NZTA support light-rail to Airport

A briefing to Councillors (from page 251) included in an attachment for the Council’s Planning Committee meeting for next week says that both the NZTA and Auckland Transport boards have now agreed on a way forward for the city to airport corridor. And that decision will see the route upgraded to light rail, eventually.

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) shied away from saying light rail was needed and instead just referred to a number of strategic public transport routes as “Mass Transit”. We know that following ATAP, the NZTA commissioned a study to see if buses could meet the expected demand on the City to Airport route instead of Auckland Transport’s preferred light rail option. This was called the Advanced Bus Study (ABS) – as it happens I have an OIA request in for this report which was due back today but the NZTA have extended it by another 3-weeks. They even went as far as getting overseas consultants to do the study so it was completely independent to AT’s previous investigations on the issue.

The presentation states that like other recent studies, the ABS confirmed the proposed Queen St/Dominion/SH20/SH20A route which has helped “provide confidence and a degree of investment certainty” that they should get on with protecting it for mass transit. They also say it highlighted the need for better PT access from the East.

Here is a map of the route planned by the ABS showing it almost identical to the route AT planned for light rail.

The agreed way forward appears to be sensible. I read it as essentially being to make a range of short term improvements both north to the city and east to Manukau to help buses move around easier, which would likely take some of the current pressure off, while working to protect the route to the city for an eventual upgrade to light rail.

The short term improvements include infrastructure changes and it appears, additional services.

The changes to services are shown on the map below and would entail a number of new routes or changes to existing routes.

One interesting slide shows what the unitary plan allows for development in a rough walking distance around the proposed stations of both the North and East route. One aspect that stands out is the amount of almost white (single house zone) around some of the Dominion Rd stations. There is some mixed use density allowed close to Dominion Rd that is hard to see in these maps but the density does drop of quickly.

Light rail certainly feels like it’s going through the same sort of obstructive process as the CRL did before the government finally agreed to help pay for it and that it’s needed now. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long as the CRL did to get to that stage. The biggest unknown of course is the government who have been hostile to the project so far. I can’t understand what they would lose by supporting it, even if it was built in a decade or more, as the numerous reports back up the need for light rail and it’s a project that would be popular with voters.

Overall, it’s good to see there’s progress being made on this project and even better news that modern light rail continues to be the plan.

Why is PT ridership falling in the US, but growing here?

Jarrett Walker recently posed an interesting question, that he was after some more in depth research on than the usual ‘reckons’, “why is public transport ridership in the US falling so much?”

This builds on a tweet from Kirk Hovenkotter, showing that ridership had fallen in most large US cities over the past year, which was reported on CityLab:

A number of “culprits” are suggested. The obvious one being that oil prices have fallen significantly over the past few years, alongside an ongoing process where immigrants – or poorer Americans in general – are being priced out of transit rich inner cities and into more car dependent suburban areas:

Some of the factors behind these declines are national, as the transportation scholar David Levinson points out via email. The economy is expanding, and oil prices are plunging. People are buying more cars and driving them more often, both to work and to weekend activities that are better served by vehicles. American cities continue to suburbanize, and as they do, taking transit often becomes a less attractive option. Immigrants, long a strong base of ridership for agencies, are increasingly moving out of urban centers… and buying and driving their own vehicles.

Other suggestions are that people are shifting to using ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft – but the evidence is pretty thin on the ground when it comes to that:

This argument probably holds truest for weekend boardings. But the best research out there (and there isn’t much yet) suggests most workers don’t rely on Uber and Lyft for regular daily commutes. Ride-hailing may even be more supportive of transit than competitive, at least in the biggest cities (smaller cities might be another question). At the very least, it doesn’t seem to be siphoning a significant number of riders away. When Uber and Lyft left Austin, mass transit saw a very modest one percent bump in ridership, according to the transportation consultant Jarrett Walker.

Of course, meanwhile in Auckland public transport ridership continues to grow strongly, as I noted yesterday February ridership was up 8.6% on February 2016, with both the rail network and the Northern Busway again registering double-digit increases.

Even across Canadian cities that we usually enviously compare ourselves, ridership growth is much slower than Auckland – although they start from a higher base. This leads to an interesting question of why Auckland is bucking the trends seen elsewhere so strongly. I think there are a few possible suggestions:

  • Auckland’s recent rapid growth and the growing congestion it has created, means that PT offers a pretty competitive travel choice for many people – especially when using the rail network or the Northern Busway.
  • We’re still seeing the benefits of recent investment in rail electification and integrated ticketing, as well as the improved “value for money” offering that came with zone-based fares last year.
  • Service network improvements, mainly in the south so far, have also helped increase ridership – some of that is a result of us shifting to a system that encourages greater transfers although indications are that overall journeys have increased too.
  • The NZ/US dollar exchange rate usually offsets fluctuations in oil prices so we don’t see as rapid increases/decreases in fuel prices at the pump as is the case in the US. Also a higher proportion of what we pay is tax when compared to the US.

All up we are doing well to buck the international trends and it should give us ongoing confidence in investing in public transport – that people will continue to flock to where improvements are made even when fuel prices are relatively low. We’ve still got a long way to go but perhaps one day soon we can be envied as a city used in case studies of what to do to make public transport better rather than our history of the opposite.

February-2017 Ridership

Auckland Transport’s hold a board meeting next week which means we finally get to see how public transport performed in February. February’s results are always slightly more interesting than normal as they give an indication of what kind of results we can expect from March Madness as the busy conditions usually start manifesting in late Feb – and so far, March has been noticeably un-mad. February this year had an additional dimension to keep an eye on as last year had an extra day due to being a leap year – although there were the same number of normal working days.

The good news is the results were strong, the highlights are:

  • Overall ridership for February was 7.38 million, up an impressive 8.6% on February-2016. That’s almost 600k more than in February last year and sees ridership on 12-month rolling basis, rise to 85.7 million trips.
  • The Rapid Transit Network continues to see strong growth with usage on the RTN clocking in with 2 million trips, up 11.3% compared to Feb-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 10.3% to 1.6 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 15.2% to 395 thousand
  • The big surprise from February’s results was the non busway buses which hasn’t been doing as well as other modes in recent times. In Feb though, usage on them rose an impressive 7.8% compared to Feb-16.
  • Ferries continue to glide along with nice growth, increasing 6.3% compared to Feb-16.

Most PT trips happen on work days and for those, you can see on bus and train that February was well ahead of previous years and that sets us up for a great March result. Could we see March reach 80,000 trips per day on the rail network?

If the current trends hold then we’re in for a bumper result in March, and without almost all of the cramming and missed buses of previous years.

The farebox recovery has been a measure we’re been keeping a watchful eye on a lot recently to see what impacts the various service and fare changes made in recent years are having. The results for February are notable in that for the first time, the net subsidy per passenger km for trains is lower than it is for buses.

We’ve sometimes seen subsidies measured on a per trip basis however per passenger km is more accurate as it takes into account that the average train trip of 13.26km is longer than the average bus trip of 7.54km.

One aspect that isn’t clear is what is causing farebox recovery ratios on buses to be falling. I suspect one element of it would be all the extra services that were put on both recently and prior to Christmas to help combat March Madness.

While not ridership specifically, AT added an interesting set of graphs to their Monthly Indicators pack. We’ve shown them before for specific projects, such as with AMETI. In all but one of the examples, you can see that PT can often compete with driving usually in the peaks – although we think PT needs to be more time competitive throughout the entire day. There are a couple of things that stand out though and the biggest one is how in most scenario’s the travel time via PT is at least in the range or close to it, with the exception of one – the northwest. This of course highlights once again how important it is we get a proper busway built along SH16.

Perhaps the buses along SH16 being so slow also has a small part to play in increasing popularity of the NW cycleway. For Feb, the counter at Te Atatu was up an massive 47% on Feb-16 while at Kingsland numbers were up a still impressive 18%

Lastly, Wellington also published their ridership numbers for Feb – but they’re definitely not quite as pretty as the Auckland results. For the month of Feb-17 compared to Feb-16:

  • Total trips taken were down 5.9%
  • Bus trips were down 4.7%
  • Train trips were down 7.7%
  • Ferry trips were down 20% – although this was off a very small base

 

Tame on the money

TVNZ’s Breakfast host Jack Tame wrote an excellent opinion piece on transport in Auckland in the Herald on Sunday yesterday.

I can’t read the future but I can tell you right now it’ll be packed tomorrow morning from Drury to Takanini.

You don’t need to live in Auckland to know how frustrating it is to be sitting in traffic.

Congestion is a great equaliser. You can be a multi-millionaire in a kitted-out late European, or struggling to make ends meet with an unregistered, bunged-up, eighth-hand Mitsubishi and it all works the same.

Traffic doesn’t care for fancy cars. It’s not moving faster for anyone.

Sitting in traffic for hours is such a normal part of the week for so many Aucklanders I can sympathise with people who live elsewhere and turn up their noses at our beautiful harbours and warm weather. It’s a serious quality-of-life thing.

The last point is important, in my opinion, Auckland has some of the best and most unique mix of natural features for a city anywhere in the world. The harbours, the Hauraki Gulf and islands, the volcanoes, the beaches and ranges. But the city is let down by its built form and nowhere is that more noticeable than with transport.

 

Auckland’s geography creates numerous pinch points that funnel people through narrow corridors. If any city could benefit from high quality public transport to help move more people through those pinch points, it’s Auckland. Yet for decades we’ve spend most of our transport effort in trying to solve these problems though the least efficient way of doing so, roads.S

Next Jack uses a line we’ve been known to use on more than one occasion.

No city ever solved its traffic problems by building more roads. And with a significant slab of the migration surge focused on the Auckland region, the morning commute won’t get much shorter any time soon

According to the Ministry of Transport, registered vehicles on New Zealand roads increased by 185,000 in 2016. Only so many motorway extensions and tunnels will cope with that kind of growth.

Traffic is Auckland’s great shame.

We already know a solution will involve massive investment in public transport. Friends visiting recently from overseas were staggered to discover even a light rail link to the airport is potentially more than a decade away.

This in a city of more than 1.5 million people.

But anyone who suggests there isn’t an appetite for change need only consider Auckland’s jam-packed city buses and increasingly popular commuter trains.

Who in their right mind would choose an idling first gear crawl over a shorter, smoother, commute to work?

I can’t disagree with any of that and we know that when high quality solutions, like rapid transit, are provided, that people flock to use them. What we need is to provide more of those high quality options to a greater number of people around the region. And as the rapid transit network expands and interconnects, its usefulness will multiply seeing even more people wanting to use the trains and buses we already have.

With the council and government now both agreeing on the need for a strategic PT network, now’s the time for them to put the money up and get it built.

Jack finishes up with this.

Every morning I read the traffic report and watch our live motorway shots with a mix of sympathy and disdain.

Then I leave the studio, wipe off my make-up, get on my bike and ride home.

Auckland PT Performance Comparison 2017

Public transport in Auckland has come a long way over the last 10-15 years on the back of numerous improvements to the network. From the upgrading of the rail network to the building of the northern busway to improved local buses, all have played a part in the immense improvement in the PT network that we’ve witnesses. And it’s clear it’s not only us who have realised this with the numbers speaking for themselves and ridership booming.

The total number of trips taken on our PT network on an annual basis hovered just over 50 million for many years until mid-2007. In January this year we passed 85 million trips with 10 million of that coming in just the last two years. The growth has been especially noticeable on the Rapid Transit Network (RTN – Rail and Northern Busway), as can be seen in this graph which we’ve explained before here.

Of course, over that same time we’ve seen a lot of population growth so how do the results compare and also, how do we compare with other, similar cities. That’s what I want to look at in this post.

Since the beginning of 2003, which is as far back as I have monthly record for ridership in Auckland, Auckland’s population has increased from 1.277 million people to an estimated 1.636 million as of January this year, a 28% increase over 14 years. As mentioned, over the same time ridership has gone from 52.1 million trips to 85.1 million trips a whopping 63% increase. That has seen the number of trips rise from 40.8 per person per year to 52 as of the most recent results – during that time it at one point reached a low of 36.4 and in the 90’s reached a low of 32 trips per person.

Given we’re in the same country and working under the same overarching rules, PT in Auckland is understandably most regularly compared with that in Wellington. The capital city is also considered the PT capital of NZ thanks to consistently having a higher per capita use of PT. As of January, Wellington had 37.6 million trips on it’s PT network annually to give it a total of 73.8 trips per person per year, up from 68.3 at the beginning of 2003.

The difference between the two cities is shown below. Auckland has definitely been improving, and the gap is narrowing, but there remains a significant difference between the two cities.

Next I wanted to see how Auckland compared to other, similar cities. There is little point in comparing Auckland to mega cities like London or Tokyo, or even to cities closer to home but in the 4-5 million range like Melbourne and Sydney. So for this I’ve tried to choose cities similar in size to where Auckland is now, or will be in a few decades. In addition, I wanted cities that have a similar history, culture, housing mix, economy and who are making an interesting effort when it comes to improving PT. And of course I needed to be able to find data for them – which unfortunately often rules out cities from non-English speaking countries. If there are other cites which you think should be included and/or you have data for, let me know in the comments.

The cities I included for my comparison other than Auckland and Wellington are:

  • Australia
    • Adelaide
    • Brisbane and South East Queensland – I included SEQ as the data available is for the area rather than for just Brisbane.
    • Perth
  • Canada
    • Calgary
    • Edmonton
    • Ottawa
    • Vancouver
  • United States
    • Denver
    • Honolulu
    • Portland
    • Salt Lake City
    • Seattle

Unlike Auckland which, in my opinion, is lucky to have a single transport agency, many of the cities above have multiple transit agencies so one of the challenges with collating data for cities getting all of the details. As well as specific transport agencies, data for the information above has come from sources such as the American Public Transportation Association which publish some excellent data. For the Canadian and US cities, the data comes from their 2015 financial years.

The first thing to look at was boardings per capita. The thing that stands out the most here is the Canadian cities perform much better than all of the other cities by a significant margin. In my view, Auckland should be ultimately aiming to mirror what is being achieved in these Canadian cities but that will be no easy or quick task. Putting them aside, it appears to me that a good first target for Auckland would be to achieve about 75 trips per person per year. To do that with our current population would require us to be achieving around 121 million trips annually while to achieve Vancouver’s result would require almost double that.

Arguably it would be better to measure linked journeys but only the Canadian cities report on that – and even then they still outperform all of the other cities.

But the number of trips wasn’t the only data I collated. I was also interested in other metrics like farebox recovery. This is important as the government, through the NZTA require us to achieve a 50% farebox recovery. We’ve been tracking how we’re performing on this on a regular basis, and it had risen to a high of above 51% in May last year but has since fallen back to about 46% with changes like the introduction of Simplified Fares. The results below for Auckland are to the end of the last financial year. They show compared to other the other cities, Auckland (and Wellington) perform relatively well and at a similar level to the Canadian cities.

Given we perform well, I thought it would be interesting to see how those figures break down. To do this I compared the costs and fare revenues for each system to the number of passenger kilometres travelled and the results were interesting.

  • When looking at operational costs, Auckland is about average and within the same range as the Canadian and US cities. The Australian cities are notable for being much higher than cities in other countries.
  • For revenue, Aucklanders pay more per km travelled than all other systems I’ve compared to. Some of this will have changed with Simplified Fares which generally lowered fares for longer distance travel so it will be interesting to see what the results in the coming years are. I’m sure some would argue that we should try to reduce fares but given that ridership continues to grow, it seems like a better opportunity is to use that extra revenue to provide more services.

It seems to me that while Auckland still has a considerable way to go before we could say it is performing at a satisfactory level, by in large, Auckland is heading in the right direction. Ridership is growing both in total and per capita and compared to the Australian and US cities we, we do well on farebox recovery – although whether we should aim 50% is an entirely different debate. If we want to match the benchmarks set by those Canadian cities we need to keep doing what we’re doing but do a lot more of it. Improvements like those planned for the new bus network are an important element in helping grow ridership while keeping costs under control. But it’s also clear that the best opportunity for significant improvement to PT use is building of the Rapid Transit Network.

What do you make of these results?

North Shore Rapid Transit Network Strategic Case

Back in October last year in the AT Closed Board Meeting a item called the Northern RTN Strategic Case was mentioned, its reason for being closed “to protect information that will soon be publicly available”. Me being ever so patient, I waited for the report to be released over the coming months, once this didn’t happen I decided the LGOIMA it. Recently AT released the report in detail which can be found here.

A large portion of the report was dedicated to the importance of making sure that improvements to the RTN are aligned with the potential future Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), either included as part of the crossing itself or at least so a road crossing doesn’t make difficult or even prevent necessary RTN improvements. This makes a lot of sense.

Another point to note is that this report was completed prior to the completion of ATAP, which confirmed the AWHC as not being needed as early as previously assumed and pushed it back to the third decade, although route protection should continue.

One of the great parts of the report was this graph showing what the models predict for future patronage crossing the harbour bridge every morning compared against trends over the last three and ten years. This shows the potentially huge underestimation of PT demand by official models we’ve talked about on many posts in the past.

North Shore PT Demand Model

The document confirms what we had already suspected, that the Busway was originally predicted to provide capacity well until the 2040s will now realistically be at breaking point in the 2030s, with some sections, such as in the city centre, already under strain.

Key evidence for PT demand exceeding the functional capacity of the existing Northern Busway is provided by the North Shore RTN study that compares infrastructure capacity with forecast bus volumes required to meet modelled growth in PT demand in four evaluation years: 2016, 2026, 2036 and 2046. It finds that:

  • Current peak-period bus volumes exceed functional capacity already in 2016 at the City Centre end of the busway and at Constellation Station.
  • Capacity problems are somewhat reduced by 2026 due to implementation of bus infrastructure improvements in the City Centre. However, Albany Station experiences capacity problems.
  • By 2036 operating bus volumes that are sufficient to cater to forecast demand mean significant over-capacity operations in the City Centre and at Albany, Constellation and Akoranga Stations.
  • By 2046 capacity problems exist at all major North Shore Stations and in the City Centre.

The most visible part of the busway is where it has its own dedicated infrastructure next to the motorway between Constellation and Akoranga. But it seems even that will be feeling pressure within one to two decades.

In 2016 performance issues identified include:

  • Limited capacity, slow travel speeds and variable travel times for the missing segment of busway between Constellation and Albany.
  • Inadequate size and capacity of Constellation Station to accommodate a large volume of bus services and passenger demand.

“However, by 2026, the joint AT/ NZTA Northern Corridor Improvements (NCI) project is anticipated to have completed the missing section of the busway, constructed a new Rosedale Busway station and provided and additional platform to Constellation Station, therefore improving these deficiencies, capacity problems are somewhat reduced by 2026 due to implementation of bus infrastructure improvements in the City Centre, however, Albany Station experiences capacity problems. However, by 2026, a significant improvement in city centre bus infrastructure has been assumed. These interventions, while still conceptual in nature and subject to funding commitments, these upgrades are still constrained by signals at intersections. As such even in 2026, soon after implementation the city centre infrastructure is likely to only just provide sufficient capacity to meet demands.

Nevertheless, by 2026, increased patronage on the busway and busway stations is likely to manifest in over capacity conditions and poor operational performance at Albany Station due to large volumes of commencing services in the AM peak which use up a lot of station capacity. Sunnynook Station which has the shortest platforms of all the busway stations will also be experiencing over capacity conditions affecting dwell times. Akoranga Station is also starting to experience congestion by this time.

By 2036, performance has degraded further at the above stations, whilst Constellation and Smales Farm are now also expected to experience over capacity conditions affecting operational performance (i.e. dwell times). all City Centre corridors and termini are likely to be under sustained pressure in peak times at between 102-108 per cent of capacity. This is likely to lead to degraded performance, with dwell times becoming more variable, increased bunching of buses and accumulation of passengers at stops congesting footways. It is in by this time period that the performance of the busway is likely to no longer be to an acceptable RTN standard.

By 2046 all of the busway stations are expected to be at or near capacity suffering from increased dwell times and greater dwell time variability affecting operational performance, virtually all parts of the City Centre used by buses would be operating at over 110 per cent of theoretical capacity, and with highly degraded and unacceptable levels of performance (slow and highly variable travel times).”

What this means is we are starting to have capacity issues now. Improvements to infrastructure such in the city centre & extending the busway to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor project will only just be able to meet demand over the next decade or so. That could of course be even sooner if the Busway continues to exceed expectations. By 2036 the system will start to resemble the congested motorway the current busway runs alongside and by 2046 the whole Busway will have broken down. So, we may need a full North Shore RTN not by 2036 but by 2026- however ATAP doesn’t have this until 2038-2048.

Nearly all the growth the growth across the Harbour Bridge is projected to be PT going from around a 1/3 of mode share today, to well over half by 2046.

At present, around one third of all trips on the Waitematā Harbour crossing are public transport trips. By the mid- 2030s public transport demand exceeds general traffic and by the mid-2040s public transport is forecast to be the dominant mode on the Waitematā Harbour crossing.

….

This is due in part to road capacity constraints on the Harbour Bridge, but it is also be affected by factors such as increased reliability of PT travel times at peak times due to the Northern Busway and increases in the price to park in the city centre

NS AHB Modeshare

The report also shows that nearly all of the increased demand across the Harbour during the 30-year period is to the City Centre & City Fringe, with very low numbers increasing further south of the City Centre. There is also some increase in car demand across Upper Harbour. This is another black mark against a road based AWHC as it means a new, $3.7+ billion, six-lane vehicle crossing makes little sense, especially compared to a cheaper, RTN crossing.

Mode Demand Change NSWe can drew two major conclusions from this report

We can draw two major conclusions from this report that

AWHC as we know it is a dud

This is more evidence that a road based AWHC is a sub-optimal solution for the area, with nearly all growth in demand across the harbour being on PT, and towards the City Centre & Fringe. Trying to serve the demand towards the City Centre & Fringe, where road capacity is already stretched and not realistically able to be increased, with an expensive road crossing makes zero sense.

We should re-evaluate the option of a cheaper, transit only crossing

While the report mentions that by 2036 Northern Busway Services will deteriorate to the point the service is no longer RTN standard, realistically by 2026 a new PT crossing may be needed even if needed CBD Bus Infrastructure is brought forward. That’s because if growth continues like it has recently, are we so certain the busway will be able to cope between 2026-2036.

There is also no reason the road/rail components need to be combined, for one thing, the road alignment is not likely to be the best alignment for rail. With capacity constrained much sooner than the road crossing is now said to be needed, we should reassess building a transit only crossing first. ATAP estimated a tunneled light rail line  connecting from Wynyard Quarter to at least Takapuna at $1,868 million with an extension to Grand Drive Orewa at another $868 million. So that’s $2.7 billion for light rail from Orewa to the City, compared to $3,7 billion for the road tunnels alone. We should also reconsider making this particular crossing a bridge. As well as being much cheaper than tunneling, it could allow walking and cycling from the start. A road crossing could then be build as a second (or Third) stage when it is needed in the future

The last point I would like to make on the report is that once again PT solutions reactive, it is not until they have broken down from over-utilisation that better PT is considered. We need to change to a more proactive view where we see PT investment as being an agent for transformative city improvement, instead of waiting till the last possible minute.

ATAP ASAP’s – Eastern Busway

In Part 1 of my series I wrote about the third main between Westfield & Wiri as being an ATAP ASAP, a first decade project that in my opinion needed funding straight away. My second post of this series was about the need for extra trains prior to the completion of the City Rail Link. The third chapter is about a project that had kinda fallen off the radar, the Eastern Busway but specifically the Pakuranga to Botany section as opposed to the Panmure to Pakuranga section AT are looking to consent.

In ATAP the project is listed as a 1st Decade Project, we haven’t heard much since June when AT made public the AMETI Sequencing Delivery Strategy for Panmure to Botany, which was likely in response to AT initially trying to defer the Reeves Rd flyover. That was to allow them to accelerate the Pakuranga to Botany section of the busway and add bus lanes on Pakuranga Rd up to Highland Park. Unfortunately, and in part due to political pressure, AT ultimately backtracked on the flyover, putting it back on the table and leaving a funding gap again for accelerating the busway.

The report put the projects in the following order:

  1. Panmure to Pakuranga Busway; (Stage 2a)
  2. Pakuranga Town Centre Busway, Bus Station and Reeves Road Flyover, including implementation of bus lanes on sections of Ti Rakau Drive (until the busway can be delivered) and localised widening at Gossamer Drive / Ti Rakau Drive intersection; and
  3. Completion of the Pakuranga to Botany Busway as early as possible.

And “There is a $172m shortfall between the current Long Term Plan cash flow and the recommended AMETI delivery strategy.”

AMETI Funding

Progress however continues to be made on Stage 2a, which AT are now just calling the Eastern Busway, with the consenting process now underway. By chance I happened to be at Panmure station on one of the days the team where talking to the public, they confirmed two things for me:

  1. The intention is still for a median alignment busway for Stage 2b which is great.
  2. That bus lanes are being planned on Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park which is also great. Pakuranga Rd is an ideal candidate for bus lanes as is 3 lanes each with with slip/turning lanes/medians in sections so it should be a relatively easy from a infrastructure perspective to put in place those lanes.

However, recently AT have put out a tender for the design/consulting of stage 2b.

This project is a critical link needed in the development of our rapid transit network and alongside bus lanes to at least Highland Park, will be important in delivering vital PT improvements to an area that has very poor access to decent public transportation. It is surely is a prime candidate for central government to step in and fill the funding gap as for a small amount of the the NZTA’s expected overall transport budget. Perhaps the Government could announce a quick win for coming up the elections by being able to say the Eastern Busway is funded, as well as giving the community, developers and businesses confidence to get moving with the certainty the announcement would bring, just as they did last year with the CRL.

A mapping bouquet for AT

On Monday I blogged about the new rail timetables due out in March but at the same time also made a number of comments in relation to a new rail network map that AT were introducing that among other things, finally included the Northern Busway.

Some of the comments I made were perhaps a little nitpicky but comes from the fact I want to see AT do a good job as even little things can help in getting more people to try and use public transport. Many of the comments also echoed similar ones I’d made on twitter on the weekend.

To the surprise of myself and a to a few others who made comments, AT responded yesterday to say they’d made some changes as a result of the feedback.

Here’s the new version. The changes are subtle and seem to primarily consist of:

  • Changing the walk between Britomart and Lower Albert St – I still think this is unnecessary to even show this as a walk, in many cities overseas transfers between lines can be considerably longer and through a rabbit warren of tunnels
  • Adding the North Shore Hospital
  • Subtle changes to the Onehunga line at Penrose
  • Renaming ‘Bus/Train transport hub’ to just ‘Major transport hub’

Updated version – click to enlarge

 

As a comparison, this is the previous version looked like

Version released last week – click to enlarge

While the changes might be minor in the overall scheme of things, what impressed me was that AT were responsive and actually made them at all. I think what this also shows is that there are a lot of people in the transport advocacy community that want to help make things better. Perhaps AT should try to harness that a bit more to gather informal feedback for improvements.

And speaking of improvements, here’s another one for them. Why not show some of the future plans on map too, as a way of both highlighting those projects and letting people know that AT have plans to keep improving the network. Given the status of various projects right now, the City Rail Link and possibly the Eastern Busway should be shown – but then given the recent ATAP work perhaps the whole strategic network should be shown. Except for the likes of us and our readers, most Aucklanders probably don’t know many of these plans even exist.

The approach of showing future lines is quite common overseas. For example this is a rail map of Sydney from 2004. At the time the Epping-Chatswood line was under construction and it didn’t open till 2009 but was shown on the rail map so people know it was being built.

So how about it AT, let’s get at least some of those future lines added to maps.

Goff’s Busway Tunnel

Yesterday Stuff published what is frankly an odd opinion from Mayor Phil Goff regarding public transport and a future harbour crossing.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff would prefer the city’s second harbour crossing to be built with a busway instead of a rail line.

Goff said the $4 billion tunnel under Auckland Harbour, planned for about 2030, should be built with a busway to begin with.

“Busways are easily translatable to light railways, so the two are quite compatible. You may sequence it in that order. That’s my preference,” Goff said.

Goff said he was keen for a rail line to Auckland’s North Shore, eventually, but a rail line to the airport was a higher priority.

There are quite a few things that spring to my mind from just these few lines.

The busway is an outstanding success and use of it has grown dramatically in the nine years since it opened. It now carries over 4.6 million trips annually which is not all too different to what our rail lines do.

One of the big transport issues facing Auckland and especially the city centre is how we cope with growth in public transport. As it is now many streets in the city centre have too many buses on them and are struggling to cope, let alone what would be needed if public transport use keeps growing like it has been. This is of course the main reason AT were looking at Light Rail in the Isthmus. On top of this is the city’s desire to become more walking and cycling friendly.

The NEX is popular and there can already be too many in the city with not enough space for them all

The northern busway itself still has capacity left for a while, at current rates probably till some time in the 2030’s, but even that means we’re likely to need to look for further ways of improving capacity within the next 20 years which is exactly the timeframe we’re going to be discussing the next harbour crossing. If we’re going to the trouble of spending possibly billions on another harbour crossing it makes no sense to build it as a busway if we’re only going to have to upgrade it again in few years time.

This is becoming an increasing sight on the busway

Goff campaigned on light rail down Dominion Rd and he’s quoted as saying that rail to the airport is a higher priority. I agree with him on that but it doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it for the North Shore. In fact, the two could even link up together to deliver a light rail rapid transit line from Albany to the Airport. That’s a vision I bet a lot of the city would get behind.

I also suspect Goff is underestimating the impact of converting a busway to light rail, especially the disruption it will cause. This won’t be a quick few weeks job but would likely take months or even over a year depending on how it was done and during that time the busway will be out of action. While I’m sure some of the smart people in our transport industry will find ways to minimise that, it will still be incredibly disruptive and we wouldn’t want to have to do both the existing busway and a busway harbour tunnel, even if it was possible.

It’s important to remember though that the timeframe listed, of a harbour crossing “planned for about 2030” is actually incorrect anymore. The recent ATAP work pushed the project back to completion in the 3rd decade (2038-2048), in part due to the work showing it as having a very high cost while having little impact on congestion. The current plans for the next crossing envisage a combined tunnel with road and rail combined. I can’t imagine that would be too save with buses though it and certainly not double deckers.

We believe there’s a strong case to separate out the PT and road crossings and build them separately, starting with the mode that doesn’t currently exist. This is also because a PT crossing would have considerably more capacity than any road crossing would. We also think it’s time we reconsidered the option of that new crossing being a bridge. Like the new Tilikum Crossing in Portland it could be for PT and active modes only, and would considerably cheaper than tunnel options.

 

 

Let’s hope someone tells Goff that a busway tunnel is a bad idea

February-2017 AT Board update

Tomorrow is the first Auckland Transport board meeting of 2017 and so as usual, I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. The very first thing I noticed wasn’t even in a report but was the meeting timetable for the year. In past years there has always been a monthly meeting (except for January) but not it seems they’re moving to having a meeting every 6 weeks. I’m not sure of the reason for the change and one thing it could do is also mean we don’t get information like ridership data as regularly which would be a shame.

Closed Session agenda

The closed session is of course where all of the interesting discussions take place and despite being two months since the last meeting, there’s surprisingly not that much interesting on the agenda.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Draft Statement of Intent 2017/18 – 2019/20
  • Advanced Bus Solution next steps
  • Delivery of Transport Networks for Growth
  • Quarterly report to AC

Items for Noting

  • AT Rollover Designations
  • CRL Update
  • Speed Management Update
  • AT Deliverables:
    • Results for Projects completed to 31 December 2016
    • Tasks for completion by 31 March 2017

The most interesting of those is the Advanced Bus Solution item. This relates to the NZTAs investigation into a bus alternative to AT’s proposal for light rail on Dominion Rd and to the Airport.

Business Report

There are quite a few things from the main business report and the order of items relates to where they appeared in AT’s report.

Every month AT list the projects that were approved for funding by the NZTA. There are usually a few items but one this time stood out. Almost $40 million is going on business cases for projects in what will be greenfield growth areas. This is from the TFUG work. As a comparison, a detailed business case for improvements to Lake Rd was also approved at a cost of $630k

Transport Network for Growth (Detailed Business Cases for North, North West and South) – this activity was approved with conditions for $39.5 million

Technology – There are a number of technology updates:

  • It appears AT are working on a new version of the AT Hop website

The AT HOP Web Rebuild project is on schedule to be delivered by 24 April for the rebuild of the Customer Web Portal, and the Customer Contact Centre Web Portal. This project will deliver a better online experience for our AT HOP customers.

  • It appears there will be more public information available

The EIM (Enterprise Information Management) team has launched an initial instance of a public GIS (map-based information) information website and an open GIS data website. The open GIS data capability allows customers to access and download authoritative GIS datasets. The initial 20 datasets will continue to be expanded upon as we move forward with new datasets being uploaded regularly.

  • And more mobile app improvements

Metro AT Mobile Application: The new AT Metro mobile application is in the final stages of end user testing prior to launch. This will be followed up with seven other items of additional functionality over the next few months including the addition of Train and Ferry services.

Newmarket Crossing – AT note they’ve got an agreement in principle with the appellants for the Newmarket Level Crossing project which will see Sarawia St closed and a bridge built between Laxon Tce and Cowie St.

Smart City – AT are going to conduct a ‘smart city’ technology trial in Devonport. It’s currently going through procurement.

A trial of smart city technologies in conjunction with UI is being developed for the Devonport Ferry Terminal, Bus Interchange and Park-and-Ride precinct.

Technologies to be trialled include, CleverCiti Parking Sensors for real time parking tracking in the Park-and-Ride area (144 spaces), SMIGHT smart poles for integrated sensor capability (including integrated cleverciti parking sensors, environmental sensors, wifi and electric vehicle charging).

Integrated analytics combining parking data, pedestrian data and AT-HOP data will help to build a picture of how people drive, walk/cycle or use buses and ferries to get to or from Devonport and improve our understanding how people integrate these modalities (e.g. arrive by car, take a ferry or a bus, arrive by ferry and then walk/cycle, arrive by ferry and then drive off in a car etc).

City Centre Roads – AT now report to each meeting how the city centre roads are coping with the disruption caused by the CRL and other road works. This is related in part to resource consent conditions for the CRL. Once again though we see that despite the disruption, most streets monitored are actually performing better than before the works (blue is the baseline). This continues to show that AT has a lot of scope to drastically change the city once the CRL is complete and refocus road corridors more towards people on foot, bike and bus.

New Network – For the first time we’ve got some information about how the new network in South Auckland is performing. It appears that the number of trips in December are up significantly on last year, including a lot more people transferring. For some reason they’re reporting on trips and transfers separately rather than just reporting on journeys which is what they should be doing. The information by suburb shows that Otahuhu has seen significant change which will almost certainly be due to the newly upgraded station

Integrated fares – over successive fare changes, AT have constantly increased the price of monthly passes well above other changes in what has felt like a deliberate attempt to be less customer friendly to some of their best customers. The report, written before the most recent increase in price suggests monthly pass numbers have been slashed by a third.

Bus train monthly pass ($200) sales have stabilised with (~5,000 per month down from 9,500 per month) many passengers migrating to stored value.

March Madness – For perhaps the first time, AT are introducing additional capacity ahead of annual March Madness. They say 34 extra peak trips will be added to the NEX this month while Birkenhead Bus are introducing double deckers to Onewa Rd. As we highlighted the other day, they’re also boosting rail capacity as part of the new timetable due mid-March. Not related to march madness but they also say double deckers will be introduced from New Lynn to the city along Great North Rd on June 11 when the new bus network rolls out in West Auckland.

Train Stations – There are a number of changes to train stations planned.

  • AT have previously said they’re looking at gating a number of stations later this year. One of those was Middlemore but they’re now saying those plans are under review “to align with the planned third main line“. Hopefully that means we’ll see some progress on that project soon.
  • AT plan to install a new LCD based information displays at Parnell, Remuera and Greenlane which will display additional information around approaching trains that are not stopping (as also mentioned in the post the other day). They will also eventually have automated PA announcements for this too. I hope these new displays could be rolled out elsewhere to display information like how many cars the next train has etc.
  • They say a working group has been formed with Transdev and other stakeholders “to progress the opening of platform-2 at Newmarket Station for passenger use” by Easter this year. This is excellent news and well done to Harriet for pushing it.

Hibiscus Coast Station – AT have had a long battle to get resource consent for the full Hibiscus Coast Station. They now have approval and are starting by building the park & ride (till November) followed by the station building itself which isn’t due for completion till April/May 2018. In my mind they should do those projects the opposite way around.

Bus Priority – It appears AT are looking at more widespread bus priority across the city including for all frequent routes which is excellent news but that’s tempered by knowing they’ve been behind in implementing what they’ve said they would and are yet to fix what should be easy wins with extending bus lane hours.

A strategic bus priority plan is being developed to scope completion of citywide bus priority network over the next 3 years and extended over 10 – 15 years for the Frequent Network identifying high level budget requirements and key risks.

Customer Satisfaction – AT’s quarterly customer satisfaction survey is looking promising, especially for trains which they say recorded the highest result ever

City Centre Buses – AT say they’ve been reviewing the city centre experience for bus users to look for ways to improve it and improve bus use. Recommendations included:

  1. make existing bus stops more visual to customers
  2. to prototype and test new customer signage at two bus stops (two sided info-boards),
  3. better utilise the space on the reverse of passenger information displays to display key bus stop information.

Information Displays – AT have been trialling digital displays on a train and some buses but it hasn’t been a hit with passengers.

On-board digital screen trial (five buses and one EMU). The initial feedback from customers during the trial was mixed, which was validated with further customer centred testing via Customer Central in December. On-board journey and wayfinding content was valued more by new and irregular bus users. For regular commuters most used their own smart-device as a means of journey entertainment

 

There’s certainly a lot going on including a lot I didn’t cover. Have you read the report and picked up on anything else I missed?