Auckland Transport November Board Meeting

Every month I comb through the reports to the AT board looking at what the organisation is up to (that they’ll say in public). I’ve already covered the separate reports on additional bus priority and the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast so this post covers the rest of the reports for the meeting held yesterday. As such this post is a combination of a lot of little items

Once again all of the most interesting papers appear to be in the closed session which means we only have the agenda items to go off. The items being discussed are:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Budget Realignment
  • Development Proposals
  • CRL Update
  • Parnell Station Update
  • Wynyard Quarter Roading
  • PT Security & Fare Evasion
  • Ferry Downtown Access
  • Ferry Services Strategy
  • Off Street Parking

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Wharves
  • Heavy Rail Strategy Update
  • Customer First Strategy

Most seem fairly self-explanatory however two items draw a bit more attention for me. They are the vaguely titled Development Proposals – what are AT thinking of developing? – and the Heavy Rail Strategy update. The latter is interesting as it’s the first time I’ve seen AT refer to heavy rail as opposed to just rail and comes just after the herald suggested AT were looking at light rail to the airport.

On to the board report and there are number of brief updates on a range of projects. Many we’ve talked about separately or there hasn’t been much change in the report from last month but the ones that stand out are:

Onewa Rd – AT say they are going to be creating an additional westbound general traffic lane after the intersection with Lake Rd. It’s not clear why they are creating a general traffic lane and not a bus or transit lane seeing as westbound bus priority has been needed (and promised) on the road for a long time.

Electric Trains – As of the time of writing the report there were 31 of the 57 on order now in the country with 28 given provisional acceptance. From December four trains a month start arriving which means they should all be in the country by the middle of the year. They also say they have successfully tested modified software to control traction on the EMUs fixing issues from the overhead feed which was presumably the issue behind the problems earlier in the year.  The report also talks about six car EMUs being in operation from mid-November however I suspect that’s been held off till the new timetable.

City Rail Link – There are a number of comments related to the recent briefings to the incoming minister about the CRL however perhaps most significantly they say:

The City Rail Link has recently been subject to an intense period of public scrutiny due to the Council’s deliberations on the Long Term Plan (LTP). Extensive media coverage on the project led to a significant amount of feedback, including positive endorsement of the CRL by a variety of proponents. This was a timely reminder of the need to continue to “tell the story” of the CRL and its benefits, especially across the entire region. For example rail-users (and potential new rail users) will see their journey times substantially reduced as well as a much more frequent service. More effort will go into promoting these and other benefits of the CRL story from now on, particularly in the lead-up to the beginning of the enabling works in the second half of 2015

AT telling the story of the projects benefits across the region has been something we’ve talked about numerous times. It will be interesting to see what they come up with this time.

Northcote Cycle Route – AT say that as a result of the consultation they are making changes to what they initially proposed, particularly in Queen St. I suspect this will mean AT are watering down the proposal to retain more car parking

Newmarket Crossing (aka Sarawia St) – was approved last month after an in dependant review looked at the options again. I’m sure some of the Cowie St residents will continue to fight the proposal though.

Pukekohe Bus Rail Interchange – AT say they have $1.5m in funding for this financial year to upgrade the station which I’m sure is something that will get the locals will be pleased about. AT will also be moving the facilities to refill diesel trains from Papakura to Pukekohe

Puhinui Station – The station will be getting an upgrade to the standard Auckland design to improve customer experience. It is expected to be finished by June 2015.

Grafton Bridge – From early next year AT will be allowing taxi’s to use Grafton Bridge as part of a one year trial. While they say they will review the impacts in 3 months. Overall this seems like it could be quite a bad outcome for those on bikes but we’ll have to wait and see.

Integrated Fares – The AT board signed off the business case for integrated fares last month although we’re still waiting to hear just what that will entail. What we do know from the report to the board is that integrated fares won’t go live till the end of next year. This is due to AT needing to re-program much of the system to handle proper integrated fares. As for HOP as it is now, once again the board report¹ says that the percentage of trips on the PT network using HOP has remained the same as last month, AT say they think the ” Get onboard with Jerome” campaign will improve results over the coming months.

HOP ticketing usage October 2014

 

“We should be a working on the railroads…”

Yesterday Peter asked if the Auckland’s motorway network built on “strategic misrepresentations”?. In it he briefly mentioned engineer Joseph Wright who questioned how much the motorways would cost. In response I put this image in the comments however it probably justifies it’s own post (we’ve posted it before many years ago). It was from July 1962.

One of the things I find very frustrating about Auckland’s transport history is that even when we were repeatedly told by many different sources that the motorway system alone wouldn’t solve our problems (and make many of them worse) that we failed to listen. Even worse is despite the outstanding success of the high quality rapid transit investments we’ve still acting like an addict and telling ourselves that just one more motorway will solve our problems and then we’ll stop.

newspaper-article

The City Unbound

The current Metro Magazine has has an article by me on Auckland, its new urban nature, and surprise!: Why we need a change in transport infrastructure investment to unlock its true value.

Most here won’t be unfamiliar with the arguments but the discipline of writing for print and the general reader called for a rethink of the arguments and evidence. Also the photos aren’t bad either:

Metro- The City Unbound_800

Coincidentally I came across this brilliantly accessible piece by NSW transport academic Michelle Zeibots on the relationship between different urban transport systems and their outcomes for city efficiency:

Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.

Emphasis added. This supports my assertion that the biggest winners from the new uptake in ridership on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network are truck and car users.

This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.

Yet parts of the highway complex in NSW are now talking about ‘solving congestion’ by building a third road crossing instead: required because of the traffic to be generated by the massive $11billion and more WestConnex project, proving, if ever proof were needed, that all motorways lead to are more motorways. And missed opportunities to invest in higher speeds on all modes through the spatial efficiency of Rapid Transit systems.

This paradoxical phenomenon is understood under various names as this Wiki page shows [Hat Tip to Nick], but perhaps this is as helpful for the average citizen as the Duckworth Lewis system is to the average cricket fan. Which is why I so like the way Zeibots has simplified it in the Sydney Morning Herald article above.

Anyway go out and grab a copy of the new Metro with the Jafa flavoured cover to see my version:

Metro cover_800

Was Auckland’s motorway network built on “strategic misrepresentations”?

Last week, I took an empirical look at construction cost overruns for recent road projects in New Zealand, concluding that NZTA and regional transport agencies systematically underestimated the costs to build roads by an average of 34%. These findings are in line with Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg’s international work on infrastructure cost overruns. They obviously pose a challenge for people writing business cases – how can you be sure that you’re choosing a good project?

However, Flyvbjerg’s thesis has considerably broader implications. He suggests that infrastructure costs are low-balled (and benefits are overestimated) due in large part to “strategic misrepresentation”. Or, in plain English, when planners and politicians lie about a pet project to ensure that it gets built.

Coincidentally, I happened to be reading Paul Mees’ brilliant book Transport for Suburbia when thinking about this issue. Mees, who died last year at far too young an age, does a fantastic job communicating the theory and practice of high-quality public transport networks. The book is based on case studies of a number of cities, including Auckland.

In chapter two, Mees takes a look at the fateful decision that Auckland made, in 1954, to scrap its comprehensive public transport system, fail to invest in a regional rail network (as had been promised for over two decades), and build an urban motorway network. Interestingly – or disturbingly – the decision seems to have been made on the basis of two big “strategic misrepresentations”.

The first strategic misrepresentation was that Auckland wasn’t dense enough for good public transport. As this was easy to disprove by looking at the facts on the ground – which showed that 58% of motorised trips in Auckland were taken by public transport (and only 42% by car), and that the average Aucklander took 290 PT trips a year – it was necessary to lie with statistics.

In an MRCagney working paper on population-weighted densities that I published in September, I showed that Auckland is a relatively high-density city by New World standards – certainly dense enough to sustain high-quality public transport. My colleague Nick Reid used the same data to demonstrate how pro-sprawl think tank Demographia is still using misleading statistics to make its case. But Mees shows that the misuse and abuse of population density was even more rampant in the 1954 decision:

The Committee carefully sifted the Fooks table, deleting all the anomalous cities, such as Vienna and Zurich, that might have alerted readers to its real purpose. The Committee then added its own density estimate for Auckland, calculated using the very same methodology Fooks wrote his book to debunk, namely dividing the population of the region by the gross area under the jurisdiction of the Auckland Regional Planning Authority. This was not an inadvertent error either, as the same Technical Committee (with much the same membership) had only four years earlier estimated the urbanized area of the region at 30,000 acres, instead of the 113,000 used for the Master Plan’s calculations. This gave a density of 15 residents per acre not 4 (37 per hectare not 10), double the figures for Australian cities cited in the Master Plan and triple the figure given for Los Angeles.

The second strategic misrepresentation, which would be familiar to Flybjerg, was that motorways would be relatively cheap. While both rail investment and road investment carried a substantial price-tag, the decision to choose roads was made on the basis of the fact that they wouldn’t be that much more expensive than rail. But Mees finds that was simply not true:

The Auckland Technical Committee’s cost estimates proved to be no more robust than its density calculations. It had claimed that the rail scheme would cost £11 million [according to the RBNZ's inflation calculator, this is equivalent to $560 million in today's dollars], almost as much as the £15 million price tag [$760 million] for the motorways. In 1962, an engineer named Joseph Wright claimed that both figures has been distorted to favour motorways. Motorway costs had been underestimated, with the true figure closer to £40 million [$2 billion today], while rail costs had been inexplicably inflated from the [1950] Halcrow estimate of £7.25 million [$370 million]. ‘Where did the figure of £11 million come from?’ he asked. ‘I understand that the committee which produced the Master Transport Plan had 26 members, only three of whom had any experience of handling public transport… The whole Master Transport Plan has a motor car complex’… Wright was no car-hating train-spotter: he was the Ministry of Works engineer in charge of the Auckland motorway project.

In short, Auckland was sold its motorways on the premise that they would be quite cheap. But within a few years, it was apparent that the true cost would be much, much higher. Even Wright’s estimate of £40 million, or $2 billion in today’s dollars, to complete Auckland’s road network now seems laughably optimistic. These days, transport agencies can easily spend $2 billion on motorway expansions in a few short years.

When the government announced, at the last budget, that it would be spending an additional $800 million on a package of Auckland motorway projects, few people batted an eye. It’s evident at this point that a mere $800 million isn’t enough to complete the network, or even do anything more than provide a temporary fix. But remember: the designers of Auckland’s motorway network claimed that it would be finished for that sum.

Cock-up or conspiracy: What do you think happened here?

Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

Mill Rd update

While it emerged the other day that AT are looking to cut back on rail to the airport due to it’s cost, a day later they announce they are seeking a designation for a $300 million mini highway through currently rural south Auckland. The need for the road is claimed to be the huge amount of greenfield development expected to occur in the area in the next few decades.

A route has been identified for the upgrade of the Redoubt and Mill Road corridor, which is needed to support large housing growth in the area.

Traffic is predicted to double on the route in 10 to 15 years due to the growth. More than 22,000 new homes are proposed for the area, about 10,000 are in special housing areas that are likely to be fast-tracked.

Auckland Transport has identified the route for the upgrade of the Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor and applied to Auckland Council to designate land (Notices of Requirement) for the project.

The council is expected to publicly notify the Notices of Requirement (NoR) for the designation in early 2015, with a hearing before independent commissioners to follow.

Auckland Transport Project Director Theunis van Schalkwyk says the project is driven by significant growth planned for the area and to improve the roads’ poor safety record.

“Congestion is already affecting Redoubt Road and Mill Road. The large number of new houses leads to traffic doubling in 10 to 15 years, meaning the road won’t cope without a major upgrade.

“Between 2009 and 2013 there were 283 crashes, including four deaths, with a number of accident hotspots on curves and junctions. The upgrade will improve the alignment to the safety standard required on an arterial route.

“With growth happening quickly in the area we need to give certainty to both existing and future property owners what land is needed for the upgrade. New housing areas can then be built knowing where the transport infrastructure to support it will be.

Mr van Schalkwyk says a number of route options have been investigated, consulted upon and evaluated before the final route was confirmed, with an independent environmental assessment a key factor.

The assessment recommended a number of mitigation measures to minimise impacts.

The route includes 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and a 17m high viaduct at South Mill Road gully above native bush to minimise impacts. The project also includes about 30,000 sqm of native planting, stream restoration, wetlands created, pest eradication and environmental monitoring during and after construction.

Auckland Transport has contacted affected property owners directly about the project and is meeting with them to discuss their land owner rights and the planning process. The upgrade will need future purchase of 54 full properties and 257 partial properties, for example part of a driveway or frontages.

Project features

  • Redoubt Road widened to two lanes in each direction between State Highway One and Murphys Road
  • Westbound bus lane along Hollyford Drive and Redoubt Road towards Manukau.
  • On road cycle lanes on both sides and an off road cycle and foot path for the length of the upgrade.
  • Replacement of the existing Mill Road with a new arterial with two lanes in each direction between Murphys Road and Popes Road.
  • Murphys Road widened to two lanes in each direction between Flat Bush School Road and Redoubt Road.
  • Murphys/Redoubt Road intersection realigned and traffic lights added to improve safety.
  • 17m and 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and South Mill Road gully above native bush.
  • Widened footpaths on both sides of Redoubt, Mill and Murphys roads with pedestrian crossings at key intersections.
  • Replacement planting and stream restoration.
  • Improved stormwater facilities, including wetlands areas.
  • Landscaping of the new road corridor.

Here’s a video of the route.

This is a massive project that has an almost mini motorway feel to it and it highlights just how much greenfield growth is possibly going to occur in the area. We regularly get told by those pushing for more greenfield growth that developers cover the cost of new infrastructure however this project is a great example that this is simply incorrect. In reality they only pay for some localised infrastructure and it’s left to tax/ratepayers have to pick up the tab for mega projects like this.

On to the project itself and the designs they’ve come up with are hugely disappointing and show either AT, the designers or both are still stuck in a time warp. Despite the fact that they’re basically building a brand new road, facilities for those not in a car are extremely substandard. For example to cater for walking and cycling it is proposed to build both on road cycle lanes that vary in width between 1.5 and 2m, and a shared path. Instead AT should be moving straight to proper protected cycle lanes with the footpaths left to those walking. Of course the biggest problem with that is it would mean they might have to cut into the 3m of space being set aside for a median and hell would have to freeze over before they even considered such a change. Making the cycle lanes sage is going to be really important as this mini motorway looks like it’s only going to encourage people to speed.

Here’s a few examples of what they’re proposing for the road (click to enlarge).

Redoubt Rd/Murphys Rd Intersection

Mill Rd - Murpheys Rd intersection

As you can see massive 4 lane road proposed which splays out to even more lanes at the intersection of Murphys Rd.

Mill Rd/Alfriston Rd

Mill Rd - Mill Rd, Alfriston

A big multi-lane roundabout, ugh. That won’t be fun for people in a car or on a bike.

And some of the cross sections

Mill Rd - Cross sections

Overall this project seems like it’s straight out of the bad old days and was previously said to be needed to help ease pressure on the motorway. However now we know the government are about to widen the southern motorway in the area increasing its capacity which likely reduces the need for such a massive upgrade.

AT Earlybird parking to go

Yesterday Auckland Transport quietly announced that they were finally ending the silly tradition of incentivising people to drive at the time of the day when the roads are at their busiest. Even better is they’re being quite blunt about the reasons.

From 1 December 2014, early bird parking is being discontinued in Auckland Transport’s Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car park buildings. Our daily rate of $17 will apply to all day parkers.

  • Historically AT has subsidised people to drive into the city at peak times, which is adding to congestion.
  • Our prices are increasing to dis-incentivise people to drive during one of the busiest times of the day (am peak).
  • Moving forward that money will be used to put into public transport, which is our number one priority.
  • View public transport options.
  • See what AT is proposing with the new public transport network.

This is a good move from AT who have been cheaper than the rest of the market for many many years, something they confirmed in their recent Parking Discussion Document which also hinted that these changes were on the way.

AT is currently charging less than commercial operators for long stay parking – $13 early bird versus $14 on average. Early bird parking encourages commuter trips and generally applies prior to 8:30am in AT car parks and 9:30am in commercial operated car parks. AT can influence a shift commuter demand away from the morning peak by reducing the amount of long stay parking, increasing prices to achieve parity with commercial operators, changing the conditions for early bird parking and moving toward more short stay parking.

They mention they want to focus on short stay parking and the discussion document highlighted the mismatch that exists between long and short stay parking availability. It also highlights how little of the cities off street parking is provided by AT with their parking being dwarfed by the private sector.

CBD Parking Supply

Not even all of AT’s carparks are part of this change and in total only around 2,500 carparks in the city.

One of the issues that AT’s carparks have had due to their low prices is that they’ve been too popular and I’ve heard they average over 95% occupancy during the day. The carparks fill up in the mornings with commuters and later in the day when people try to use them – say for a meeting in town or to visit town for shopping – they are often unable to find a space. It’s partly for this reason I suspect that Heart of the City have come out in strong support of the changes.

Of course not everyone will be happy. I expect the Herald and many other outlets give the changes plenty of coverage and there’ll be a steady stream of people ready to complain. Unsurprisingly one of those is the AA (who have been much better of late).

The AA says that if Auckland Transport (AT) wants to reduce the number of private cars commuting to Auckland’s CBD, the focus needs to go on making public transport a more realistic option, not raising parking charges.

AT today announced that Early Bird parking (priced at $13) would be removed from Auckland Council-owned parking buildings from 1 December 2014, and replaced by an all-day rate of $17. Prices for leased parking spaces would also be raised.

“For a lot of people, this change will be a kick in the teeth,” says AA spokesman Barney Irvine.

“Most Auckland AA Members who drive to work in the CBD do so out of necessity. Nearly half use their cars for work during the day, and many others live a long way from the public transport network or have household responsibilities that just don’t fit with taking the bus or the train.”

Public transport in Auckland had come a long way but was still not a viable alternative for many people, said Mr Irvine.

A recent AA survey showed that more than two-thirds of Auckland AA Members opposed an increase to parking charges to encourage greater public transport use.

Changing commuter behaviour would require positive incentives rather than punishing motorists.

“That means delivering real improvements in terms of frequency and quality of public transport, and doing more to find out what factors other than price might encourage people to change how they travel to work,” Mr Irvine said.

In any case, the proposed changes would do little to ease congestion.

“AT only controls about 16% of the off-street parking market, and only around half of that is long-stay,” he said. “So all this is going to do is hurt a small group of motorists financially, and open the door to private providers jacking up their prices.”

I wonder how many of those AA members are parking in AT parking buildings compared to other parking options in the city, probably not all that many.

So how does our parking rates compare with other cities. This graph shows the number of spaces per worker compared to their cost between NZ and the major Australian cities.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012)  Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012) Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

While Colliers International conduct a parking survey every few years of a huge range of international cities and Auckland doesn’t even rank in the top 50, again well below many of our comparator cities. Auckland is listed with a daily average of $22 (USD $17) which I assume hasn’t taken early bird rates or daily caps into account.

Top 50 cities parking rates

Lastly we also know that improved public transport is working. Over the last 14 years the number of people arriving in the CBD during the morning peak (7am – 9am) via PT has risen from 20k to 35k and combined with active modes have seen the number of people driving to the city falling. Now during the morning peak fewer than 50% arrive in the CBD by car. In fact my biggest concern with these changes is that many of our PT routes are already very full and need extra capacity

I support AT on these changes however it will be interesting to see how they react to the inevitable backlash from those who feel entitled to cheap/free parking.

Northern Motorway Concepts

Last week I talked about the NZTA holding some open days to their initial ideas for the Northern Motorway Projects. The projects consist of a number of components.

Northern Corridor Improvements

The NZTA have now put online the info they presented at the open days and some of their ideas are fairly horrific. I’m not entirely sure if they are deliberately so scary as part of negotiating tactic to get people to agree to some of the lesser ideas or if these are what the engineers actually want to build.

For the motorway the NZTA have four concepts which range from motorway to motorway ramps through to a replica spaghetti junction. All concepts will see Paul Matthews Rd linked in directly to Constellation Rd and the section of SH18 from Albany Highway to SH1 turned to full motorway standard. It also appears that the link from SH1 to SH18 will go under the existing motorway rather than over it. The south facing ramps would go over the top of the motorway however the NZTA are saying that will have to happen in a future project. In an email to reader Anthony O’Mera they say further work on SH1 south of the interchange (i.e. more widening), is needed before the south facing ramps could be added.

Northern Corridor NZTA reply to South Facing ramps

Concept 1 seems to be a simply adding of the motorway links and widening of the section between Greville Rd and Constellation. This would undoubtedly be the cheapest and the least disruptive of all of the options.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 1

Concept 2 takes concept 2 and takes it one step further by having a flying onramp from Albany Expressway to SH1 which I assume is take some of the traffic off the roundabouts.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 2

Concept 3 takes concept 2 and injects it with copious amounts of steroids. Added to the mix are weaved lanes so that Grevelle/Albany Expressway bound traffic doesn’t mix with traffic joining SH1 from SH18

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Concept 4 also has weaved lanes but drops the direct connection from Albany Expressway to SH1. It also drops the Greville Rd Northbound onramp.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 4

Of the options, concept 3 and 4 with their extra weaved lanes seem like they come from the same school of thinking that gives us four lane wide local roads that blow to 9+ lane intersections in a bid to cater for each type of movement separately. Further while the interchange designs themselves might be able to move more vehicles, would the local roads be able to cope with that extra influx of cars.

That leaves concepts 1 and 2 and concept 2 might have the upper hand once the northern busway extension is also taken into consideration. There are just two options for the extension of the busway with concept 1 likely to be the quickest and cheapest to build. It also matches with the outcome of the last study into the area where the busway should go (it suggested keeping it on the eastern side of the motorway with a bus bridge to access the station itself).

Northern Corridor Improvements Busway

 

The Busway Concept 2 might be quite useful as it also opens up the possibility of south Albany station which might come in very as the area develops over time.

The NZTA are now looking for feedback on their ideas before they progress them further however they haven’t said how long the feedback is open for so it would be best to get it in as soon as you can..

You can give us your feedback on these concepts by:

  1. Emailing us at northerncorridor@nz0ta.govt.nz
  2. Calling us on 0800 NCIPROJECT (080624 776)
  3. Writing to us at: Northern Corridor Project Team NZ Transport Agency Private bag 106602 Auckland 1143

One last thing, In all the images the NZTA refers to the Albany Expressway as SH17, perhaps they forgot they handed the road over to Auckland Transport a few years ago.

Is road funding a case of “survival of the un-fittest”?

In several recent posts I’ve taken a look at people’s revealed preferences for roads (nobody’s willing to pay directly for them) and public transport, walking, and cycling (people are queuing up to get on the train). In those posts, I’ve argued that observing how people vote with their feet (or their wallets) can teach us a lot about demand for different travel modes.

BRITOMART_4116

Rail is now growing too fast to be un-fit for survival.

But as any economist knows, markets have two sides to them: demand and supply. As transport infrastructure has a lot of “public good” characteristics, it tends to be provided by government agencies such as Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency. (These agencies wouldn’t say no if a private company turned up and offered to build a new motorway at no cost to them… but that’s not going to happen any time soon due to the fact that most recent private toll roads have failed financially.)

As a result, we have to consider how transport agencies make decisions about what to supply to the market. I’ve written a few posts on the basics of cost-benefit analysis, which is one of the tools that they use to decide which projects to build.

But is cost-benefit analysis robust, or are the results systematically biased in a certain direction? Thinking about this question led me to re-read one of my favourite papers on infrastructure costings (don’t laugh!): Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Survival of the Un-fittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built – and What We Can do About It” (fulltext pdf). Flyvbjerg takes an empirical look at hundreds of major infrastructure projects around the world, finding that cost overruns are all-pervasive:

  • 9 out of 10 projects have cost overrun.
  • Overrun is found across the 20 nations and 5 continents covered by the study.
  • Overrun is constant for the 70-year period covered by the study, cost estimates have not improved over time.

In addition, benefits are systematically overestimated in ex-ante evaluations. The result is that a number of bad projects get built on the back of over-optimistic business cases. Flyvbjerg attributes this to “cognitive and political biases such as optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation”. (This is a polite way of saying “lying about the project to ensure that it gets built.”)

So how do New Zealand’s transport agencies stack up against Flyvbjerg’s analysis? Fortunately, we’ve got some empirical data to investigate this question with. Between 2009 and 2012, NZTA conducted and published a number of post-implementation reviews of (mainly) road projects that it funded in part or fully. Matt did an excellent job summarising the data in a post last year.

While the projects aren’t necessarily representative of all road projects, they do run the gamut from small pavement upgrades to multimillion state highway expansions. NZTA provided data comparing ex-ante and ex-post evaluations of costs and benefits for 69 projects in total. I subjected the data to some basic statistical analysis, finding that:

  • The average project had a cost overrun of 34% – a difference that was found to be highly statistically significant, meaning that there is a less than 1% probability that the observed difference happened by chance.
  • The average project had actual benefits that were 28% lower than expected – although as this difference was not statistically significant we can’t determine whether it simply reflects random chance.

In other words, NZTA and regional transport agencies seem to have had some issues accurately costing road projects. And the errors they are making are not random – they have systematically underestimated costs. This can be seen really clearly if we graph the data in histogram format.

Here’s the data on construction cost overruns, in percentage terms. The size of the bars represents the number of projects. Bars to the right of the black line indicate projects where costs were higher than expected. As you can see, costs were higher than expected for the vast majority of projects – sometimes to a quite significant degree (i.e. over 100% more expensive than planned).

Road cost overrun chart

And here’s a similar chart for benefit overruns/underruns. This shows that although estimates of benefits have in some cases been wrong by a quite large amount, most of the errors are clustered closer to the zero line. This shows that while NZTA or transport agencies often miss the mark on their estimates of benefits, the errors are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. In other words, optimism bias seems to be less pervasive when estimating benefits than when estimating costs.

Road benefit overruns chart

This data has (or should have) important implications for the way we plan and fund transport projects. It suggests that it’s necessary to be much more conservative when estimating the costs and benefits of road projects. This is especially important in light of the fact that NZTA’s funding is being devoted in large part to major motorway projects – the kind of “megaprojects” that Flybjerg identifies as posing the greatest risks for good project evaluation.

Unfortunately, NZTA stopped publishing post-implementation reviews in 2012, so it’s impossible to say whether agencies have used this data to refine their cost estimates. I hope they have, but there are indications that optimism bias is still running rampant. Take, for example, NZTA’s long-term forecasts of road traffic and public transport patronage, which blithely disregard the market realities. Or, more concretely, there’s the strange case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing traffic forecasts, which Matt picked up on a few years ago.

A 2010 business case for the AWHC, which would be New Zealand’s most expensive infrastructure project of all time, found that the project’s benefit-cost ratio was a mere 0.4 to 0.6. (Indicating that it costs about twice as much as it returns in benefits.) But, as it turns out, this figure was based on traffic modelling that overestimated actual traffic across the bridge in 2008 by almost 10% – in spite of the fact that the actual data was available at that point. That’s some serious optimism bias right there…

Ak Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes

Auckland Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes (actual and forecast)

Finally, it’s also worth noting that Flyvbjerg finds that cost overruns (and benefit underruns) tend to be a more serious issue for rail projects than for road projects, especially in the United States. Unfortunately, we simply haven’t completed enough rail projects to robustly evaluate whether the same holds true in New Zealand. However, there are some signs that recent public transport infrastructure projects have outperformed their business cases – as seen in NZTA’s post-implementation review of the Northern Busway and booming ridership at Britomart.

What happened to the promised bus lanes?

It has now been nearly 6 months since Auckland Transport opened their first bus lane. This was one Fanshawe Street, and followed a suggestion from this blog back in February. We were very impressed with Auckland Transport’s initiative in moving quickly on this, and it took less than 4 months from blog to bus lane. No doubt this was due to board chair Lester Levy following things up.

When the Fanshawe bus lane was announced Lester Levy promised that this was the sign of a new way of doing things.

Dr Levy says increasingly Auckland Transport needs to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place while working towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is a good example of this type of approach.

Fanshawe Day1

Fanshawe Street bus lane on day 1 of operation, April 28

However since April it seems to be business as usual for Auckland Transport with no progress being made on any new bus lanes, and nothing even seeming to have made it to consultation phase. A few months ago there were some promising lines in the AT Board reports. This from July:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being developed.

This similar statement was in the August 26 and October 2 meetings:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being finalised.

However in the October 28 report nothing was mentioned at all.

This is somewhat worrying. The period around Christmas and January seems like a good time to get any work done due to low traffic volumes. It would be great to have any new bus lanes in place for the annual March madness when tertiary institutions start their semesters. Therefore any consultation would need to get done quickly.

There is no shortage of obvious candidates for bus lanes on busy routes around the city, so here are a few to get AT started:

Onewa Road Transit Lane:

First there is the Onewa Road westbound Transit Lane. This project was even consulted earlier this year (following a failed consultation several years prior). The design is done, and this even has a full project page on the Auckland Transport website. However there are no hints of any progress.

onewa_road_new_500x699

Auckland Transport plan for Onewa Road Transit Lanes

The blog has also already outlined in detail a few priority streets in previous posts.

Upper Symonds Street:

I described the desperate need for improvements on Upper Symonds St in March. There is no city-bound bus lane between Mt Eden and Karangahape Roads despite there being 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one every 40 seconds. This leads to severe delays, on a bad day I hear it is quicker to walk 40 minutes from Mt Eden to the University rather than catch the bus, largely caused by congestion of buses around Upper Symonds.

Mt Eden Road:

I described the need for a bus lane along Mt Eden Road in detail in May. Despite perceptions, Mt Eden Road only has bus lanes along 30% of the total 10km (5km each way) route length from Mount Albert Road to Upper Symonds Street. In peak hours there is a bus at least every 3 minutes along this section, and the lack of bus lanes cause severe delays. Another simple issue is that parts of the bus lane only operate from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. This means that if you catch the very busy 5.05pm from Britomart, the bus lanes won’t be operating when you get to Mt Eden village!

There are plenty more obvious areas, however here are a few quick ones I know from around the city.

Park Road and Khyber Pass Road:

The Central Connector was the flagship project for bus transport in Auckland City in the mid 2000’s, and was supposed to provide a very high quality public transport link from Britomart to Newmarket via the University and Hospital. The Symonds Street section is generally good, however as soon as you get across Grafton Brdige is is back to usual with a few stop start lanes, especially heading towards Newmarket. On Park Road by the Domain, 15 carparks are seen to be much more important than thousands of bus passengers. The same issue is seen on Khyber Pass, where the buslanes only go part way along, and then parking is seen as more important for the last 300 metres towards Newmarket.

Park Road buslanes

5pm bus jam outside the hospital. Congestion caused by a handful of carparks immediately south of here.

New North Road:

The bus lanes along New North Road do no begin until west of the Dominion Road flyover, before this is just a peak time clearway. Then they only run for 500 metres until just before the Sandringham Road intersection before they become a clearway again. Very simple to change these clearways to give consistent bus lanes from Newton to Morningside.

Sandringham Road:

Similar issues as to Mt Eden Road. Listed as having bus lanes, however there are still plenty of gaps which cause significant bus congestion.

Constellation Drive interchange:

While Northern Express buses can fly up to from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes, it can take almost as much time to travel the last 5 kilometres to Albany station. This is largely caused by the need to exit the station, travel along Constellation Drive, under the motorway and enter the northbound on-ramp. While the obvious solution is extending the busway to Albany, in the short term things could be improved with a combination of bus lanes and smart traffic signaling helping the buses get through.

Constellation Drive buslanes

Constellation Drive. 2 buses can be seen stuck in traffic, having just left Constellation Station bound for Albany.

I would also be keen to hear a few more readers suggestions about places where buses get severely congested at peak times, and bus lanes could be built to help sort the issues quickly and easily.

Bus lanes are the best value investments that Auckland Transport can make that help people get around our city. Sorting out these 7 heavily used bus corridors would help tens of thousands of commuters each day. Not only would this reduce journey times, but also improve service reliability and reduce costs for bus operators and Auckland Transport.

So why not get on to it Auckland Transport, would be great to see progress over summer, and we look forward to congratulating you on more implementation of bus lanes.