Missed News Roundup – March-17

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Parnell Station opens

While the first services started using the station on Sunday, Monday saw the official opening of the new Parnell Station. Currently only the Southern Line stops there regularly with the Western Line only stopping in the evenings and on weekends. We’ve talked a lot about the station in previous posts so don’t need to re-litigate that here. As it stands the station is bare bones and AT even warns that it’s not recommended for mobility impaired passengers.

Photo by Alex Burgess from https://www.nzrailphotos.co.nz

The station currently has platforms, shelters, ticket and AT HOP card readers and an underpass to link the platforms.

When stage one is complete later this year the station will be equipped with electronic gates, CCTV, improved access, mobility parking, and upgraded connections to Cheshire St and to Nicholls Lane.

Refurbishment of the exterior of the heritage former Newmarket Station building will also be completed by KiwiRail.

When the station is complete and receiving full services up to 2,000 passengers a day are expected to get off the train every morning and head to the universities.

I’m personally a little skeptical that the station would see 2,000 people in the morning peak any time soon.

New Ferry for Devonport

Fullers have leased another ferry to support the Devonport Service

As tourism figures continue to rise in Auckland, so do passenger numbers on popular ferry routes. Fullers is introducing a new vessel, Capricornian Surfer (Cap Surfer), dedicated to Devonport. A unique destination, the charming seaside village of Devonport is a bustling visitor hub, but also services more than 1,000 commuters who rely on Fullers ferries daily.

Cap Surfer will begin service in the next couple weeks, complementing Kea. Since 1988, Kea has been the favourite vessel of the route with efficient boarding through side doors. Similar to Kea, Cap Surfer has side-door loading and four engines, allowing it to manoeuvre in the same way when docking. This will help keep the Devonport service running to schedule.

“We acknowledge some service interruptions on the Devonport run this summer, and want to let our passengers to know that we’re listening. We’ve leased Cap Surfer from Australia specifically for Devonport, freeing up other vessels not always suited to the Devonport route,” said Fullers Chief Executive Douglas Hudson.

Cap Surfer’s modern amenities:

The $6 million vessel is capable of carrying up to 380 passengers. It’s currently being fitted with a new café and bike racks, after 40 additional seats were installed on the back deck. Cap Surfer is spacious and comfortable, with big windows and air conditioning. The 35-metre EnviroCat uses less fuel per passenger than a small four-cylinder car. Its systems are computerised and fully integrated.

Crew training is currently underway, being led by Cap Surfer’s Australian crew while she was servicing the Gladstone to Curtis Island run in Queensland.

Designed to navigate shallow waters, Cap Surfer will also be able to service Half Moon Bay on low tides.

What’s next for Kea?:

As Kea closes in on 30 years of service, Fullers is investigating options for her future – while keeping a pulse on rapidly evolving technology, including electric ferries.

“By leasing a modern ferry for two years, we’re able to evaluate alternative propulsion technology and its suitability for Kea’s eventual replacement. Though Kea is a highly reliable vessel, we need to be looking ahead. Retirement isn’t imminent, but when the time comes, we’ll have a well informed decision on what technology to include in a vessel purpose-built for Devonport,” said Hudson.

 

AT saving water

Bus and Train stations might be a little dirtier than usual for the next few weeks

Auckland Transport to limit water blasting

Auckland Transport is doing its bit to help conserve water.

Following silt infiltration of dams in the region, Watercare Services is calling on Aucklanders to reduce water usage by 20 litres per person, per day until the end of March.

In response Auckland Transport has asked its maintenance contractors to limit water use and to carry out water blasting only if it is absolutely necessary.

“We have scheduled cleaning for facilities such as bus shelters, train stations and platforms but we’ve asked that water blasting only occur for hygiene reasons for the next few weeks,” says Tony McCartney, Group Manager Assets and Maintenance.

“We expect that this could save thousands of litres a week. As a result, some facilities may be a little grubby but this is for the greater good of all Aucklanders,”  Mr McCartney says.

Herald agrees on Wellsford Motorway

While not strictly a press release, this seems worthy of inclusion. An editorial by the Herald appears to agree with much of the criticism we have regarding the proposed Warkworth to Wellsford motorway route that was announced recently, they sum up with this:

It appears the cabinet is determined to proceed, regardless of evidence which ought it give it reason to pause. Transport Minister Simon Bridges responded to calls to scrap the project by arguing that the four-lane highway was a “game changer” , economically and socially.

He pointed out the road, which could shave seven minutes off the journey between Wellsford and Warkworth, was incredibly popular in Northland.

Roads, in particular links which could cost as much as $2b, should not be constructed on the basis of popularity. That is not a reassuring sign for completing the project, in time and within budget.

Sunday Reading 12 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday reading.

From the Devonport Ferry. If your commute has tourists taking selfies on it then I’d say it’s probably pretty good:

Devonport Ferry ©Patrick Reynolds 2017

Here is a clipping from yesterday’s Herald Commercial Property section. It neatly encapsulates the value of sorting out planning restrictions [Unitary Plan] and making high quality Transit investments [City Rail Link], naturally, given the context, through a property value lens:

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the salesman’s boosterism in the second paragraph, as the main point is that the only way for tatty low value (in the broadest sense) parts of the city, like the current low rise commercial city fringe, to attract investment and therefore improvement is through value uplift. Outside of large scale direct public investment, that is, which is no straight forward business in these kinds of areas. This is happening in other parts of the city, Tamaki etc, but it is very hard to do everywhere, and anyway is probably not desirable as the only means of development anyway. There is a good role for the private sector in city building. The city and its citizens are winners through either this process, after all no one can live in an apartment that doesn’t get built, nor use or work in a retail or commercial property that isn’t there, so more is certainly more in a thriving city.

All transport infrastructure investments provide opportunities for different groups, and after 65 years of only rewarding ex-urban land bankers and detached house volume builders with tax funded transport investments (motorways) it is good to see a better and more efficient urban form being incentivised here.

And particularly good to see both levers, planning code and Transit investment, being pulled at once, and in the same direction. This is absolutely something that Auckland is getting right. Those interested in these city shaping issues globally will know that it is surprisingly difficult to achieve such obvious coordination. The main barriers to this are fractured governance in cities, so we can put this success down to the amalgamation of Auckland’s previously hopelessly squabbling and disunited political organisation, and subsequent weakness in the city’s dealings with the much more powerful central government.

April sees the Waterview tunnels open. Print media is starting to look forward to the project. I see NZTA are already trying to play down expectations of congestion reduction. As well they might:

It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world,” Gliddon [NZTA] said.

Perhaps we should be expecting them to spend our money in smarter ways, like on actual alternatives to everyone always driving for example, then?

Plus some thoughts from this fellow:

Here’s a ripper from the ‘surprising things that generate big efficiencies’ department, here:

UPS drivers don’t turn left—and it saves them 10 million gallons of gas a year

If there is one thing I do like about American traffic management in cities is their enthusiasm to restrict cross traffic turning. Left in their case, right in ours. Our agencies seem obsessed with making horrible oversized intersections with individual lanes and light phases for every possible turn, including the most lethal and disruptive of them all; cross traffic ones. I have long called for the removal of right hand turns into and out of most Queen St intersections for both safety and efficiency reasons. And we all know that AT are just plain wrong on this issue in Mt Albert. Note to traffic engineers; heritage isn’t a thing in your profession; just cos you’ve always done it one way it doesn’t you should keep forcing it on us (actually almost certainly the reverse is true).

UPS have moved away from trying to find the shortest route and now look at other criteria to optimize the journey. One of their methods is to try and avoid turning through oncoming traffic at a junction. Although this might be going in the opposite direction of the final destination, it reduces the chances of an accident and cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, which would also waste fuel.

So now there’s evidence that Traffic Engineering has been wrong all along anyway, as the standard argument for keeping dangerous and delaying right hand turns is that to remove any decreases vehicle efficiency. Busted again Traffic Engineering: I sometimes wonder if there is a discipline with less intellectual curiosity about its habits than this branch of engineering?

Note to AT: MacKelvie St/Ponsonby Rd. So often there is broken glass here, being so close to the Richmond Rd intersection right turning both into and out of this street are seriously disruptive, dangerous, especially with the volume of other road users in this busy retail area (and the bus stop). Stop the right -hand turns and the very wide MacKelvie could be narrowed with widened footpaths and street trees on the southern, sunny side, and the road space on Ponsonby currently as a wide painted median for this manoeuvre used more productively.

This is undeniably true: Decisions about transport investments are really about what kind of future city we desire. For a quick overview, with lots of links, of this claim head to this CityMetric article.

The article questions reliance on cost benefit analysis, where as I think that they are an important part of the evaluation process. I guess the issue really is one of balance. For example we have for many decades had far too much priority given to the results of traffic modelling, whereas these outputs should be of a secondary value in city design, not primary. Because if we build for traffic first, all we get is traffic, and much less city.

Thinking City has a nice post up on cultural representations of cities.

Breaking Bad is amazingly powerful drama, but who thought it would also turn out to be positive for Albuquerque? Not the local authorities, for one. But there were wrong:

The funny thing is, even when a place is portrayed in a negative light, it can actually end up having a positive impact on that area. Take the US city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest metropolis, home to roughly half a million people. It is also home to the fictional characters in the hit TV show, Breaking Bad, about a teacher with cancer who turns to drug dealing. Following the success of the show, tourism to the New Mexico city was massively boosted – turning around struggling businesses, generating new ones and contributing hugely to the local and state economy.

From the ‘the whole world is an integrated economy’ file, Bloomberg has the fascinating tale of one tiny widget in a nice interactive, click though to the the link for the full experience:

 

Related:

I have always like the line: ‘California must exist for even America needs an America’.

Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future?

So it’s interesting to read an article calling California as showing the direction the rest of the US will follow. Is California just America’s dream of its own future? After all in the long run everything follows demographics; economics, politics…

Thank’s for reading, see you next week…

December-2016 Ridership

We normally get our monthly dose of ridership stats from Auckland Transport’s regular board meetings but with the holiday season, the next meeting isn’t till mid-February. Thankfully, AT have already updated their public facing data, which despite not as comprehensive as the board reports, it does allow us to see how we performed in December. The good news is that we performed well. Here are some highlights.

Compared to December 2015:

  • Total Ridership was up 4.9% with a total of 6.12 million trips.
  • Use of the Rapid Transit Network continues to grow impressively and increased by 16.2% to 1.68 million trips. The share of PT trips on Rapid Transit is quickly rising. Within that RTN figure:
    • the Busway was up 10.7% to 325k
    • the Rail network was up 17.6% to 1.35 million. On a 12-month rolling basis, Auckland passed 18 million trips in December only four months after hitting 17 million.
  • Ferry trips were up 4.5% to 601k trips, continuing the steady growth we’ve been seeing for some time now.
  • Other (non busway) buses continue to struggle, up only 0.6% to 3.84 million trips.

Here are the 12-month rolling results showing the impressive growth in the RTN, particularly over the last few years.

On the topic of ridership, there have long been a couple of things that bug me about the results we see on a regular basis that help to misrepresent some of the results. So I set out to see if I could change that.

1. Rail Ridership and the RWC

Ridership as a whole, but particularly on the RTN has been increasingly solidly for some time with a notable exception around 2011/12 and is most prominent if looking at the rail numbers which showed a roughly 10% reduction in usage. Of course the primary reason for this was the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But just how significant was the RWC or did people genuinely stop using the trains?

I recalled seeing some numbers in old patronage reports estimating the impact of the RWC on a monthly basis so I went back and got those results and adjusted the graph accordingly. Here’s what the rail graph looks like once that RWC ridership is taken into account.

Now as you can see, adjusted for the RWC numbers it becomes there was more a case of the rail network not growing anymore rather than fewer people using it. But you can also see that there’s still a little dip in the results. That’s because right as the impact of the RWC was wore off (both October 2012), AT introduced HOP to the rail network which changed how tickets were counted. Trips using the old paper tickets were counted when the ticket was bought so people could buy a 10-trip ticket and it would be counted immediately in AT’s numbers but the owner of the ticket could still be using it months later. Of course, AT gave people time to use up their old paper tickets. By comparison, HOP trips are counted when they occur.

Taking this impact into account is much more difficult than the RWC but if we were able to, I’d suggest it would all but remove that remaining dip leaving a relatively flat line through to mid-2013 when numbers definitely started rising again.

2. Change in Busway counting

Last year AT changed how they counted the busway. Prior to that point they only counted ridership on the Northern Express even though many people caught buses like the 881 all the way along the busway or local buses used the busway for a small part of their journey. AT’s change was to also include trips from other services that used the busway, assuming they boarded or alighted at a busway station.

The issue is that if you just look at the current information, it appears there was very rapid growth from about mid-2015 – although that doesn’t change the fact during the last year we’ve seen 20%+ growth at times. So going back over some old AT reports I was able to find the differences and separate out some of the differences between the two metrics. The result is below and shows a difference of about 500k trips annually.

 

Now, neither of these results mean a lot in the overall given the stellar rise of PT in Auckland since the times mentioned but I found them interesting none the less so thought I’d share them. What do you think of them?

I’m also interested in your thoughts about what is usually the busiest time of the year that is coming up soon and culminating in March Madness. My anecdotal observations have been that despite schools still being out and roads relatively empty, that PT is already feeling noticeably busier than last year, suggesting we have a huge March coming up.

We also haven’t covered the numbers from Wellington recently so here’s a quick update to the end of November.

  • The bus numbers remain relatively flat with only very small growth in bus use on a 12-month rolling basis.
  • Wellington has been doing better with rail ridership recently with the 12-month rolling result up just over 7% compared to the year before to 13.1 million.

Transit fare changes for 2017

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.”

Main changes

  • 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?

Ka mua, ka muri: Looking back in order to move forward

‘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

 

 

 

2016 – A Year in Review Part 1 – PT

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.

Simplified Fares

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.

Ridership

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.

Conclusion

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

November-2016 Patronage and Cycle Data

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.

December AT Board update

Next week Auckland Transport hold their final board meeting for the year. Coming hot on the heels of the November one there’s not a lot of new information available in the currently available reports but there are a few important items.

Closed Session

Here are the items on the closed session. Most seem fairly straight forward and probably a bit boring but there are a few that stand out, particularly talk about train capacity and allowing electric vehicles in bus lanes – the only electric vehicles that should be in bus lanes are electric buses. I also wonder why these items are even in the closed session, AT list the reason as “To protect commercial interests” but just what commercial interests are there in talking about the capacity of trains or electric vehicles using bus lanes.

  • 2017/18 Internal Budget Strategy
  • Road Stoppings and Real Estate Inventory Optimisation
  • Train Capacity
  • Rail Operator
  • Agreement relating to Huapai Triangle Special Housing Area – Deed of Novation
  • Electric Vehicles in Special Vehicle Lanes
  • Quarterly AMETI Update
  • Housing Infrastructure Fund
  • CRL Update
  • 2016/17 Budget Realignment

Business Report

Coming hot on the heels of the November one there’s not a lot of new information available in the currently available reports but there are a few important items.

Lincoln Rd – AT didn’t say publicly that submissions were open for their supersizing of Lincoln Rd but they were and have now closed. But not yet having consent hasn’t stopped AT and the report says they spent $3.3 million in November buying up some of the land needed for the widening and that in total for the year, they’ve spent a staggering $28.42 million. The project is going to end up with the cost of a small motorway, which is perhaps appropriate given the road will look a bit like one once finished.

Integrated Fares for Ferries

AT say they’re working on integrated fares for ferries.

Ferry Integrated fares approach and options are under development. Use cases are being documented for Thales review. Ferry ticketing infrastructure is being programmed to ensure cash tickets/alternative payment means are brought within the ferry integrated fares project to ensure a lasting solution

As I understand it, it doesn’t mean fares will the same price as an equivalent bus fare but that journeys will be integrated together. For example, if you were trying to get from Bayswater to Newmarket you could get off the ferry downtown and then jump on a bus or train to Newmarket without paying an additional fare, but the ferry fare itself will likely still cost more than doing the same journey by land.

Parnell Station

As we’ve known for a little while, there’s a new timetable coming in March which is intended to speed up services, which also frees some extra trains up allowing them to be used boost capacity with more 6-car trains. It appears this timetable will start on 12 March.

We now also know that the timetable will see the start of services to Parnell, but there is a catch. At least initially only Southern Line services will stop at Parnell during the day although AT say Western Line trains will do so too in evenings and weekends. That is bound to cause confusion for customers wanting to go to or from Parnell. The old Newmarket station building will be moved to the site and refurbished between Christmas and June 2017.

You may have noticed no mention of Onehugna trains, that’s because there are some big changes coming with them too. As part of the new timetable Onehunga Line trains will run express from Ellerslie to Newmarket and then Britomart. Like Parnell, the Greenlane and Remuera stations will still be served by southern line trains every 10 minutes but any passengers waiting will get to watch an Onehunga line train blast past without stopping. This appears to be being done to free up an extra train so a service on one of the main lines can be expanded to 6-cars. While we definitively want AT to speed up trains, it seems doing it this way is a cop out to fixing actual issues such as the stupidly long dwell times we have or the horrifically long driver end change at Newmarket.

There is no mention on if the new timetable includes improved off peak frequencies which are needed to comply with the new network and AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).

Station Gating

We’ve heard before that AT were planning to install ticket gates at more stations but there was no timeframe for this other than Otahuhu in April-June. They now say gates at Manurewa, Papatoetoe, Middlemore, Henderson and Parnell stations will be installed in Quarter three of 2017 and that they’re also planning for gates at Glen Innes and Papakura but there is no timeframe for that.

New Network

AT include a few brief numbers on the new network.

Train boardings at Otahuhu and Manukau have increased, with Otahuhu doubling over the first three weeks of operation; transfers across South Auckland up by 147%, bus/bus transfer up by 94% and bus/train transfers up by 207%

This seems good but knowing if it was actually resulting in more people using PT would be more useful.

Click & Collect expansion – a few months ago, AT launched a trial of being able to pick up shopping from countdown at some stations and other locations. They say that in February that will expand to include New World and Farro. It’s not in the board report but AT have also been installing vending machines at some stations. Here is some info from a local board report

As part of ongoing efforts to further improve customer amenity and convenience at public transport facilities, Auckland Transport will be conducting a vending machine trial in partnership with Coca-Cola (Branded as Pump) and Sanitarium. The trial will begin on 9th November 2016 and run over a period of six months.

As a part of this trial, AT will seek to provide customers with a broad range of breakfast, snack and cold drink products to choose from, while promoting healthier choices. This will be achieved by ensuring that healthy options benefit from high visibility and dominate the range of products on offer.

Nine rail stations across the network will be involved in this trial; Grafton, Manukau, Manurewa, Mt Albert, New Lynn, Newmarket, Otahuhu, Panmure and Puhinui. Following the successful outcome of this trial, an open Request for Proposal process will be held to identify network wide partners to provide a longer term offering

This is the final board meeting for the year with the next one not till near the end of February. There is also currently not patronage information but we should have it next week.

September-16 Patronage

Auckland public transport patronage for September is now available and sitting on a Shinkansen racing across Japan seems like the perfect time to write about it.

Compared to September 2015 there is once again a marked difference between the modes with AT reporting the following high level results for the month:

  • Total – up 3.4%
  • Bus – up 0.4%
  • Train – up 13.8%
  • Ferry – up 6.7%

2016-09-total-patronage

The more detailed breakdown is shown below

2016-09-patronage-table

Once again you can see that with bus, it’s the busway that continues to be pull up the numbers up with stellar growth. With Ritchies now running all but two buses in the peak as double deckers, hopefully we’ll see this fantastic growth continue. AT also report that they’ll be adding more NEX services to the peak in January and February head of March Madness to help cope with expected demand and ongoing growth.

But the growth on then NEX also means that the results on other bus services remains poor. AT have said in the past this is partially due to a range of issues such the CityLink buses no longer being free, buses from the west not being as attractive due to the changes with the CRL works and poor overall performance on buses in the south, something we should hopefully see some improvement on as a result of the new network.

On trains there are continues to be strong growth but the percentages in recent months do appear to be starting to reduce from the regular 20%+ we were seeing for a couple of years. But we did expect this to happen eventually and in reality it’s odd to be seeing 20% growth as a normal thing. What’s worth pointing out though is that even though growth as a percentage is slowing down a bit, it’s primarily due to being compared against a higher base. In total numbers it remains high and on an annualised basis we’re continuing to add over 2.7 million trips a year as you can see in the graph below.

2016-09-rail-growth

What’s also worth noting is the results for the different lines. Following the long awaited increase in frequency on the Western Line it continues to grow well and on an annualised basis has now passed 6 million trips. It’s worth noting that just 9 years ago the entire rail network had fewer trips on it that.

At the same time the Southern Line only had 4% more trips than September 2015. I wonder if what’s driving this is the same as affecting buses or if there are other issues such as capacity constraints. AT do say they’ll me making some slight changes to how they run trains from this month which will see another 3-car set freed up which can be used to help increase capacity.

There is planned to be a new timetable in March which will see services sped up and which will free up two more 3-car sets to increase capacity. AT say the March timetable will finally see the electric trains on the Southern and Eastern line running faster than the diesels that they replaced. On the Western Line speeds will be about the same as they were and can’t be faster due to the safety measures needed around the way too numerous level crossings.

For rail, on an 12m rolling basis there are now over 60,000 trips being taken on weekdays.

Ferries continue what has been some solid growth and while most of it is on the except services (Devonport, Waiheke and to be soon to be formerly Stanley Bay), as a percentage growth is strongest on the contracted services which is an area AT have been improving services. With some recent improvements to Half Moon Bay and Pine Harbour, and the new Half Moon Bay ferry terminal under construction, we’ll hopefully see these results continue to improve.

On to some of the other PT metrics, punctuality seems to be a mixed bag. Overall it is improving but has been declining on ferries. Over the last year or so, AT have standardised all of their punctuality metrics to focus on the time the service departed its origin destination. I don’t agree with this way of recording results as it feels like a convenient way to make the results look better than what most people experience, especially for buses which often get caught in congestion. As a comparison, for rail AT still show the percentage of trains that arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes and that shows 96.3% of trains on time vs the 98.6% based on departure time.

2016-09-punctuality

Since the introduction of integrated fares, farebox recovery has fallen a bit. This was to be expected but is still will within AT’s target range for this financial year. NZTA’s farebox recovery policy means it needs to reach 50% by June 2018 so at 49% it’s still looking pretty good. One positive thanks to the increasing patronage is that the subsidy per passenger km for rail continues to improve. We should also start to see it improve for buses from November with the New Network in South Auckland saving AT around $3 million annually.

2016-09-farebox

HOP usage continues to improve, with 84.5% of all trips in September being via HOP. What is interesting is the steady increase in HOP use on ferries. I wonder if this is mainly due to the increase in contracted services.

2016-09-hop-uptake

Overall we’re continuing to see some positive results. Now back to the rest of my Shinkansen trip.

Postcard from Japan: Hakone Day Trip

My wife and I are currently taking a couple of weeks holiday in Japan. I’ll post more about some of the urban aspects later but I thought I’d start with a day trip we took to Hakone that ended up in us using eight different forms of transport.

We were staying in Tokyo in Harajuku so the first step was to get to Shinagawa. Staying only a couple of minutes walk from the local station and then super frequent services every couple of minutes on the busy Yamanote Line – which stops at Shinagawa – this step was easy.

According to the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia:

  • The Yamanote Line is a circle line around central Tokyo linking many of key destinations, playing a similar role to the Inner Link in Auckland but on a much larger and busier scale. According to that fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia, it is one of the busiest lines in the world with an estimated 3.6 million trips every day. That’s more people than the entire London Underground carries (3.4 million a day). Tokyo’s fairly extensive subway network is mostly located within the ring of the Yamanote Line
  • Harajuku station is a fairly simple affair with just a fairly narrow island platform. Even so it is estimated that over 70,000 people use it daily, that’s more than our entire rail network on a busy weekday.

After a brief 16 minute journey, we were at Shinagawa and from here we could transfer to a high speed Shinkansen to allow us to cover the 70km distance to Odawara in just 27 minutes, reaching top speeds in places of around 270km/h.

  • The Tokaido Shinkansen line – between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka – is the busiest (and most profitable) high-speed line in the world. Every day more than 430,000 trips are taken on it. There are multiple service patterns that run and has have trains in each direction every few minutes
  • Shinkansen on some lines can reach over 300km/h and the Chuo Skinkansen (maglev) under construction is expected to run at over 500km/h

hakone-day-trip-shinkansen

hakone-day-trip-shinkansen-speed

At Odawara we purchased a pass allowing us to use all other different transport modes listed below. We transferred to small local railway to start our journey up into the hills to the town of Hakone-Yumoto. This train is effectively run as a shuttle service following a river valley up to the hills and taking only 15 minutes with a couple of stops along the way. From about 26m above sea level at Odwara, Hakone-Yumoto sits at 108m. It was a midday on a Saturday and the service was fairly busy, like a morning peak in Auckland.

hakone-day-trip-local-emu

Upon reaching Hakone-Yumoto it was a short hop along the platform to change to the Hokone-Tozan Mountain Railway. The three car trains that are used are able to climb up the steep sides of the mountains at grades of up to 8% (rising 1m for every 12m travelled) but it definitely doesn’t do so very fast with speeds of only around 15km/h. It takes about 40 minutes to cover 8.9km and along the way there are a handful of stops at mountain villages. There were a couple of switchbacks along the way to help it get up the mountain and which also served to allow trains to pass trains heading in the opposite direction. Winding through the steep bush clad hills the railway was apparently designed to be as hidden as possible.

hakone-day-trip-mountain-rail

The train was full of passengers for the ride up to 553m above sea level at the town of Gora.

hakone-day-trip-mountain-rail-trip

At Gora it was a transfer to a furnicular for a trip up the side of the steep mountain. This is about 1.2km over which it rises 214m to Sōunzan. The transfer from the mountain train to the furnicular is easy and part of the same building.

hakone-day-trip-cable-car

At the top of the furnicular it was then a transfer to a gondola to reach even higher up the mountain to the tourist area of Ōwakudani.

hakone-day-trip-gondola

Ōwakudani is a geothermal hotspot and is famous for the cooking eggs in the sulphuric hot springs which turns the shells black.

hakone-day-trip-geothermal-activity

Not a scene from Lord of the Rings but works to stabilise the side of the mountain

hakone-day-trip-black-egg

The shell might be black but they still taste like normal eggs

From the side of the mountain it is also a great spot on a good day to get views of Mt Fuji. It just so happened we had a great day for it.

hakone-day-trip-mt-fuji

After bite to eat it was time to continue and a second gondola takes riders down to Tōgendai on the edge of Lake Ashi. From there we transferred to one of three pirate ship themed ferries that run along the lake. I have no idea why they are themed as pirate ships but they are. We also had some fortuitous timing, the ferries only run every 40 minutes and we arrived with about a minute to spare, a perfect un-timed transfer.

hakone-day-trip-pirate-ship-ferries

At the other end of the lake was Moto-Hakone where we took a quick break before boarding the last new mode of the day, a bus. It also happened to be the least enjoyable because it was a small bus, smaller than the stupid small ADL buses NZ Bus use, and was also completely packed with people. They seemed to have a moto that you can always fit one more person on – although even that had its limits. This wasn’t helped by the buses only running ever half an hour and meant that some people got left behind. To go with the cramped conditions, the route was through some mountainous terrain with steep hills and frequent sharp bends.

After getting very personable with others on the bus for about 45 minutes – especially when someone sitting at the back wanted to get off – we arrived back in Hakone Yumoto. From there it was simply a reverse of the first three legs to get back home.

Here is a quick map of the journey

hakone-day-trip-route

Back at Odawara we had a little wait for our Shinkansen back to Tokyo. The stations are each designed with at least four tracks so that stopping services don’t hold up ones that aren’t stopping. While waiting a number of services in each direction flew past at speed

Scenery wise, it is very reminiscent of various places around the centre of the North Island, which is why I guess Hakone has a sister city relationship with Taupo.

It was mostly just a day of travelling but it was enjoyable and despite not really being planned and using lots of different services, the transfers seemed to work fairly well. I know a few readers have done this trip too, if you have, what did you think of it.