Auckland Conversations – Fixing Auckland’s Transport

On Monday the city will be hosting the next Auckland Conversations and this one will has the title of Fixing Auckland’s Transport. The discussion will be about the Long Term Plan

Auckland is the country’s fastest-growing region with transport considered the single biggest issue. Major investment will be needed in the next decade to avoid worsening congestion and the impact this will have on our economy, environment and way of life.

We have a choice to make. Do we accept a basic transport network which costs less, or do we invest more to get the advanced transport programme set out in the 30-year vision for our region, known as the Auckland Plan.

If we choose to fix Auckland’s transport issues and get our city moving, we need to consider how we should pay for it. This could be through increased fuel taxes and higher rates, or through the introduction of a new motorway charge.

Hear from a range of experts who will outline the key transport issues facing Aucklanders in the 10-year budget. Speakers to be announced.

There are quite a few speakers who will take part including Patrick

MC Fran O’Sullivan – NZ Herald

Mayor Len Brown

David Warburton – CEO, Auckland Transport

Sudhvir Singh – Generation Zero

Peter Winder – Transport Funding – Independent Advisory Board

Patrick Reynolds – Transport Blog

Pippa Coom – Waitemata Local Board

Details are

Monday 2 March, doors open 5pm for a 5.30pm start
Lower NZI Conference Room, Aotea Centre, central Auckland

Long Term Plan Feedback So Far

The Council is currently consulting on the Long Term Plan (LTP) which is the city’s 10 year budget. A key discussion of this LTP is whether we should implement motorway tolling or increase Rates/Fuel taxes to pay all of the transport projects on the council’s plans – unless we want a scaled back and ineffectual transport system. There are three weeks left to submit on the plan and in the coming week or so we will be covering this topic a lot more. In the meantime the council say they have now had over 5,000 submissions with some interesting results.

In addition they’ve provided some generalised feedback on what the submissions (as of 19 Feb) have said and there are some fascinating results. First up some demographic info and it appears submitters are far more likely to be older European males.

2015 LTP Early Demographics

Further a break down by the local board areas shows the boards with the most submissions being Hibiscus and Bays, Albert-Eden, Howick and Howick while many of the South Auckland boards have the lowest submission levels. This combined with the demographic info suggest that perhaps the council need to be putting more effort into getting feedback from a wider cross section of our city – this is similar to the issues Peter recently expressed when he asked Who’s having the conversation about cities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly just over half of those who answered (52%) disagreed with the proposed level of rates rises of 3.5% and of those who answered what they’d change most (79%) said they’d like to see rates decreased. Council have also broken the results down by areas that people said they’d like to see changes in with only Transport only one of a few areas where more people said spend more than spend less.

2015 LTP Early Changes in Investment

Next the area most relevant to what we’re following and the issue of transport and how we pay for it. The council say that 55% of people support the full kitchen sink approach that is the Auckland Plan. When it comes to how we should fund that just over 50% support, partially support motorway tolls. This is perhaps a little surprising and I wonder how many of the people choosing that option do so because they think they can avoid it through using local roads, travelling at different times or using other modes.

2015 LTP Early network and funding preferences

The council have also put this video together about it

When asked what areas of transport the focus should be the result is overwhelmingly in favour of public transport and cycling investment – note: the herald ran a version of this graph the other day but got the labels around the wrong way. To me this result isn’t surprising and it is similar to many of the survey’s we’ve seen in the past. Frankly it’s insane that we still have some local politicians who are actively opposing these kinds of investments. It would be fascinating to see what kind of transport system we would have if funding priorities were based on results.

2015 LTP Early Changes in transport Investment

The next two question looks at whether the council should take on a more active role in development by merging Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Council Properties Limited – something I think would be good providing the DNA from Waterfront Auckland was at the core of the new organisation rather than ACPL who have appeared silent over the last 4-5 years. It seems most people agree that it is a good idea but it’s not quite a majority.

2015 LTP Early Development Auckland

The Uniform Annual General Charge UAGC is a fixed charge that every household pays regardless of property value. The lower the UAGC the more impact property prices have on rates and the higher the UAGC the less that property prices affect rates. Councillors on the right of the political spectrum have long argued for the UAGC to be higher so as to lessen the rates burden on their areas (which are often wealthier). From memory they were very happy to finally get the question about what the rate should be on the feedback form however they may not be so happy with the result showing almost 50% want it left as it is and many want it lower

2015 LTP Early UAGC

The last graph is based on whether the council should gradually reduce business property rates from 32.8% of all rates to 25.6% of all rates. The change seems widely unsupported at this stage.

2015 LTP Early Business Rates

It will be interesting to see if these kinds of results carry on through for the rest of the consultation.

Our Port and the Harbour

8-10am tomorrow morning there is a meeting organised by groups concerned about the lack of governance and oversight by Council over the Port Company. Whether you can make it tomorrow or not, if you agree that the Port Company needs more oversight and governance from the Council, visit this page and them them know.

STOP STEALING OUR HARBOUR

Letter to the Council:

Dear Mayor Len Brown and Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse,

I am writing on behalf of Urban Auckland, the NZ Institute of Architects Auckland Branch, the Urban Design Forum and the Auckland Architects Association. We represent the professionals working in the built environment of our city. We are joined by local community groups and Westhaven Marina Users.

We are deeply concerned at Ports announcement last Thursday that they are extending Bledisloe Wharf in April by 93 and 98 metres thus eliminating the crucial view down the harbour from Queens Wharf – the proposed gateway to our City. We feel let down by Council process and have no trust in Ports of Auckland.

 We are not against Ports of Auckland operating in the city. We are for establishing a way forward where we can all be good neighbours. PoA’s actions in the last few months show they have no intent at all in being that.

We feel our voice has not been heard. We have not been consulted over the City Centre Integration Plan. No study of the wider social, cultural, economic and environmental impact has been done as you promised in 2013.

Tomorrow morning Wednesday 25th February at 9am we are launching a petition ‘Save our Harbour” on the end ofQueens Wharf and would appreciate it if you could attend to listen and talk to the people. In the past we have been heartened by your leadership on this issue.

The Petition states:

We ask the Mayor and Councillors to

  • Stop the proposed extension of Bledisloe Wharf
  • Keep ‘reclamation’ of the Waitemata Harbour as a ‘non-complying’ activity
  • Start a wide-reaching study of environmental, social and economic factors affecting the site and operations of theAuckland port. The Mayor promised Aucklanders this in 2013.
  • Make Ports of Auckland work with the people of Auckland – not against them.

We acknowledge this is short notice but timing of events has been out of our control. We wanted to make sure our voices were heard before Thursday’s Development Committee meeting.

A view from architect David Mitchell in the paper paper:

PORT LETTER

It is hard to believe that the best thing to do with the Waitemata harbour is to tip dirt into it in order to store more cars on the resultant tarmac:

OSTRO_5788

 

Energy, transport and efficiency

Last year, the National Energy Research Institute (NERI) kindly gave us a free ticket to attend the NERI Energy Conference 2014. There were plenty of relevant topics to what we discuss here on the blog, including a great presentation from Mike Underhill, the head of EECA (that’s the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, a government agency).

What were the key points? NZ has vast renewable resources. We’ve got “the highest renewable energy potential per capita of anywhere in the world”. Put another way, “we have all the energy we need in New Zealand for centuries ahead”, putting us in a rather better position than most other countries.

Energy resources

New Zealand currently gets 35% of its energy from renewable sources, and Mike thinks we should be targeting above 50%. Long term, we should be aiming for even higher than that, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and at the moment there’s very little discussion about how we’re going to improve these figures.

Over the years, and in many different forums, Mike has said many times that the best opportunities for NZ to use energy more efficiently are in transport. Why is that? A unit of energy saved in transport is going to be much more valuable to the country than a unit saved in electricity. Oil is our biggest import, so cutting down on petrol use is good for our current account deficit. Plus, our electricity is 80% renewable, so it has quite low greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing our oil consumption will have a bigger impact on the environment.

GHG issue

For electricity, there’s already 3,500 MW of extra capacity with resource consent in place, which is a lot. But we’re faced with flat or falling demand, and different expansion opportunities are competing with each other – he’s probably talking about solar here, as PV panels are potentially just crowding out the renewable electricity we’re already getting from the grid.

Mike’s presentation emphasised the role that electric vehicles could play in making our transport sector more energy efficient. That’s fair enough at a NZ-wide level. However, at TransportBlog we’ve argued for years that public (and active) transport can also make a big difference here, especially for Auckland and our other cities, and it can have an effect now, not in the decades to come. This is something that New Zealand researchers – and policymakers – should place more focus on.

Energy efficiency isn’t just good for the environment, though – it could also save New Zealand $2.4 billion a year. More than 25% of that saving could come from private vehicles, i.e. cars and similar.

Wrapping up, Mike argues that we need to focus on getting more efficiency out of our transport system (and our heat system, but that’s a bit off topic for TransportBlog), rather than our “fetish” with electricity. Sounds good to me; thinking about it, the government has goals in place for increasing our renewable electricity share to 90% (although they’re not doing anything to move towards that goal), but there aren’t any targets for our transport system that I’m aware of. In 2015, it’s time to put targets in place, and policies to achieve them. These should include public and active transport programmes.

Yes or No to Alternative funding

One of the key discussions with the Long Term Plan (LTP) is around whether we should implement motorway tolling or increase Rates/Fuel taxes to pay all of the transport projects on the council’s plans.

As a quick recap for any new readers, the council has come up with two transport plans for the next 30 years. The Basic Transport Network is effectively the base case and is what the council say they can fund based on their level of rates. In the basic network most of the money goes to keeping roads maintained or PT running and that doesn’t leave much money for capital development – although thankfully the CRL is included in that. The Auckland Plan Transport Network is essentially the “everything plus the kitchen sink” option and would require additional funding to be able to build it. For the additional funding piece an independent advisory group looked at various options and ended up two of them:

LTP Alt Funding

One of the key issues I have with the debate is that it’s being presented as an all or nothing decision that needs to be made right now. I would like to see a debate about whether we need the full future Auckland Plan network or if we as a city would rather further cut some projects and divert the cash that’s freed up to help cover what’s left. However even if that happens we’re likely to need that is likely to leave us needing some form of alternative funding.

In this post I’m not going to debate the options for raising additional funding but I do want to highlight some more of the details in this post from Jarrett Walker we mentioned on Sunday titled whether you should vote for a transit tax. Now our funding discussion isn’t just about transit however many of the points seem fairly valid.

In his role as a consultant Jarrett says he’s been asked many times on whether there should be a new transit tax. From that he’s noticed some fairly predictable patterns in arguments which he has used create some points that need to be kept in our mind.

  1. In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues.
  2. As transit demand grows, you sometimes need a major project.
  3. Not all rail projects are about improving transit.
  4. Who is for and against? (But don’t overreact!)
  5. But the transit agency looks so wasteful …
  6. But the managers have such big salaries!
  7. Will transit reduce congestion?
  8. If you’re still confused, vote yes.

Though-out all his points Jarrett makes a number of great points. I’m just going to cover a few of them so head over to Human Transit for all of them.

1. In growing urban areas, transit needs grow faster than tax revenues.

This problem is mathematically inevitable.

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America. This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit. In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population. Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing. But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service. Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

Auckland is growing quickly and a lot of demand for that growth is in or around the city centre where there are some of the best PT options available to people

2. As transit demand grows, you sometimes need a major project.

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel. Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses

These big projects require huge lumps of money. So as transit demand grows, its revenue needs don’t just grow faster, they grow in a lumpier way, with big chunks of money needed at once.

I think in many ways this is the point where Auckland is getting to in its current stage of development. We’ve slowly been working through the lower hanging fruit with projects like integrated ticketing, electrification (plus the other upgrades prior to that), the new network etc. Once those are done in the next few years there will be little we can do to see significant change until we can build the City Rail Link.

8. If you’re still confused, vote yes.

Why? Because most people do the opposite. They vote no if they don’t understand, which is why it’s hard to get anything done. If you vote yes, you’re no more likely to be wrong than the no-voter is, and in a world where government often can’t seem to do anything, you’re voting for doing something. That sends an important signal in itself.

As a transit advocate, I’ve voted no on a couple of transit measures in my time, always with great regret as well as frustration. But usually, even if the plan contained something I object to, I’ve voted yes. Even a project that achieves its outcomes inefficiently usually achieves something. Even a project that’s solely designed to trigger condos for the very rich will at least get more rich people into the inner city, where they will then start caring about transit and supporting the kinds of transit a rich and vibrant city really needs. And while the failure of a ballot measure may be because of public objections to how the money was to be spent, lazy journalists and elected officials often treats it as a no to transit itself, so it often takes years to get another measure going.

So if you’re still confused, it comes down to this:

All the other confused people are voting no. So vote yes.

I’ll have some more detailed analysis on just what’s in the LTP and our position on it in a later post.

The Alternative Funding Discussion

Yesterday Radio NZ aired a panel discussion Len Brown, our Patrick Reynolds and David Shand – who was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates. The discussion was focused on the issue that is likely to occupy a lot of space for the next six months or so, alternative transport funding.

or listen here

In the past we have been critical of the giant wishlist the council have been aiming for. Since then and as Patrick states in the piece, Auckland Transport has actually done a decent job of cutting it must of the crap projects. That’s left us with a much more realistic list of what’s needed however the big issue that remains is the same process doesn’t seem to have occurred at the NZTA who are plowing on with many very expensive motorway projects. A more realistic view of what motorway projects we actually need – i.e. having a proper discussion about projects like the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – is needed. While I don’t think we can completely remove the funding gap, such a process and changing the way we think about funding transport on Auckland could reduce the gap significantly which might in turn change what funding options are best.

Over the next few weeks and months it’s an issue we’ll look at in much more detail along with some proposals of our own.

2014 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

In this fourth post reviewing the 2014 I’ll look at the topics not already covered.

Central Government Election

2014 was dominated – either directly or indirectly by the central government elections which is not surprising considering how much impact the government has on transport and urban policy. In the end National had a fairly comfortable win which means not much change from a political point of view although as mentioned in Tuesdays post, they have now committed more money to cycling which is helpful.

New Transport Minister

Related to the election, Prime Minister John Key reshuffled his cabinet around and we now have a new Minister of Transport in Simon Bridges. We are hoping to be able to meet Simon and will keep trying in 2015. So far there seems little sign of a change in position between him and his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, although he has taken a notable liking to the idea of self-driving cars.

Government Policy Statement

The Government Policy Statement – which dominates transport planning and spending in the country – was released and showed little change on its predecessors. It will still see the majority of money for transport spend on new and improved state highways of which most of that is earmarked for the hand-picked RoNS projects.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

Council Long Term Plan

Next year the council must sign off a new 10 year budget – the Long Term Plan – and the mayor’s proposal emerged this year. It’s had a few minor changes by the council but effectively sees rates increases capped at 3.5%. One of the hardest hit areas from this has been transport which has had funding slashed. This has left us in a sticky mess where the funding available enables means many key projects – such as interchanges that are fundamental to enable key changes such as the new bus network are unfunded.

Tied in with this has been a separate stream of work looking at alternative funding methods to plug a funding gap previously identified and looking closely at options of tolling motorways or additional rates. The utterly terrible situation with the basic transport package very much seems like a way to force Aucklander’s to agree to additional funding rather than addressing the elephant in the room of the insane state highway spending by the government. The LTP goes out to consultation in a few weeks and it will likely dominate a lot of discussion in the first half of this year.

Great International Visitors

  • This year we’ve had some great visitors as part of the council’s Auckland Conversations talks. This includes
  • Janette Sadik Kahn
  • The Brunrlett’s
  • Brent Toderian (again)
  • Professor Peter Newman
  • Gordon Price (again)
  • and many others.

Special Housing Areas

During 2014 two new tranches of Special Housing Areas were announced considerably increasing the number across Auckland. These are the areas where the Unitary Plan rules come into effect immediately and the council uses a fast tracked consenting process. Despite them all there has been little progress on actually building houses in most of them and it seems a lot of developers who pushed to receive SHA status did so just for some capital gains.

Special Housing Areas 1 2 3 4

Auckland Construction Boom

In 2014 it seems like the Auckland construction scene burst back to life after a few quiet years with a huge number of projects announced. These were primarily residential projects such as apartments. The biggest of the lot is likely to be the NDG Auckland Centre for which a 209m high tower is proposed on the empty site bordering Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. The tower and retail podium will link directly into the Aotea station on the CRL

NDG Centre 1

Stuart’s 100

Earlier this year our friend and urban designer Stuart Houghton set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. We have been running these throughout the second half of the year – with some still to go. There have been some fantastic ideas and conversations that have resulted from this work. Thanks Stuart for your contributions to making Auckland better.

Day_1

Blog

Lastly it’s been another fantastic year for the blog with more and more people reading it, something we really appreciate. I’d also like to thanks my fellow bloggers and everyone else who has helped contribute this year. All up including this post there we’ve published 908 posts, had over 33,100 comments. According to Google Analytics we’ve had over 900,000 visitors and have serve up over 1.7 million page views which is up about 20% on 2013. In total 65% of our readers are from Auckland and 82% are from NZ.

I hope you all have a great 2015.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what we can expect for 2015 plus a few predictions

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

MIT_7454

The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

*

BRITOMART_9

Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

*

Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

NEW LYNN_9 2

Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

NEW LYNN_1666

All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

MIT_4113

Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

HOBSON BAY_3329

The 2015-2025 Government Policy Statement Confirmed

Simon Bridges has released the final version of the 2015/16 – 2024/25 Government Policy Statement (GPS) following on from the draft version earlier this year. The GPS is effectively the top dog when it comes to transport funding and policy as in the words of the minister:

The Government Policy Statement on land transport (the GPS) sets out the Government’s strategic and policy goals for land transport, as well as the funding direction necessary to achieve them. It guides not only an investment of $3.4 to $4.4 billion per annum from central government, but around $1.0 billion a year from local government.

The GPSs relationship to other key planning documents is shown below.

2015 GPS - Document heirachy

Very little has changed from the draft version we saw with the Ministry of Transport saying some of the changes are:

  • The upper ranges of funding available for public transport have increased, so up to $115 million more will be available for public transport projects between 2015/16 and 2024/25. This takes the potential spending on public transport to a total of $4.585 billion.
  • The objectives set down in the final GPS 2015 have been amended to ensure they are clearer and more well-defined. A new ‘efficiency’ objective has been added, while the ‘demand’ objective has been clarified so it refers to access to social and economic opportunities.
  • A definition of major metropolitan areas (reflecting the Statistics New Zealand definition) has been added, clarifying those areas which are eligible for funding under the Regional Improvements activity class.
  • The Auckland Transport Package (announced by the Government in 2013), Accelerated Regional Roading Package (announced in August 2014) and the Urban Cycleways Package (announced in September 2014) have been referenced throughout GPS 2015. While funding for these will be provided in addition to funding for activity classes, the packages will be considered and undertaken in a way consistent with other projects funded under the GPS.
  • The role that technology and innovation can play in managing network access and capacity has been reflected throughout the document, including the new crosscutting reporting line which will ensure technology investments (and the returns on these investments) will be transparently recorded.

In other words there’s been some tweaking around the edges but no significant change. That means there is still some massive hypocrisy and double standards contained within the document. As a quick example, while noting that vehicle travel has basically flat-lined and will “remain more muted than in previous economic cycles“, the maximum possible funding for state highways increases by 4%. By comparison almost all talk in the document about improving PT services comes with the caveat of “if justified by demand“. Simplified you could say PT investment has to justify its existence but road investment doesn’t.

Related, the maximum possible funding for PT increases by 3.5% per annum and the MoT say “This rate of increase reflects current and projected patronage growth“. Of course that level of projected patronage growth only exists because of the level of funding being made available limiting services. If Auckland Transport had more funding they could roll out the new network much faster and of course by doing so we would see stronger patronage growth much sooner.

One of the key things about the GPS is the funding ranges it sets. These funding ranges are meant to give the NZTA some (small) amount of flexibility when setting the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which sets out the projects that are likely to be funded. The NZTA could theoretically use the maximum funding ranges in some categories at the expense of others however overall the exact amounts selected tends to be closer to the midpoint between the upper and lower figures.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Range

And using the mid-point between the two figures, this graph highlights where the money is going over the next decade.

GPS 2015-2025 Funding Graph

In terms of the maximum extra $115m possible for PT, for the next three years the difference between the draft and the final version over the next 4 years are compared to the draft are just $5 million in 2016/17 and $10 million in 2017/18.

In addition to the table above the GPS also lists the funding outside of the categories above, in other words money the government is paying directly for transport projects such as the governments $100m Urban Cycleway funding that they announced in the lead up to the election. One of the things that’s odd about that particular funding stream is it seems to be broken up into state highways and local roads elements which is something that hadn’t been mentioned before.

GPS 2015-2025 Other Funding

Overall the direction of transport policy has changed little since 2008/09 and the focus remains on building massive state highway projects – most with low value outcomes – while the areas of the transport system that are seeing the most growth get ignored.

Flyover Fund: Wellington Auction Tonight

The Architectural Centre’s Auction for the Anti- Basin Flyover Fund takes place tonight at  7:30pm St Joseph’s Church, 42 Ellice St, Mt Victoria, Wellington.

The auction is happening because NZTA are still trying to force this pointless and expensively hideous structure on little Wellington despite losing the case for it at the Board of Inquriry. More millions of our  tax dollars on QCs…

Here is the catalogue of donated works.

There is a great range and something for all tastes, I have donated a print of my 1988 portrait of Ralph Hotere [selenium toned silver gelatine print], because I know which side he would be on:

Ralph Hotere

Here’s a short description of my experience of meeting Ralph for the first time on the visit that I made the portrait:

In winter 1988 I had the opportunity to visit Ralph Hotere at Careys Bay near Port Chalmers for a few days and make this portrait of him. It was an extremely rich experience, he had a way of offering things in a simultaneously casual and formal way; looking back I can see now how lucky I was, although at the time I was principally concerned about whether I was ever going to get a chance to take the portrait.
I got to hang out at his house; major works by his own hand and others, including McCahon, stacked deep against the walls, and down at the pub, which back then was a seriously quotidian operation, focussed on serving the fishermen from the boats that tied up across the road. Ralph cleaned up all-comers on the pool table. The pub seemed to never close. Both buildings were freezing.
We drove around in one of his lovingly maintained old Jaguars, up to the cemetery on he hill where he said there was a headstone McCahon had painted I should see, and, where he suddenly turned to me and asked, almost accusingly; ‘got your camera?’ He clearly had decided this was where he wanted to be photographed, he then arranged himself apparently casually but in fact quite deliberately. He gave me the shot.
He also took me to a studio he kept in the stables of a Victorian estate up on Observation Point, overlooking the port. He spoke of the great sculptural qualities of the straddle cranes working below. He was at that time fighting to save the headland from the port company’s land eating expansion plans.
Thinking of an appropriate image to donate to this auction I immediately thought of Ralph: he often found himself at odds with the plans of powerful public institutions. And not because of a resistance to change or progress, but because so often those plans resulted in brutally clumsy outcomes developed through poor processes. In particular those that discount long lasting negative effects on people and place. So it is with this proposal.