‘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
The media seem went gaga a few days ago about a new report that looks at the impacts of congestion in Auckland and other Australasian cities. It’s no surprise they reported on it either, transport in Auckland is a common gripe and so the story of Auckland being the slowest city, confirming what many people already believe, was too much to pass up.
But even reading the news articles, it struck me that this was likely another case of the wrong questions being asked but that by in large, the right answers were reached, much like ATAP. Perhaps even more so it wasn’t the main findings of the report that were important but some of the ancillary comments.
Auckland commuters can groan in agreement with a report that reveals the city has the worst travel times and reliability in Australia and New Zealand.
This is despite having the fastest road in the two countries combined.
Austroads Congestion and Reliability Review measured the levels of congestion and traffic across major cities in Australia and New Zealand and released their findings in a report.
The cities were categorised into groups of similar population size. Auckland was in group two alongside Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.
In its group Auckland performed worst across “most measures”. These included the highest travel time delay, morning and afternoon peak reliability.
Auckland came out worst in it’s group with an average speed of 77.6km/hr. The other cities were between 82km/hr to 86km/hr. American cities of a comparative size went up to 104km/hr.
The slowest roads were St Lukes Rd, Wairau Rd and Lake Rd. While the fastest were the Northern Gateway Toll Rd (which topped the Australasian list with an average speed of 98.8km/hr), Upper Harbour Motorway and SH16.
By focusing on the speed of commutes, my immediate feeling was that this sounds like a very similar approach taken by Tom Tom and other organisations for their own congestion reports. This proved to be correct as this is what the press release says about the method they used.
The findings are based on an analysis of Google Maps data for 600km of roads for each major Australian city, enabling analysis of travel time along different road segments. The analysis was based on two months of data, comprising of 1km long road segments, with data points taken every 15 minutes, to calculate the six key congestion measures outlined in the report. An econometric analysis was then undertaken to provide insight into the drivers of network performance.
We’ve written before about TomTom’s reports, one of the key problems with reports that use this kind of methodology are that they are based on measuring the variance in the speed of traffic compared to the maximum speed limit allowed on the road. This ignores that roads can be more efficient and flow better with lower speeds, for example a motorway will move more vehicles an hour/flow better if they’re all travelling at 80km/h than 100km/h.
Also importantly, these reports only ever reference vehicle congestion/speeds, not the people using that corridor. Infrastructure like the rail network and Northern Busway allow a lot more people to be moved within a corridor, often faster and free of congestion. We know that 40% of people crossing the Harbour Bridge every morning on a comparatively small number of buses don’t suffer from the congestion those in cars next to them have endured.
But it’s here were we reach one of those right answer to the wrong question points. That’s because while we know that counting the speed of PT and other road users is key if we want a more accurate report, we also know that Auckland is one of the worst performers when it comes to use of other modes, something noted by the authors when they say
Auckland has fewer public transport options, compared with other cities. Plentiful low-cost parking in Auckland encourages commuters to drive.
Looking at the articles also raised a new potential issue with how these kinds of congestion metrics are created, in particular the mention that the Northern Gateway Toll Road was the fastest in Australasia. In short, why would you count a rural tolled motorway. Other than on holiday weekends, which wouldn’t be relevant in this discussion, this road has almost no bearing on the congestion most Aucklanders might experience. But that got me thinking, if the toll road is included in Auckland’s numbers, what else is included, especially in other cities.
So here’s Auckland’s map of the most delayed roads based on their methodology.
And as one example, here’s Perth which comes out much better in the metrics.
One thing worth noting is it appears these maps are not at the same scale, the furthermost point away from the Auckland City Centre is about Drury, 30km away. By comparison in Brisbane and Perth some of the locations shown are over 50km away from the city centre. This hints at one of the potential issues, there are a lot more uncongested rural highways included in the numbers of other cities compared to Auckland. To be fair, in the middle of the report they do say that the types of roads selected for this report will impact the results i.e. more motorways generally results in higher average speeds.
The report also looks at some international cities as comparisons but oddly they decided specifically to choose cites with similar PT modeshares to the Australasian cities which means cities of similar sizes and densities in places like Europe and North America can’t be compared to see if there’s something cities here could learn if there was a different transport/land use focus.
As mentioned earlier though, despite issues with some of the ways this report has been approached, I do think it comes up with some useful points.
More important that the speed of a particular journey is the reliability of it. If you know it’s always going to be slow then at least you can accept that, or adjust when or how you travel to avoid it. But when that varies considerably every day it can be infuriating. Of course, Auckland fares poorly in the reliability rankings
They also make some very salient points about why Auckland performs poorly. These include:
Auckland’s geography, particularly its harbours and waterways, impose constraints on the transport system, meaning the main transport links are confined to narrow corridors
Compared with other cities there is a lower level of public transport provision for commuters
There exists highly available and low cost parking in Auckland which encourages commuters to drive
Auckland’s geographic constraints forces a lot of people to travel through narrow areas, if only there was a way to move a lot of people without needing a lot of space to do so. Despite what some urban myths would have you believe, that makes Auckland ideally suited to public transport, if was provided it well. This is something backed up to some degree by ATAP, which noted that there are only limited options for expanding road capacity within most of the urban area.
There is no one solution to ‘solve’ congestion but definitely a “more of the same but bigger” approach will not work. If Auckland wants a chance of improving congestion it will need provide better alternatives so the best option isn’t to sit in a car and hope for the best.
The discussion around driverless vehicles has increased dramatically over the last few years and I suspect will only continue to escalate in the years to come. What’s also increased is the almost religious zeal by which some preach the technology, promising it will deliver some form utopian future. Many of the common claims used by were covered off in an opinion piece by Rodney Hide yesterday. There are a couple of points highlighted in there I want to explore further.
Improving safety on our roads remains the biggest promise of driverless vehicles. It means 300 fewer people in New Zealand and more than 1.2 million worldwide might not need to die on roads. Especially early on, this improved safety will be achieved by the vehicles being much more cautious on our roads as human drivers are much less predictable. More cautious also means slower and how will a trip taking longer by being driverless affect usage. Of course as I’ve pointed out before, it won’t take long for pedestrians to catch on and effectively reclaim the streets simply be threatening to walk across the road and all cars will stop.
Of course, driverless vehicles will only be as good as the technology behind them and based on. For example Uber’s driverless car that was being trialled in San Francisco ran red lights and performed dangerous turns that could have injured people on bikes.
2. Touch of a button mobility
The idea most talked about with driverless vehicles is that people will no longer own a car themselves but instead they will be companies like Uber providing fleets of vehicles for people to use at the push of a button.
Your ride will arrive with a tap of your phone. It will whisk you to your destination and disappear to the next fare.
That’s fine and a great vision but what does that mean in reality, especially when everyone is using the system. Particularly in the suburbs, does this mean there will need to be enough vehicles nearby so people never need to wait more than a few minutes and if so, where are these cars stored. Perhaps they’re just roaming the streets, racking up the kilometres just waiting for someone to need to make a journey. Do we really want to encourage the streets to be constantly filled with vehicles all waiting for a passenger?
3. Land use impacts
If the driverless utopia visions are correct then the land use impacts of the technology could be just as, if not more significant than the transport impacts. Rodney hits at a few of these in his article
No need to own, maintain or garage a car. No need to park it.
No wasted space for the parking of cars on the side of the road. No car parks.
If the promised revolution comes anywhere near as soon as some like to suggest then councils and transport agencies need to dramatically change their thinking now on many issues, especially parking. For example, while the Unitary Plan removed parking minimums from many locations, they will still be required in lower density developments. This could saddle property owners with a ‘feature’ which could shortly be obsolete. Freeing developments from parking and associated driveway infrastructure would likely have significant impacts on both the costs of development and the amount of land needed.
Perhaps an even greater impact from a city point of view is the amount of urban land in many of our town and metro centres that suddenly gets freed up and can be used for other purposes. It is interesting to think what impact that would have on urban land prices. As an example, in the map below of Botany, red is buildings and grey is parking.
By removing the need for parking it also means we do not need to invest in expensive park & ride and parking buildings become an obsolete asset. This raises the question of whether we should be making policy changes now in advance of the introduction of driverless vehicles such as divesting or redeveloping parking facilities now and diverting any planned expenditure on new parking facilities elsewhere.
4. Road impacts
Related to above, what happens to our roads if we no longer need to provide on-street parking. Demands for on-street parking by residents and businesses remains one of the biggest barriers to implementing better streets, providing more space for walking, cycling or transit. If driverless vehicles are coming then there should be no reason why agencies like Auckland Transport can’t be much more aggressive in rolling out these networks.
Interestingly the transition to driverless vehicles might not be as smooth as some assume. As this article from the BBC on research in the UK highlights, driverless vehicles will more safety conscious and therefore likely drive slower and more defensively than meat bag driven ones. That could result in a reduction in road capacity until there is enough of them on the roads.
5. Transit impacts
When reading the article, I was wondering at what point I would see the comment below, to be honest I was surprised it was so far near the end.
The investment in trains in Auckland will look as clever as if we had built canals for barges pulled by horses.
The idea that driverless vehicles will suddenly replace the need for well-designed public transport is frankly absurd. As we’ve commented before, driverless technology will also be able to be applied to buses and light rail, and it’s already possible to have driverless trains. Removing the driver will also removes a lot of the marginal cost of services so it means we can run more services for the same amount of money.
Additionally, while driverless vehicles are ultimately likely to improve road throughput, it still won’t be enough in dense cities. As Jarrett Walker points out, it’s not an engineering problem, it’s a geometry problem.
So a bus with 4o people on it today is blown apart into, what, little driverless vans with an average of two each, a 20-fold increase in the number of vehicles? It doesn’t matter if they’re electric or driverless. Where will they all fit in the urban street? And when they take over, what room will be left for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, pocket parks, or indeed anything but a vast river of vehicles?
A driverless vehicle from your house is probably as likely to drop you at a train or busway station to continue your journey as it is take you all the way yourself.
6. Job impacts
The impact the technology will have on jobs is one not often discussed but rapid adoption is likely to be seriously disruptive to all of society.
There won’t be neighbourhood auto shops.
There will simply be fleets of driverless vehicles to maintain. The vehicles will be run 24/7 and serviced accordingly.
The savings will be dramatic. There will be no drivers. Freight and people will be shifted quickly, safely and efficiently.
Driverless vehicles will transport your children to school like a taxi, cheaper than a bus.
A trip to Christchurch will be done overnight while you sleep. The fare will be the running cost plus your minuscule share of the vehicle’s depreciation and maintenance.
According to Stats NZ, as of 2015 there were the following numbers of people employed in these industries:
18,970 people in Automotive Repair and Maintenance
17,390 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Retailing
7670 people in Motor Vehicle and Motor Vehicle Parts Wholesaling
36120 people in Road Transport – this includes both freight (72%) and passenger transport (28%)
Combined, these make up about 4% of all jobs in NZ and I’m sure there are many others directly or indirectly associated with our road transport system. Now obviously not all will disappear with the advent of driverless technology but a good number would, almost certainly more than half. If it were to happen suddenly then the impact on employment in NZ would be greater than the Global Financial Crisis had where the number of people employed dropped by 2.5%.
6. Financial impacts
Finally, driverless vehicles are likely to have some serious financial implications with some potentially massive savings. One, even acknowledged in ATAP was that it “could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity”. In other words, we don’t need to spend more on new/bigger roads if the technology makes the current ones safer and have greater capacity. It also saves money in other areas too, such as road policing which is currently funded out of fuel taxes to the tune of over $300 million annually.
I do see driverless vehicles becoming an important part of our transport system but I don’t think they’re going to deliver the utopia some believe.
There was a good article a few days ago by Brent Toderian in Toronto’s Metro News highlighting that if you use the “math of city-making”, which is often at odds with the way cities have developed over the last 60+ decades, you can build a better city. Brent has visited Auckland a few times to work with the council on planning issues and has talked at a number of Auckland Conversations events including here in 2013 and here a year later.
Here are some of the examples he uses in his article.
A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.
Another study in Copenhagen (where the full cost of transportation choices are routinely calculated) found that when you factor in costs like time, accidents, pollution and climate change, each kilometre cycled actually gains society 18 cents!
A recent American study suggested that compact development, on average, costs 38 per cent less in up-front infrastructure and 10 per cent less in ongoing service delivery than conventional suburban development, while generating 10 times more per acre in tax revenue. Many cities overbuilding the suburbs are putting their fiscal future at risk — and that’s before the bigger picture costs are even included.
Over the last decade, Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton, London, Halifax, Regina and Abbotsford have been doing the hard math on the real costs of how and where they grow — not just up or out, but how smarter design choices save costs. The resulting math has been powerful — tens of billions of dollars more of public cost for car-dependant suburban growth than for smart infill — and I haven’t even yet seen such a study that includes all the full and life-cycle costs of our growth choices. Once these shocking numbers are revealed, municipal leaders can’t “un-know” them, no matter what political ideology they live by.
Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.
There are of course many others we’ve seen and covered over the years, including many local studies that have shown the same results as above. Do you have any city math favourites?
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
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.
In September the Final Report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released and we’ve talked about it a lot since then. It focused on strategic recommendations following multiple rounds of modelling of packages of projects and with & without Smarter Pricing. The Final Indicative Package can be seen on the map below, however please note these are indicative and may change as each project goes through the necessary business cases.
ATAP Indicative Interventions
The ATAP report found that in the first decade alone, there’s a $400 million funding gap and while the aggregate costings where available, the estimated cost for each project where not. So, I decided to OIA that very information & thankfully the NZTA were happy to oblige, giving us this information in a very nice format which you can see below.
Please note the projects are indicative and subject to the regular business cases, the costings are preliminary estimates for example the ATAP team did not receive the information regarding updated CRL costings until after the Report had been finalised, the costings are also not inflation adjusted which is why some in the third decade in particular look cheaper than previous estimates you may have seen.
ATAP Projects Estimates
ATAP Project Costs Page 1
ATAP Project Costs Page 2
Rail Development Programme
Rail Development Programme
I wont go into to much regarding the information, as this is best done in a series of follow up posts on ATAP, but some things to note are
A (Road Only) Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is $3.7b but will be much more with inflation.
They budget $585.3m of level crossing removals.
There is over $4b in state highway widening projects (Does not include East West Link & AWHC), those projects bring it up to over $9B.
$784m to four track Westfield-Papakura.
$503.7m for Isthmus Mass Transit is budgeted in the first decade meaning only $622.5m needs to be accelerated to make it a first decade project.
Mass Transit between Wynyard Quarter – Takapuna is budgeted at $1.8b.
What do you think of the costs and what stands out to you?
Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.
Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail
The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.
The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).
The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.
The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).
While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.
The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.
The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.
There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):
Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:
a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded
By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.
Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.
Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.
One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.
But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.
The other week Australian planning expert Greg Vann came to Auckland to talk about his experience developing the South-East Queensland urban growth strategy, ShapingSEQ. A lot of what he had to say was transferrable to Auckland. While Queensland faces different environmental challenges that often result in different decisions about built form, Brisbane and Auckland are both mid-sized New World cities experiencing rapid growth.
Among other things, Greg argued that urban planning had to provide affordable living, not simply affordable housing. Essentially, consider transport costs (including the cost of car ownership) as well as housing costs when assessing affordability.
This is a topic I’ve looked at in the past using Census data on household incomes, rents, commuting choices, and car ownership from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. The data suggests that there is a ‘spatial equilibrium’ between housing costs and commuting costs: While rents tend to decline with increasing distance from the city centre, commuting and car ownership costs rise in almost exact proportion to offset them.
However, there’s a further wrinkle to this: Lower-income households tend to locate further out. This results in a situation where (on average) Aucklanders pay a similar proportion of their household income throughout most of the city:
But where overall housing plus transport costs tend to take up a higher share of household incomes in outer suburban areas than on the isthmus:
Talking about similar patterns in Brisbane, Greg Vann made a really good point that I had never considered before: This pattern of population distribution can have significant effects on long-run wealth distribution.
Cities that encourage low-income households to save money on housing by spending more money on transport (car ownership, commuting costs) encourage them to invest in depreciating assets rather than appreciating ones. Over time, the resale value of cars goes down – eventually to zero – while homes tend to hold their value or even increase in value over the long run.
Consequently, well-off people who live in areas that are rich in public transport and cycling options will tend to save money on car ownership and invest more on housing ownership, while low-income people who tend to live in places without transport choice will do the opposite. Over time, this can contribute to rising wealth inequality.
Here’s a chart based on the data from my 2014 paper. Housing costs, as proxied by median rents, are higher in the inner suburbs (0-10km from the city centre). Households in these areas spend around $1000 more per annum paying the rent than households 20-30km from the city centre.
However, this is offset by higher transport costs in the outer suburban areas: Households 20-30km from the city centre spend around $700 more on car ownership per annum, because they have to own more cars, and around $1300 more on commuting costs per annum.
That extra $2000 a year is money that disappears from household savings and investment. People in the inner suburbs may be paying more for housing, but when they do so they buy an asset.
What can (or should) we do about this?
From my perspective, there are three basic answers.
First, we need to give everybody opportunities to live in locations where they can save money on transport and car ownership and invest it in housing instead. Basically, that means allowing people to build more homes in most suburbs in the city, and especially in neighbourhoods with better public transport, walking, and cycling options. (Other policies may also play a role, such as development of new social housing in accessible areas.)
In a lot of neighbourhoods, this will mean enabling options for ‘invisible density’, like low-rise blocks of apartments, terraced housing, or backyard granny flats. In other contexts, it might mean making the jump to mid-rise apartment buildings. But the point is: if this kind of thing isn’t happening, low-income households and young people will be at the back of a long queue for a limited supply of housing with good transport choices.
Second, we need to significantly expand the reach and speed of the city’s public transport network, as well as complementary options like safe cycling facilities. Giving people in more parts of the city these choices will enable them to spend less on depreciating assets like cars and save and invest instead. As Anthony Downs observed in his tome on congestion, Still Stuck in Traffic, this may be one of the more significant effects of public transport investment:
…public policies should help low-income households spend more on ownership of housing by providing more transit opportunities. (p132)
Getting there isn’t necessarily easy, though, as Auckland is trying to do a lot of things at once in the transport investment space. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project sets out a potentially transformative rapid transit network plan, including committed projects like the City Rail Link, Northern Busway extension to Albany and AMETI busway and near-future priorities like the Northwestern Busway and mass transit (eg light rail) to the isthmus and airport. But we can only build so many of these at a time!
That brings me on to the third point: Transport and land use planning needs to be better integrated. For example, when rapid transit upgrades go ahead, it would also be useful to rezone those areas to allow more housing to get built. This will mean that more people get the opportunity to benefit from increased accessibility and the option to save money by giving up their second (or third) car. Pretty simple concept, really.
What do you think about the impacts of urban form and household location on wealth distribution?
Sometimes we come across something that is so perfect and so timely that it just needs repeating as it is. This is one of those times. The following post by Charles Marohn is lifted in its entirety from StrongTowns.org
The Ideology of Traffic by Charles Marohn
The greatest accomplishment of any ideology is to not be considered an ideology; to be a belief system that is not considered a belief system. Millions of Americans went to church yesterday and every one of them knew their experience constituted a belief, that others in the world believe other things. It is when beliefs are not recognized as such that things get scary.
Last week I was in Washington State speaking to a group of mostly transportation engineers and technical professionals. My presentation was all about questioning the core beliefs of the profession, of helping the people in attendance recognize that many of their core truths are actually beliefs, and that there are competing beliefs that they should consider.
For example, when engineers design a street, they begin with the design speed. They then determine the projected traffic volume. Given speed and volume, they then look to a design manual to determine the safe street section and then, once a cross section is selected, determine the cost. This approach to design – speed then volume then safety then cost – reflects the ideology of the profession, an internal belief system so foundational that they don’t recognize it as the application of a set of values.
Of course, when presented with these values discretely and not as part of a design process – not as part of the ritual practice of their belief system – they collectively identified a different set of values. I actually had them shout out their values in order and, like the thousands of people I’ve asked to do the same, theirs came back: safety first, then cost then volume and, last, speed. Their actual values are nearly a perfect inversion of those they apply to their design ritual.
This weekend, there was an article that appeared in the NY Post titled The Real Reason for New York City’s Traffic Nightmare. I know the Post is tabloidy; the story contained all anonymous sources and lacked even a rudimentary level of fact checking that you’d find in an actual news story. Still, it fits the ideology of the traffic engineering profession and I saw the piece widely distributed. Here’s a quote:
“The traffic is being engineered,” a former top NYPD official told The Post, explaining a long-term plan that began under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and hasn’t slowed with Mayor de Blasio.
“The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion, to slow traffic down, to favor bikers and pedestrians,” the former official said.
“There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.”
Let’s apply a contrasting value system to this quote, not one based on moving traffic but one based on building wealth. Here’s how each of these statements could be rewritten:
Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to make property more valuable, encourage investment and improve the city’s tax base while reducing its overall costs.
Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to slow traffic.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to improve the quality of the space for the people who live, work and own property there.
Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to favor bikers and pedestrians.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to favor the access of high volumes of people over the movement of comparatively small volumes of automobiles.
Ideology of Traffic: There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: There’s an improvement in the quality of the place and it’s corresponding value through the introduction of bike lanes and the closing of some streets and lanes.
Before the Suburban Experiment, cities were built with an ideology of wealth creation. That ideology was shared across the culture and, while some benefitted more than others, it provided opportunity for nearly everyone to get ahead. To understand why our cities are going broke, why they are struggling in a growing economy just to do basic things, one only needs to consider the dramatics of this ideological shift. We’ll bankrupt ourselves moving traffic and we don’t even understand why.
According to media reports, there has been ‘an outbreak of tyre slashing’ in the residential roads around Wellington airport recently. And the cause – people parking legally (yes, within the law) on residential streets.
Like most Wellingtonians (I suspect) I’m keen to see this issue resolved, but I the potential solutions I outline below may not go down too well with some of my fellow local residents as they are a change from the current situation.
But let’s back up a bit and examine what the problem actually is.
For many years, astute Wellingtonians (and some out of towners) have been known to park on the streets around Wellington airport to avoid paying airport parking fees. It seems that in the past three to four years, with passenger numbers increasing markedly, that many more people have started to do this. And in some cases, it is alleged that cars are being abandoned by international travellers when they leave the country. And it is this that has got locals upset.
The main flashpoint has been around Kauri St, marked in red in the image. From there, it is about a 500m walk to the main airport terminal, marked with the red star. And with parking rates at the airport starting at around $33 a day for casual parking, you can see why people are avoiding paying. It is a rational decision and I have been known to leave my car on the local streets for a day or two when I’ve had to fly out of town.
Unfortunately, locals are so upset that all ‘their’ parking is being used by others that they have resorted to putting up barriers on the grass verges (one of which was ruled to have caused the death of a cyclist way back in 2013). And someone has clearly decided to slash tyres, with police confirming they have received ten reports of damage between Nov 26 and Dec 5.
Meanwhile, it feels like Wellington City Council have been sitting on their hands about the whole issue, and in their most recent statement say they will undertake community consultation sometime in January. To me that is an appalling lack of decision making by a Council, given that this issue has been running for some years now.
I have to say, in some ways I am sympathetic to the locals, who are dealing with alleged issues of cars being allegedly abandoned on their streets or blocking their driveways. But at the same time, streets are public spaces and do not belong to any one person. And a quick look at google streetview shows me that the majority of houses along Kauri St (and other local streets) have off-street parking, as you can see in the image below (which is a rarity in most of the rest of Wellington I can personally attest).
So here are my thoughts on some simple ways to reduce the heat in this battle.
Residents parking zone
If residents really are struggling to find a park, then the simplest thing the Council could do is introduce some designated residents parking areas. For years I lived in Mt Victoria in Wellington and paid a yearly fee for a residents permit. Yes it is over $100 a year, but if properly policed, it can work effectively. Yes it would mean that some locals might not be able to park directly outside their houses, but it sets aside space for them if they need it.
3-hour limit on parking
Another option would be to introduce time-limited parking in the area. Perhaps a 3-hour maximum during week days between 9am and 5pm. Again, if properly policed this could work, and it also means locals should not be able to claim that ‘people who come to visit us can never find a park’ as they do at the moment. And best of all, there would be no cost to locals for this (and potentially even some revenue for the Council from issuing parking infringement notices).
Making use of the old school playground
Finally, some people have suggested the large piece of empty land on the left Kauri St in the image above (which used to be a school) could be converted into an open air car park with at a simple daily rate. I understand the land is Crown owned and has been land banked ahead of a possible treaty settlement, so is currently not used. However this would only be a short to medium term solution I suspect and doesn’t introduce any penalty for parking on the street.
Other less effective options
One option raised earlier this year was to offer residents specific parks in the new car parking building being built on airport land. But the reality would be that few would even use it, because it would mean a longer walk home than simply parking in their own driveways.
Another option might be to offer some cheaper parking options at the airport itself to reduce the incentive to park for free, but given the Council owns a reasonable shareholding in the airport, it seems unlikely that they would want to risk cutting down the revenue they receive from that.
Personally I am all for either a residents parking scheme, a time limit on parks in the area, or a combination of the two. And as a local, the last thing I want to see are any more people being injured or killed because the Council is sitting on its hands leaving locals to do what they like.
So come on WCC, stop wringing your hands, and actually make some decisions.