May-16 Patronage

The public transport results for May are now available and once again there are some very impressive results on the Rapid Transit network with busway and rail network combined up 25% compared to May last year – although an extra business day in the month helped too. Ferries have also continued a good run with the only disappointment continuing to be buses (other than those on the busway) which were only up 0.1% and would’ve been down were it not for the extra day.

2016-05 - Patronage Table

During May Auckland Transport finally increased the peak frequency on the Western Line and early indications are promising. It will be good to see how things go over the coming months. Also important is AT say that punctuality remains high which is good as one of the fears I’d heard was that the additional services would make the network less reliable.

It turns out that May now holds the record for the highest single month for rail after eclipsing even the March result thanks to the impact of Easter. March is shown with the orange bars. That’s seen the 12 month rolling result now surpasses 16.5 million.

2016-05 - Rail monthly Patronage

While the new trains and service improvements have undoubtedly played a key role in the improvements, so too have punctuality and reliability. We now start to regularly see more than 95% of trains arriving at their destination within 5 minutes of their scheduled time which is up dramatically from about 74% about a year ago. From memory, prior to electrification we peaked at just over 90% – but then the current timetable has been padded out in part to deal with the terribly slow dwell times we currently have.

That stellar rise in rail usage has also seen another milestone eclipsed. Now 20% of all public transport trips are by train which is up from just 5% when Britomart opened and with the speed that usage of trains is increasing, that figure could hit 25% before the City Rail Link even opens. The busway currently accounts for around 5% of all trips. To me that’s important as it highlights that rapid transit is doing an increasing share of the heavy lifting – and we’d expect that given the investment.

As I’ve liked to highlight in recent months, the farebox recovery results continue to improve. These results are always an extra month behind with the latest results being to the end of April, so on the rail network we might see a bit of a reversal once the impact of the extra western line services is felt. Still it’s worth celebrating that farebox recovery has passed the NZTA’s 2018 target of 50% and is the highest it’s been in more than a decade. It really shows just how important it has been to have electrification to simultaneously drive up patronage and reduce operational costs.

2016-05 - Farebox

I was concerned at the results last month that HOP use was a little stagnant. I spoke a little too soon as May has recorded the highest result yet. In the business report, AT say that HOP use has risen and on 23 May it passed 85% for the first time. With all of the SuperGold card holders now having swapped or hopefully in the process of swapping to HOP, that result is likely to go higher still. As AT point out, the results are similar to Brisbane and South Australia who have had similar systems for much longer

South Queensland Go Card has 86% trip penetration after 10 years and the Adelaide Metro Card 87% after 4 years.

2016-05 - HOP Uptake

While talking about HOP, the business paper also says this. As yet I’ve had no indication of what this new monthly pass is.

Development of a product transition plan will result in the new monthly pass being marketed in June 2016 for 1 July 2016 launch. A discounted introduction price will be available during July.

Hopefully we’ll find out soon.

Newmarket Crossing gets green light

Auckland Transport have announced that they’d received consent for the Newmarket Crossing project which should also mean they can start getting on with the Parnell Station.

AT has received approval from independent planning commissioners for the construction of a bridge to replace Sarawia Street level crossing. AT has 30 working days to review and formally accept the recommendation.

AT sought consent for this last year and the bridge that will link Cowie St in Newmarket with Laxon Tce allowing for the Sarawia St level crossing to be closed.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

The crossing needs to be closed as AT/Kiwirail say its proximity to the Newmarket Junction and rail safety procedures limit capacity and flexibility on the line between Newmarket and Britomart. AT have also said in the past that getting the level crossing closed is required before the Parnell Station can be opened.

In a tweet earlier today they suggested that with the consent issued they will start construction on the project later this year.

Of course that would assume there is no environment court appeal and given the attitude of some of the residents so far, I wouldn’t rule that out.

On the Parnell station, the platforms were completed last year but the station is waiting for Kiwirail to move the old Newmarket station building to the site as it was intended to be part of a faux heritage precinct but that’s now been scuttled after the Mainline Steam sheds were demolished to make way for a retirement village – although that’s better than an earlier suggestion for the site of bus parking. It also needs other station features like lights, signs and hopefully some shelter on the side opposite the old building.

Parnell pic June15

Another thing missing and that so far AT have no intention of providing is some way convenient to get across the tracks. If the station gets developed as AT say on their website, the only option will be a minimum 230m detour up to the existing underpass although if you were coming from the proposed access to Nicolas Lane it will be about double that.

Of course pretty everything about the planning for the Parnell station has been wrong. It should have been a few hundred metres further north with access from the end of Heather St which is closer to where more people live or are going for work or education along with an easier walk to Parnell. A few hundred metres can make quite a lot of difference, just look at the impact of Grafton Station compared to its predecessor of Boston Rd.

Parnell Station Alternate Location sketch

Lastly we’re hearing suggestions that only Southern Line trains will stop at Parnell although this hasn’t been confirmed. Based on discussions I’ve had in the past I assume this relates to modelling showing that if all trains stopped there it would have severe impacts on rail capacity and reliability.

PT to miss this years targets

Is Auckland Transport doing enough to improve public transport or is it resting on its laurels basking in the glow of the spectacular increases being seen on the rail network and busway. That’s a question asked by Radio NZ the other day in highlighting that patronage on the bus network outside of the busway has actually fallen recently and will mean that AT misses its PT targets for the year.

The number of trips being taken on Auckland’s public transport network looks set to miss targets this year, and a new survey shows public perception of the services is worsening.

There has been strong growth on trains and the dedicated Northern Busway but fewer people are using the general bus network, which carries 75 percent of the city’s public transport users.

With two months to go, patronage is down slightly – despite population growth – and overall bus trips are expected to fall short of the annual target of 51.5 million, by more than 4 percent.

I’m not quite sure where the 51.5 million comes from as buses already carry well more than that so it might be a year to date target but that doesn’t change the fact that patronage has dipped in recent months. The four graphs below show how we’re performing across each of the modes and the targets are based on information from the Council’s Long Term Plan debate last year. As you can see both trains and ferries have already exceeded targets but bus use has tailed off and that’s dragged the overall total down.

2016-04 - Patronage vs target

So what’s causing this drop. AT attribute to a number of factors such as charging for the City Link which they say has seen the biggest change and resulted of around 700,000 fewer trips, something AT seem fairly nonchalant about. But seeing as they’ve been doing a lot of advertising recently including large ads in Britomart and people walking around with the modern day version of a sandwich board it’s obviously trips they want back on the buses.

“If you’re transferring from another bus or another train using the AT HOP card, the service is still free,” AT Metro general manager Mark Lambert said.

“But I guess some of those people who were using the City Link for relatively short distances would rather walk a few hundred metres than pay a 50 cent fare. That’s completely understandable and that’s probably a good thing.”

Other factors likely include that people are being put off some buses as a result of the bus stop and route changes made to accommodate the construction of the CRL and possibly even lingering effects of people put off by the bus strike and March Madness a few months ago. But I suspect there are additional factors too.

Over the 18 months or so, AT plan to roll out some of the biggest changes we’ve seen for PT in the form of Integrated Fares (next month) the new bus network (South Auckland in October and the rest of Auckland some-time between then and early 2018). Both of these changes will undoubtedly be positive when they arrive and be the result of countless hours and effort put in by AT staff. Yet at the same time I also wonder if they’re hiding a little behind those projects or perhaps that they’ve just got so much resource tied up in getting those projects over the line that other improvements suffer.

AT said the bus network had suffered years of neglect, but new fares and a redesign of routes over the next 18 months were expected to provide a boost.

“As we change the bus network there may be a localised stagnation, as people get used to the changes, but we certainly expect to see strong growth as a result of those service re-designs,” Mr Lambert said.

One such example which is seemingly languishing on AT’s list of projects includes the roll out of bus lanes on which their latest report says they have under spent for this year.

Bus Priorities and Bus Lanes

Whilst we have received a number of requests from AT Metro in the last few weeks, we are still forecasting to underspend by $1.5m as undertaking any physical works this FY related to those requests will not be possible.

Just one example are the proposed transit lanes along Manukau Rd which would cut journey times for bus users and thereby making the buses along the route much more attractive and efficient. Other routes they’re looking at are shown below from their latest report but it seems the roll out of them is going far too slow.

Bus Lane Rollout

What do you think, are AT doing enough to keep patronage on buses growing or should we just hang around till October when the new network starts rolling out? If you were in charge what would you do to get that growth happening again?

Sir Dove-Myer Robinson on his Rapid Transit Scheme – Part 6

This is the last in a series of six posts, looking at a collection of articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan. They come from a booklet I stumbled across while in the Takapuna Library one day. The first post is here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and fifth here.

This was published in the NZ Herald on 28 June 1975

Decision on Harbour Crossing Urgent

A matter of considerable importance, which has been referred to only briefly in earlier articles is the urgency of a decision whether Auckland to have another harbour bridge or a harbour tunnel.

Within a few years of the bus/rail scheme in 1981-82, present estimates show that the present bridge will reach maximum carrying capacity.

The Auckland City Council and other responsible bodies have expressed determined opposition to another bridge, and it is certain there is little likelihood of approval of another one. The decision on this matter cannot be long delayed if additional trans-harbour facilities are to be available in 1981 or thereabouts.


The construction of the under-city loop of the bus/rail plan will provide a ready and simple solution to the problem by making provision for a tunnel to connect to the loop.

Traffic congestion in Auckland has been getting worse since it was first noticeable in 1927.

As the population and number of vehicles in the urban urea grew, the congestion showed up more prominently in the central area of the city, and in the eight boroughs on the isthmus, because all traffic into, out of, and through Auckland has to pass through the limited isthmus corridors.

Because of the great number of motor vehicles that will need to use the isthmus roads in the near future, there will just be no more room on the isthmus to meet the needs. Hence the need for improved public transport services to reduce the volume of private transport to manageable proportions.

In the light of present technological knowledge there are only two practical alternatives — an all-bus system, using roads crowded with other traffic which slows down the speed of, and badly affects the services that buses can offer; or a main artery railway system, serving a reorganised bus service.


Both trains and buses would initially serve each other at 10 stations between the city and Papakura. The railway has its own right of way, and is not subject to delays at intersections or delays caused by other traffic.

The average speed attained by the rail service will be two to four times that of buses. Capital costs of both systems would be about equal, but the running costs of the railway system will
be considerably lower than buses.

It is very difficult to estimate the capital required to provide an all-bus scheme sufficient for Auckland’s needs up to the end of the century, because the rejection of an all-bus plan as impracticable, has not warranted the close examination required to produce such estimates.

Some calculations, however, are available that allow for a reasonable comparison. Assuming a modern electric suburban railway system is not available to carry large volume of passengers, it will be necessary for the National Roads Board, the ARA and the territorial local bodies in Auckland to spend in the next 25 years over $500 million on additional roads and in upgrading the existing roads to carry the expected enormous volume of traffic.

Beside the cost of roading, there would be additional costs for extra buses, car parking building and other services costing at least $100 million, making a total Of over $600 million to be provided for an all roading based bus transport system up to the year 2000.

Against these estimates are the carefully calculated costs of the first stage of the railway from Papakura to the city and then underground to Newmarket, plus the Eastern connection to Westfield via Tamaki, Glen Innes and Mt. Wellington.

The total cost of these, including additional buses, railway rolling stock, signals, other essentials and contingencies is $170 million. This $170 million compares favourably with the calculated cost of roads, bridges and other facilities which would have to be built by 1981 if the bus/rail scheme is not going to be implemented.

The difference of $60 million capital cost is the difference between having or not having the nucleus of a satisfactory modern transport system in Auckland. To make an accurate comparison with the all-bus system described above, it is necessary to estimate also the cost of the ultimate extension of the railway to Henderson and Glen Eden about $20 million, and the under harbour tunnel to the North Shore approximately $50 million.


The total of the completed railway system therefore ultimately becomes $240 million. Although all costs are based on 1974 figures, because the projections are so many years ahead, an additional sum of $60 million should be allowed to cover additional contingencies.

This would produce a grand total of capital costs, for the completed bus/ rail network, of $300 million.

The comparison of capital costs therefore, is $600 million for an all-bus/ roading system, against the capital costs of the full bus/ rail scheme of $300 million. It is easy to see which is the cheaper scheme, in terms of ultimate capital costs, for the finally completed schemes.

Estimates of annual running costs of stage 1 and eastern loop of the railway part of the scheme have been carefully calculated at $15.1 million in 1981.

As it is not intended to proceed with the extensions to the Shore and western suburbs until results of the first stages been analysed, no estimates of running costs of these two extensions have been made.


Until final agreement has been reached with the government on sharing of costs, no accurate estimate of the cost to ratepayers of running the
system can be made. At the best, the cost could be only $3 million, at the worst, it could be $6.4 million in 1981 the area included in the ART scheme.

These estimates must be compared the budgeted Joss on the ARA buses for this year, of $6.4 million for the whole of the ARA bus services.

To make the comparison equal, this year’s bus losses must be escalated to 1981, which brings the estimated loss up to $10.1 million for the whole regional bus service. The area covered by the bus/rail proposal is 40 per cent of the whole region, so it is reasonable to compare 40 per cent of the estimated regional bus deficit – $10.1 million in 1981] against the estimated deficit [$300,000 to $6.4 million] on the bus/rail system.

The estimated deficit of $10 million for the whole region is for an all bus service as now run by the ARA. To this must be added the losses which will result from the inevitable taking over by the ARA of the remaining privately owned bus services in the proposed bus/ rail area.


No allowance has been made herein for fare increases in the next six years. Based on investigations over a long period, in the light of present evidence, there is likely to be little deficit — if any — on the bus/rail system.

A trifling adjustment of fares would close any gap between operating costs and revenue and ensure that ratepayers would not be faced with heavy operating charges when the service is inaugurated.

Dependence on a Wholly bus transport system is likely to increase levies on ratepayers to more than $10 million by 1981, with no improvement in bus services or relief from traffic congestion.

On the other hand, the cost to Auckland ratepayers of the modernised bus/rail operation could produce actual financial surpluses or, at the very least, substantially lower annual ARA levies for losses on its bus system.

In a previous article, a quotation from a famous American research institute should that the benefits of a rapid transit system which could not be expressed in dollars and cents, were of greater to the community than the financial benefits so expressed.

Even those who agree that social benefits are more important than financial considerations, will be interested in some of the undoubted economies expected from the scheme.

First is the estimated saving of the cost of the use of private cars by those using the bus/rail system – $9 million yearly. Next is the socially shared saving through reduction of accidents and deaths in the are – $1 million yearly [although using the Official Year Book as a basis of estimating, this saving could be as high as $7.8 million yearly].

Third is the potential saving of time, petrol and other transport losses through the reduction of waste caused by congestion. This has been estimated at between $90 and $180 million yearly for private and commercial users in the whole region in the year 1981. Forty per cent of this occurs in the area benefiting from the scheme. This would be of the order of $40-80 million yearly.

However, the estimated savings quoted earlier took into account only the saving for commercial transport vehicles travelling at 15 mph instead of the present average of 10 mph.

But even this grossly underestimated saving is $13.1 million yearly. The total of only these three savings to users of the facility, and the community generally. is $13.1 million yearly.


Ranking high under the above heading is reductions in pollution, noise and congestion. Other real, but intangible benefits are, lower costs, greater speed, more convenience and greater safety of public transport, compared with private transport.

By allowing better land-use planning, based on fixed main line rail arteries, urban sprawl can be better prevented, and the community’s control and direction of development will be enhanced.

Finally, that great section of the community [over 50 per cent of who are forgotten by the opponents of the scheme] who do not have the use of private transport, and who must depend on public transport will, at last, have a means of transport in many ways comparable with, but in other ways superior to, the private car.

The inauguration of the first stages of the bus and rail transit system in 1981 will benefit everyone in the region, no matter how near or far they may be from the main rail artery; because of the greatly improved bus services possible.

Whether as a motorist relieved of the cost and responsibility of driving a car on overcrowded roads; or as a passenger compelled to depend on public transport; or as a ratepayer gratefully relieved of some of his rating burden for the cost of public transport; everyone will benefit. No one will lose through the early introduction of a railway served reorganised bus system in Greater Auckland.

With the exception of the first part about a harbour crossing most of the rest relates to what he had discussed in the earlier articles. Still there were some interesting parts, in particular, where he says that that the harbour bridge will be at maximum capacity in the early 80’s and so a tunnel will be needed. The benefit of hindsight allows us to see that far from being at maximum capacity, the harbour bridge now carries more than twice as many vehicles each day as it did 1983. The levels would increase further if we looked at the people carrying capacity of the bridge it would be even higher thanks to the hugely successful busway.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2015

The busway raises another area where I think the analysis falls flat and again which seems obvious with hindsight relates to bus lanes – or the lack of them. I don’t know if other cities were using them at that time and we just ignored them or if there was a genuine lack of thought about giving buses priority to allow them to perform better. We certainly know they have been instrumental in helping make buses more attractive and viable for passengers on many routes.

I’ve certainly found it interesting looking back at these old articles and it would be interesting to know what the reaction to them by the public was. Of course they all ended up being for nothing after the Muldoon government cancelled the plans in 1976. Auckland would’ve been very different had Robbies scheme gone ahead 40 years ago.

Battery powered trains for Pukekohe

Since the majority of the Auckland network went electric last year, people travelling to and from Pukekohe have had to catch one of the old diesel trains as a shuttle from the end of the wires at Papakura. As I understand it the main reason the wires weren’t extended further than Papakura was the cost. It might be one extra station but it would represent about 36km extra of track to wire up.

Coming to the western line soon

Could battery powered trains be coming to Pukekohe

The diesel shuttle is ok as a short term solution but long term we’re going to need to do something about extending electric trains south of Papakura, especially as there is a ton of growth planned for the area with tens of thousands of homes to be built in close proximity to the rail corridor. Electrifying the line was included as part of the Transport for Future Urban Growth consultation recently.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

We’ve seen in the past that electrifying this section of track isn’t cheap and combined with new stations to serve those developments and AT have estimated it at over $100 million – I’ve seen some estimates as high as $140 million. Even so the business case we saw in 2012 suggested the economic return was ok with a BCR of 2.1.

At some point, last year I think, there was a suggestion that Auckland Transport were looking at an alternative solution to the traditional stringing up of wires, getting trains with batteries attached. Now it seems AT are talking much more publicly about that with a report from Radio NZ suggesting that this idea is looking more and more promising.

Auckland rail commuters could be riding in battery-powered trains within a few years if the city’s transport agency can find the right technology – and the money.

Auckland Transport said a new fleet of electric trains with large battery packs would be able to serve towns beyond the end of the electrified network.

The agency has been working for more than a year on the project, along with the Spanish train-builder CAF,which supplied Auckland’s 57 new electric trains.

Adding four-tonne battery packs to a new fleet of electric trains is being studied as a cheaper option to extending electrification to the southern town of Pukekohe.

Commuters there have to shuttle in ageing diesel trains to reach the electric trains at Papakura.

Project manager Lloyd Major said battery-powered engines were cutting edge technology, but a new generation of batteries developed for electric cars made it more viable.

“Consequently we looked at the feasibility of doing it in Auckland. The Spanish manufacturer CAF is very confident, to the extent that six months ago we thought we’d need to build a prototype, but now we think it’s more about just finding the right battery.”

There’s perhaps a little irony if it was due to the development of electric cars that battery powered trains became a viable solution, and it’s an interesting solution at that. I don’t know anything about the financials behind option but I imagine it could save tens of millions if not more from not having to run wires and that would obviously be a good thing – although it should be noted that electrification to Pukekohe should really be being paid for by the government like they did with the rest the Auckland network.

The report says that AT would need about 18 trains to serve Pukekohe (and the southern line) and that would also allow the trains currently used on the line to be freed up to bolster the capacity of other services around the network so pursuing such an option could see train capacity improved faster.

While I’m sure there is still plenty of work to be done to see if it is feasible, the idea seems like it could be a good one. Who knows perhaps it might also one day allow trains to travel further afield such as to Pokeno which sits outside Auckland’s boundaries.

What do you think of the idea of battery powered trains?

Are CRL predictions undercooked

Following the CRL ground breaking event last week one quote from the press releases caught my eye – and it’s something I highlighted in my post on Friday.

“Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.

I fully expect the CRL is going to see huge numbers of people start using the train to get to town but an 88% increase in a single year is pretty impressive. I was interested in just what the predictions were so asked AT for some details.

They said the modelling was based on the year 2026 which is actually 2-3 years after the expect the CRL to be open (2023-24). Without the CRL they estimated there would be 13,200 trips to the city centre by rail during the two hour AM peak. With the CRL the number of people arriving at the Britomart, Aotea, K Rd stations in the AM peak is expected to be 24,100. That’s an increase of 10,900 or 83%, so not quite the 88% in the quote but fairly close (perhaps someone read the details wrong)

In addition, they said across the entire network without the CRL in 2026 there will be 24,600 trips in the AM peak but with the CRL that number will rise to 34,500 with the CRL.

What surprised me the most about these results was the modelling for 2026 without the CRL of just 13,200 trips a decade from now. To put things in perspective, recently AT told me that Britomart currently sees 10,200 people arriving in the AM peak. We know how that’s changed over time thanks to the former Screenline Survey that the ARC used to conduct – it isn’t done any more but the HOP data is able to give the information needed.

No CRL Britomart prediction

As you can see things have really taken off in the last few years thanks in large part to electrification. If current trends continue – and with all of the changes coming I expect them to for a little while yet – we could see Britomart surpassing that 13,200 figure within just a few years. If that happens it would once again highlight once again how much our transport models continue to underestimate the use of rail Auckland and could also suggest that the predictions for the CRL are undercooked too. That in turn could suggest that the benefits of the CRL are potentially much higher too.

While on the topic of trips to the city in the AM peak. It’s also worth pointing out just how significant the current numbers are. As a quick comparison Nelson St is the busiest road for traffic entering the city centre as is fed by two motorways yet despite this only around 6,000 people pass along here in the morning peak.

Nelson St road space vs cycle space

Overall in the city centre AT have said that now more people are arriving via PT in the AM peak than by private vehicles. That’s definitely changed a lot over the last 15 years as vehicle numbers have remained fairly constant while the usage of PT has soared.

Sunday reading 5 June 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading this long weekend.

We start this week with a borrowed slide explaining the way that the quality of your city’s Transit system controls the quality of your driving commute:


This explains what’s wrong with current expansion of SH16 and the completion of the Western Ring Route. The Transit part of this project is woefully inadequate: Intermittent bus lanes on the shoulder of the motorway are unlikely to lead to sufficiently fast or reliable bus travel times, this means the choice of taking the bus will probably not be attractive enough to tempt enough people away from driving on the newly widened motorway. This will lead to more induced driving and an increase in traffic congestion [which ironically will further slow those buses, because they are not on their own RoW]. Perhaps not immediately on the new parts of motorway itself, but certainly on local feeder roads and especially in the city and CMJ where the State Highways 1 and 16 and city exits all meet.

The biggest beneficiaries of high quality Rapid Transit are those who need or choose to drive. The better the alternative; the better your drive.

Staying with the value of Rapid Transit let’s head to Montréal where plans for a new layer of Rapid Transit has just been announced [in Lime Green below, with existing networks], which raises important issues around driverless technology:


Similar to Vancouver’s Canada Line, a system that CPDQ also has a financial stake in, trains will run every three to six minutes along the mainline and every six to 12 minutes on the three branch routes, including the train service from the airport to downtown. In contrast, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is limited to every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour outside of rush hour on weekdays.

But these high frequencies are only possible due to the nature of automation, which makes frequent train services significantly more economically feasible to operate. If there is a surge in demand, operators can easily and quickly increase frequency by deploying more trains by switching the controls at the operations centre.

With driverless technology, the operating costs are markedly lower than systems that require drivers and it has the potential to attract more ridership given that frequent services and superior reliability increase the utility of a transit system. Knowing that a train or bus will come soon, a transit service with a high frequency means transit users do not have to worry about service schedules. This reduces waiting times and connection times between transit services.

We really need to have a Transport Minister and Ministry just as excited about the opportunities for these technologies in the PT space as they are about them for private vehicles, the value is huge and the technology proven. SkyTrain in Vancouver has been driverless since 1985, carries 117m pax pa, and has run at an operating surplus every year since 2001.

Staying in Canada, here is how Montréal can have such ambitious city-building plans, central government is chipping in:

The new Canadian government is shifting investment to sustainable and social assets, away from Carbon intensive assets likely to become a burden on future citizens, and away from the failed ideology of austerity:

Investing in infrastructure creates good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper today. And by making it easier to move people and products, well-planned infrastructure can deliver sustained economic growth for years to come.

At the same time, new challenges have emerged that make the need for investment more acute: things like the rapid growth of Canada’s cities, climate change, and threats to our water and land.

Congestion in Canadian communities makes life more difficult for busy families, and has a negative effect on our economy—when businesses can’t get their goods to market, it undermines growth.

A changing climate is also hard on communities. From floodways to power grids, investments are needed to make sure Canada’s communities remain safe and resilient places to live.

Investing in infrastructure is not just about creating good jobs and economic growth. It’s also about building communities that Canadians are proud to call home.

With historic investments in public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure, Budget 2016 will take advantage of historically low interest rates to renew Canada’s infrastructure and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

In Budget 2016, the Government will implement an historic plan to invest more than $120 billion in infrastructure over 10 years, to better meet the needs of Canadians and better position Canada’s economy for the future.


Frankly I expect this kind of approach to become orthodox this century. That is once we can shake the stultifying grip of last century’s habits and world view, and properly start to address the issues in front of us.

More on vehicle speed and safety, this time from Nate Silver’s 538:

Given the social and economic toll of speeding, one might assume that we set speed limits with careful calculations aimed at maximizing safety. But that’s not exactly how it works, and a history of questionable applications of data is partly to blame.

Roads are planned according to a concept known as design speed, basically the speed vehicles are expected to travel.3 Engineers often apply the 85th percentile rule to a similar road to arrive at the design speed for the proposed road. It might make sense, then, that the design speed would become the speed limit. However, in practice, the design speed is often used to determine the minimum speed of safe travel on a road.

Confused? So was I. Norman Garrick, a professor of engineering at the University of Connecticut, explained how this works using the example of a commercial office building.

“It’s completely unacceptable for someone to die in a plane crash or an elevator,” he said. “We should expect the same of cars.”

And for some local flavour via Stuff: Drivers not coping with Christchurch’s new central city 30kph limit:

Acting Senior Sergeant John Hamilton said police spent 90 minutes on Friday to see if drivers were abiding by the new limits. Stuff witnessed about 10 drivers being pulled over for speeding on the corner of Montreal and Cashel streets within 30 minutes, including two Christchurch City Council staff. 

Hamilton said most of the drivers ticketed were driving between 50kmh and 60kmh, with one motorist spotted driving 65kmh.

Now I have some sympathy with these drivers for the simple reason that the both street [see above] and vehicle design mean that to stay below 30kph in anything other than congested traffic takes a huge amount of attention and control. You might argue that we should be attentive and ‘in control’ whenever we are driving, and of course that’s true, but the fact is that most operation of the vehicle for anyone but learner drivers is a subconscious act, and in fact needs to be as we should be focussing on the environment and not constantly checking the speedo. But of course, in truth, half our minds are really elsewhere, on other things when we drive; we do it on a kind of human autopilot. So if we want drivers to keep to safer slow speeds in cities, or around schools, or wherever, we really need to change the physical environment to forcibly slow the ‘natural’ speed of those places.

As for the cars themselves, well that’s a lost cause, even the simplest little car is way overpowered and torquey for these environments: they just want to get up to highway speed and stay there. Perhaps these slow streets won’t really work until those law abiding pendants the bot-cars are ponderously pootling us around…? Note these drivers weren’t just breaking the 30kph limit they were all also breaking the old 50kph one!

CHCH slow streets

Christchurch 30kph network

Related: we do like this more creative communication from some Transport Department:

Below a very interesting chart showing population change in London. I like that it has a name, and a good one, for the cycle we are clearly in now: City Renaissance and that it dates its beginning unambiguously to the early 1990s:

London Population changes

Note also that London’s population growth in this City Renaissance period has decidedly been both up and out, not just up. The rest of the paper, City VillagesPDF, from the Institute for Public Policy Research is very interesting too and relevant to Auckland’s situation. Basically the housing supply problem can be pretty clearly matched to the abandonment of public housing construction under neoliberalism, same as in NZ. Despite population growth, State and Council dwelling numbers have been falling not growing in recent decades:

London Housing supply

And lastly, something from the energy transition department. Luís de Souza is a scientist from Portugal who is always worth reading on energy supply, especially for anyone interested in the longer term trends than the noise of the trader market as reported in the MSM. Here he is calling 2015 as the year of Peak Oil:

Titling the last press review of 2015 I asked if that had been the year petroleum peaked. The question mark was not just a precaution, the uncertainty was really there. Five months later the reported world petroleum extraction rate is pretty much still were it was then. This is not a surprise, but the impact of two years of depressed prices is over due. 

Nevertheless, during these five months of lethargy the information I gathered brings me considerably closer to remove the question mark from the sentence and acknowledge that a long term decline is settling in. Understanding the present petroleum market as a feature of the supply destruction – demand destruction cycle makes this case clear.

So happy Birthday Queen Victoria [yes it’s actually her birthday], and happy reading…


Thoughts on the CRL ground breaking event

So yesterday was the symbolic ground-breaking, or perhaps more accurately the ground-exploding for the City Rail Link. If you weren’t there and didn’t watch the live stream the video is below and the actual ceremony starts from about 48 minutes. I thought I would give some of my views of it.

Over the years now I’ve been to a number of ground-breaking ceremonies and this was by far the most interesting. Auckland Transport and the Council certainly put a bit of effort in here but I guess when you’re celebrating the start of largest single transport project that is kind of justified.

AT held the event right out in front of Britomart which was a good choice. While they had a marquee (and some tasty CRL cupcakes) for those who had been invited, it also allowed members of the public to join in too and there appeared to be quite a few people doing so. The people in shot below were outside of that invited area. For those outside of Auckland, as you can see the weather also turned it on which was a nice change after the last 3 weeks or so.

Some of the CRL cupcakes

CRL cupcakes

Right off the bat one aspect that was quite different and I thought a nice touch, was to have quite a strong focus on youth. This was optimised by having a 17-year-old from Waitakere College as the emcee for the event. She brought a lot of energy to her role which was refreshing to see.

John Key was the first speaker and I thought his comments were very good, in particular this part.

Second thing I think is that ultimately what we’re seeing in cities around the world that are doing well and progressing is that they’re places where people want to work, obviously, but they’re also places where people want to live and people want to be entertained. And what we’re seeing as Auckland grows up and indeed grows out, is a lot more apartments being built and I think over time you’re going to see more and more people live in the CBD, they’re not going to own cars, they’re going to get on the City Rail Link, they’re going to get on the train for transportation, they’ll get on the bus, and frankly they’ll probably take a taxi or Uber. And they’ll have their living, working and entertainment happen here in the CBD and that’s really what this is about, it’s an investment in the future, it’s an investment in Auckland, it will make a great difference in transforming the city, it’s a very futuristic project.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Key speak positively about transport or urban issues and I guess some of that comes from his time spent overseas in the likes of New York so it’s all the more surprising that these attitudes haven’t flowed through to some of his ministers or transport priorities.

Key was followed by Simon Bridges who also talked very positively about the project and the impact it will have even referencing the council’s “World’s Most Liveable City” goal. Both Bridges and Key also paid respect to Len Brown for his ongoing advocacy for the project which has been instrumental in getting it to this point.

Next up it was Lester Levy who talked about what it takes to make a project like this happen including highlighting that they’ve got experts from around the world working on the CRL

Then it was time the speech that most were keen to see, Lens speech. As expected Len was ebullient and so he should be given the history of the project and the attitude of the government up until recently. Len covered off a lot of topics in his speech but one I thought was quite important was that today probably would never have been possible without the government having amalgamated the councils of Auckland in 2010. On a personal level it was nice that he acknowledged the role of transport advocates in helping to get to this stage. As John Key said, Len should rightly be proud at what he’s achieved with the CRL.

One interesting fact that came out in Len’s press release after was this showing just how much patronage to the city is expected to increase in just the first year.

“Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.

Following the speeches there was a flash mob before the grand finale of Bridges, Brown and Key pushing an oversized detonator to set off some pyrotechnics and balloons to start the project – although as Bill Bennett pointed out, that detonator is reminiscent of something else.

Although as Luke discovered later, that sod has been unturned and filled back in again

Did AT go over the top with the dancing and pyrotechnics? It was certainly a unique ceremony for a unique project.

With the ceremony out of the way we can now look forward to the project really getting under way, despite the disruption that will bring.

Did you attend the ceremony or did you/have watched the live stream? What did you think of it?

CRL Groundbreaking Day

Today is a day that Auckland has been waiting for, for nearly 100 years and that even a few years ago seemed like a distant pipe dream, the City Rail Link officially gets under way. The CRL is easily the project/topic that this blog has talked about more than any other having been tagged in over 400 posts, you could almost call it our raison d’être. Whether it’s been about why the project is needed, it’s history, design and everything in between there can’t be too many angles we haven’t talked about at some point.

CRL Route

The current incarnation of the CRL has had a greater level of scrutiny than probably any transport project in New Zealand’s history. It’s be subject to numerous studies, reviews with the sole intention of tying finding a reason not to build the project and of course a fair amount of political bluster. It’s even had targets applied before it will be approved, something no other transport project has had.

On the political bluster, one of the most famous instances came from then Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee who as you can see below said “I take big issue with the suggestion that the city rail link is useful or popular.” Of course that latter part of the project has even ranked highly with AA members with previous surveys by them showing nearly 80% supported it.

But that’s largely all behind us now. Today is a celebration that the project is actually happening.

The CRL will be nothing short of transformational for Auckland and in a way that the city has rarely seen. In this regard it will be up there with the likes of the Harbour Bridge in terms of impact and especially for the west which essentially gets shifted much closer to town. Like the Harbour Bridge it will not only generate significant transport benefits but will also drive a lot of land use change, especially in the west. This is shown in this image which was later copied by Auckland Transport. Also like the Harbour Bridge I suspect most people probably won’t realise just who big of a transformation the project will have till it’s actually complete and operating.

CRL Times Western Line

Not only will the CRL speed up existing trips through shorter distances and higher frequencies, the new stations at Aotea and K Rd will open up much more of the city centre to the rail network and that will also drive increased usage and help with the regeneration like Britomart has for that part of the city. For the stations, Aotea is also predicted to surpass Britomart and become the busiest station on the network

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

The platform of the new Aotea Station

With the Britomart cul-de-sac busted open, the CRL will allow for significant extra capacity to be provided added across the network and there will be enough space for more than 30,000 people hour able to be delivered. That’s equivalent to 12-15 motorway lanes. One of the reasons the CRL has passed the tests put before it is that there isn’t any other option that move close to that number of people in the space or without even more massive costs.

Karangahape Station Entrance Mercury Lane 2

The Mercury Lane Entrance to Karangahape Rd Station

To get to this stage has been a massive effort by a lot of people over many years. Len Brown has obviously been front and centre in championing the project and I think Auckland has a lot to thank him for as a result. I suspect history will be kind to Len and we will look back on this time and be grateful for what he has managed to achieve. There have also been a huge number of people at the Council, Auckland Transport and elsewhere who have put a lot of time and effort into investigating and supporting the project. I hope they’re proud to finally see construction getting under way. Of course we also wouldn’t be in this position to celebrate had it not been for the efforts of the likes of Christine Fletcher and Mike Lee who were respectively the keys to getting Britomart and electrification signed off and built. Those efforts have driven patronage to ever increasing highs.

Amazingly despite construction just about to start some of the councillors who have consistently opposed the project are still calling for it to be stopped. Last night on NewsHub – which put together an good piece on the project – Councillor Cameron Brewer was calling for a halt to the project until the government are on board while elsewhere Councillor George Wood also wanted the project put on hold and attention focused elsewhere. Thankfully for the city, these two councillors and others like them who have always voted against the project have not managed to slow it down.

It’s all pretty exciting and AT are saying the ground-breaking will be both significant and spectacular. As such they’ll be live streaming it and the details for that will be on their website. The ceremony starts at 10:30.

Sir Dove-Myer Robinson on his Rapid Transit Scheme – Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of six posts, looking at a collection of articles written by Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in the mid 1970’s promoting and clearly trying to build support for his rapid transit plan. They come from a booklet I stumbled across while in the Takapuna Library one day. The first post is here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here

This was published in the NZ Herald on 27 June 1975

Rapid-Rail Helps City Development

Statements such as, “Auckland can’t afford it,” or “It will cost too much,” indicate how little many people know of the benefits of the proposed bus and railway plan for reorganised transport services in Auckland, or how necessary and urgent it is, and how much more any alternative scheme would cost, both financially and socially.

Whatever steps may be taken to slow down and better control the growth of Auckland, one fact stands out clearly: We cannot stop it, even if we wished to.

Therefore, to control growth better and to provide the essential public transport services needed, something much better than the kind of all-bus system which we have now is required.


The Auckland City Council central area plan has placed emphasis on the need for an efficient public transport system. The underground rail with its centrally situated stations is an integral part of this plan. It will provide a fast and silent means of moving people to their destinations within the central business district, free from the problems of traffic congestion that would inevitably occur with any surface means of mass transportation.

If for any reason the bus and railway scheme is deferred or abandoned, the City Council’s central area plan will have to be reconsidered, which could involve several more years’ delay in completing zoning and building ordinances.

The Auckland Regional Authority transport committee recently ordered a complete review of routes and services for its bus fleet. But officers of the division will not be able to do much in the way of reorganisation of services until they know if and when feeder railway services will be available. to enable them to plan for the improved bus and rail services then possible.

An early decision on the location of the four city and 10 suburban stations will allow the officers to plan bus services circumferentially to run to and from these strategically placed stations.

It will be seen, therefore, that many urgent town planning, development, redevelopment and transport reorganisation decisions await the outcome of negotiations between the ARA and the Government.

Ill-informed statements that ‘ ‘it will cost too much” or “Auckland cannot afford it”, must be weighed against the social, as well as financial, costs of alternatives. People who measure the value of everything in dollars and cents, without asking if the benefits are worth the costs are fooling themselves.

The old saying “you cannot get anything worth having for nothing,” is very appropriate in this case. Do we say we cannot afford to have a first-class water supply or adequate sewage or rubbish disposal schemes, or dozens of similar services that are essential in modern communities, because it is going to cost a lot of money?

Although the public growls about the cost of them, and local bodies do their best to keep down the cost of them, no sane person would say that because they are costly, we must do without these essential services.

The same arguments apply to public transport. More than half of the population does not have the use of personal private transport. They depend on local authorities such as the ARA or private companies, to provide public transport.

Because public transport is as essential in modern cities as water supply, sewerage and other services, any cost (or loss) on public transport has to be borne either by the local ratepayers, or by the country as a whole through the taxpayers, or by a combination of rate and tax payers.

The fair allocation of costs of running the new bus and rail scheme between the ARA (representing Auckland ratepayers) and the Government (representing the tax payers) is now entering the final stages.

The satisfactory outcome of these discussions will determine whether Auckland is to get adequate public transport in the future. If not, the city will have to put up with the present unsatisfactory system steadily growing worse and worse until the complete disruption of the central area of the city and the surrounding isthmus compels the city or the Government to do at a later date, what is now proposed, at many times what it will cost to do now.

In the meantime, the inconvenience and social and economic loss to the city, of inadequate transport, would cost it many times more than the cost of providing a satisfactory service.

However this is looking at the worst side of the picture.

It is appropriate to review briefly the basic facts about the financial capital and operating costs, as explained in previous articles in this series.

  • The Government has already agreed to accept responsibility for providing the capital for the railway part of the scheme and for capital service charges (repayment of loans and interest). Therefore ratepayers of Auckland need have no fears of increased rates on this account.
  • The ARA and the Government are at present negotiating the allocation of costs of operation (if any). Present indications show that a satisfactory outcome of these negotiations will mean that from 1981 (the year the is to come into operation), the annual costs of the improved services will be less than the forecast of the loss of S6.4 million for this year (1975-76) on the present unsatisfactory bus services.
  • Indications are that when the scheme comes into operation, there is more likely to be a reduction in the levies for, and losses to, the public for public transport in Auckland, than an increase.
  • Of even greater importance than the financial benefits from the scheme, are social benefits which cannot be evaluated in dollars and cents.

It is quite impossible to over-estimate the social benefits likely to be expected from this scheme — benefits which will
be worth many times any probable costs in dollars and cents.

The following extract from a report to the Southern California Transport Authority by the “Stanford Research Institute” (a department of the University of California) expresses this very clearly:—

“Finally the additional benefits are not expressable in dollar terms, but perhaps most important will be the opportunity that rapid transit will present for the community to regain control of its urban environment; to shape the land use closer to its desires, to reduce the trend of sprawl, sterility and burdening Government costs; to make what appears to be the best first major step toward a more balanced and diversified community.”


An example of the sort of nonsense being talked by those who are wedded to motorised (polluting) road transport are the recent published statements that electric trains are more polluting than buses. Such stupidly misleading utterances demonstrate the lack of factual basis for most of the other exaggerated statements being made by the opponents of the scheme.

In examining recently published costs of car and bus transport in Auckland, it becomes clear that, unless
fully loaded, the cost of using a car is much dearer than using bus transport. Research in the United States has produced some interesting comparisons between the cost a passenger mile of bus and rapid-rail transport.

Using the same basis of comparison buses use eight-tenths of a gallon of fuel for 50 passenger miles, rapid-rail uses four-tenths of a gallon. Using rapid rail, up to 1000 passengers require only one driver. To carry the same number in buses would require 14 to 24 drivers.

Also, bus transport is a highly labour intensive industry. Today, the ARA bus costs show about 70 per cent of costs and about 90 per cent of total revenue is paid for labour wages alone.

While the capital cost of providing motorways for exclusively bus use is about equal to providing the right of way for railways, a comparison of the carrying capacity makes any proposal for the exclusive use of buses financially ludicrous.

Buses have to use heavily congested roads and are subject to frustrating delays (reducing their average speed to 10 miles an hour) plus costly accidents and repairs.

Electric railway coaches running on exclusive rights-of-way on steel rails are relatively silent, average about 40 miles an hour, and the cost of maintenance and repairs is much less than buses.

In summary, it can be shown that the cost a mile of railway travel is much less than buses, and the average speed, safety and comfort of trains is much higher than buses.

As stated at the beginning of this contribution, it is not a question of whether Auckland can afford the proposed scheme; it is a question of how much extra it is going to cost Auckland not to have it.

Mayor Robbie

Much of what he said still applies today and so it’s great that tomorrow the CRL officially kicks off with a sod turning ceremony, around 100 years after first proposed and 40 years since Robbie pushed it.


Update: AT have advised they’ll be live streaming the groundbreaking which starts at 10:30 and includes John Key and Simon Bridges. Will be details here