Stuart’s 100 #18 A Great South Rd?

18: A Great South Road?

Day_18_A_Great_Great_South_Road

What if Great South Road truly was great?

The creation of Great South Road was one of the great formational moves in the early expansion of Auckland. Starting in 1861, some 12,000 soldiers built the highway over 2 years to provide a direct route south out of Auckland to the Waikato hinterland during the New Zealand Wars. It quickly became the primary commercial and community link between areas to the south of the isthmus, providing opportunity for the garrison communities like Otahuhu that had sprung up along its route to become important centres in their own right.

That role has long been surpassed by the Southern Motorway, but the legacy of Great South Road remains. It is a highly important route connecting communities and large employment areas in the south. As a route however, the legibility of where it goes and what it connects to is perhaps not very widely known or understood for Aucklanders who live and work further afield, who will be much more familiar with the motorway.

Much of Great South Road already is great. Places like Otahuhu are vibrant and diverse with a bright future. Otahuhu has significant development potential underpinned by a fantastic legacy of a historic fine grain pattern of streets and subdivision on flat land. It can readily adapt to support further growth that will benefit both the town centre and forthcoming rail-bus interchange.

By contrast, other sections of the route aren’t so great, still feeling like the road is still the main highway out of town.

Wouldn’t it be great if Great South Road – in stark contrast to the southern motorway – could become a celebrated route through the south that relates to the urban fabric and communities of Auckland? A strengthening of the corridor and centres through greater mixed use development,  improvements for walking and cycling and a legible and frequent bus route with rail connections at Manurewa, Manukau, Otahuhu, Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera starts to add up to what sounds like a great urban corridor for this part of Auckland.

Great South Road, and other similar urban corridors, should have stronger alignment of land use and transport planning in the future to work steadily towards becoming positive forces in the city that can help shape and guide how Auckland grows and develops into the future.

 

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out - often for its comedy value - and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

Urban Farm Vehicles

Wow who knew there were so many farms in Remuera or have some locals just started taking the term Remuera Tractor a bit too literally.

Motorists are evading hundreds of dollars in vehicle licensing fees by incorrectly registering their cars as farm vehicles.

It follows the revelation earlier this week that hundreds of drivers were falsely registering their cars as ambulances to save more than $200 in fees.

Other categories, including farm vehicles, also pay reduced fees, which one testing station owner says is being exploited by some drivers of Remuera tractors.

Farm vehicles fall under the Class B category, which are exempt from paying ACC levies, fuel excise and excise duty.

The classification relates to vehicles which are designed for agricultural operations and have restricted use on public roads. Alan Parker, who owns a vehicle testing station in Auckland’s eastern suburbs, said he often sees cars with central Auckland addresses come into the testing station for a Warrant of Fitness that are registered as farm vehicles.

“When we go to enter them into the system we get red flags come up about these vehicles,” he said.

“A farm vehicle sometimes doesn’t need a warrant, so we override it and we tell the system we’re inspecting them as private vehicles.”

Such customers were typically from wealthy suburbs, he said.

“There’s so many up in Remuera that are registered as farm vehicles, Toyota [Land Cruiser] Prados and that,” he said. “And maybe these people do legitimately own farms, but they’re not legitimately using that vehicle for farm use. It gives the name the Remuera tractor a new slant.”

Other customers were struggling beneficiaries, he said.

“Sometimes I can’t blame them for doing it because they’ve got nothing, and at least they’re not picking up a $250 fine for no rego.”

Typically the licensing fee for a petrol-powered Exempt Class B vehicle is $50.22, the NZ Transport Agency said, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car.

At over $200 for a petrol vehicle it doesn’t take too long to rack up over $100,000 in licencing fees that should go to the government while for a diesel vehicle this could be even more as a Class B exemption also means the owner doesn’t need to pay Road User Charges.

As the article mentions it isn’t only farm vehicles that people claim their vehicle as with a lot also claiming their vehicles as ambulances.

Hundreds of motorists are falsely registering their cars as ambulances, avoiding more than $200 in fees.

The NZ Transport Agency said last month’s figures showed 2681 vehicles were registered as ambulances.

But St John and the Wellington Free Ambulance services have only 705 registered ambulances between them – meaning up to 1976 private vehicles could be falsely registered.

An ACC levy exemption for ambulances means it costs only $52.11 a year to register a non-commercial ambulance, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car – a difference of $228.44.

The difference is even greater for commercial vehicles, which cost up to $590.78 to register.

The total loss in levies to ACC is at least $392,500 a year.

A couple of hundred thousand or perhaps even as much as a million per year might seem small compared to the billions collected annually from the NZTA’s funding sources however it still represents a large sum of money. It also seems like this would be something fairly easy to resolve as after all the NZTA should have the address for the owner of each vehicle so surely they shouldn’t be too difficult to track down.

Auckland Transport August Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is today and below are the bits and pieces from the reports that caught my attention.

First up as usual there are a number of items in the closes session of the meeting that it would be very interesting to see the details about. These are

  • Ferry Services Contract
  • EMU Implementation
  • Tiverton/Wolverton
  • City Centre Access Options
  • Mill Road
  • Parking Services report
  • AT HOP Update
  • Rail Operations shortlisting

On to the Chief Executives report. These are generally just in the order they come up in the report.

AT are working with some of the teams from the HackAKL event and two of the top five teams will have a completed concept within three months.

Discussions have been held with the top 5 teams, 2 have progressed to a stage where the concept will be completed inside of 3 months, with the help of AT. The other 3 in the top 5 are still discussing within themselves how to progress. As well an additional application (hop Balance) from one of the other groups has been launched. We are still restricted in the data that we can make available, PT is working on this with the bus operators.

AT are creating a customer charter which includes specific measures that cover PT, roading, walking and cycling and they say they have been looking overseas to find out what the best practices are. They say the draft versions of the charters will go to a board committee in October. I think a customer charter with specific measures is a good thing and I would hope that there is some consultation from the public on final versions.

AT will be holding a consultation in late September on the rehabilitation of Franklin Rd and surrounding streets. They say Major focuses for the consultation include maintaining the heritage value of the
road (including the trees), parking, a lowered speed zone, walking and cycling. 

A detailed business case will finally be done for the East West Link. It’s something I would have thought should have happened long before it was moved near to the top of the priorities list.

AT say the Environment Court appeal against the Silverdale Park n Ride might delay construction till the next financial year (i.e. after July next year).

 

On the EMUs there were 22 in the country at the time of writing the report however some more arrived yesterday and provisional acceptance had been issued for 18 of them. After the August summer holidays production will be ramped up as the intention is that by the end of the year we will get four delivered a month instead of the current two per month. On the issues with the over cautious signalling system they say

The ETCS system has been modified by reducing the driver warning before curves and other infrastructure features and the resulting improvement in running times.

 

As part of the Otahuhu Bus Train Interchange AT are looking at connections to and from the station. The report notes that this will include additional bus priority and improved walking and cycling connections.

At Panmure the new road alongside the tracks is almost finished and due to open to use at the end of September. It’s been called Te Horeta Rd. The image below is from the board report showing the road and it’s looking very much like a mini motorway although I would be happy to be proven wrong once it’s finished.

AMETI - Te Horeta Rd from AT Board Report

HOP use keeps on growing which is a great sign. Overall 67% of trips were paid for with HOP which was up from 65% in June. By mode bus was up from 62% to 65% while rail was up from 75% to 76%. In some ways this is not surprising given the changes in fares that occurred and means the trend of increasing HOP card usage is likely to continue. They also say a strategic business case as well as revenue and patronage modelling for integrated fares is almost complete.

2014 - August - HOP Card graphs

Perhaps the biggest news from the report is about the next train timetable which is now targeted for November

Finalisation with KiwiRail and Transdev of the new timetable to support the increased frequency of Manukau services and the introduction of an EMU weekend timetable was progressed in July and early August. This provides 6 trains per hour from Manukau in the peak period and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends going to a 30 minute service plan. When the timetable commences, diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. The target date for the timetable introduction is early November following progressive replacement within the existing timetable of diesel rolling stock with EMUs on the Manukau Line.

Some good news about the look of buses in the future with AT developing what sounds like a region wide design. This is long overdue although I’m sure some operators won’t be happy (I for one can’t wait to see the back of the horrid Birkenhead bus livery). They say the starting point for the new livery is based off the design used on the electric trains and the livery will be included in the future operator contracts which will be rolled out with the new network.

AT say they are also working on a wayfinding system which is something long overdue.

Labour announces transport policy

The Labour party released its transport policy yesterday and it’s one that has some really good aspects to it but that also leaves a lot of questions. Here are what they say are the key points.

Labour will:

  • Build a 21st century transport system that provides choice and is cost effective
  • Rebalance the transport budget away from the current government’s exclusive focus on motorway projects towards a more rational investment in the most efficient and sustainable combination of transport modes. For freight this means investing in roads, rail, our ports, and coastal shipping. In our cities it means a greater emphasis on public transport, and walking and cycling
  • Invest in the Congestion Free Network for Auckland
  • Reduce congestion in Auckland by building the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council
  • Eliminate an unnecessary hassle by removing the annual registration charge for light trailers and caravans
  • Reduce congestion and make the roads safer by requiring trucks to not drive in the fast lane on three and four lane motorways
  • Reduce costs for motorhome and campervan owners by reversing changes made by the current government that have doubled their Road User Charges

The last three points were announced back in April and frankly they seem like tinkering around the edges to keep a few people happy. Today’s announcements were obviously more substantive.

For Auckland they say Labour will:

  • Build the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council. We won’t wait until 2020 and hold back Auckland’s growth and prosperity for another five years.
  • Negotiate with Auckland Council a 30 year transport plan for Auckland, including funding, with our starting point being the Congestion Free Network. As well as the City Rail Link, this includes giving priority status to rapid transit busways in the North West and South East, electrification of the rail to Pukekohe, rail to the airport, and ensuring the next harbour crossing includes rail to the North Shore.
  • Integrate transport infrastructure with residential and urban development

For me it’s fantastic to see that Labour are backing the Congestion Free Network. We put a lot of time and effort into creating it and so it’s great that we now have two parties that have adopted it as part of their official strategy. Of course we’d love it if National also adopted the CFN but we’re I’m not holding my breath on that one.

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

What’s not clear as part of this policy is just how much Labour would contribute towards the CFN. The Greens have said they would fund everything bar the CRL at 50% with the council needing to pick up the tab for the rest (CRL is at 60%). Labour on the other hand has said they would fund the CRL at 50% but not how much they would provide for the other projects that make up the CFN. As I mentioned with the Greens policy, why pick such an arbitrary amount of funding as 50%. The rapid transit investments are really more akin to state highways which enjoy 100% funding from the government and so I think there’s at least an argument to be had over what’s the right level of funding.

I also like that they have singled out the need to integrate transport infrastructure to with land use planning, something the government doesn’t seem to worry about when making their decisions.

The CFN isn’t the only plan adopted by Labour with them also agreeing to Operation Lifesaver as part of their official policy. It’s included of the State Highways section under which they say they’ll review all of the other RoNS projects too.

Labour will

  • Prioritise highway investments that stack up economically and environmentally.
  • Review RoNS projects that are under construction, and look to modify negative impacts. Where construction is not underway, we will consider affordable, safe and environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • Require heavy trucks to not use the fast lane in multi-lane roads.

However it’s here where I have the first major concerns. They single out each of the remaining RoNS and what they would to do and that includes leaving some of the worst performing ones on the books, projects like Transmission gully which I can only assume is for political reasons.

When it comes to walking and cycling they say they will improve it by significantly increasing the budget. They don’t specify just how much they would spend other than to say that it’s higher than the $100 million National have proposed. They also say they’ll say they’ll require all future roading projects make provisions for a cycling.

Scattered throughout the policy document are a number of other interesting and potentially important changes. These include:

  • Giving local communities more of a say on how the money is spent in their areas.
  • Re-opening the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
  • Looking into building a rail line to Marsden Point to allow imports/exports to use rail to get their goods to the wharf.

Overall the policies seems fairly solid however in my opinion there are some significant issues to be addressed. The biggest of these is that there are elements of Labour having just added to what’s already happening in a bid to keep everyone happy rather than making some tough calls and cutting the projects that have poor business cases. The outcome of this likely to be an over-commitment of our transport funds unless or they will need to scale back what they promise. That is made harder to see as the costings for what is proposed is completely missing from the policy document.

One last point, to both the Greens and Labour. One of the key drivers behind the CFN was to create a vision that people could quickly and easily understand and that’s why we went with the network map. It’s a core part of the CFN message so how about putting the map/s on your websites or in your policy documents themselves. Also I would expect a lot of people don’t know what the CFN actually is, how about a link to www.congestionfree.co.nz

More highways failing to meet projections

An article on Philly.com highlights a number of new or expanded highway projects in the US are vastly failing to meet traffic projections:

Before beginning a $2.5 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, turnpike officials said the construction was necessary to reduce existing congestion and to cope with future traffic.

“Turnpike traffic is on the rise,” the state Turnpike Authority said in its justification for the project. “By 2032 northbound traffic volume is expected to increase by nearly 68 percent [above 2005 levels]; southbound traffic is forecasted to increase by 92 percent.”

Now, one-third of the way through that 27-year forecast, turnpike traffic is actually about 10 percent lower than it was in 2005.

And this particular project is hardly a one-off:

Similar traffic declines have occurred around the region, challenging long-established assumptions about the need for bigger highways and bridges.

“If these trends continue, it would definitely change the way we need to plan for our transportation future,” said Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. “But I think the jury is still out on that . . . we need two or three more years of data.”

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission assumed that traffic would grow 3 percent to 5 percent every year to help pay for debt as it took on a new obligation to contribute up to $900 million a year to fix other roads around the state.

Instead, traffic has been essentially flat.

And when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace the 50-year-old, four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge on I-95 with a $328 million, nine-lane, 180-foot-wide toll bridge, it assumed that traffic would increase 35 percent by 2030.

In fact, bridge traffic has declined slightly and is now below the levels of 2002.

The implications of getting previous projections wrong are significant if funding was expected from toll revenue – which is what has sent a number of PPP transport projects bankrupt. For publicly funded projects though, the failure to meet expected usage hasn’t been so obvious. However, the implications for future transport planning are significant – as we’ve highlighted so many times before. Back to the article:

Highway planners misjudged the future because the Great Recession reduced both commercial and passenger travel, and because of an unexpected drop in driving by young adults.

Now, planners and policymakers must decide whether the last decade was an aberration or the beginning of a new normal.

The decisions are taking on new urgency, as Congress struggles to come up with a new transportation-funding plan by the end of September, when the current one expires. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects around the country, is nearly broke.

“The last decade was a really tough decade for forecasting,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Traditional expectations of economic growth – which typically fuel traffic growth – were undone by the recession of 2001, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and anemic job growth for the entire decade, Hughes said.

Add to that the unprecedented behavior of young adults, driven by technology, lifestyle choices, and economic prospects.

“The millennials are really changing the world dramatically,” Hughes said. “We have a younger generation that is driving less and doesn’t want to live in Valley Forge. They want to live in Center City Philadelphia.”

“We had a 50-year period of unrestricted suburbanization, and now there’s a dramatic shift.”

Cars and driving are less important to young adults, who find that trains and buses allow them to work and socialize on mobile electronic devices, he said.

That may mean fewer cars on future roads.

“Nobody was really anticipating this,” Hughes said. “The models have to be recalibrated.”

Some projections have already been lowered.

NZTA have already noted in changes to their economic evaluation manual that traffic growth can no longer just be assumed – and any assumptions need to be proved. It’s a shame though that complex traffic models still seem to defy reality and project traffic growth.

It makes me think about all of our recent state highway improvements, think Newmarket Viaduct replacement, Victoria Park Tunnel, Greenhithe Deviation, Hobsonville Deviation, Mt Roskill extension, Manukau Harbour Crossing Project, SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection, CMJ Improvements and Orewa-Puhoi extension. All have seen increases in traffic volumes in recent years as people shift their travel behaviour however I wonder how they are currently tracking compared to the traffic projections for 2014 when they were proposed and funded. That would be interesting information to get from NZTA.

Is Penlink worth it?

As the Council puts together its 10 year budget over the coming months there will be some really big questions that need to be addressed in the area of transport. When to start City Rail Link? How fast to build AMETI? How much to spend on cycling? Which “legacy” arterial roading projects to delay or cancel? Over the past couple of days Luke has outlined how challenging this task will be if the Council wants a lower level of rates increase than had previously been anticipated.

Our long-running criticism of the current transport plans is that they haven’t made any tough calls – the push for improving public transport is simply on top of all the grandiose roading projects earlier “legacy” Councils had come up with over the years. In an ideal world where money wasn’t an issue, then maybe this would be an OK approach – but that’s simply not the reality and the time is coming in the near future when Council and Auckland Transport will need to face up to this issue and properly confront it.

One project that came up a lot in yesterday’s discussion and certainly deserves significant scrutiny through the upcoming budgeting process is Penlink. The map below shows the proposed route of this connection – which was pushed hard by the previous Rodney District Council:

The Auckland Transport website describes the project’s benefits as being:

  • 7km of new road, including a new bridge across Weiti River
  • Four lane toll road (two in each direction)
  • Provisions for pedestrians and cyclists
  • 100km/hr speed limit
  • Five minute saving for commuters using old route
  • 12-18 minutes savings for commuters using toll road
  • 5.8km shorter route

Essentially it’s a short-cut between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the rest of Auckland – with the main benefits being faster trips for those who use the new road as well as less congestion through Silverdale for those who continue to use the existing road. I’ve highlighted my concerns with the project in the past – particularly because the Whangaparaoa Peninsula that it largely benefits is not expected to grow much in the future – so the transport system may not get much worse than it is now, especially if a number of other smaller-scale improvements proceed.

While there are clearly benefits from Penlink, especially for freeing up the Silverdale area and hopefully down-scaling the horrible semi-motorway that cuts right through the heart of Silverdale. Penlink is potentially a hugely expensive project – the ITP has its cost at just over $200 million but for a 7km four lane motorway with a long bridge that seems extremely conservative. As a comparison recently completed new motorway projects have cost between $25m and $50m per kilometre not including any bridges, meaning the actual cost of Penlink could be as high as $350 million or more. Because of this, we need to look at it very strategically from a regional perspective and ask it a few key questions:

  • Is the project in an area that’s a regional priority for major growth?
  • Is the project of critical significance in enabling a shift to better public transport?
  • Will the project benefit a significant proportion of Aucklanders?
  • Does the project clearly provide value for money and are there no cheaper alternatives?

In terms of the first question, the answer is a bit mixed. There’s not much growth on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula enabled in the Unitary Plan, but there is quite a lot of growth happening at Millwater and Silverdale at the moment. Part of the Millwater area was denoted a Special Housing Area, but is still only zoned Single Housing so will only allow pretty low density development. None of the “strategic” SHAs are located anywhere near Silverdale and certainly when compared to growth pressures in the South and the Northwest, Penlink doesn’t seem to be as critical for enabling growth as other key projects (like the Northwest Busway or Pukekohe electrification). Reinforcing this position is the ability to undertake a variety of alternative projects to “unlock” Silverdale.

On the second question, while it’s likely some buses will use Penlink, the major focus for the public transport service in this part of Auckland is feeding into Silverdale and eventually connecting to an extended Northern Busway right up the motorway to where the current Silverdale park and ride is located. Penlink is unlikely to significantly undermine public transport providing some buses use it, but generally is fairly unrelated to Auckland’s key effort of making a step change to public transport quality and use.

On the third question, obviously not every project can and should benefit all parts of the region, but for a major project that requires a very high level of investment it does seem that Penlink is particularly limited in the area it directly benefits – being mainly the eastern half of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula which all up is about 24,000 people which is less than 0.2% of the regional population

Penlink Population Location

There are indirect benefits for other areas – like Silverdale, assuming a significant proportion of traffic is willing to pay a toll and divert away – but we’re still talking a pretty small part of the region well away from where the vast majority of Aucklanders live and work.

Finally, in terms of whether Penlink is value for money this obviously connects to the earlier three questions (in terms of defining ‘value’) and what the project actually ends up costing. As noted above, we’re a bit sceptical whether such a long four lane semi-motorway with a huge bridge can be built for $200m – a much higher total would certainly raise additional questions about its value for money. Also as mentioned earlier, a key point in value for money is making sure a cheaper alternative couldn’t adequately do the job, and there remain a number of very real questions about whether that’s true for Penlink.

Perhaps a bit of a wildcard for Penlink is its potential to be tolled and therefore “pay for itself” to a reasonable extent. Some careful analysis of projected use and different levels of tolling could mean tolls contributing to a fairly large part of construction cost – perhaps one of the reasons why the project has been considered as a PPP possibility. Of course tolling doesn’t come without its own challenges and the we’ve seen many toll roads overseas as well as Route K in Tauranga continually fail to perform to the levels originally expected.

Overall, I remain unconvinced that Penlink is a major regional priority to fund in the immediate future – it just doesn’t contribute strongly enough to the main objectives for Auckland at the moment. I’m also very unconvinced of the need for the project to be four lanes – I thought it was just a two-lane road due to the toll suppressing demand to some extent. The potential for the road to be tolled and pay its way is a relevant consideration though, therefore as a two lane road perhaps this is something worth starting on towards the end of the next budgeting period.

AMETI Busway gets design funding

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that $21 million had been approved, $11 million of which from the NZTA, to design the first stage in the AMETI busway which will run between Panmure and Pakuranga. A later stage will run from Pakuranga to Botany.

Funding has been approved to further develop plans for the South Eastern Busway from Panmure Station to Pakuranga.

The NZ Transport Agency has approved design funding of $20.9m, with it subsidising $11m, for the Panmure to Pakuranga section of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

It will be the next stage after the current work in Panmure, which comprised the new Panmure Station and a new link road between Mt Wellington Highway and Morrin Rd.

Proposed Panmure to Pakuranga projects also include the Reeves Rd flyover in Pakuranga, replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights, a second Panmure Bridge for the busway and a shared cycle/foot path.

Auckland Transport aims to begin construction in 2017, subject to approval of construction funding and consents.

Auckland Transport Chairman Dr Lester Levy says the popular Panmure Station and a new road, due to open soon, are just the start of major transport improvements for the area. “With the first stage in Panmure almost complete and delivering benefits already, we’re looking forward to the next stage. This funding will allow us to further develop the design of the busway and other major transport projects.

“Public transport is currently a poor option because buses get caught in the same congestion as cars, resulting in long travel times. Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable buses on lanes separate to traffic.

“Buses will run every 5-10 minutes most of the day and travel times will be reliable. It will take about 27 minutes to get between Pakuranga and Britomart by bus and train, about 8 minutes quicker than currently. There will be bigger time savings when the busway is extended to Botany in the future. Together, the AMETI projects are aimed at improving people’s transport choices and better connecting the south eastern suburbs to each other and the rest of Auckland.”

The Transport Agency’s Regional Manager of Planning and Investment, Peter Casey, says support for Auckland projects like AMETI are a high priority for the Transport Agency. “AMETI ticks a lot of boxes for us in a very busy area of Auckland where there’s strong economic and population growth. Supporting Auckland Transport’s upgrades of a whole range of transport choices will improve safety, and make the time it takes to travel between destinations a lot more reliable for people.”

Mr Casey says the Transport Agency will contribute just over a 50% share of the total cost of AMETI – funding that comes from revenue gathered by the agency from the excise duty on fuel, road user charges and vehicle registration fees and is then reinvested in transport projects.

Auckland Transport will continue to consult with residents, businesses and the community in the project area before applying for a land designation in the second quarter of 2015. This would be followed by a publicly notified hearing.

So as a summary the design covers

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic
  • Direct connection from Pakuranga Rd to Pakuranga Highway via Reeves Rd
  • Pakuranga bus station
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path

Phase 2 map

Here’s an earlier image of how Lagoon Dr will look once completed.

Lagoon Dr

It will be fantastic once  this has been completed as the South East is so woefully under served by public transport and is the most car dependant area in all of Auckland as a result. The other thing is even with the services that exist we’re already hearing stories of huge numbers of people transferring of buses and on to trains. This trend will continue to grow with the new network and once the busway is built will be happening in huge numbers.

Making the CFN a reality

We were quite excited last week to see the Congestion Free Network essentially adopted by the Green Party as part of their Auckland transport policy for the upcoming election. The CFN was created with the express purpose of outlining a vision for Auckland’s transport future that was truly transformational, yet also more affordable than the oversize and ineffective Integrated Transport Programme prepared by Auckland Transport. We don’t think the CFN is aligned with any particular political ideology – after all we still include billions of roading improvements. Add to that one of the prime reasons for creating the CFN was because we thought the ITP was fiscally irresponsible by proposing to spend a huge amount of money and still let things get worse. Therefore we hope that, over time, it will be adopted and further developed by more and more political parties.

CFN 2030A

The non-ideological nature of the CFN was picked up by commentator Bob Dey on Monday, where he talked at length about the Green Party’s transport announcement and responses to it:

The alliance of alternative thinkers which has begun to lead debate on how people travel – the Congestion Free Network, a collaboration between the TransportBlog, Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport – hasn’t just made an ideological proposal. They’ve said the country should apply the best means to the task, and that adding superhighways to fix congestion isn’t it.

They’ve said improving many other road connections would help, but the primary gains would come from increasing the off-road network. That includes providing off-road corridors for buses, and expanding the rail network in Auckland.

The minister’s response was that 97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – and therefore road is best, not that that proportion might be better reduced.

Mr Brownlee said major roadworks around Auckland had reduced congestion, and completion of the western ring route would reduce it even more. Recent works, such as taking traffic off the Victoria Park viaduct by building the northbound tunnel, have given temporary respite, but congestion quickly resumed growing.

The Auckland peak traffic periods are longer than they’ve ever been because workers know they can’t make the job without leaving home in the dark, and the return is just as slow because all along the way there are exit bottlenecks.

What the transport network needs is considered – and transparent – evaluation, not ideological slagging.

As for ideology, you would have to wonder why travel needs to be ideologically based at all, but it is. Using the private car to drive to work equates to personal freedom. Providing mass transport that is comfortable & provides amenity (such as WiFi) could be even more personally uplifting, especially if it gets you to your destination more quickly & less harassed.

As we have said on numerous previous occasions, it is frustrating how politicised the transport debate can be at times and how good ideas can often be dismissed for spurious ideological reasons. This is one reason why we have gone out of our way to ensure the CFN focuses on delivering the right solutions in a value for money way. That is why so much of the plan is actually busway improvements and extensions, that’s why we’ve retained significant funding for roading projects we think are actually necessary, and that’s why we’ve highlighted the key role of the CFN in taking people out of congestion so they’re able to experience fast and reliable travel times.

Another key element of making CFN happen relates to its financials and how they show what appears at first glance to be a pretty unaffordable and expensive programme is actually much less expensive than our current transport plan. For those who want to scrutinise the financial details of the CFN, we welcome the analysis and today we make available the excel worksheets used to calculate the cost of the CFN and the remaining other major projects we think are worth funding between now and 2030. This information goes right down to our best guess about how much might need to be spent on each project in each particular year:

CFN-annual-costs

The overall level of investment in major transport projects over each of the next 16 years is also an important consideration here, especially in relation to making sure the CFN is affordable. We’ve worked hard in the timing and sequencing of different projects to keep the annual total expenditure to not much more than one billion in any particular year:

CFN-total-annual-costOf course we still need to fund smaller things like walking and cycling projects as well as operating costs and renewals, but given there’s around $3.5 billion a year available from the National Land Transport Fund, plus significant extra funding from Auckland Council to complete this network, we don’t think a total annual cost for new transport infrastructure of around this level is unrealistic. Furthermore, it’s significantly less than the Integrated Transport Programme would require.

Our spreadsheets also make a detailed comparison between the CFN and the ITP. Firstly, we cut around $12 billion away from unnecessary road spending proposed in the ITP over the next 16 years:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - roads

 

What’s interesting in the above are the roading projects that you’re still getting. The Western Ring Route is still completed, Mill Road is still built (though to a lower standard than the proposed semi-motorway), you still even get Penlink, although not until the mid 2020s and only as a two lane road. Most of the reductions come from fixing cost errors, removing a stupidly high proposed level of spend in greenfield areas, getting rid of the idiotic Additional Harbour Crossing Project and down-scaling a number of projects to a more reasonable level of cost.

When it comes to public transport, perhaps the surprising thing is that we’re only proposing to spend around $2.9 billion more on public transport over the next 16 years than what’s in the ITP – and all of that extra (plus a bit) relates to providing rail to the North Shore, something which could probably be delayed until after 2030 if there was a squeeze on funding:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - PT

 

Overall, the contrast between the cost of the CFN and the ITP are pretty significant – as is the difference in the balance of funding between the two:

CFN spending differences vs ITP - summary

 

So not only is the CFN a more balanced programme than the ITP, it’s actually around $10 billion cheaper and sequenced in such a way as to ensure it’s affordable in the long run over the next 16 years.

We hope to see the CFN become a key topic of conversation in this year’s election because transport is such a big issue for Auckland and because we are confident that the CFN represents an affordable, realistic vision for Auckland’s transport future.

The Wellesley St Busway

One of the most exciting projects in the City East West Transport Study (CEWT) is the addition of a busway through the central section of Wellesley St – which is defined as between Kitchener St and Albert St.

The central section of Wellesley Street near the Queen Street core contains a number of key cultural facilities including the Civic and St James Theatres, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Central City Library and also intersects with the Elliot Street shared space and connections through to Aotea Square. The importance of providing a quality environment for pedestrians and place making within the area cannot be overstated.

While the study has confirmed that the linear park project is best located on Victoria Street and there is a need for a bus corridor along Wellesley Street, there remain considerable opportunities to also obtain the desired improvements to pedestrian and amenity provisions within Wellesley Street central.

In particular, there may be an opportunity to close the central section of Wellesley Street (between Kitchener and Albert Streets) to general traffic, which would be rerouted for example around Mayoral Drive. This would enable the carriageway width to be reduced and reallocated to the pedestrian realm and also reduce the feeling of vehicle dominance within this area. This traffic closure would have additional benefits in allowing greater signal optimisation for buses and pedestrians at the Wellesley Street / Queen Street intersection, and may also unlock opportunities for improvements on adjacent blocks of Queen Street through reduced traffic and the reduction of bus stops.

For that central section the busway would be a full four lanes wide, two lanes for movement and two lanes for buses stopping. When you include the bus stops, parking and loading zones the carriageway is actually about six lanes wide so this proposal actually represents it being narrowed down.  That in turn allows for the footpaths to be extended which is something likely to be needed considering the number of people that will be moving through the area thanks to the people fountains the buses will be.

CEWT Wellesley St Busway

The image below highlights the benefits to pedestrians showing that they go from having 30% of the space in the corridor now to 48% with a bus only road in place.

CEWT Wellesley St Central

And here’s the proposed layout vs what we have now. While the diagrams are just listed as indicative, I suspect that in reality the vehicle lanes would be closer to the northern side which would allow much more space on the south which gets more sun and out the front of the Civic Theatre.

Wellesley St Layout

In addition to the extra space on Wellesley St, the changes to the bus routes and the inability of cars to turn off Queen St would mean the carriageway on that wide section of Queen St could also be narrowed. In effect it could leave us with quite a large footpath build out of the Civic corner.

But why is a busway even needed?

Currently around 24,000 people enter the CBD by bus during the morning peak however by 2041 it’s expected that number could be up to 45,000 people while vehicle volumes are at best flat. Like we’ve seen over the last decade, all the transport growth that will occur in the CBD will happen through public transport or active modes. Even with higher capacity buses it still means we’ll need a lot more of them on the roads delivering people to and through the city centre. It’s this reason that the City Centre Future Access Study determined that a mix of both the City Rail Link and improvements to surface buses would be the best solution.

Currently buses to the CBD use a wide variety of routes with the main corridors being Fanshawe St, Albert St and Symonds St. There are a number of buses that also terminate or travel through the Civic area.

CBD Bus Routes Current

 

The New Bus Network is seeing routes overhauled and while we won’t see the official plans for the City Centre till the central are consultation (which is expected next year), one of the features of the network is that routes will be concentrated on to a few key routes. The current proposal below sees two North-South routes (Albert St and Symonds St) and two East-West routes (Fanshawe/Customs and Wellesley St. The Wellesley St corridor is home to a number of all-day frequent routes including but not limited to buses from:

  • Dominion Rd
  • Sandringham Rd
  • New North Rd
  • Remuera Rd
  • Manukau Rd
  • Pt Chev via Westmere and Herne Bay
  • Grey Lynn and Ponsonby

A quick calculation suggests that could represent over 100 buses an hour before taking into account the non frequent routes and the peak only routes that would also pass through the corridor. That would likely to be too much for single bus lanes to handle without getting horribly clogged up with a wall of buses.

CBD Bus Routes Future

So why not use either Victoria St or Mayoral Dr for the buses

As many people will know and as the first map shows, buses currently use both Wellesley and Victoria St for East-West movements and some may ask why we shouldn’t just keep doing that. There are a number of reasons but a couple of key ones are that it enables customers to transfer much easier between services but it also enable other city centre improvements to happen. In particular the plan is to have a linear park on Victoria St connecting Albert Park with Victoria Park.

Victoria St Linear Park

As the report notes a number of people have questioned whether the Linear park should be on Wellesley instead (with presumably buses on Victoria St). The report (page 234) highlights the results of some of the significant analysis that is said to have gone in to confirming that Victoria St is the best location. The other east-west street in the middle of the CBD is Mayoral Dr. Again it would require bus routes to be longer and therefore higher operational costs but it would also move the buses (which will be moving many more people to the city than cars will) further away from the centre of town where the majority of people will be living or working. The table below shows the expected CBD population and employment densities in 2041 showing the concentration north of Wellesley St.

2041 Forecast CBD population and employment density

In my view the Wellesley St busway would be a welcome addition to the city centre and along with the other improvements to the area represent a huge step forward for the CBD.