NZ Herald: “Urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good”

Yesterday, the NZ Herald chose to celebrate Auckland’s 175th anniversary with an editorial celebrating the city’s motorways. It’s an extremely odd piece to read in the wake of a string of good editorials discussing shared spaces, new cycleways, and the light rail proposals.

It’s also sad that the paper’s editors chose not to highlight Auckland’s many other features that we can take pride in. No mention of the city’s preserved natural heritage – the beaches, the Waitakeres, the Hunuas, the maungas, and two harbours. No mention of its preserved urban heritage – the villas and shops of Ponsonby and Devonport. No mention of its humming, vibrant centre, which has been brought back to life by Britomart, waterfront redevelopment, and pedestrian spaces, or the many other places, like the multicultural night markets or the Otara markets, where Auckland happens.

Instead of celebrating Auckland’s glories, the Herald chooses to make a virtue of its dysfunctions:

Auckland’s landscape and coastal attractions made its sprawl as inevitable as its preference for cars over public transport.

This is total hogwash. The Herald is attempting to re-cast Auckland’s outward expansion as an inevitable process in an attempt to win today’s argument about how best to accommodate future growth. “Planners”, they contend, cannot and should not attempt to fight the tide of suburbanisation and road-building.

Unfortunately, their own account reveals that Auckland’s current shape – and dependence upon cars – was in fact a planned outcome, not a natural one.

Here is the Herald discussing how Auckland got its motorway network:

They would do their utmost also to stop the Ministry of Works planning motorways south and west of the city. The southern route extended well past the green fields of Ellerslie and the meatworks at Southdown. If the ministry was not careful its motorway would allow housing to cover the fine farming soils of the Manukau County, absorbing the small towns of Otahuhu and Papatoetoe on the Great South Rd.

There were even plans to put a motorway on a causeway across the Whau estuary to the Te Atatu peninsula which could change the shape of West Auckland, developing to that point along the western rail line at New Lynn, Glen Eden and Henderson.

That’s right: the motorways were planned by central government. They didn’t happen on their own. They happened as a result of political fiat and bureaucratic intervention that aimed to shape demand, rather than responding to it. We have taken a look at how planned the roads were in a number of posts over the years. The bottom line is that Auckland’s pre-1950s public transport system was popular and well-used – and it was dismembered by planners who didn’t believe that we should live that way.

What was true for motorways was also true for housing development. The government was heavily involved in planning and building Auckland’s suburban lifestyle through a major programme of state house construction on greenfield sites:

The Government was building big state housing projects at Otara and Mangere in the 1960s. Suburban development crossed the Tamaki inlet to Pakuranga by the end of the decade.

In light of these facts, it’s hard to figure out what to make of the Herald’s criticisms of “planning”. Their attitude seems to be that urban planners are bad… but motorway planners are good. In other words, plan away, but only if you are planning a society and a city that conforms to the editors’ preferences and prejudices.

Ultimately, the editorial only serves to reveal the Herald’s own myopia. When they say:

It has never been Auckland’s character to look back, or forwards for that matter.

They are not speaking for the many Aucklanders who have a keen sense of history… and who look forward optimistically to the future. They are simply admitting to their own lack of vision.

Why the “Pohutukawa 6″ has got people so passionate

Patrick’s post last week on the Western Springs Pohutukawas has easily been our most read post of the year so far and highlighted what seems to be a deeply held sense of outrage over Auckland Transport’s plans to remove these trees. Many people, including ourselves to an extent, who normally wouldn’t feel so passionate about the loss of six trees (after all there are a whole heap more of them a bit further along Great North Road) are up in arms over the plans. While Auckland Transport continue to argue the removal is necessary, it feels like only a matter of time before they change their mind and try to find a compromise.

So what gives here? What is it about this particular issue that has struck a nerve so deeply?Part of the issue of course, is that the trees are pretty amazing:


However, I think as much of the angst has come about because of the way in which Auckland Transport has gone about this project and some of the broader issues with the project itself.

Looking first at process, a few months back Public Address carried a post by Jolisa Gracewood that outlined the absolute clusterf*ck that had come about through the consenting process – with most people who made submissions being very unfairly denied the right to have those submissions taken into account. Here’s an extract:

It has come to the commissioners attention from the hearing today that your submission has been lodged on the wrong process (there were two for this hearing – A resource consent and a notice of requirement) and the Commissioners will be unable to take it into account when making their decisions.  This is addressed in the Council’s report on the applications which was included in the agenda circulated before the hearing.

The Commissioners think it’s fair to advise each of the submitters concerned in advance of their attendance so they can elect whether to attend or not given that they will have to travel into the city and pay for parking etc.  They are happy to hear from you, however it is not legally possible to switch a submission from one of the processes to the other.

The commissioners will be happy to explain this more tomorrow if it doesn’t quite make sense as this effects a number of submitters, they just feel it’s fair to let you know before showing up.

This didn’t make sense to me, so I asked for more information. I was told that the mistake had been mentioned in the Hearing Agenda. Sure enough, there on page 921:

It is also noted that a number of submissions have been incorrectly lodged against resource consent application ref R/VCC/2013/4724/1 (which is the s127 variation to conditions of the regional consent for Stormwater Management – Quality, pursuant to Rule H.4.14.3.1 of the PAUP). All submissions should have been lodged referencing the Notice of Requirement for Alternation to Designation Plan Modification PA371. In any case, all submissions have been reviewed and reported on the project jointly.

In other words, a number of submissions had mistakenly used the reference number for a stormwater issue (specifically, how to handle the stormwater issues from the extra 762m2 of impervious area created if the trees are removed), instead of the reference number notifying intent to remove the trees. Moreover, “Resource Consent” was the wrong phrase, “Notice of Requirement” the correct one.

The post outlines how it was completely clear which application submitters were intending to comment on, yet nothing was changed to fix the matter and therefore most people were not able to have their opinions heard on the application. Really really dodgy.

The second issue is that the project itself is a dog. Even if there weren’t any trees being removed, what Auckland Transport is proposing to do here it terrible, dangerous and belongs a 1960s traffic engineering handbook, rather than a redesigned intersection of the 21st century. If you are walking between the St Lukes overbridge and MOTAT/Western Springs Park, you will potentially have not one, not two but three “beg buttons” you’ll have to push to get across:

st-lukes-3begbuttons

Obviously the intersection needs another pedestrian leg across Great North Road on its city side. Why haven’t we got that in the design? Who knows – more lazy engineering from Auckland Transport seems like the only plausible answer here.

Lazy engineering comes to mind when Auckland Transport start to describe why the trees can’t be saved. Back to the recent press release:

Auckland Transport would not have supported the application to remove six Pohutukawa trees from Great North Road, if there had been any other viable option, but all engineering experts agreed that there was not.

No other viable option? As Patrick pointed out in his post, what about sending the walking/cycling path behind the trees? Speaking of cycling, AT still continue the absolute lie that this is all about providing cycle lanes to the St Lukes Rd bridge. Perhaps I’m going blind because I can’t see a single cycle lane being added on Gt North Rd – because in my book a shared path doesn’t count. In fact why go to all the bother to removal the trees and not install best practice separated cycle lanes.

Carrying on, what about only having two citybound lanes on Great North Road instead of three (after all, only two lanes will ever feed into it at one time)? What about having only a single left-turn lane from Great North Road into St Lukes Road? Of course there would be trade-offs with all these options, but none of this analysis has been made public – aside from a few seconds in the PM peak hour at some point in the future that apparently will be saved by having a squillion lanes through here. AT should be confident enough in their analysis that they should release it all to the public tomorrow so we can see exactly what they’ve considered and why it’s been ruled out.

So I actually think it’s these wider issues which sit behind much of the passion over this issue. And frustration with Auckland Transport’s absolute shoddiness. Running a shoddy consenting process, undertaking a shoddy assessment of alternatives, proposing a shoddy outcome for pedestrians in a very busy pedestrian area.

It’s just shoddy, and that pisses us off.

Commuter costs

A report from the Australasian Railway Association highlights one of the reasons why investing in public transport can be so useful – it allows people to save money and in some situations a considerable amount. The report titled The Costs of Commuting: An Analysis of Potential Commuter Savings compares estimates of the cost of commuting by car with the costs for using PT to get to work. It also compares the costs based on just leaving their car at home with not having a car at all. The key findings for NZ are:

  • The average New Zealander commuter pays $11,852.98 per annum in car ownership and running costs
  • For those that decide to not own a car and commute with public transport instead, New Zealand commuters on average can potentially save $9,065.78 each year.
  • On average, if a New Zealand car owner decides to leave their vehicle at home and use public transport to commute to work, they can potentially save $2,119.03 a year

However in the case of Auckland and Wellington those costs could be even higher as the analysis uses what they call a “conservative estimate” of $1,000 per year for parking costs. That works out at about $4 per day which in some parts of Auckland like the city centre, is way less than you can find a carpark for. Further they also haven’t taken into account other vehicle costs such as insurance, or non monetary costs such as the costs to the environment or from congestion. Similarly on the PT side the analysis hasn’t considered potential upsides to PT use such as being able to use phones/tablets, read a book, have a sleep, socialise or even be productive and work.

The estimated savings for the various cities in the study are below.

PT vs Car costs

The savings are further broken down depending on the size of the vehicle being driven.

PT vs Car costs Graph

PT vs Car costs Graph 2

One big issue I do have is that it appears the authors of the report have only chosen to compare the costs for a two locations at the extremities of the rail network which in the case of Waitakere is one of the least used stations in Auckland.

Despite its limitations I do  think the point that PT can save individuals (or households) a considerable amount of money is an important one and it highlights why we need to build projects that make the PT system more useful. By doing so it means more people are able to use the network and in turn benefit from the savings provided. It also means that households may be able to drop from three cars to two or from two cars to one saving them even more money and space.

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

January Waterview update

Russell Brown from Public Address took a ride out to Lincoln Rd the other day and in the process captured some of the immense works going on.

Head over to his post to see some more photos.

This also coincided with news that the project is now reached the halfway point with even the NZTA calling the new interchange “towering”

Construction of interchange ramps that will link the Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (State Highways 16 & 20) when Auckland’s Waterview Connection opens in 2017 has reached the halfway point.

The last of the precast concrete beams were placed recently on the second and longest of the four ramps that drivers will use to get to and from the Waterview tunnels. The 500m-long ramp will be used by drivers traveling east on the Northwestern Motorway to access the southbound tunnel.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Acting Highway Manager, Mieszko Iwaskow, says the four ramps are on three levels and, in total, add up to 1.7 kilometres of viaduct structure.

“They make a very large project within the already huge Waterview Connection project.”

Mr Iwaskow says the ramps are taking shape above the Northwestern Motorway, one of the busiest sections of motorway in Auckland, with minimal disruption to traffic.

“This is thanks to the yellow self-launching gantry that is a familiar sight for commuters on this section of motorway as it travels backwards and forwards to fetch, lift and then place the concrete beams into place for the ramps.”

The gantry – named Dennis after a project worker who died of cancer in 2013 – eliminates the need for conventional cranes which would have had to be moved into place at the start of each work shift and then taken away before the morning traffic peaks.

“There is no doubt that Dennis is perfect for this job,” Mr Iwaskow says. “It saves time, reduces traffic disruption and avoids the need to use cranes in environmentally sensitive areas of the Oakley Creek estuary.”

Having constructed two of the four interchange ramps, Dennis will soon start work on the highest of the four ramps. It will carry traffic leaving the northbound Waterview tunnel towards the city centre and climb 22 metres above the ground at its highest point.

It is due to be finished by October, leaving just one ramp to be completed in 2016. The ramp that drivers coming from central Auckland will use was completed last May.

The team behind the project have also recently released a few new time-lapse videos. The November one showing them getting ready to relaunch the TBM

And the December one showing it starting the second tunnel as well as the ventilation building at the southern end starting to take shape.

And from the NZTA’s project page, here’s what the inside of the tunnels look like.

$100 million in Voluntary Tax

The Herald yesterday ran one of the old faithful’s they do from time to time when there’s not much news going on, complain about how much voluntary tax motorists are paying to Auckland Transport.

Motorists have forked out more than $100 million in parking and vehicle fines from Auckland Transport over four years – and owe plenty more.

The council body collected $22.9 million last financial year, out of total parking charges and enforcement of $72.8 million.

Although that was down on the $23.6 million received from a total $73.2 million the previous year, the Automobile Association is disappointed at what it sees as an unabated parking blitz.

More than $52 million reaped from fines since Auckland Transport was set up in late 2010 has been for parking or bus and transit lane breaches, and just over $47 million for infringements carrying far higher penalties.

But the AA is more forgiving of action taken on unsafe vehicles. Most fines – at $200 a time – have been for failing to display valid warrants of fitness or registration stickers, although figures the agency gave the Herald under official information legislation show motorists have also received $160,000 in notices for worn or damaged tyres.

The figures show $24.4 million in unpaid fines, but Auckland Transport appears to have waived or forfeited about $16.6 million since 2010 by granting exemptions or withdrawing notices during court proceedings.

Although vehicle infringement notices issued in 2013-14 eased by 3500 to 114,000, parking tickets kept growing. The AA says the 319,500 issued last year – up from 288,000 in 2011-12 – point to systemic failure.

“In our view, Auckland Transport is focusing too much on enforcement, and not enough on helping people to comply,” said spokesman Barney Irvine.

So let’s get this straight, there’s been $100 million in fines over four years ($25m per year) and the results for the last two years are both below that average and show a the amount being collected from fines is declining. In other words the trend is heading in exactly the direction the Herald and the AA say they want. Far from complaining, the two organisations should be praising AT for the getting things moving in the right direction.

What the Herald and the AA should be more concerned about is why there’s $24.4 million in unpaid fines and why AT have waived or forfeited an additional $16.6 million. That $41 million from AT’s accounts could be enough to pay for a heap of other projects like bus (and rail) interchanges, new bus lanes, new cycle lanes etc. This is especially the case considering the council’s funding shortage.

They should also be commending AT for the enforcement they do – which from my observations could be a lot more. Cars parking too long prevents other road users – some of which will be AA members – from being able to find a car park when they might need one. Bus and transit lane fines work to deter people from using the lanes as a shortcut but that inevitably ends up delaying buses or higher occupancy cars. In the case of buses delays from ineffective bus lanes has a realistic impact on bus users (and potential users) and can also have an financial impact as more buses might need to be run to maintain the same the frequencies. That would almost definitely mean more subsidies were needed which I’m sure both the Herald and AA would complain about.

It wasn’t all negative though

Mr Irvine welcomed a 10-minute grace period before parking charges apply in Auckland’s CBD, but pleaded for more leniency for motorists miscalculating how long they need to leave their vehicles.

This is funny in a way as I’ve heard it was the AA who were the most upset when AT announced they would change the parking scheme in the CBD a few years ago that introduced the 10 minute grace period and no time restrictions providing you were prepared to pay – although to be fair that was from before Barney’s time. I don’t have the figures on me but I do remember hearing that the changes had been wildly successful and not only car park turnover increase (representing more people getting utility from it) but also that infringements dropped as the system was easier to understand.

Furthermore AT’s draft parking discussion document highlights a number potential future changes to parking across the region including rolling out the CBD scheme to more locations as well as better handling of other problem areas.

At the end of the day there is always going to need to be some sort of enforcement to ensure that people comply with the rules but of the aspects of these fines in particular is that they’re all voluntary. Don’t want a ticket for driving in the bus lane then don’t drive in it, don’t want a parking ticket then don’t park your car for too long. It’s simply really.

While we’re on the topic of parking, I was pleased to see AT had staff actively managing vehicles in Federal St the other day and saw it again in O’Connell St yesterday. It’s great that this is happening

AT Monitoring Federal St

Falling Fuel Prices

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few months, you’ve likely seen – or at least heard about plummeting fuel prices. Back in mid-October the price for a litre of 91 fuel was up close to $2.20 with the average price over the previous two and a half year period being around $2015. Fast forward to today and now at some petrol stations the price is approaching $1.60. It was $1.64 down the road from me a few days ago although I also saw it on the North Shore yesterday for $1.79 highlight some significant variability in prices across the city.

I don’t profess to be an expert in what’s happening with the price of oil so I’ll leave that to others however there are a few issues in regarding fuel prices to I want to discuss.

The Importer Margin

For me, one of  the more useful tasks that the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) do is provide weekly data on their monitoring of fuel prices and in particular the importer margin. The monitoring is described as:

New Zealand petrol and diesel retail prices represent weekly average retail prices from Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, and do not necessarily reflect regional variation. Biofuel blends, bulk discounts and discounts available through supermarkets are excluded.

The “importer cost” is the international price of refined petrol and diesel, adjusted to a New Zealand equivalent. This is calculated by adding estimates of the quality premium, cost of freight, insurance, losses, and wharfage to the Singapore international benchmark petrol and diesel price. This information is provided by Argus and Hale & Twomey.

The importer margin is the difference between the retail price less duties, taxes, levies, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and the importer cost. That is, the margin available to the retailers to cover domestic transportation, distribution and retailing costs, and profit margins.

Now that most people seem to be back at work, MBIE have finally updated the data to cover the holiday period, a graph from that data is below.

Petrol Prices to 09 Jan 15

Other than the precipice that the oil prices have driven over, perhaps the most significant thing about the graph is what’s been happening with the importer margin for roughly the last 4 years. In the six years from 2004 to 2010 the average importer margin was around 15c per litre. Since that time the margin has been creeping up significantly to be just under 40c per litre, an over 100% increase. Is it realistic for the fuel companies operational costs to have doubled over a four year period, it doesn’t seem so to me.

Will people it mean people stop using Public Transport and switch back to cars?

We’ve seen some spectacular growth in PT over the last decade and one concern that some have is that the cheaper petrol prices might see people switch back to driving. My thoughts are that while some of the people who are very price sensitive might do so the reality is that for most people fuel prices probably aren’t the main factor in deciding what mode to use. Instead far more likely to have an impact is the price of parking which isn’t going to change cheaper fuel. In fact if more people did try to drive it could have the effect of pushing parking prices up. Of course if people did decide to switch back to driving they would also have to once again tackle the congestion they may have been trying to avoid. There are other intangibles that many value too such as not being able to use your phone, read a book or take a nap on the way to your destination that are simply not possible (or legal) if you switch back to driving.

At the end of the day if AT focus on improving the quality of the service and making it more frequent and reliable then the network will continue to become more useful to more people therefore more people will use it.

Perhaps more than anything the volatility highlights why we need to be investing more in electric PT services doing so as it gives a greater certainty over the cost of running services. After all if prices have fallen so quickly they could also rebound just as fast.

One aspect I’m definitely not sure of is how the change in fuel prices affects Auckland Transport. In particular do the bus operators share the fuel savings with AT or keep the savings for themselves

On This Day… “Locking in” Vic Park Tunnel’s benefits

Today’s ‘on this day’ post comes from 2012.

The additional southbound lanes over the Victoria Park Viaduct, made possible through the construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel, open to vehicles today. John Roughan’s NZ Herald editorial can barely contain his excitement at this prospect, largely because (he hopes) it will get rid of queue jumpers holding up traffic through St Mary’s Bay. While I must admit a small part of me is hoping for the motorway opening to be yet another congestion catastrophe, this is generally a motorway project that I have supported because it is aimed at eliminating a bottleneck, rather than simply adding capacity and creating a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.

One of the biggest potential benefits from this project was highlighted in the comments section of my previous post on the motorway opening: that connections between the northern motorway and the Port would become more attractive, removing cross-CBD traffic from Customs, Quay and Fanshawe streets. In many ways, this benefit of the project is similar to how the biggest benefits the Waterview Connection proposal will bring is through a reduction in local traffic on roads like Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay, Sandringham, Dominion and Richardson roads.

While Google Maps suggests that someone travelling between the North Shore and the Port/Parnell area would utilise the motorway system, rather than travelling through the heart of town, congestion on and around the viaduct (back to the harbour bridge for southbound traffic, the incredibly slow ramp signal for northbound traffic before it joins SH1) means that much of the traffic takes the red route instead:When the Victoria Park Tunnel is open to its full complement of three lanes for northbound traffic, and any teething issue for southbound vehicles have been resolved, we should see a reduction in through traffic away from the red route (and hopefully also away from Customs Street). However, as with the Waterview Connection, the Hobsonville deviation and the Manukau Connection, the reduction in vehicles on local roads is only likely to be temporary – thanks to induced demand. If there’s way less traffic on Quay Street and Fanshawe Street, then vehicles using other congested routes will shift back to these freer flowing streets. Motorway traffic may also shift back onto the local roads as some people find them to be faster. Over time, if we don’t make some interventions, we could end up back where we started – but now with a congested wider motorway and congested inner-city streets. Such an outcome would undermine what should be one of the biggest benefits of the Vic Park Tunnel project: the removal of traffic from CBD streets to free up more space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

However, if we’re smart we can avoid such an outcome. And, for once, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to actually achieve some real benefits if we move quickly. The City Centre Master Plan proposes to significantly increase pedestrian priority along Quay Street by reducing vehicle capacity – exactly the kind of intervention that’s necessary to dissuade vehicles back onto Quay Street once it’s a bit quieter:It’s also a golden opportunity to get rid of the horrific Hobson Street viaduct:Fortunately, this is also given consideration in the City Centre Master Plan:Completion of the Vic Park Tunnel may also be a golden opportunity to look at reallocating a bit of roadspace to buses along Fanshawe Street so we can actually complete the Northern Busway. At the moment we find ourselves in the stupid situation of having citybound buses take as long to complete the last few hundred metres of their journey as they did to get between Constellation and Akoranga stations – something we spent hundreds of millions on speeding up, to go and undermine our investment simply because we can’t be bothered putting bus lanes along remaining sections of city streets.

The key point is that we have to move quickly in advancing these projects to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ to really lock in the benefits of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. If we stuff around for a few years then we will lose this window, and implementing projects that reallocate roadspace away from vehicles will be that much harder.

Update:

While there has been little progress ‘on the ground’ when it comes to reallocating roadspace on Auckland’s ‘east-west’ city centre streets to fully take advantage of what the Victoria Park Tunnel provided, the “CEWT Study” released by Auckland Transport last year proposed an exciting and much more sensible future for all these streets, with Victoria becoming a walking and cycling focused linear park, Wellesley becoming a bus corridor, Quay become a pedestrian focused boulevard and Customs… well, seemingly doing everything.

Yet during some of the debates about Queen Elizabeth II square it appeared as though there are some strong supporters of retaining a car focus to the city centre, even on Quay Street. Crazy ideas, like undergrounding the road at a truly massive cost, were also bandied around. How about we just let the motorway network do its job at moving people past the city centre?

1971 Central City proposals

The council’s City Centre Master Plan contains a huge number of great ideas for making the city centre a better place to live work and play but it’s far from the first document looking at the subject. Our friend Darren Davis has recently come across a document from 1971 called Central Area Proposals outlining a number of ideas from the time. Some were good ideas, some odd ideas and some terrible ideas. Of these some were implemented and others not. The ideas also don’t appear to be a cohesive set of projects and so some of the ideas clash with other ideas.

One interesting fact from the document was that mode share to the central city was about over 50% PT, walking or cycling , a similar level that we’ve only just achieved again.

Central Area Proposals

The good

Durham St Pedestrianisation

Khartoum Pl

And from the files that didn’t happen, pedestrianising Queen St

Queen St Pedestranisation

The Odd

This idea seems to be about getting people out of Queen St, presumably so there’s more space for cars and parking – although the image is shown with pedestrians at street level too. It certainly wouldn’t go with the idea of closing Queen St to traffic above.

Queen St People Mover

Closing K Rd to traffic but presumably providing more parking.

K Rd Parking Mall

The Bad

Wellesley St elevated over Queen St which would have destroyed the Civic corner and made a hostile area for pedestrians under the over pass.

Wellesley St elevated over Queen St

Mayoral Dr sold as a tree lined boulevard linking up green spaces in the city. Implementing this wiped out a significant chunk of CBD property

Mayoral Dr

An extension of Mayoral Dr all the way to Quay St on the eastern side of the CBD. With option 1 of this we wouldn’t have had an O’Connell St to make a shared space on and the Britomart area would have been severed by a massive road.

Mayoral Dr Extension

And perhaps the granddaddy of bad ideas an elevated motorway along Quay St – the idea was first proposed in the 1955 master transportation plan but thankfully none of these proposals ever happened.

Quay St

I’m not sure when this image is from but it gives an idea of what it may have looked like, some more shots here and here

Thankfully we managed to dodge at least some of these bullets which if implemented might have been enough to well in truly kill the city centre.

Thanks for the images Darren

Time for a different approach to the Long Bay problem

It seems that every year during the Christmas/New Year break thousands of Aucklander”s flock to Long Bay to enjoy the sun, sand and water. Every year we also hear about the congestion that ensues as thousands of vehicles try to get into a carpark that is quickly overwhelmed. The experience often leaves people frustrated, not to mention hot after sitting in a metal box in the sun for some time. Some like reader Aaron Schiff manage to get it lucky and have a local offer them a place to park but many don’t.

One solution as suggested by Stu last year is for the council to start charging for parking in a bid to manage demand.

Now back to the issue at hand: In my mind the delays incurred by people who drive to Long Bay are unacceptable because they seem easily avoided – if we are prepared to pay for parking.

I’d suggest Auckland Council and Auckland Transport start charging for parking at Long Bay during busy summer times. Charging for parking would encourage a few more people to car-pool, catch the bus (yes there are buses to Long Bay), or postpone their visit – and thereby reduce delays.

My instinct is that most people would be prepared to pay $5 to enter the park during very busy summer periods – not all week or all year. Not only would charging for parking help save people time when they visit (1-2 hours is a long time to spend sitting in a car on a hot day with screaming kids), but it would also generate revenue that could be used to improve facilities at the park.

That is indeed the silver lining from charging for parking: Not only does it help to manage the demand for parking within the limits of the available supply, but it also provides AC with additional revenue to spend on park facilities and/or access, such as more/better toilets, more car-parks, and more frequent bus services. These improvements would otherwise have to be funded from general rates, or not be funded at all.

So what about the alternative of using public transport to get to the beach. Two things really highlight the issue of using PT to get to Long Bay. The first is exemplified in this tweet from Auckland Transport during delays on Jan 2.

So not only have PT users had to endure a long and frustrating trip by bus (more on this soon) but due to everyone else driving they get dumped about 1km from the beach and have to find their own way there. It wasn’t until after 5pm – four hours later – that AT said buses had returned to their normal routes.

Perhaps instead of terminating the buses, AT should do the opposite and stop any extra cars from entering the area and put on a shuttle bus to and from the beach. Even better is they could make use of  the Albany Park n Ride – which is largely unused on weekends/public holidays – and divert vehicles to use that with a frequent shuttle from there to the beach which is a mere 10-15 minutes away.

The second issue is that the normal buses to the area are so rubbish I’d be surprised if anyone actually used them. The two main services that go to Long Bay are the 839 and 858 and both take well over an hour to get to Long Bay from the city compared with as little as 25 minutes in clear traffic. One look at the routes shows with them zig zagging all across the eastern bays before getting close to the beach.- not that the AT timetable map is any use in this regard, good luck working that mess out.

Long Bay PT Options

AT is going to need to seriously change their thinking about how they manage congestion in summer to long bay because right now it only seems to be getting worse. Why not at least try a few ideas out some weekends.