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?

More jobs in the city centre

However you define Auckland’s “city centre”, it’s been adding jobs rapidly in the last couple of years. Based on a narrow definition – roughly, the area bounded by the motorways – the city centre has hit a new milestone of 100,000 jobs, actually reaching almost 102,000 as at February 2016.

Using a slightly wider definition, you could call it 111,200 jobs. This is the definition used by the Ministry of Transport when they were monitoring employment growth in the city centre. More on that below.

Once you get beyond the motorways, which are pretty major barriers, there’s also plenty of employment close to the city centre even if you don’t consider it to be part of the city centre. That includes Parnell, Newmarket, Grafton, Newton, Kingsland, Ponsonby and Freemans Bay. Many of these have rapid transit (rail) connections – even if they don’t, they have good bus frequencies. You can think of this area as the “city centre and surrounds”, and that takes you to 178,000 jobs – a quarter of all the jobs in the entire Auckland region.

Depending on what definition you use, the city centre has added around 5,000 jobs in each of the last two years.

That might not sound like that much, but this is regionally, even nationally, significant growth. Auckland as a whole added 18,000-28,000 jobs a year in the last three years (averaging 23,500). New Zealand added 40,000-50,000 jobs a year over this time. Prior to the last three years, jobs growth was weaker or even negative, as the country struggled with a post-GFC recession.

Overall, Auckland’s city centre is one of the major growth engines for employment in New Zealand. This is set to continue for at least the next few years, with plenty of job-creating developments underway (offices, hotels, the International Convention Centre, the City Rail Link etc).

You might recall that back in 2013, the government was giving very guarded support to the City Rail Link (CRL). They said they’d fund an early start if two very tough targets were met:

  1. Auckland CBD employment increases by 25 percent over current levels; and
  2. Annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020.

We were critical of these targets at the time. They didn’t relate that well to the goals of the CRL, and were just arbitrary hoops to jump through, the kind of thing which road projects have never had to face. Plus, they reinforced the false perception that the CRL was all about the city centre, whereas it actually delivers benefits across Auckland.

Fortunately, these targets have now been dispensed with. After hemming and hawing for a few years, the government came fully on board with the CRL in 2016. The former targets are now irrelevant, so what follows is really just for interest.

Matt still covers our progress towards the patronage target from time to time. Auckland is surging towards 20 million rail trips a year, hitting 18 million in 2016. We’re on track to hit 20 million by the end of 2017, although it might end up being 2018.

The employment target was much trickier, partly because it was so badly defined. The government’s initial announcement of the targets didn’t define the CBD, or the timeframe over which employment was meant to grow by 25%. See this post, which links to two earlier ones, for details.

For what it’s worth, I think the fairest interpretation of the government’s target – based on the City Centre Future Access Study which they based it on – was to use 2006 as a base year, and the  “narrow definition” of the city centre I’ve used above. That wasn’t the interpretation they went with – they took a much tougher line – but it would have been the fairest one.

Anyway, city centre employment was 81,200 in 2006, and 101,900 in 2016. So we’ve actually grown by 25% already based on that, and there’s a strong growth trend continuing. The government eventually decided on a tougher (and I think less fair) interpretation of their target, but even then we would probably be on track to hit it. They used 2012 as the base year, and the city centre has grown by 13% in the four years since. Keeping up that rate of growth, we’d hit 25% by 2020.

So, for what it’s worth, even though the government targets were arbitrary, and incredibly hard to hit, it looks like we’d be hitting them anyway.

All in all, it’s a bloody good thing the CRL is now under construction, even if we’re still going to have to wait another 5 or 6 years before it opens – it’s the only thing that will let the city centre jobs engine keep purring.

50 Years of waiting for an Auckland Rapid Transit system.

Ian Reynolds 1946 by Brian Brake

My father, Ian Reynolds 1922-2005, was an architect (as was my mother). He was also a what was then called a Town and Country Planner. After returning from working in England after the war he spent the rest of his career as partner in a big multidisciplinary practice in Auckland (missing the city of his youth: Wellington. Office in Wakefield St, where the AUT business school is now). There he was responsible for a chunk of our post-war modernist heritage, as well as a lot of planning work. Especially at the University of Auckland, master-planning the campuses and involved in the campaign to retain the city one, which thankfully won out. Notable design work includes the School of Engineering and the Thomas Building both on Princess St, his practice also designed the School of Architecture while he was head of the architectural division.

In 1967, which is of course now 50 years ago, he was interviewed by the Herald about transport in Auckland (in full below). And it makes for a pretty interesting read, surprisingly relevant still, perhaps alarmingly so. I’m pretty sure his 1967 self would be very surprised that we are only now getting round to building the Rapid Transit Network he describes from the De Leuw Cather report. Although later of course he witnessed the defeat of Robbie’s Rail, and much else that should have given life to the 1960s plans for balanced transport networks. The interview shows a clear vision of that possibility, and how that would have led to a different more urban pattern of development for Auckland than we currently have:

Readers will no doubt feel that indeed; some apples don’t fall very far from the tree, yet re-reading this I am amazed now at how little I ever discussed these issues with Ian. I think on his side that was because of a sorrow felt by the idealistic modernists of his generation about the development of Auckland in the later part of the last century. Interestingly for many there was a move into environmentalism from urbanism (not that either phrase were current at the time) as centrally directed motorways and private land speculation took over completely from state planning and housing investment. Perhaps that is where this generation’s lasting legacy can be seen. Especially evident in the careers of two of Ian’s colleagues; captured perfectly in this obituary of planner FWO Jones (known even to us kids as ‘Fwo’) and the just recently deceased KRTA partner Dave Thom, who was very active in the national parks programme, and in making the theoretical case for environmentalism as a core practice of engineering internationally.

But it must be remembered that the denser city was always considered the necessary corollary to the protected wilderness, as this keeps the city from spreading so much into the country. The term sprawl is after all the shortened version of urban sprawl. His generation did achieve much in protecting key wild places, but I think Ian keenly felt that on urban form they suffered a life long defeat. So it would be good to show him Auckland now, the last ten years since his death have seen a profound change. I think he would be gratified by many of the trends; the full return of the university to the city, the strong revival of inner city living (though not so much the design of many of the buildings), the rail revival (he was a dedicated train user; taking the overnight train to Wellington regularly instead of flying, which he loathed, he was also an equally dedicated pipe smoker; which got him in the end).

There is so much that is still accurate in the document, both happily and otherwise, I think he is right both about our relative lack of corruption and waste, but also the dominance of political expediency over good policy in transport and urban form:

Here he refers to the ‘Morningside Deviation’ the 1940s version of the CRL suffering the same fate (see here for earlier schemes):

It is important to remember that at the time of the interview the population of Auckland was around half a million, so the arguments then are even more pressing now there’s another million souls living here. And some concerns have disappeared completely, such ‘inner city decline’. Of course had the described bus/rail system been developed alongside the motorways the pattern of the city’s development would be different; less sprawl, more complexity, not radically different just less monotone. A city of greater variety and one less entirely dominated by traffic. One that pushes less aggressively into the surrounding countryside… Instead we have built one network entirely, the motorway system, and largely one developmental typology, low density dispersal, and the city is poorer for it. And now we must urgently add the missing complementary Rapid Transit Network, as those 1960s planners quite correctly foresaw would be required to prevent a road only system choking to death on its own overuse. At least as the city is three times the size it is so the cost is now affordable; if only we would stop so expensively adding to the one now complete system….

Sketching in Kendal 1950

Time for a national rapid transit discussion

An article from the Bay of Plenty Times highlights one of the challenges facing mini-Auckland Tauranga

Rush-hour congestion on one of Tauranga’s busiest roads is returning to levels not seen since the second Harbour Bridge opened eight years ago.

Predictions made in 2006 that Hewletts Rd would be congested within 15 to 20 years of the completion of the $225 million Harbour Link project have come true almost twice as fast as expected.

Tauranga City Council transport manager Martin Parkes said it was safe to say that traffic had increased to the point where travel time delays were probably back to pre-second harbour bridge levels.

“The investment lasted about eight years,” he said.

The original prediction for 15 to 20 years was based on little change in people’s travel habits.

The last line in particular represents one of the primary issues we have with transport planning in New Zealand, we like to build stuff and pretending that it won’t have any effect on behaviour towards how and when people travel. This is also echoed by politicians who love to claim that the next project will solve the problems of congestion and deliver driving nirvana. This was also evident in the article:

The MP for Tauranga and Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the congestion at peak times along Hewletts Rd would be reduced once the new link road between Baypark and Bayfair was completed. It would remove the pinch point at the roundabout with Girven Rd and keep a more constant flow of traffic along Maunganui Rd.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman and former Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby said he drove Hewletts Rd nearly every day and found it particularly bad in the morning. It freed up once traffic got past Totara St and was moving towards the bridge.

He recalled the plan floated in the early 2000s to build an expressway around the other side of the airport once Hewletts Rd reached capacity again.

Mr Crosby said four laning SH29 from Maungatapu Bridge to Barkes Corner would take some of the stress off Hewletts Rd although it would always be busy.

Time and again see that perhaps most accurate adage when it comes to transport planning is that what you feed grows and importantly that applies to roads as much as any other modes of transport.

It’s another of Crosby’s comments, along with those from the NZTA and Tauranga Council’s transport department that were perhaps more enlightening and the real reason for this post.

“There is a big conversation coming up about public transport and that is not a quick fix.”

In Auckland, the discussion about public transport (and active modes) has come a long way in the last decade or so. It is now to the point that through ATAP, we have both the council and the government agreeing that we need to be expanding our nascent rapid transit network. This is also known in ATAP as the Strategic Public Transport Network and for good reason, these the routes where high quality, dedicated infrastructure is expected to be provided to act in the same fashion as the motorways do for the wider road network.

But outside of Auckland the discussion about rapid transit or strategic PT networks simply doesn’t seem to exist and seems to be a recipe for repeating the mistakes of Auckland – a place that much of the rest of the country seems desperate to not be. The closest exception to this is of course Wellington with its legacy rail network but even there, talk of even basic PT improvements seems to have died on the vine. Even in Christchurch there has been a deafening silence on any kind of future rapid transit network.

Now the first response some may give is that other places in NZ are simply too small for rapid transit networks, Auckland’s size and growth massively eclipses all other cities in NZ and is expected to continue doing so. By comparison, Tauranga has just 128k people, about the size of some of the larger local boards in Auckland. But while they may be smaller cities, it doesn’t mean they’re not growing.

Again taking Tauranga as an example, most of its urban development is in two linear corridors, to the southwest of the city centre and along Papamoa Beach, seemingly perfect some RTN routes

The concern I have is that by avoiding the conversation now, it will only make it harder and even more expensive to build anything to an RTN standard in the future, potentially stopping it from happening all together. All of this isn’t to say we should go on a massive RTN building spree around the country but that we should at least be looking to reserve some corridors to make them easier to develop in the future. Future growth could even be focused around this infrastructure.

So, a national discussion on strategic public transport networks, what do you think? Who (agencies and cities) do you think should be involved?

 

 

As an aside, this comes just days after Auckland’s new Councillor for Rodney, Greg Sayers, claimed the city should take a leaf out of Tauranga’s book.

I represent the fastest-growing ward on the Auckland Council, Rodney, which is also the largest in area. My constituents, compared with other wards, don’t ask for much but when they do, it is out of necessity, not out of some whim.

Rodney’s growth is frustrated by the dysfunction of the Super City. Meanwhile, places like Tauranga have bounded ahead.

Auckland and Tauranga is a Tale of Two Cities. While Auckland is still dithering about a second harbour crossing, Tauranga’s built two. While Tauranga upgraded rail and built a motorway to make its port thrive, Auckland wants to kill its port and the connecting infrastructure.

Tauranga now has the country’s busiest port, while conversely Auckland’s lack of investment has created a property bubble and traffic bottlenecks.

It’s worth noting that Sayers gets some fairly basic facts outrageously wrong, this includes that over the last decade, the Upper Harbour and Waitemata local board areas have each grown more strongly than Rodney each and every year, both in actual terms and as a percentage (the Upper Harbour LB even started with fewer people but now has more). He also doesn’t seem to realise that Auckland has grown more than Tauranga’s entire population in just 3 years -which as of 30 June 2016 was 128,200.

Rapid Transit strengths

This is not a post about Busway’s vs Rail as modes, but a fun comparison of my experience on the Northern Busway to our Rail Network.

I recently went to the North Shore for an appointment where I had the pleasure of using the Northern Busway. I had not used it for some time, well before Double Deckers were a regular occurrence. As a person who usually uses the rail network it was interesting comparing my experiences, so I decided to create list of where I think each excels.

Busway

  • The dwell times – The dwell times are good even on the Double Decker’s, as a rail user it was pleasant for it to feel like a stop, not a whole century.
  • The motorway alignment – I swear nothing is more awesome than sitting top deck watching yourself race past all the cars at standstill on the motorway, you partially have that experience on the Southern, but the long dwells kinda ruin it.
  • Double Decker’s – That view of the Waitemata from the top deck going over the bridge.
  • The stations – I like the stations, they feel accessible, easy to use/transfer (when the bus turns up on time, curse you 881) and many have extra useful amenities inside.

Rail

 

  • The ride – Smooth and so quiet, except the ADL’s to Puke but they are the fun part of any trip the Puke, though understand the people using it would rather have the Class AM’s for everyday use.
  • Single deck – Yes I know I said I loved the Double Decker’s but it can get quiet frustrating having to wait for people who only used the bus for a short distance coming down from the top deck, use the bottom for short journeys >:(
  • Speed – It’s always fun on the Eastern when you speed through the Meadowbank-GI section especially the Purewa Tunnel.
  • The Stations – We’ve not got some fantastic stations. Britomart & New Lynn are my favourite, there is something about underground stations under fantastic architecture, and I always love coming into the New Lynn trench. Grafton is ok but I rate it 0/10 would not try Wifi through again.
  • Fully separated – the Busway is great but it can be frustrating when it ends, you have some bus lanes on the Motorway but not in all sections, and when I was using the NEX a car was using the Bus Lane slowing us up around Onewa Interchange.

So what are your favourite strengths of the Northern Busway and the rail network?

Auckland’s New Network — What comes next?

Right now Auckland Transport is in the process of implementing the New Network (NN). The NN is already operational in the south, and is being readied for implementation in other sub-regions as per the following timetable:

You can view the latest networks for each sub-region by clicking on the links provided at the beginning of this post. For those who don’t know, I should disclose that I was part of the consultant team who worked with AT to develop the original NN way back in 2012-2014. The original network we developed is illustrated below.

The original network shown above has subsequently evolved in response to several rounds of stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This included engagement with existing operators, consultation with local boards, and — finally — consultation with the general public. Moreover, as time has progressed, more detailed information has come to light, such as the land use outcomes associated with Unitary Plan and the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for developing highways and busways. All useful information that can inform the design of the public transport network, albeit information that has been somewhat slow to extract.

The NN has also had to dovetail with other projects AT has underway. I’m not aware of any other city in Australia or New Zealand that are attempting to change so much about their PT system in so little time. In the 15-20 year period starting with the opening of Britomart, Auckland will have developed a Rapid Transit Network connecting to every sub-region almost from scratch; redesigned the ticketing system and fare structure; implemented a new public transport contracting model; and drastically re-structured its services. Somewhat understandably, the desire to coordinate implementation of the NN with these other projects has delayed implementation beyond the initial (indicative) 2016 timeline.

So as we stand on the threshold of implementing the NN, one may wonder what comes next? The answer, in my opinion, is that the NN will be a constant, ongoing project for at least the next 5-10 years.

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that all aspects of the NN won’t work perfectly right from the beginning, and they should be changed as further information comes to light. In terms of demand, some routes will experience too much while others will see too little. That’s a reason to reallocate resources. In terms of schedules, some timetables will have too much time while others will have too little. The struggle for reliability is ever-present.

Public transport nirvana won’t happen over-night, but it will happen. If we keep working on it. Maybe. But aside from continuous refinement of the underlying network structure, what else might change? The answer to this is both nothing and almost everything. When I say nothing, I am referring to the underlying principles of frequency and connectivity on which the NN was built, and which will allow us to run a more efficient public transport network. These principles are sound and should not change as we go forward. Instead, they should be strengthened and embedded more deeply into our PT network. Every time AT increase frequency, we should be asking whether we can remove duplication.

On the other hand, much about Auckland’s public transport network will continue to change. Let’s list just a few of the major projects that Auckland Transport and others will be working to implement over the next 5-10 years:

  • AMETI
  • City Rail Link
  • Northern Busway extension, including new Rosedale station
  • Extension of electrified services to Pukekohe, and new stations
  • LRT on Dominion Road and Queen Street
  • North-western Busway

When you line up all these projects, you start to realise that there isn’t many corners of our fair city where the public transport will not change fairly dramatically in the next few years. So we will need to get used to PT network changes happening on a fairly regular basis. Of course none of them should be as large as the NN itself, but nor should we delude ourselves that it will end with the NN. The NN is arguably close to the start of Auckland’s journey to PT salvation.

Indeed, such complacency with regards to continuous improvement of Auckland’s PT network is arguably a contributing factor to the situation we are in today. As an aside, I understand the following meme is popular among some of the folk that have long-lorded over Auckland.

Aside from the persistent and ongoing issues with the allocation of resources and reliability, there is one other potential meteor that seems likely to pass fairly close in the near future, and which threatens to destroy the heart of Auckland’s PT network. That is, Auckland has very limited bus capacity in the city centre, in terms of corridors, stop, and terminal capacity. I think it’s fair to say bus capacity in Auckland’s city centre has been neglected for decades, and is now being rapidly squeezed in all directions. The risk is that the meteor of bus volumes brings about a never-ending buspocalypse that in turn suppresses patronage and exacerbates congestion.

Put simply, the volume of buses that need to be accommodated in the city centre is rather high already, and it’s growing. And it’s not just about the corridor capacity: Buses need to stop, terminate, and/or turn-around. In fact, I’d suggest that corridor capacity is almost the least of our concerns, we can always splash around a bit more green paint, e.g. on Wellesley Street. Stop and terminal capacity is more problematic, simply because there’s not much space. LRT will help, but it is something that won’t happen super-fast and nor will it be a panacea when it is up-and-running. Meanwhile construction works associated with the CRL and the Council’s (excellent) place-making initiatives look likely to exacerbate the problems caused by our historical reluctance to address bus terminal issues.

Whether we encounter bus apolocalypse depends on whether AT are successful at changing the way we currently operate buses and manage streets so as to make them more efficient. The NN as it currently stands seem likely to result in higher bus volumes downtown than originally planned. Indeed, changes made during consultation — for potentially good reasons that I explain below — have had the effect of throwing more buses into the city centre, specifically:

  • Removing through-routing — the original NN proposed through-routing bus services between Takapuna–Onehunga, Glen Innes–Mt Albert, and Glen Innes–New Lynn. I understand all three though-routes have been dropped. This both increases bus volumes in the city, and requires more passengers to transfer, which increases dwell-times.
  • Retaining duplicative routes — In some cases, services have been added or retained that duplicate other services, even if they perhaps remove the need for passengers to connect. The most notable is the Outer Link, but there are also a number of peak services that have snuck their way back into the network. In terms of capacity, the latter are particularly problematic, because they directly increase peak bus volumes (by definition).
  • Removing cross-towns — the original NN arguably contained five frequent crosstown services in the Isthmus, specifically: Mt Albert — Glen Innes, Takapuna — Onehunga, New Lynn — Glen Innes, Pt Chevalier — Ellerslie, and Mt Albert — Pakuranga. The proposed NN now contains only one, or arguably two if you include the Outer Link. Going from five to two cross-towns will increase the number of buses terminating in the city centre, and increase the need for passengers to connect between services there.

This should not be construed as criticism of the changes made by AT. Indeed, the changes arguably reflect positively on AT’s desire to respond constructively with feedback. It’s also entirely possible that the changes will increase patronage and/or efficiency in the short term, even if they exacerbate issues with city centre bus capacity in the medium to long term.

But *if* buspocalypse does arise, *then* what should we do about it?

The good news is that AT are aware of the risk of buspoalypse, and have started considering how to mitigate the chance it occurs. Some of their current thinking has been documented in the “Bus Reference Case” report that was published last year, and which was written by my colleagues at MRCagney. While somewhat technical, the report does make for interesting reading, as it provides an indication of the sorts of volumes we might expect and sketches out some possible responses. And when I say response, I am talking about one that considers not just infrastructure, but also other related aspects, such as services, vehicles, and ticketing.

The report notes, for example, that after the CRL the following actions could be taken to reduce bus volumes in the city centre:

  • Re-direct the New North Road (Route 22) service to Newmarket. This would possibly allow AT to drop the infrequent but direct rail service operating between the west and Newmarket, and increase rail services on the main Western line.
  • Eliminate expresses from the West, including Blockhouse Bay to City (Route 195), Green Bay to City (Route 209), Glen Eden Express (Route 151x), and Titirangi Expresses (Routes 171x and 172x). Instead, these routes would terminate at the Avondale, New Lynn, and Glen Eden rail stations.
  • Expand service from the Northwest, specifically Routes 110 and 125x (WEX upon completion of the North western busway); and
  • Eliminate expresses from the Southeast, including Mangere to City (Route 309x) and Papakura to City (Route 360x).

As well as changes to the network itself, the report investigates the potential demand for bus infrastructure in the city centre, especially with regards to bus termini and stop infrastructure around Wynyard, Wellesely, the Universities and Britomart. It’ll be interesting to see what the detailed designs for these areas look like, and whether they avoid off-street interchanges and termini. Naturally on-street would be more cost-efficient, but it does place increased demands placed on city centre streets. Balancing this demand with other place and movement needs will be tricky.

Either way, when we say “city centre bus infrastructure”, it’s fairly clear we are not simply talking about a lick of green paint. If we want to get buses off the streets in the city centre, while maintaining accessibility and growing patronage, then we need to think about where they go. And we may need to spend some money along the way.

In terms of the last point, it’s interesting to compare Auckland with our comrades across the ditch. Both Brisbane and Perth have some serious bus infrastructure in their central city. King George Square station, for example, opened a few years ago and is nicer than most metro stops.

Meanwhile in Perth, construction of the long-planned underground bus station (BusPort) in the city centre was completed in July 2016.

Over here in Amsterdam, they’ve been busy elevating their buses away from the street level so as to improve amenity around central station, while maintaining connections to other transport modes. Impressive stuff, and things that have long been in the works.

None of this is to say that Auckland will neessarily need bus infrastructure of the same scale as the above cities. With a more brutal network structure and more efficient operations, it’s certainly possible we could get by with less hard infrastructure than these cities have achieved. However, these cities do provide a good lesson for Auckland in terms of developing long-term plans for acommodating buses in the city centre. That is something Auckland hasn’t yet managed to achieve, even if it looks like the wheels are starting to turn.

It’s promising that Phil Goff’s election platform and subsequent noises have emphasized the important role for buses, both now and in the future. Getting Auckland’s buses working well will definitely require a level of technical and political leadership that perhaps has been lacking in the past. It may also require that we step on the toes of landowners in the city centre, who arguably have ruled Auckland’s roost for far too long.

What do you think? And if you were AT, and if there was an issue with city centre bus infrastructure capacity, then what would you do? I’d be particularly keen to hear about people’s ideas for the NN as it currently stands, and how it could be adapted so as to reduce bus volumes in the city centre. Which routes would you cut, and why?

And/or what are your ideas for how to improve bus infrastructure in the city centre? Ideas big and small are welcome. If we succeed with our plans for the city centre and public transport more generally, then it’s possible we’ll need some of these infrastructure and service initiatives sooner than we think. I think that’s a good problem to have.

P.s. Feel free to also comment on the proposal to relocate long-distance buses to Manukau and Albany. Grrr. That’s an issue I hope to cover in a future post.

2017 – The Year Ahead

In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.

City Rail Link

With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.

Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.

Mass Transit

The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.

If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.

The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.

Rapid Transit

I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.

New Network Rollout

In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.

Parnell Station and new rail timetable

In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.

Government Elections

Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.

Cycleways

We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include

  • The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
  • Quay St extension to The Strand
  • The next sections of the Eastern Path
  • Ian McKinnion Dr
  • Franklin Rd

We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.

 

Waterview

After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.

SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange

The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017

East-West Link

The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.

Northern Corridor

The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.

Auckland Plan refresh

A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.

Auckland Transport

We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.

All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year

Airport Anarchy

For years, we and many others have been saying that better options are needed for accessing the airport and for even longer, politicians, officials and experts have either wilfully ignored the need to serve one of Auckland’s major destinations with public transport or have actively opposed and sabotaged it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with roads reportedly clogged so bad that many are missing flights or commenting that it took longer to drive home from the airport than fly to Auckland from Sydney. It seems even Mayor Phil Goff got caught in the mayhem. And things could get worse with the airports busiest days of the year coming up.

The transport planners from the NZTA have pinned their hopes on upgrading the motorway to the airport by grade separating Kirkbride Rd – due to be completed next year some time – but one of the major problems with it is that while it removes an intersection, it doesn’t really add any extra capacity to the road network so going to do bugger all to solve congestion within the airport itself. There are of course some bus options but they suffer from the same congestion as cars.

To really have a chance of making a difference in getting to the airport, we need good alternatives. Perhaps one of the issues we’ve had is that almost all of the discussion is focused on long term solutions, currently expected to be light rail (we don’t need another debate about rail mode in this post thanks). Yet despite this route being a major issue for Aucklanders, in the six years since Auckland was amalgamated, almost nothing has been done to protect the route and ATAP doesn’t suggest anything will be build (from the north) till after 2026. That’s simply too far away.

 

One of the reasons things have come to a head so rapidly has been due to a surge in airport usage. In the 12 months to the end of October, 17.3 million people passed through the airport (domestic and international), an impressive increase of 11% over October 2015.

Essentially it appears that a tipping point has been reached where growth at the airport, along with the heavily auto-dependent development around it, have combined to cause chaos. It now appears to have caused enough embarrassment that authorities are pretending to do something about it.

Transport authorities and Auckland Airport have set up a taskforce to tackle traffic chaos that has led to some passengers missing flights.

The NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and the airport company have established a group to find immediate ways to improve travel times and congestion on the roads and state highways to, from and around Auckland Airport.

Of course, what’s proposed is mostly nothing more that tinkering around the edges.

The taskforce had agreed to accelerate a number of planned initiatives, including:

  • changes to lane configurations at the State Highway 20B (Puhinui Rd) / State Highway 20 interchange before Christmas to increase traffic flows through the intersection;
  • the Auckland Transport Operations Centre will optimise traffic signals to increase traffic flows at peak times on the state highways and airport roads, and publish additional airport-specific travel time information;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Tom Pearce Drive to improve traffic flows to both airport terminals;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Laurence Stevens Drive roundabout to improve traffic flows to the domestic terminal; and
  • deploying special temporary traffic management plans on Auckland Airport’s roads to increase the network’s resilience.

The immediate solutions are in addition to the major improvements already underway to deliver additional network capacity and improve travel times, including:

  • the $140 million upgrade of State Highway 20A and improvements to the State Highway 20A / Kirkbride Road interchange which will create significant extra capacity;
  • the upgrade of the George Bolt Memorial Drive / The Landing Drive / Verissimo Drive intersection; and
  • new bus lanes heading towards the airport on State Highway 20A.

So here are my views on solutions that need to take place.

Long Term – and that needs to happen within the next decade, not remain over a decade away like ATAP suggests, a dedicated Rapid Transit line is needed. As mentioned earlier that is currently planned to be light rail but the government and their agencies are trying to get that downgraded to just a bus connection.

Medium Term – As Patrick pointed out in this post, a quick first stem to getting an RTN style connection to the airport would be to build a busway connecting the Puhinui Train Stations with the airport. This would require a busway alongside Puhinui Rd (SH20B).

Short Term – Here are a few thoughts on some short-term options.

  • Skybus – Skybus operate services to the city with fares of $18. Unfortunately, like cars these buses also gets caught in congestion on the motorway. Further I’ve seen a number of comments in months that the quality of the service has been decreasing. Perhaps Skybus could be encouraged to run more services and with AT/NZTA covering some of the costs.
  • The 380 option – The 380 bus runs from Manukau to the airport via the Papatoetoe Train station which can have trains stopping in each direction to/from Britomart every 5-minutes. This could be a great option but it currently suffers from a few issues.
    • AT don’t market this option very much so many people don’t know it even exists – this could be easily fixed.
    • Last I heard, transferring between the train and bus wasn’t well advertised or signposted – this could be easily fixed
    • Unfortunately the congestion referred to above affects both SH20A and SH20B. With no bus lanes on the latter it means the bus gets caught in the same congestion as the cars.
    • The service is nowhere near frequent enough, only running every half hour during the day and this is an issue that we shouldn’t even have. Back when AT announced the result of consultation on the new bus network that has just rolled out in South Auckland, the ’30’ bus (a new name for the 380) was listed as one of the frequent services that would see a bus running at a minimum of every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7-days a week (as shown below). Yet after AT finished tendering for services this was dropped back to a secondary route running only every 30 minutes, despite AT crowing about saving money. As such, as a first step they should implement the new network as they told the community it would be and improve the frequency of this service back to frequent status.
      • The article says this: “Auckland Transport’s chief executive, David Warburton said AT would continue to focus on how it can increase public transport services to and from the airport “. So I’m sure David will be announcing improved services soon?

 

 

 

  • Interim priority lanes – If the NZTA were really serious about improving options, perhaps they could dedicate one of the motorway lanes to high capacity vehicles. This would obviously include buses but could also include other vehicles with a lot of occupants, perhaps T4 and above.
  • Park n Ride – Even if the NTZA got underway now with their plans to widen SH20B, it would be years before that work was finished. We don’t normally advocate for Park n Ride but perhaps in this situation, one along Puhinui Rd, near the whereas it could be justified along with a shuttle – or ideally a much more frequent 380 bus.

Those are just a few thoughts, what do you think should be done to make some quick wins?

Tweet of the Day: 21st Century City

21st Century City

Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.