AWHC: Where Does all the New Traffic Go?

The Additional Harbour Crossing as currently proposed is a pair of tunnels containing six traffic lanes between the motorway at Esmonde Rd rejoining it at Spaghetti Junction [The CMJ] in the city. The publicly available schemes also show additional rail tunnels between Akoranga and Wynyard Quarter, but no connecting network for any trains to actually use. It is clear to see the appeal for NZTA of straightening and simplifying SH1 past the bridge, but the outcomes for the city are much less certain. Below for example is version T1:

AWHC T1

Clearly this or the other versions that date from 2010 are not the current versions NZTA are developing now, but until new versions are released these are still worth looking at in some detail as neither the various physical constraints or the overall aims that drive these options have changed. The options can be seen here.

Considering these there are several high altitude observations I think are important to begin with:

  • This will be the most expensive urban transport project ever undertaken in NZ; claimed to be $4-$6 billion. Two to three times the cost of the CRL.
  • Not least because of the massive cost it is extremely unlikely that both sets of tunnels and systems would be undertaken at the same time. They will be staged; one will precede the other.
  • The road scheme is essentially a SH1 bridge bypass, and therefore optimises through traffic, however it does not make any new connection that is not currently available nor in fact any increase in capacity on SH1.
  • There is little spare capacity in the CMJ for additional vehicles so the new connection will remain the current three lanes north and a reduction from four to three lanes south.
  • Essentially the bridge becomes a massive on/off ramp for city traffic and unless and until the rail tunnels and line are built more buses on bus lanes across the bridge will be the PT part of the project.

Here’s the set of variations currently available for the city end, all versions involve four tunnels under Victoria Park [3 new ones]:

AWHC Tunnell Options

All schemes also involve massive new interchanges on new reclamations at the North Shore end with flyovers and multiple connections between crossings, not unlike the new interchange at Waterview currently being built. Like the outcomes for traffic on North Shore local roads, the impacts of this project will be neither small nor all positive north of the bridge. However for this post I just want to focus on the city-side implications.

Assuming the road crossing is built first, which is consistent with assertions by politicians and officials with phrases like it will be ‘future proofed for rail’, as well as the lack of any real work yet on a rail crossing, it is worth asking exactly where will the new traffic enabled by the extra capacity across the harbour go once in the city?

Because the new crossing plugs directly into the CMJ, three lanes in and three lanes out, and because there are no planned increases in capacity through the CMJ, nor any space for any without further massive tunnelling, in effect the new capacity will be all on the bridge, so coming from the Shore this new traffic will all have to be accommodated by just three off ramps [same in reverse heading north]:

  • Cook St; with new direct connections through Victoria Park
  • Fanshawe St, especially for buses on new bus lanes
  • Shelly Beach Rd, and then on to Jervois and Ponsonby Rds.

None of these exits can accommodate any increasing in traffic well, or without considerable disbenefit, especially if that increase in traffic is large.

  • Cook St is pointed directly at the heart of the city, so this contradicts policy of reducing vehicle volumes in the city centre and is likely to infarct daily at the peaks as Cook St is close and perpendicular to Hobson and Nelson Sts which serve the Southern and Northwestern motorway flows. Gridlock is likely at the controlled intersections unable to handle large and peaky traffic volumes to and from these motorways. Additionally land use in this area is changing and intensifying making it even less suitable for the high speed motorway offramp it already hosts.
  • Fanshawe will have reduced capacity for general traffic as a multilane Busway will be required to take the increased bus volumes from the bridge, and anyway is already at capacity at the peaks.
  • Shelly Beach Rd is a narrow residential street not suited to the high volumes and high speeds it already suffers from the bridge now. Furthermore there is no benefit and little capacity for the streets beyond Shelly Beach Rd, particularly Jervois and Ponsonby Rds for a large increase in vehicle volumes.

Nonetheless, here are the forecasts they have come up with, Shelly Beach Rd with a 63% increase, is basically filled with bridge traffic by 2026 and the new crossing:

AWHC Forecast Daily traffic flows

20,300 additional cars modelled for Fanshawe + Cook St with the AWHC option (assume that is all day on a weekday?). Even at the best sorts of turnover that would require around 10,000+ new carpark places. The downtown carpark has 1890 spaces. So where exactly do we put six new downtown carpark buildings? And what six streets get sacrificed to feed them?

20,300 cars carry perhaps 25,000 people. The CRL at capacity will carry that entire amount in 40 minutes. As could a North Shore rail line of similar specification. If the net outcome of this project is to take 20,000 commuters to midtown, why not do it with rapid transit at a third the cost with none of the traffic congestion?

“The significant increase in traffic movements conflict with many of the aspirations outlined in current Council policies, strategies, frameworks and master plans.”

P 65 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, NZTA, 2010.

Obviously these higher traffic volumes are not good for every pedestrian, resident, and general city user in these areas but there is one other group that this situation in particular is going to make miserable, and that’s the motorist. There is a word for all this additional driving everywhere on city streets: congestion. Yup this increase in capacity across the harbour may speed that part of the journey but it’s going to make arriving anywhere in the city in your car much more hellish than it is now. And don’t even think about finding or affording somewhere to park.

What NZTA’s consultants say about this:

AWHC City exits

The increased traffic flows through St Marys Bay on both Shelley Beach rd and Curran St look to lead to particularly poor and unfixable outcomes:

AWHC Local Roads

It seems optimistic to say that because there are cafes, and strongly increasing pedestrian volumes, on Ponsonby Rd, that drivers won’t try to drive there, especially if other bridge exits are controlled or too busy. After all the first rule of urban traffic is that it will expand to wherever it is allowed to go. So, in the end, taking measures to dis-incentivise drivers to use these exits, is the consultant’s advice:

AWHC City Streets

It does seem kind of odd to spend $4-6 billion to increase capacity across the harbour only to then introduce other measures to try to stop people using it.

And it won’t be just parking, there’s also likely to be tolls, it appears the model says they can pretty much eliminate the traffic problem with an $8 toll!:

AWHC Tolling both crossings

If only there was a way to enable more trips without inducing more and more cars to also be driven into the crowded city streets. After all the City Centre has been growing strongly without adding more cars most of this century:

CBD Transport Change

In fact it looks like we are already at or even above the limit of desirable vehicle numbers in the city, and future developments like replacing car access to Queen St with Light Rail are likely to make even current numbers face pressure.

Additionally there is an issue with bus volumes as well as car numbers on the city streets, even though the New Bus Network, the CRL, and Light Rail, if it happens, will reduce bus numbers from other parts of the city, there is certainly a limit to the numbers of buses from the Shore that can be comfortably accommodated too. Below is the predicted year of maximum bus capacity at major entry points to the city. The role of the CRL in reducing bus number pressure from the Isthmus is obvious, so why not do the same thing for buses from the Shore?

AWHC Year of Buslane max capacity

So perhaps the answer is the reverse the assumed staging and build the rail Rapid Transit tunnels first, leaving space for the road crossing to come later. This certainly looks physically possible in the maps above. This would enable all of those possible trips across the Harbour that NZTA identifies to still be served but without any of the traffic disbenefits that so clearly dog the road only crossing. In terms of people capacity two rail tracks can carry twice the volume of six traffic lanes. Furthermore it can be built without disturbing the current crossing and its connections. And rail crossings have proven in the past to be good alternative routes in an emergency.

This would add the real resilience of a whole other high capacity mode across the Harbour instead of simply more of the same. It would make our Harbour infrastructure more closely resemble Sydney’s where most of the heavy lifting in terms of people numbers is done by Rapid Transit, as shown below. We already have ferries, buses, and cars bringing people across, isn’t it time we added the particular efficiency of electric rail?

Sydney Harbour am peak

It seems particularly clear that whatever we add next really can’t involve trying to shove ever more vehicles [cars and buses] onto our crowded city streets; that will simple hold everyone up.

All the information above was gleaned from the work done some six years ago for NZTA, from here, and Auckland has moved on a great deal from where it was then. Among other things that have been proven recently is that when we are offered a high quality rail system we will use it. We are also discovering the value of our City Centre as a place to live, and work, and just be in, and how this is only possible to continue this improvement with fewer cars on every street. We certainly believe that there are more options for a far greater Auckland than the simple binary ones studied above: the road crossing ‘future proofed’ for rail, or the ‘Do Minimum’ which is nothing.

So we have asked, as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process, for a Rapid Transit crossing as the next additional crossing to be modelled too. So we can compare the status quo with the road crossing, and with a Rapid Transit crossing separately. Additionally we know that AT are now working on how various rail systems could work so in time there will be properly developed rail options to compare with the road one.

There is time as well as the need to get this right, the Western Ring Route will begin to become more complete next year with the opening of the Waterview tunnels, and that whole multi billion dollar system is of course an alternative harbour crossing system and will alter both the performance of  both the Bridge and the CMJ. Similarly decisions about AT’s proposed LRT system too has a bearing on options, as will the opening of the CRL next decade. Not least because the addition of these high quality systems will make movement through the city without a car much more common, as is the case in many overseas cities of Auckland’s size and quality.

The road crossing looks very much like an extremely expensive ‘nice to have’, that duplicates and tidies up the State Highway route, something to add when the missing alternatives have been built and there is spare budget to spend on duplication. Because on balance the road first additional crossing proposal really achieves little more than this:

AWHC 'City Roads' image

end.

Auckland Anniversary PT Fail

I’ve had two pieces of feedback following PT for Auckland Anniversery events on over weekend. The first is from reader Jeff

My friend started out with “Meet me at mine, Mt Eden, it should be a $15 Uber from here”

To which I said “I was thinking of Biking to the Train station, leaving the bikes there then catching the train in, It feels silly to not use PT into the CBD”

And such was my argument to my friend Matt who kindly cycled to my place from Mt Eden, to catch the train into Britomart for Laneway Festival at 2pm on a Monday.

And it was a good experience, a short ride downhill followed by a “Feels longer than it should” train trip into the city. In no time at all we were in the usual gridlock of Te Whero Bridge. (of course Matt would have been here half an hour ago if he took an Uber)

Laneway PT experience

After the festival, come 10pm, we were done, ready to board a train at Britomart, destined for Onehunga to start the cycle home. Upon entering Britomart, it was desolate. The train signs on the board read Penrose, Newmarket & Waitakere. No Onehunga, and the last train on the board was a half hour away.

We were tired, grumpy, and had work the next day. as two slightly out of our comfort zone 30 year olds, professional jobs beckoned in the morning and enough was enough – Cue Uber. Surge pricing, equally long waits – One wonders if this could have been mitigated if trains were operating at a festival appropriate frequency.

We found a cab, and I uttered the most absurd phrase I have ever uttered. “can you take us from here to Onehunga Train station please?”

Laneway PT experience 2

Sometime later we were back in Onehunga, we grabbed the bikes, and commenced the ride uphill to our respective homes. (along the new & lovely Onehunga Mall cycle lanes)

There is no way I’ll ever talk my friend into trusting the trains again.

My questions to AT are;

  • Was there a PT plan for this festival?
  • Do you have a planning team responsible for PT during events?
  • Was there a train coming? if not, why wasn’t it on the board? There was no way to check, and ‘waiting to see’ was unacceptable.
  • Is this the experience a casual train user should be confronted with?
  • How can you expect to compete with Uber or generic Taxis on trust, when they often provide a better ‘turn up and go’ service?

I realise this is an anecdotal experience, but if this was my experience, what of the other 10,000+ Laneway, or other Auckland wide event attendees?

And the second is from reader who had a number of observations from Sunday

  • Standard anniversary weekend public transport troubles occurring again, with hopeless Sunday timetables failing to cope with CBD crowds.
  • Saw NEX at 4.30pm leave 10 plus people behind, and Mt Eden bus at same time was jammed.

Missing the bus - Luke

  • Were huge numbers of people in town for fireworks last night, though most had choice of one or 2 services to get home.
  • Same likely tonight with Laneway finishing at 10.30pm, and all trains gone, and only handful of buses.
  • Plus despite official AC programme saying all trains running, there was nothing past Penrose or Sylvia Park.
  • People have learnt to use event PT now, so expect it at major events.
  • ATEED and AT need to get their act together, as leaving new users stranded is a very bad look, and puts people off.
  • Saga will repeat itself again for Lantern festival in a few weeks time.
  • Another good fix would be upping Sunday timetables to meet Saturday frequencies, many 20 or 30 rather than 15 minute frequency

Getting these experience wrong has long term impacts on how people perceive PT. It’s well beyond time that that AT should have learnt this by now, as Luke pointed out, people have learnt to use PT for events now so it’s up to the authorities to respond to that and provide it to an acceptable standard.ev

Annual PT Fare Changes for 2016

Auckland Transport are making a few changes to public transport fares on 28 February and some of them are bound to result in howls of outrage. The changes are part of ATs annual fare review and they have said they are being influenced by a couple of key factors:

  • The need to achieve the NZTAs farebox recovery policy of 50% of costs covered by fares by June 2018
  • Changes to operating costs
  • Changes in preparation for ATs Simplified Fares which they say are currently on track to roll out at the end of July

I’ll cover off these aspects before going into the fare changes.

Achieving the Farebox Recovery Policy

As I talked about on Friday, the NZTA require that 50% of all PT costs across NZ are met by the revenue from fares paid by PT users. As Auckland accounts for over 50% of all PT across the country it means the city is critical to the country meeting that target. Of course this doesn’t mean that the target is rational or provides the best economic and social outcome but it currently exists so AT has to work within that. The good news is we’re on the right track. Farebox Recovery has increased to 47.8% from 45.9% the year before.

2015-12 - Farebox Recovery Ratio

Changes to operating costs

The way that contracting currently works for most services is that the operator gets the fare revenue and AT pay the net cost of providing the service. The amount that AT pay is adjusted based on a cost index determined by the NZTA which takes into account changes to aspects such as labour costs, fuel costs, RUC costs etc. There are two indices, one for bus/train and one for Ferries. AT say these are up 0.5 for bus/train and 0.1 for ferry in the September Quarter and the fare changes are to respond to that.

Out of interest the NZTA’s info on the indices say that fuel prices only make up about 15% of the operational costs for buses and just over 30% of the costs for ferries. But those indices also suggest that while prices are up in the September Quarter they are still down on a year on year basis. In other words, as of the September Quarter – which would have been used by AT for their fare review – AT were paying less for services than they were the same time the year before. On a YoY basis they are -0.4% for bus and -3.7% for ferry.

PT Cost Indicies to Sep-15

Changes for ATs Simplified Fares (aka integrated fares)

There are two main and significant changes being made by AT to better align fares in the lead up to AT rolling out Simplified fares at the end of July. They are also the ones that will likely get the most reaction – especially from the media. The changes were suggested as part of the consultation for simplified fares but that won’t make the changes any easier for those affected. Essentially it seems like they’re getting the bad news parts of the Simplified Fares out of the way now so that when they do roll out in July the positive aspects don’t get overshadowed.

The first change is that Orakei Train Station to Britomart will go from 1 stage to 2 stages. The reasons suggested are:

  • As part of Simplified Fares there will be a City Zone which is based on roughly the same area as covered by the current 1 stage fare zone and which is effectively a circle the same distance from the centre of the city. Orakei is an anomaly sitting well outside of that. In addition, buses from Orakei pay a 2 stage fare so there needs to be consistency. Changing the area to 1 stage would be unfair on others who are travelling a similar distance.

Simplifed Fares Isthmus - Mt Eden&Orakei

  • The park & ride is often full as a result of people driving from around the region to pay for the 1 stage fare. They are hoping that changing it to 2 stages eases pressure on the station and that passengers will instead go to closer stations to catch the train.
  • Hobson Bay is a logical boundary for a fare stage/zone boundary.
  • As the station data AT provided suggested, the number of people affected isn’t that high overall. There are ~300,000 trips a year to or from Orakei which is around 2% of all rail patronage across the region.

 

The second change also affects the city zone and will see the removal of the current CBD zone which was a separate price for those catching a bus purely within the CBD (and a little bit around the southern end of Symonds St as shown below with the lighter area. Again it’s so that there will be a single City Zone. Until the Simplified Fares roll out it means trips within the CBD will be a 1 stage fare however importantly this doesn’t affect the CityLink buses which will remain at $0.50 if you use HOP.

CBD Fare Zone

Fare Changes

There is one other aspect is at play in the fare changes, AT say that compared to many other cities our short fares are often a bit cheaper while our longer distance fares are a bit higher. AT have decided to use these fare changes to try and balance that out slightly and so the fare changes are primarily for shorter trips.

Adult fares are below and there are no changes to child, accessible and tertiary fares with the exception of the child monthly train pass (which still uses the old cardboard tickets). As you can see stages 1 to 4 increase by $0.10 if you use HOP while other fares remain unchanged

Adult Fares from 28 Feb 2016

There is a change to the Adult Monthly passes too with the 2-zone monthly pass (the one I use) going from $190 to $200. There are a few changes to child monthly train passes too as well as family passes – on those AT say they are still working out just what the future will be for family passes and hopefully will finalise that soon.

Ferries don’t escape the changes.  They are splitting ferries into three zones which they say simplifies things and allows for better integration with the future integrated fares pricing structure – although they’re not quite ready to say how that integrates the approach they indicated to me sounded pretty reasonable. They’re working to align ferry fares within those zones over time and the new Adult HOP prices for them are below.

  • Inner Harbour (Birkenhead to Devonport) – $4.50 – these prices are now aligned.
  • Mid Harbour (Half Moon Bay, Hobsonville/Beach Haven, West Harbour) – $7.04 – $8
  • Outer Harbour (Gulf Harbour, Pine Harbour, Waiheke etc.) – $11-$11.20

AT want more ferry customers using HOP and as such they’re making some changes including removing some pass options and increasing the price of some too.

Simplified Fares

Lastly as a quick update to Simplified Fares. As mentioned it is due to roll out in July this year and AT say the project remains on track and they are currently testing some of the new functionality. They have confirmed the zones that will exist but are still reviewing four of the zone boundaries based on feedback from the consultation. These are:

  • Upper North Shore/Lower North Shore – There are a few school trips affected by the boundary on the map below.
  • Huapai/Waitakere – how it integrates with the new Westgate/Massey North development
  • Waitakere/Isthmus – again some school trips and short trips are affected but the boundary on the map below.
  • Manukau North/Manukau South – impacts on trips around Manukau

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

So what do you think of the changes and how much will they impact you.

A brief CRL history in cartoons

It’s taken some time but last week the government finally came around to starting the City Rail Link in 2018. In the end they were effectively forced into the position as they could no longer ignore the rapidly increasing ridership . Hayden Donnell from The Spinoff put together a great list of statements mainly from the government’s past transport ministers which really highlight how much they’ve opposed the project in recent years. Rather than duplicating the work I thought I’d look at the recent history of the project through some of the cartoons that have been published.

17 March 2009 – NZ Herald – Not strictly about the CRL but commenting Joyce’s plan for rail in Auckland – at the time he had put the plans to electrify the rail network on hold.

Joyce on Auckland Rail

28 November 2010 – NZ Herald – Len Brown as the newly elected mayor of an amalgamated Auckland released the business case into CRL. The government and especially Transport Minister Steven Joyce were quick to pour cold water on the idea.

2010-11-28 - Buffers

1 December 2010 – NZ Herald – The former Auckland Regional Council chaired by now councillor Mike Lee had been the main supporter of the CRL for main years resulting in the business case getting under way in the first place. This carries on from the one above as Steven Joyce was the face of the opposition to the project.

I have a vision of a tunnel - 01.12.10

9 June 2011 – The Press – After one of the Independent Māori Statutory Board members suggested there was a Taniwha in the way of the CRL.

CRL Taniwha

5 July 2012 – NZ Herald – at times it seemed as if the government would never agree to the CRL

2012-07-05 - When Time Flies

18 December 2012 – NZ Herald – As part of the critique into the original business case the Ministry of Transport suggested that one of the ways the council could improve it was the “Development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternatives“. This led directly to the City Centre Future Access study which looked at almost 50 options for improving access to the city and was worked on by officials from local and central government. It found that the CRL was the best option yet despite central government involvement in the work Transport Minister Jerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss it.

Controlling the Loop - 18.12.12

9 March 2013 – NZ Herald – In response to the Auckland’s desire for more investment in public transport Transport Minister Brownlee would continue to talk up the government’s investment in roads.

More Roads

27 June 2013 – NZ Herald – The Prime Minster John Key surprised everyone by suddenly supporting the CRL – although not starting it till 2020. This was in stark contrast to the position Brownlee and his predecessor Steven Joyce had been taking not long before this. It is believed there were a couple of key reasons for the change in stance. One was polling showing Auckland voters were unhappy that the government appeared to be constantly fighting the council and wanting progress. The second was that the business lobby groups in Auckland were also unhappy with the lack of action and had made that clear to the government.

Love for a Rail Loop - 2013-06-27

28 April 2014 – NZ Herald – the day the first electric trains started running.

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

27 January 2016 – NZ Herald – John Key announces that the government now support the CRL starting in 2018 – even though it appears at this stage that their share of the funding still won’t kick in till 2020

last one on board cartoon

30 January 2016 – NZ Herald – The CRL is suggested to be a white elephant in a weekly wrap-up cartoon.2016-01-30 - CRL White Elephant

Bonus cartoons

28 May 2007 – It was around this time that the former Labour government signed off on electrifying the Auckland rail network so I assume it was in relation to that.

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

2 November 1954 – NZ Herald – lampoons the scuttling by the National government of a previous plan to build an underground rail link through Auckland. The bound and gagged figure depicts Auckland Mayor J.H. Luxford

Herald-Cartoon4

Time for fares to come down?

Public transport fares are often a contentious issue. Too high and they can put people off, too low and it may increase the subsides needed or you may need to cut services. So it’s interesting to think about fares in the current climate we have in Auckland. We know from the last AT board meeting that the annual fare review was up for a decision/approval in the closed session. Given this is the time of the year they usually announce the outcome of that fare review I expect we’ll be hearing soon what they’re going to do.

Over the last few years we’ve seen fares for most people (HOP users) stabilise quite a bit and even fall while fares for cash payers to increase to help encourage people to move to HOP. Given some of the trends we’re seeing and what’s planned it seems that other than perhaps a few small tweaks any substantial changes can’t really be justified – in fact possibly the opposite, reducing fares might be justified.

We know that later this year Auckland Transport will be implementing integrated fares which will see us move to a zone based system. It’s quite likely they’ll use the fare review to move towards what’s planned for integrated fares and that could see some interesting changes, one of these could be around Orakei train station which sits outside the City zone in the proposed map below.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

 

The NZTA require that by mid-2018 public transport has a farebox recovery ratio of 50% – the percentage of costs that are covered by passenger fares. Auckland has traditionally hovered around 45% meaning that if we’re to meet the national goal then AT needs to do better – whether 50% is the right level to get the best economic outcome is for a different debate. Many of the current initiates such as electrification, the new bus network and PTOM contracts are all expected to improve Auckland’s performance through both reducing costs and increasing patronage and therefore revenue (AT’s farebox recovery policy is in the RPTP). For this year Auckland Transport and the Council set a formal target of 46-48% as part of their Statement of Intent.

The good news is that the surge in patronage that Auckland has been experiencing over the last year has had a noticeable impact on the farebox recovery ratio. The most recent data up to October last year show it sitting at top of the target range at 47.8%, that’s up from 45.9% the at the same time the year before. Does this suggest perhaps there’s some room to move on fares while still keeping the farebox recovery ratio within target?

2015-12 - Farebox Recovery Ratio

In the past when they’ve raised fares AT have said that one consideration in setting fares is the cost compared to driving for an individual. We know that in recent months fuel prices have fallen (shown below) which obviously makes it cheaper to drive. The decrease

Petrol Prices 2016-01-22

Diesel prices have fallen even more sharply and that will likely be having an impact on bus operational costs.

Diesel Prices to 2016-01-22 (2)

There are likely to be some other factors I’ve overlooked however it seems to me that given the broad factors we’re seeing that raising prices is about last thing we should be doing.

Inevitably when discussing fares many like to compare Auckland’s to those in other cities. In September I took a look at a number of Australian and Canadian cities. One thing that was clear from doing that activity is it’s incredibly difficult to say whether fares are too high in Auckland. Every city has very different fare structures and often who is cheapest depends on distance travelled and the mode used.

Lastly another topic people love to raise is fare evasion and suggest we should gate all stations immediately. To put some things in perspective the last I heard fare evasion – which I believe is based on how many passengers are found without a ticket by the ticket inspectors – sits at around 6-8%. The amount of lost revenue from those evading fares is the vicinity of $2.5 million. The reality is that if AT tried to eliminate fare evasion the amount of money they would need to spend on staff and infrastructure to enable it would dwarf the amount of money they end up collecting. The key is to get the right balance rather than an impossible attempt to stop all evasion (which still happens on systems fully gated)

Are we ready for PT madness season

Next week marks the start of annual madness season – the time of the year where use of public transport ramps up over February and culminates in what we call March Madness.

The spike in patronage seems to be the result of a combination of factors. Schools and universities kick back in to gear for the year (the school term officially starts again on Monday) which also more parents back to work. Those naturally make public transport busier and of course roads busier too. It also seems that a lot more people are willing to give public transport a go, perhaps a result of wanting an alternative after suddenly being exposed to the full mind numbing horror of driving on congested roads once again – especially after the easier driving over the summer period.

You can see the impact of March Madness in the chart below showing patronage in each month with March in Red. February is obviously lower due to fewer working days and PT use ramping up over the course of the month. Unsurprisingly the years where March wasn’t the busiest month of the year or where other months were very close (2008 and 2013) Easter was either partially or fully in month. Of course we have Easter falling fully within March this year – although due to the way the weekends fall it only represents one less working day than last year.

2015-12 Monthly Patronage

By the end of February the March Madness conditions will be in full effect so it’s important that Auckland Transport have the PT network working well to ensure that people can actually use it and encourage those new adopters to keep using it well into the future.

In the past they haven’t done well on this front. Both buses and trains are often packed to the point of turning people away. Last year I heard stories of some people on routes such as Mt Eden Rd waiting and watching as up to 12 buses went past too full to allow them to get on.

The numbers tend to die down after March due to a combination of factors such as school holidays and people giving up on the overcrowded PT services and going back to their car.

This all begs the question of whether AT are prepared for this year’s madness. In my view they aren’t.

Since this time last year the electric trains have been rolled out to the Southern and Western lines providing a little bit more capacity however even in January – normally a quitter time – trains have been very busy thanks to all of the patronage growth that’s occurred. The Western line is still stuck with trains at peak times only every 15 minutes despite AT and its predecessors promising 10 minute services would happen from as far back as 2010. Indications are we’ll finally see that increase happen this year but not till April/May, after the rush.

On the bus network it’s a similar story, not much capacity has been added but some is on the way. We learned last year that the various operators were buying 56 double decker buses to be used in Auckland. Some are already in use on the Northern Express and one is used by Howick & Eastern for trips between the city and Botany but it appears the bulk of these might be too late March. The expected roll out of them is below.

  • 18 buses on the NEX Northern Express (Albany to Britomart via the Northern busway) by April 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 500 route (Mission Heights to Downtown via Botany Town Centre, Pakuranga, Panmure, Ellerslie and Newmarket) by September 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 274 (Three Kings to Downtown via Mt Eden Rd) and 277 routes (Waikowhai to Downtown via Three Kings and Mt Eden Rd) in May & June 2016
  • 8 buses on the 881 route (Albany to Newmarket along the Northern busway) in June 2016

What we have seen though is that AT have been advertising their arrival.

AT_DD_Ad

I think AT have actually done a good job on the advertising, both in the design and placement of the ads but I do wonder if they’re a bit premature. The majority of them won’t on the road till after May so will provide no relief for busy routes like Mt Eden Rd so advertising them now might be giving a bit of false hope.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the system copes.

CRL Certainty

Certainty is the word I’d use to describe the announcement by John Key yesterday that the government would support for the City Rail Link main works beginning in 2018. While it was widely expected it was an announcement that was both very low on specific details but also contained a lot of information.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

As readers may remember, the government had long opposed the CRL with former transport ministers at the time Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee seemingly taking great pleasure in dismissing reports at that time. That all changed in 2013 where in a similar speech Key announced the government would accept the CRL from 2020 onwards but entertained the idea of an earlier start/finish time if patronage doubled to 20 million earlier than expected and CBD employment grew by 25%.

While the government hasn’t put in place targets for any other project before (or after), having one for patronage isn’t too bad an idea but we were always very critical of the employment growth one for a number of reasons. In the end the employment target was irrelevant in the decision.

CBD employment levels are still some way from the 25 per cent growth threshold.

But strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means it will reach the 20 million annual trip threshold well before 2020.

It’s become clear that we need to provide certainty for other planned CBD developments affected by the Rail Link.

This means we see merit in starting the project sooner.

 

As we posted the other day, patronage on the rail network reached 15.4 million to the end of December, a 22.9% increase on the year before. The scale of the growth and that it has been sustained at around that level for a year are impressive and highlight just how quickly things can change. It’s meant that at current rates we would hit the CRL target up to three years early. Perhaps the more interesting aspect is the impact the business community have had on getting an earlier start date. There is a huge amount of development planned along the CRL route and much of it is premised on CRL happening. Providing a commitment which then allows the private sector to get on with investing billions makes a lot of sense.

Emmerson CRL John Key 2016.01.27

Emmerson in herald yesterday

In quite a shrewd move Key actually only confirmed the government share would arrive after 2020 which is in line with his original time frame from back in 2013 but just by having that commitment now means that the council can use it’s share to start in 2018.

So I can today confirm the Government will work with the Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020.

The Council has indicated this would allow construction of the Rail Link’s main works to start in 2018 – at least two years earlier than currently envisaged.

It would also allow the council to get on with negotiating contracts and providing certainty for investors in other important Auckland CBD projects.

By providing the commitment he has it’s likely he’s saved more than just the two-year gap. The big reason for this is it means that those at AT working on the project can get on with the tender process and engage with potential suppliers knowing that will definitely be there from 2018. That can allow them to optimise the built, possibly reduce the amount of time the main works will take and definitely reduce the overall amount of disruption the city will experience from the construction. It of course also means we start getting the transport and economic benefits sooner.

 

One quite interesting statement about the project was that the council and government need to sit down and work out just who will own and operate the infrastructure. I can’t imagine the council/AT paying for half of the project and then being keen on say Kiwirail owning it.

On the funding, Key confirmed in this interview with Duncan Garner that the money would come from the government’s consolidated account and not the National Land Transport Fund once again highlighting the issue that rail infrastructure is funded differently to other land transport. This is something that really needs to be changed. Also of note in that interview was him being quite positive about development around the rail network which is encouraging.

It remains to be seen how the council will pay for its share. Funding for it was already included in the Long Term Plan agreed last year for 2018 onwards however Len was also talking yesterday again about using road tolls to raise funding for it. Interestingly the government also appear to have softened their stance on this. Previously they’ve outright refused to even consider it but Key is now saying they will if there is a good case for it.

Phil Goff has called for the project to be treated like one of National Significance and be fully funded by the government.

The council yesterday released this short video of the change that that Albert St and the surrounding area is about to go though

Congratulations and thanks to Len Brown for is effort over the last 5 or so years in turning this project into a reality. At times it’s looked like it may never happen but the persistency has paid off and Auckland will be considerably better for it. There are a lot of others that need to be congratulated too and many of whom we may never know just how important of a role they played

 

Following on from Key’s announcement on the CRL there have been a few of frankly bizarre press releases from some politicians that are worth mentioning. Top of the list is the response from David Seymour who has used the announcement to call for more money to be spent on schools in his electorate and this statement. Odd as the government have already shown they are prepared to fund greater investment in schools to deal with changing roll sizes – such as this at the beginning of December.

“The reality is that we have a train looking for passengers, rather than the other way around. That’s why the Rail Link requires heavy intensification around Mt Eden Station, among others, to be viable.

“The Council has not considered the implications of changing land use on education in the area, where schools are already bursting at the seams. The Mt Eden Station development, for instance, will bring hundreds of new residences into already-full school zones.

Yes a train looking for passengers, I guess that’s why they’re often so full that people can’t get on. I haven’t checked but I’m also fairly confident the Ministry of Education would have submitted on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan currently before an independent hearings panel.

In a separate release he also suggests the government should have blackmailed the council by withholding infrastructure funding until they allowed unfettered sprawl subsidised by existing ratepayers.

The Government has let Auckland Council off the hook, gaining no concessions on land supply or rate rises, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Writing a big cheque was the time to bring Auckland Council to the table,” says Mr Seymour, “but instead the Council got away with the money and the bag.”

“The Government could have set up ongoing incentives for the council to provide infrastructure. Instead, with no sign that the council will focus on core services, the largesse of the Len Brown era will continue.

Yesterday’s news is also not good for those that have spent their careers first telling us the project wasn’t needed and after being surprised at the government’s support in 2013, that the council shouldn’t do anything till that time. Chief among those was Cameron Brewer who used the news as an opportunity primarily to take a swipe at mayoral candidate Phil Goff.

 

NZTA and a Rail Harbour Crossing

The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.

In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.

In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.

Westconnex

From Sydney but appropriate here too

If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.

One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.

Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.

First up from the North Shore times

But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.

Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.

Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.

Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.

….

An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.

The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.

Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.

Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.

The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.

The second piece is from the Central Leader

“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.

But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.

Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.

“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.

The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.

“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.

Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.

The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.

December-15 Patronage

 

Auckland Transport normally releases their monthly patronage data at their board meetings but as the first one for 2016 isn’t till February they’ve kindly provided me the results for December.

Overall patronage growth has remained strong with trips in December up 7.4% on December 2014. The 12-month result has now topped 81.5 million trips which is up 7.6% on the same time last year.

2015-12 - Total Patronage

One concern though is that the growth is increasingly being driven increases in the rail network and on the ferries. This is due to a slowing on the rate of patronage growth on buses. My guess is this reflects there hasn’t been all that much in the way of service improvements on buses over last year or so and I suspect some of the growth that has occurred has been due to HOP making travel easier. The growth that is occurring on buses is mostly being driven by growth on the Northern Busway.

2015-12 - Bus Patronage

We will hopefully see the slowing growth reverse once we finally get the new network starting to be rolled out which is happening in South Auckland later this year. Integrated fares are also likely to help and we should hopefully know more about that soon.

I was expecting the rail results in particular to be very strong as the network was open for Christmas Day and Boxing day while the Western line and the inner part of the Eastern Line remained open all through the Christmas/New Year period. This has shown through in the numbers with rail ridership in December up a staggering 32.6% compared to December last year reaching 1.1 million trips. That leaves January as the only month that has now carries less than a million trips a month and given many of the same factors are at play I’d expect that to change once we get the January results next month. The chart below shows how patronage has changed for each month since 2002 and you see just how big the jump in 2015 was compared to previous years.

2015-12 - Rail results by month 2

The 12-month result is up 22.9% or 2.9 million trips to 15.4 million. Related I remember when the case for electrification was being made about a decade ago they touted it as delivering 15.6 million trips by June 2016. It looks like we’ll surpass that despite the actual roll out happening a few years later than predicted.

2015-12 - Rail Patronage

The last year has seen good growth on ferries on the back of service improvements on a number of routes. Patronage for the month was up 9.6% compared to December 2014 to around 580,000 trips and the 12-month result is up 10.7% or just over half a million to 5.7 million trips.

2015-12 - Ferry Patronage 2

All up December was a continuation of many of the trends we saw throughout 2015. It will be interesting to see if those same trends carry on through to 2016 or if things slow down. Rail likely has a bit of strong growth left yet, especially if AT improve frequencies and move the rail network towards a proper raid transit service with decent frequencies off peak too. The roll out of Integrated fares is likely to help patronage too and the big unknown will be the new network which rolls out in South Auckland in October.

 

Related, last week Patrick posted results of the latest rail station boardings. I thought it would be interesting to plot the change in rankings over time based on data I’ve collected over the years. In the end I’ve only done it from 2011 onwards as prior to that the movements were too erratic which will be in part due to the how station usage was counted. It might look like a mess of lines now but was worse with pre 2011 data included.

To be clear this only looks how the stations rank compared to other rail stations so isn’t looking at the size of growth but there are a couple of notable points.

  • The impact of Manukau is very clear and between mid-2014 and mid-2015 rose substantially and is currently the 13th busiest station.
  • Panmure is also seeing strong growth, moving from 14th to 5th busiest.
  • New Lynn shifted from 7th to 3rd.
  • Given the stations above along with Otahuhu and Henderson will also have bus interchanges in the New Network then I’d expect them to keep seeing them with an upward trend in coming years.
  • Sylvia Park shifted up 7 places to 8th.
  • Onehunga moved up 8 places to 21st.

Station Rankings Change to Dec 15

On the same topic we’ve long wanted to see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and I’ll post this in the next day or two.

Len Brown on the CRL

With less than a week to go till Prime Minister John Key is expected to announce an earlier start for the City Rail Link, Mayor Len Brown has written a fantastic op-ed on why the project is needed. One of the issues I’ve long thought the CRL has suffered from is that it’s part of the solution to a wide range of issues, not just transport ones. Len covers many of these well in his piece.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

You may be surprised to know how long the Herald has been speculating on when or if Auckland will get an underground train system. As is widely known, Mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson’s rapid-rail proposal in the 1970s got axed but his wasn’t the first. It actually goes back almost a hundred years in Auckland’s history. In 1923, then Railways Minister Gordon Coates gave his support for a city-to-Morningside underground rail line.

Reading through old files of this newspaper and its then-rival the Auckland Star over the holiday break, I was intrigued at how many times the same arguments for and against have been aired and which sadly resulted in missed opportunities.

A few days before Christmas, I spoke at an iwi blessing for the start of work in Albert St, signalling the start of the City Rail Link against that history of missed opportunities. It was a hugely moving occasion.

The City Rail Link is not just a transport story. It’s also about growing business and creating jobs as well as promoting environmental sustainability. The economic growth that will result will occur well beyond the central city. I have championed this project since my first Auckland Council mayoral campaign because it will be transformational, not only to keep Auckland moving and also to boost the city’s economic and social life. It will rejuvenate many parts of wider Auckland as well as building a great heart for the city.

It is estimated about 120 premature deaths occur in Auckland each year due to air pollution. Vehicles are also the largest contributor to Auckland’s greenhouse gas emissions, making up more than a third of the region’s total. The rail link will move more people out of their cars and into public transport resulting in cleaner air and water as well as promoting more active lifestyles. The move from diesel to electric trains has already reduced our CO2 emissions by 1 per cent.

Auckland’s city centre is New Zealand’s largest, fastest-growing and most productive employment precinct. Its focus is the fastest-growing part of our economy, the service sector – quality professional services, quality hospitality and quality retail. The service sector is people-intensive, so its growth means we need to move increasing numbers of people into and out of the city centre every day.

The number of people travelling to and from the city centre by car has been static for more than 15 years, and now 52 per cent of people commute by public transport. Public transport and walking and cycling are the only way to build the city workforce.

Some people suggest the way we should respond to this is by spreading the growth, and traffic, out to other parts of Auckland. This has been the failed plan for the past 60 years. There is certainly plenty of growth to go around and it is already being experienced in major metropolitan centres across Auckland.

Over the past two years, Auckland’s economy is growing at an extra $3 billion a year adding about 35,000 new jobs per annum. Concentrating certain types of employment in the city centre, however, is critical to maximising its economic value to all of Auckland. The private sector is planning and constructing new office developments able to accommodate 22,000 employees in the city centre over the next six years.

Great research has been done into urban economies over the past decade. One major finding is that whenever you increase the number of workers in an area, the productivity of individual workers goes up. This means that if you increase the number of workers by a certain percentage, you increase economic output by more than that percentage. This is because larger centres enable more specialisation and more interaction between people and firms. So providing for job growth in Auckland’s city centre is critical to its economic future. Public transport is the only way we can deliver the necessary workforce to the CBD.

Britomart station will hit train handling capacity this year. It can handle only 20 trains an hour.

The CRL allows us to increase this to 48 trains an hour. Building the rail tunnel will also divert more than enough passengers to the new Aotea Station to give Britomart enough capacity to handle decades of growth. To reach my vision of Auckland being the world’s most liveable city, we need this to happen and I expect it will soon get the needed additional financial support from the Government.

So while we all know transport and housing are the city’s biggest challenges, the issue dominating everything is that Auckland is on a roll and we are growing fast. In fact our population is growing at 3 per cent a year or more than 800 new people a week and immigrants are continuing to decide Auckland is their destination of choice.

The CRL is the heart of dealing with the growth, with propelling our economy, and creating a future Aucklanders want.

On a related note, interestingly today we also learn that Auckland will be hosting APEC in 2021. Albert St is in the process of being dug up and while the section north of Wyndham will be finished in 2018, about the time the main works are due to start which includes digging out the Aotea Station. I wonder if that section will be finished in time or if this section straddled by a few hotels will be one big construction hole.