or the route, instead saying the contractor was the best to comment on it.
Go Bus, who is contracted to run the service, declined to comment. It says Auckland Transport sets the route and timetable and should comment.
It offered no comment on bus break downs or issues with doors not opening.
Both the AT and the operator pointing fingers at each other is a terrible look. AT have continually shifted to take greater control of the PT network, as they should, but with that also comes responsibility. As a user I and I’m sure all others don’t care who the operator is, our relationship is with AT and that’s who should take responsibility here.
Tomorrow the AT board meet for their penultimate meeting of the year and it looks like it will be a big one with a lot on the agenda of their closed session.
I’ve added my thoughts after many of the items.
Items for Approval/Decision
- Panuku Framework Plans – I assume this relates to AT working with Panuku Development Auckland on plans for the areas they’re focusing on redeveloping.
- Dominion Road Bus Lane Improvements – When AT announced they were looking seriously at light rail for Dominion Rd, the planned upgrade that was about to go ahead was put on hold but now that ATAP appears to have pushed LRT out, it’s important that AT make some improvements to the bus lanes now. Hopefully this means they’ll be extending the lanes, including through intersections rather than stopping short like now and extending the hours of operation.
- Road Stopping
- Clonbern Road Carpark – AT have indicated previously that there’s a redevelopment proposal for the carpark they own on Clonbern Rd, Remuera.
- Execution of Deed by Directors – Lease of upper levels CPO – Presumably this is for after the CRL works have finished.
- Execution of Heads of Terms – Lease of Land
- 2017 Annual Fare Review – It will be interesting to see if AT propose any fare changes given they’ve just made some with the introduction of Simplified Fares. If they do make changes, past years indicate they would be implemented in January.
- Rail Operator – In the main board report it is mentioned that AT are currently conducting a periodic efficiency audit as part of the rail passenger services contract terms of reference
Items for Noting
- CRL Procurement Update – I assume this item related to AT holding a day long industry briefing on the main works of the CRL later this month before tender documentation goes out next year.
- MRT/LRT Update – One of the outcomes from ATAP was the use of the term Mass Transit instead of Light Rail for several projects. Essentially the NZTA are busily trying to show that a bus only solution to capacity problems can be found but my guess is they will do so by ignoring the capacity issues on city centre streets.
- Parnell Station Update – It appears that Kiwirail have already started some works to move the old Newmarket Station building to the site, presumably this will update progress.
- Procurement Update
Moving on to the items that got my attention in the main business report, in the order appear in the report.
AT say the handheld devices used by ticket inspectors to check HOP cards are at the end of their life and they have a project underway to replace them.
The Mt Roskill Safe Routes is now complete and due to be officially opened on Wednesday while the first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr path – from Merton Rd to St Johns Rd – will open on 16 December.
In a piece of great news, it appears AT have agreed to remove the left turn slip lanes from Nelson St onto Fanshawe St as part of the project to extend the Nelson St cycle lanes. Dealing with this intersection is what has delayed the project by so long as I understand some of the traffic engineers were more concerned about vehicle flow than the safety of people. Construction of this section is planned for March 2017
The Nelson St/Fanshawe St intersection
AT are hoping mediation will solve the appeal by Cowie St residents against the bridge that will replace the Sarawia St level crossing. If it doesn’t, the environment court appeal is set down for February.
The Half Moon Bay ferry terminal is progressing with the wharf works due for completion in January and the land side works in April.
As mentioned this morning, double deckers are due to be rolled out on Onewa Rd in February next year. AT say DD mitigation works also planned for Gt North Rd in Feb 2018 and Manukau Rd in June 2018.
AT say they’re on track to meet their target of rolling out 19km of bus lanes this financial year, despite them later in the report claiming to have a target to roll out 26km this year.
The roll-out of the new bus network in West Auckland is scheduled for 11 June 2017. AT are in the middle of assessing the bids for the Central and East networks and have now gone to tender for the North Shore services.
We’ve mentioned before that AT are finally looking at boosting capacity of services prior to the regular March Madness. There’s a little more detail about what this entails.
- For the NEX they say approximately 25-35 extra peak trips will be added in January-February 2017 – but it doesn’t say what timeframe those extra trips are over i.e. per week/month.
- They say Birkenhead Transport have the fastest growing bus patronage after the NEX and as well as double deckers being added in February, eight additional peak trips will be added to the timetable.
- On rail they say “Further line speed, interlocking works and signalling works to improve journey times are being targeted for the March/April 2017 timetable recast.” – although this does also suggests the new rail timetable might be being pushed out a little.
On Friday 21 October, they say for the first time ever had 100% punctuality and reliability on trains.
I continue to hear more and more complaints about Skybus since they took over the commercially run airport service around a year ago. Being a fully commercial service they sit outside of AT’s control so it’s interesting to see that they continue to be the worst performing bus company in Auckland.
A trial a Park & Ride run by Wilsons Parking will take place on Esmonde Rd at the Harbourside Church. It will be interesting to see how popular this is, perhaps cars stuck as part of traffic on Esmonde Rd, and seeing buses wizz past in the bus lane might decide to pull off and park up.
A trial park and ride facility is being prepared for opening on 28th November at Esmonde Road, Takapuna. The facility is owned by the Harbourside Church and will be operated by Wilsons Parking Ltd. AT Metro are facilitating the additional bus stops, services, promotion and planning of this initiative and will be monitoring the uptake and impact of this site on traffic patterns in and around Takapuna. The initiative is also linked to parking consultation activities in Takapuna and offers alternative parking options for both inbound and outbound vehicles
An indication as to some of the things going up to the board and board committees in the next month.
- Electric Vehicles in transit lanes
- Train Capacity
- Mangere future streets
- Strategic PT Network
- 2016/17 Budget realignment
- MRT/LRT Update
There’s certainly a lot going on.