Deferring Transport Projects

So what do you do when you’re told you have to cut some of your $826 million budget for capital projects and that in choosing what to cut it can’t apply to public transport projects?

Well it seems if you’re Auckland Transport you start by cutting PT and active mode projects.

Back in May when the council was discussing their budget for this year it was decided that Auckland Transport should reduce capital expenditure spend. At the time Chris Darby managed to get this amendment passed saying that the cuts won’t impact on PT.

MOVED by Cr C Darby, seconded by Cr PA Hulse:
Cr Darby moved by way of amendment, seconded Cr Hulse.
That the Budget Committee:
i) agree that the $5.1 million transport opex increase is dedicated to public transport and the $50 million reduction in transport capex will not be applied to public transport.

But it seems the $50 million isn’t enough if the council wants to keep to Len Brown’s goal of having rate rises next year average 2.5%.

  • On 26 March, staff provided the results of financial modelling in response to the mayoral direction for the LTP 2015-2025. One conclusion from this analysis was that it is not possible to reduce the average rates increase for 2015/2016 down to 2.5 per cent solely by reducing or deferring capex in that particular year.
  • The lagged impact of changes in the capital programme on operating budgets means that reducing or deferring capex in 2014/2015 will have a greater impact on rates for 2015/2016. The Budget Committee therefore agreed on 8 May 2014 to request the Chief Executive undertake an immediate review of 2014/2015 capex programme with a target of reducing or deferring $300 million of capex.

The cuts mean Auckland Transport has to find $100 million (which goes up to $150 million once NZTA subsidies are included). They don’t say all the items they’ll cut but the ones named are all PT projects.

The targeted reduction can be achieved via the reduction of budget across all transport activities. Projects such as Parnell Station, the Pukekohe Station upgrade and bus and transit lane improvements may have to be deferred to the LTP period. The Auckland Transport Board will consider the current capital programme to confirm which projects may be stopped, reduced or deferred to the LTP in order to minimise negative impacts on Auckland Plan outcomes. An updated 2014/2015 capital programme will be provided to the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee in November.

It seems the only projects specifically named as being deferred are those that PT projects which goes against what the council asked for in the first place. Further projects like bus and transit lane improvements are often some of the cheapest and highest benefit projects. An example of this is the recent extension of the Fanshawe St bus lanes resulted in lots of full buses being sped up in the evening for what I understand was a fairly minor cost. In saying that I can live with the Silverdale Park and Ride (which is having issues of it’s own to sort out first) and can also live with Parnell to a degree.

Here’s the total list of capital projects in the current annual plan.

AT Funding - 14-15 - PT

AT Funding - 14-15 - Parking

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 1

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 2

It seems to me there are a lot of other projects on the list that should be being cut before $2.5 million bus lane improvements, for example Lincoln Rd or Penlink.

For their part the council passed a (much weaker) resolution saying that AT should take into account the councils priorities around PT and active mode outcomes however based on past performance I wouldn’t hold up hope of AT actually listening to that.

Recapping the Congestion Free Network

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy.  Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.

What is the Congestion Free Network?

The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.

As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.

cfn-implementationThe CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.

Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?

The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.

Congestion is predicted to get worse:

Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:

Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:

When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!

With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.

How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?

Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.

The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:

The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major  centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas.  It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.

But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.

How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?

A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:

  • Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
  • Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
  • Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
  • Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport

In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:

The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.

Conclusion:

The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.

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

July 14 Patronage results

The patronage results for July are now available and they show another strong month of growth.

Auckland public transport patronage totalled 72,740,387 passengers for the 12 months to Jul-2014, an increase of +0.5% on the 12 months to Jun-2014 and +5.9% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. July monthly patronage was 6,268,752, an increase of 343,651 boardings or +5.8% on Jul-2013, normalised to ~ +5.4% accounting for additional special event patronage only, same number of business and weekend days in Jul-2014 compared to Jul-2013.

Rail patronage totalled 11,552,643 passengers for the 12 months to Jul-2014, an increase of +1.0% on the 12 months to Jun-2014 and +14.4% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Patronage for Jul-2014 was 1,089,839, an increase of 117,561 boardings or +12.1% on Jul-2013, normalised to ~ +9.9%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,460,177 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jul-2014), an increase of +1.4% on the 12 months to Jun-2014 and +7.6% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Northern Express bus service patronage for Jul-2014 was 233,814, an increase of 33,433 boardings or +16.7% on Jul-2013, normalised to ~ +15.2%.

Other bus services carried 53,653,594 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jul-2014, an increase of +0.4% on the 12 months to Jun-2014 and +4.6% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Other bus services patronage for Jul-2014 was 4,578,804, an increase of 228,637 boardings or +5.3% on Jul-2013, normalised to ~ +5.2%.

Ferry services carried 5,073,973 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jul-2014, a decrease of -0.7% on the 12 months to Jun-2014 and an increase +1.6% on the 12 months to Jul-2013. Ferry services patronage for Jul-2014 was 366,295, a decrease of -35,980 boardings or -8.9% on Jul-2013, normalised to ~ -8.9% (no special events).

14 - July AK Patronage table

14 - July AK Annual Patronage

Again it’s the rail network showing the most growth up 13% with the 12 month rolling total up 14.4%. One of the interesting aspects about this result is the Western Line managed a 14.2% increase despite there being no additional services other than half hourly services on Weekends in October last year. The Onehunga line continues to show strong growth since it was converted to using electric trains – although part of the month saw the old diesels return as Auckland Transport and others try to address some ongoing power supply issues. The most impressive result was on Manukau services in the first full month that the new MIT campus was completed. Patronage on those services was up over 26% and it will be interesting to see if that level of growth continues.

14 - July AK Rail Patronage

To highlight the growth that’s occurring this graph shows the average patronage on each weekday which since July last year has risen from just under 37,500 to about 42,000 per day. AT say that on average seven services per day are over the planned capacity ratio of four people standing for every 10 sitting while a further six were very near to that level

14 - July weekday average

While the rail network is increasing the fastest the biggest growth by overall number continues to be the bus network which was up 5.8% when you combine the Northern Express with other bus services. The graph below shows the NEX patronage while the one after shows the average weekday patronage for the other bus services

14 - NEX Patronage

14 - July other bus weekday average

As AT said last month, from now they have finally dropped the self-reported bus reliability and punctuality stats and have instead moved to reporting them using the on-board GPS tracking equipment. A separate report on the stats highlights the reasons why the old self-reported stats were so high.

Under existing contracts, bus operators provided AT with a monthly service delivery report. Two main variants of contract exist: ‘North Auckland Spine’ (~5% of services), and the remainder (~70% of services). Commercial services (~25% services) are exempt from performance reporting. The majority of contracts reported contracted performance rather than actual customer experience, i.e. excluded trips where performance was impacted by factors outside of operator control e.g. adverse weather, exceptional passenger loadings and significant traffic congestion, resulting in artificially high performance reports. Various metrics were used including reliability at within 30 minutes of start of trip.

Reliability and punctuality has been predominantly monitored through manual self-reporting systems. AT has been working with operators to transition to an automated system based on actual performance data generated from new GPS-tracking equipment. Reporting reliability and punctuality using GPS-tracked performance data will commence from 1 July.

New and consistent, PTOM KPIs will be reported – reliability (trips started within 10 minutes of schedule and completed) and punctuality (trips started within 5 minutes of schedule). In future punctuality at points through the trip and at the final destination will also be measured.

This new methodology reports on customer experience with no exclusions or exemptions such as congestion or adverse weather. An expected punctuality is 100% at start of first each duty timetable trip (operator reaching the trip start) and for all other trips, allowing for an element of average statistical non-performance from outlying high congestion, poor weather, accidents, etc, and compounded where successive trips are linked, 95% at trip start for non-right-of-way (mixed with traffic) and 98% for right-of-way (busway) services.

As a result of no exceptions, the GPS-tracked reliability and punctuality will be lower than previously reported, however performance data collected will permit improvements in service delivery through an ongoing iterative programme of six to twelve monthly timetable reviews.

It’s almost unbelievable that operators were allowed to ignore commercial services, services with lots of passengers, services caught in congestion or results when the weather was bad and it’s no wonder they always managed 99% of services on time. Like the self-reported stats this only reports buses based on when they start their run however AT say they are also looking at performance based on certain timing points too. Below is the punctuality results for July compared to December last year which I assume was when AT finalised their tracking methodology.

14 - Bus Punctuality

So Airbus, the service you probably most want to be on time has the worst performance. This graph shows how the performance has changed since December.

14 - Bus Punctuality graph

The PTOM target is the target that will apply once the new contracts are rolled out as part of the new network. They say that performance above or below the target will be subject to financial bonus or deductions so based on the info above I bet all the operators are happy those contracts aren’t in force yet. The same also applies to bus reliability (whether the bus even starts it’s run) for which there will be financial deductions for results less than 98% with again no operators yet meeting that level.

14 - Bus Reliability graph

It’s great to finally have some proper visibility around this and something we’ve only been calling for for about 3 years.

The biggest downside to Julys results was with cycling numbers which were down 21% on last July for some reason (despite what the text in the report says). If anyone has any reasons they might have fallen so much please let us know in the comments but a quick check shows that July was drier than normal with rainfall in Auckland at only 50-79% of an average July.

14 - July cycling

Government considering starting CRL on time

I’ve long suspected the realities surrounding the City Rail Link and its close relationship to some of the biggest development projects in Auckland would in some ways force the governments hand and require an earlier start than 2020. Yesterday the first sign that the government was starting to move from their position of only having construction start in 2020 started to appear with the Herald reporting they are now considering the construction of part of the project so as not to impede the redevelopment of the downtown mall. Starting at least the northern part of the project has been pushed by Len Brown for some time now and the reason for him doing so was precisely to enable the tower development to go ahead.

The Government is looking at an early start on the $2.4 billion City Rail Link – but only for a short section of the route to go with the redevelopment of the Downtown Shopping Centre. The underground rail link starts at Britomart and goes under Lower Queen St and the shopping centre before turning up Albert St bound for Mt Eden.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told the Herald he had met Precinct Properties about plans for a $400 million to $500 million redevelopment of the downtown site.

Once those plans were firmed up, he said, the Government would want to see how the rail link and redevelopment might gel to ensure everyone got the best results out of the time the site was under construction.

But Mr Brownlee stressed there was no commitment from Precinct at this point and no commitment from the Government, which wanted construction on the full link to start in 2020. The section of the route under the downtown site “would be lucky to be 100m”, he said.

This is the first public indication from the Government of an early start on the rail link, which Auckland Mayor Len Brown wants to start building in 2016.

He is citing the downtown redevelopment as one reason to kickstart a $250 million cut-and-cover section of the link from Britomart and up much of Albert St.

I’ve suggested in the past that one of the reasons the kick start to the CRL is needed is so that we can integrate the construction with other development including Precinct and the proposed tower on Albert St/Victoria St/Elliot St. Put simply the last thing the owners/developers of those sites will want is to have just spent hundreds of millions on new buildings only to have them impacted by construction for the CRL starting up. Precinct confirm this by saying:

“It would make sense to have works around that location done at the same time,” Mr Pritchard said. “Any Aucklander and visitor doesn’t want to see the bottom of the city under [construction for years].”

However it’s not just the Precinct development that benefits from starting earlier as it also allows Auckland Transport to get on with other projects that will be crucial to the improvement of the city, some of which are outlined in the City East West Transport Study.

CEWT Preferred Option

Of course once the project gets started – even if just for a small section – there will be a big increase in calls for the rest of the project to happen too, something that the government is keen to avoid.

Overall I don’t think the government are actually serious about starting the project on time and this is likely just to be something they are saying due to the upcoming election. I do think the government will ultimately be forced to commit to Len’s Kick-start proposal so as not to hold up other developments.

While on the topic of the CRL it is also something that came up in the document released the other day by the person who hacked Cameron Slater and was used for the the Dirty Politics book by Nicky Hager. The release shows the contents of a discussion between Slater and Aaron Batnagar who is a former Auckland City councilor and has worked for the National party.

June 27, 2013
————————-

Aaron Bhatnagar, 6/27, 12:54am

[...]
And so much for Joyce and English warning Banks off promising an inner city rail loop at the last mayoral elections.

[...]

Aaron Bhatnagar, 6/27, 12:55am

Because the moment Banks’ campaign went off the rails was when he backtracked on transport because of cost, and left Len looking like the only visionary

So John Banks supported the CRL in his campaign even after being told not to by Joyce and English while him backing off his initial support for rail to the airport and Albany showed he lacked vision. It’s worth noting that the way his campaign rapidly increased the cost of the rail projects was a factor in us creating the Congestion Free Network.

And in September 2013 talking about Maurice Williamson not running against Len Brown

Aaron Bhatnagar, 9/30, 6:13am

Maurice could have been in a real contest sadly. It just would have meant going soft on a city rail loop, but sadly key/Joyce fucked that issue.

So basically an acknowledgment that it’s politically impossible to now win the mayoralty on a campaign of stopping the CRL.

Advertising on Buses and Trains

A bugbear of mine is moving billboard type advertising on the sides of buses and trains like the examples below.

Advertising - Bus

Advertising - Train

It primarily annoys me due to the fact it impedes the view of those on services which can make it quite hard for passengers to see exactly where they are, especially at night. But it also goes the other way, being able to see into and through a bus or train is an important part in passengers being able to see the service is safe to board and use – although that also isn’t helped by bus windows often having an unnecessarily dark tint on them.

Now I realise that it’s a bit harder to do something about the bus advertising due to the way the buses are currently run in the city – although I hope it is something that AT can hopefully address as part of the contracts for the new network. What I’m more concerned about the advertising on the trains as that is something AT have within their control and further the ads aren’t for a private company but for AT themselves. I’m also concerned as the ads are targeted towards getting people to try using PT when the vast majority of people who will see them are people who are using trains anyway. The train advertising above is currently on 8 carriages across the train fleet and each one costs about $1,000.

So I asked Auckland Transport about the advertising on trains and in particular what will happen once we have an entire electric fleet. The answer gives me hope we they are moving towards a more customer centric view. Importantly they have said that the electric trains will be clean, in other words there will be no advertising allowed on them (other than the giant AT symbol on the middle carriage of course). That is a very pleasing to hear and hopefully means the trains will stay nice and clean

EMU Southern Motorway

Photo by Alex Burgess of one of the few places non train users might regularly see a train

On the inside AT say that there will be some dedicated public information spots on the walls inside the trains for displaying information like timetable/service changes etc. but that they won’t be used for general marketing. In saying that they are looking at the idea of on-board digital marketing which would essentially be TV screens mounted to the roof of the carriages that would display ads however that is still only in early stages of investigation.

Overall I think this is the right approach to take. It keeps the electric trains looking good while based on what I’ve seen overseas small digital screens displaying ads are unobtrusive and can easily be ignored. I just hope that as part of AT’s focus to improve the customer experience they get tough with bus companies who want to wrap buses like has been done in the first image.

Electric Trains from Manukau from tomorrow

Electric trains start rolling out on the Manukau line from tomorrow however unlike the Onehugna Line not all services will switch over at once with them only starting on off peak services before being introduced over the course of a month to peak services too.

The roll-out of electric trains in Auckland steps up next week with the introduction of the new trains on the Manukau Line.

Initially electric trains will run on some off-peak services, they will be introduced to all services over the next month.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Operations Officer Greg Edmonds says the new trains have been very popular since their introduction on the Onehunga Line in April but with any transition we should be prepared for “teething problems.”

“We want to ensure our customers who use the trains to Manukau are getting a reliable service so we will be gradually increasing the number of electric trains over the next month.”

Meanwhile, testing continues across the rail network following an intermittent power fault which saw some Onehunga services affected. Mr Edmonds stresses there are no safety issues associated with the fault.

From memory this is actually slightly ahead of schedule which is good.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

I’m sure those on the eastern line can’t wait for them to roll out as I frequently get reports of people having to wait for 2 or 3 trains before being able to get on board at peak times. At this stage AT are just rolling out the EMUs on to the existing timetable however there is hopefully going to be a timetable improvement in the coming months that will boost the number of services from Manukau.

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Find out more about the new Otahuhu interchange

AT are holding an open day tomorrow about the new Otahuhu Bus/Train interchange they plan to implement as part of the new network for South Auckland. Detail of it are below.

A new bus-train interchange sited at the existing Otahuhu Train Station is on track to begin construction later this year with completion targeted for the middle of next year. The new interchange is expected to transform the way people travel in South Auckland.

Detailed design information for the Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange will be on display at a community event this Saturday at the Otahuhu Town Hall between 10am and 1.30pm. This new transport facility will be a critical hub in the delivery of a new integrated public transport network in South Auckland.

There will be plenty of fun with spot prizes, giveaways, food and entertainment and an opportunity to meet the project team who will take the interchange through to completion. This is a celebration of Otahuhu and the connecting of its people and places.

Feedback from local people has been important in the design process, we want locals to come and see how the interchange design has changed since consultation began last December.

Passenger comfort, safety, ease of accessibility and convenience were areas you asked us to consider for the final design.

Key features include continuous cover along bus and rail platforms, an elevated and enclosed concourse connecting the existing rail platform with new bus platforms, multiple pedestrian access options, escalators, lifts and stairs, WiFi, CCTV, kiss and ride and bicycle parking/storage. The facility will be built to accessible standards, including provision of limited parking for disabled users.

The community also sought assurance that getting to the new interchange would be simple and efficient for those travelling from the town centre.

New on street bus stop facilities will be built on Avenue Road replacing the existing Otahuhu bus station. New, modern bus shelters will also be constructed on Mason Avenue to serve the new Otahuhu Recreation Precinct with regular and frequent bus services connecting the interchange with the new town centre bus stops.

Otahuhu interchange

The design certainly looks like it’s changed a bit from the earlier concept images (which is to be expected).

Otahuhu proposed 1

City Rail Link is key to Auckland’s future

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief post talking about how the CBD employment targets the government has set for the City Rail Link and how they will be basically impossible to achieve due to a shortage of office space. I’ve also talked about both the office target and patronage targets a number of time in the past.

Last week Jason Krupp from the NZ Initiative wrote an opinion piece for Stuff talking about us and how the targets are justified and questioning the need for the CRL.

Recently, Transportblog.co.nz bemoaned the fact that Auckland CBD was running out of office space.

The pro-transit and compact city advocacy group is concerned because central government is insisting that certain rail usage and CBD employment targets be met before it co-funds the $2.9 billion City Rail Project.

These targets include the doubling of rail patronage to 20 million trips a year, and lifting the number of people employed in the CBD by 25 per cent (or 22,000 jobs) if the city wants the project to start in 2020.

The problem is that while the first target might just be achievable (there were 11.4 million rail passenger trips for the year ending June 2014, up from 10 million in the previous year), the second is more doubtful.

Transportblog.co.nz (and Auckland Council) seem to be suggesting the employment target is unreachable without the City Rail Link. After all, who would want to construct an office building if you can’t fill it with productive workers?

It is a persuasive argument, but it doesn’t quite stack up when you look at the complexities of transit investments and the track record of transit projects.

It goes on discuss some of these points and a few others in more detail. Seeing as he was specifically addressing us with his op-ed piece we felt we deserved a right of reply which Stuff have published. The piece was put together by our three musketeers economists John, Peter and Stu. Due to word limits on Stuff it’s difficult to even get half of what we want to say in an op-ed but what we did say is below.

At TransportBlog, we want Auckland to be a more connected, vibrant, and prosperous city.

So it came as a surprise when Jason Krupp of the New Zealand Initiative authored an opinion piece criticising our analysis of the need for the City Rail Link (CRL).

Mr Krupp suggests that Auckland should delay or perhaps even cancel the CRL. We disagree: the CRL is critical infrastructure which has already been subjected to considerable scrutiny, especially when compared to most other major transport projects in New Zealand’s history.

Construction on the CRL needs to get underway in 2016 lest Auckland’s growth is stifled.

Auckland’s transport future will be rather different to its past.

Auckland is competing for human and monetary capital with cities that benefit from efficient public transport networks.

The four largest cities across the ditch – Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane – all built CRL equivalents decades ago.

Because those cities unlocked more capacity from their rail networks, they can move more passengers free of congestion.

Rail networks in Perth and Brisbane – cities less dense and not much larger than Auckland – each carry more than 50 million passengers a year.

We should take a lead from what’s worked in Australian cities, which benefit from better mobility and easier access to jobs and services.

Mr Krupp incorrectly suggests that there is a debate over whether the CRL should happen at all. Fortunately, all major parties now agree that the CRL is necessary – but they disagree on the start date. Auckland Council and the major opposition parties have publicly committed to a 2016 start for construction.

A National-led government, on the other hand, would fund the CRL no earlier than 2020 unless two targets are achieved first.

The Government proposes to delay the CRL unless rail patronage reaches 20 million trips a year by 2018 and employment in Auckland’s city centre grows by 25 per cent by 2017.

We are concerned about the arbitrary nature of these targets. The employment target, for example, ignores the role the city centre plays in meeting growth in residents, tertiary students, and visitors.

It’s also unclear why targets have been set for the CRL but not for other major transport projects.

The Government’s criteria also seem to avoid more obvious “value-for-money” targets, such as the benefit-cost ratio.

Nonetheless, we believe that Auckland is capable of achieving the Government’s patronage target, although it’s a stretch.

Since the development of Britomart, Auckland’s rail patronage has grown at double-digit rates, rising from around 2 million annual trips to almost 12 million in a little over a decade.

There’s no reason we can’t meet or exceed that performance over the next decade given the ongoing introduction of electric trains; a better, more frequent bus network; and integrated ticketing.

Auckland’s revitalisation of public transport has been one of its major success stories over the last decade.

Investments in new infrastructure and services have paid off: Britomart, the Northern Busway, the Onehunga Line, and the new Panmure station have all outstripped initial projections. Britomart surpassed its forecasts more than a decade early.

The CRL is a sensible response to proven demand for rail services.

Without completing the “missing link” between Britomart and the Western Line, we will soon hit a capacity constraint – full trains, too many buses in the city centre, increasingly congested roads and reduced economic development.

On the other hand, the Government’s employment target for the CRL is unrealistic to the point of being nonsensical. Simply put, a 25 per cent increase in city centre employment by 2017 is physically impossible.

A recent independent report by PwC found that the central city won’t have enough office space to house these extra employees, given current low office vacancy rates and the time lag in developing new offices.

Moreover, much of the development required to get close to this target is contingent on the CRL. The redevelopment of the Downtown Mall, for example, won’t proceed without it.

Which begs the question: is this target reasonable, or is it simply a delaying tactic?

The Government’s targets and much of the media coverage on the CRL give the impression that the project will only benefit the central city. That’s patently not the case.

Auckland has 120 kilometres of rail lines that move people to and from Manukau, Newmarket, New Lynn, Middlemore, and many other stations as well as to Britomart.

Building the CRL will enable Auckland Transport to increase the speed and frequency of services across the entire network, and possibly expand rail to the North Shore and the Airport.

Carrying on without the CRL would be like building the motorway network without the Central Motorway Junction. It just wouldn’t make sense.

As firm believers in evidence-based policy, we welcome the degree of scrutiny on the CRL. The evidence compiled by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and central government is not only comprehensive, but also unprecedented when compared with other transport projects such as the expensive Roads of National Significance programme.

But now, the facts are in: it’s time to build the City Rail Link.

I know Jason has some more thoughts in reply to our piece and I’ve encouraged him make those thoughts known in the comments on this post so everyone can see them and join in the discussion.