Follow us on Twitter

Why are the electric trains so slow?

In the first week or two of the Onehunga Line’s switch to electric trains there were major issues with the trains keeping to timetable, apparently due to overly conservative speed restrictions being put in the trains as part of their safety systems. It seems like the Onehunga Line’s bugs are sorting themselves out in more recent times, but a further article yesterday highlighted that it might be a long time before we see the trains providing their promised speed boost:

Auckland’s new $400 million electric trains will run as slow as their diesel counterparts for at least another year, Auckland Transport says.

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan said the electric trains would reach their full potential after all 39 diesel passenger trains were removed from the network.

“We can’t really get the proper benefit from them until the full rollout when everything is electric, which will be the middle of next year,” Hannan said.

Also, new timetables will need to be introduced and software controlling the trains’ speed, called European Train Control Systems (ETCS), will need to be reprogrammed to improve transit times, he said.

The ETCS is a protection system to assist train drivers and ensure advised speeds and signal rules are adhered to and to prevent collisions. If drivers operate trains outside a designated speed range the system intervenes to limit speed.

The restrictions created by running mixed electric and diesel fleets is understandable, as otherwise the electrics would soon catch up to any diesel train ahead of them and throw out timetable consistency. The issue with ECTS is more worrying though, as this should have been sorted out a long time ago to ensure the promised 10 minute faster journey times between Britomart and Swason/Papakura are delivered.

Adding to this worry, the train drivers’ union RMTU doesn’t seem to think the electric trains will be able to deliver the promised speed increase without a major upgrade to the signalling system:

But the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) said the 57 new electric trains would not be able to speed up until a costly upgrade of the ETCS software.

RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson said Auckland Transport had bought the cheapest, entry-level ETCS software.

The only way to increase speeds would be to upgrade to more expensive versions, which could handle trains running closer to each other, he said.

“I’m told that Auckland would operate a lot better if it purchased two or three versions higher,” Butson said.

Train drivers were frustrated they could not operate the trains to timetable, he said.

“We believe that it was a foreseeable issue.”

I’m not sure just how true this is as the same signalling systems is used in a number of countries including on some high speed lines while the stand two levels up is still under development so it’s not like we could have brought that. Also leading me to be cautious about Wayne Butsons comments is that the signalling system wasn’t brought by Auckland Transport but by Kiwirail (who own and run it) and the contracts for the system were signed before AT even existed.

If true that the signalling system is causing extra delays though then this is a screw-up of unbelievable proportions. We did not spend $1.1 billion on rail electrification and new trains to find that we can’t run them faster than the old ones because someone got cheap and nasty with the system. I sure hope the responsible parties sort the issue out to ensure the 10 minute time savings can be delivered as promised – otherwise a lot of heads will need to roll.

Photo of the Day: Harmonic Testing

On Sunday morning Transdev/Kiwirail conducted a large scale test of our electric trains. I understand the trains had been creating harmonics through the lines. This wasn’t affecting trains but was creating impacts outside the network – although I’m not sure of the full extent of the issue. The test saw seven 6-car EMUs running between Papakura and Britomart via the Eastern Line which I believe is the most electric trains that have run on the network at any one time so far. When two EMUs are joined together they have the capacity to comfortably carry 750 people although during an event or during a busy peak I suspect that number could be closer to 1,000.

These photos were taken by Patrick Reynolds taken from the Pt Resolution Bridge.





And this one is from Alex Burgess of one crossing the Orakei Basin

Double EMU Orakei Basin

How should we value the future?

Transport networks and urban planning can have extremely long-lived effects on society, the economy, and the environment. The government’s decision to invest in an electrified commuter rail network for Wellington in the 1930s led to an early form of transit-oriented development in the region. Wellington’s post-war urban growth has been concentrated in areas served by rail lines – providing the region with long-lasting benefits.


Source: Wikipedia

In Auckland, of course, things were very different. After the role that rail played in Auckland’s early development, successive governments decided to:

And, of course, these years of refusal were coupled with a decision in the 1950s to invest heavily in a motorway network for the region. The Master Transportation Plan of the era contains some truly awe-inspiring concept designs, including an elevated Quay St motorway that would have doomed any chance of Auckland’s recent waterfront revival:

1950s Transportation Master Plan Quay St

Leaving aside a few extremely white elephants, many elements of the plan are quite familiar to modern Aucklanders. The Southern and Northwestern Motorways and the Harbour Bridge were built, kicking off development booms in Manukau, the North Shore, and West Auckland. In a 2010 Policy Quarterly article, Andrew Coleman assessed the effects of motorway development in Auckland and the US, concluding that:

transport infrastructure choices can have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on city form. A city that chooses to invest in roads rather than public transport infrastructure to improve its transport system is likely to reduce the efficiency of any subsequent public transport investments, by causing population and employment in the city to disperse widely over space. When making decisions to build roads, therefore, the city planners need to take into account the way roads affect the operation of subsequent transport infrastructure investment choices.

So it’s worth asking: Are we valuing future outcomes in the right way? In economese, this means asking about our “rate of time preference”, or the degree to which we value present-day outcomes over future outcomes.

A 2011 NZIER paper by Chris Parker provides a fairly accessible introduction to this topic. (Transportblog reviewed the paper when it originally came out.) Parker highlights how much of an effect different discount rates can have on our decisions about the future. As Figure 1 below shows, an 8% discount rate – recommended by the NZ Treasury – means that we place no weight on outcomes that occur 40 years in the future. (To put that in perspective, the average New Zealander lives twice as long as that. I certainly expect to be alive in 40 years!) A 3% discount rate, by comparison, means that we place a much higher value on outcomes that far in the future.

NZIER discount rate comparison

Last July, NZTA decided to lower its discount rate from 8% to 6%. This change means that transport evaluations now place a slightly greater weight on future outcomes than before. However, as NZTA’s documentation showed, we still discount the future to a much greater extent than countries like Germany (3% discount rate) and the UK (1% to 3.5%).

NZTA’s new discount rate might still be too high to properly account for the long-lived effect of infrastructure development on urban form. As we’ve seen, Auckland and Wellington are still benefitting from, or coping with, with the effects of investment decisions made 60 to 80 years in the past. Under current evaluation procedures, we wouldn’t have considered such long-lasting effects.

A new research paper by economists at the University of Chicago and New York University suggests that people place significant value on outcomes that occur dozens or even hundreds of years hence. The authors measure long-term discount rates using an innovative method that relies upon observing differences between the prices for freehold and leasehold houses in the UK and Singapore:

In Giglio, Maggiori and Stroebel (2014), we provide direct estimates of households’ discount rates for payments very far in the future, by studying the valuation of very long (but finite) assets. We exploit a unique feature of residential housing markets in the UK and Singapore, where property ownership takes the form of either very long-term leaseholds or freeholds. Leaseholds are temporary, pre-paid, and tradable ownership contracts with maturities ranging from 99 to 999 years, while freeholds are perpetual ownership contracts. The price discount for very long-term leaseholds relative to prices for otherwise similar properties that are traded as freeholds is informative about the implied discount rates of agents trading these housing assets. This allows us to gather information on discount rates much beyond the usual horizon of 20-30 years spanned by bond markets.

This analysis suggests that long-run discount rates are significantly lower than those we use for project evaluation – in the range of 2.6%. In other words, people making significant financial decisions today place some value on outcomes for future generations that they will never meet:

We use these estimated price discounts to back out the implied discount rate that households use to value cash flows to housing that arise more than 100 years from now. We find the discount rate for very long-run housing cash flows to be about 2.6% per year. Interestingly, we find similar implied discount rates in both the UK and in Singapore – two countries with very different institutional settings.

The authors suggest that their findings have implications for intergenerational fiscal policy and climate change policy. They’re also likely to have implications for the way we evaluate transport projects. Today’s planners should take care to preserve and improve transport options for future generations, rather than “locking in” a particular urban form.

Finally, with that in mind, it’s worth recalling the findings of the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study, which compared options for improving transport capacity to Auckland’s growing city centre. In Section 7 of the Technical Report, the authors found that when a longer evaluation period (60 years vs. 30 years) and a lower discount rate (5.7% vs. 8%) were used, the benefit-to-cost ratio of the City Rail Link almost doubled. In other words, the CRL looks even more valuable for Auckland if we take a longer-term view.

If our great-grandparents had decided to invest in Auckland’s rail system in the 1930s, we’d still be thanking them for it. Because they didn’t, though, we’re just getting around to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and still debating whether to build the CRL to unlock greater frequencies across the entire network. It is essential that we take a longer-term view on transport investments than we have previously done.

So, what’s your discount rate?

CRL design being progressed

Auckland Transport have said that they are focusing efforts to design the northern end of the CRL from Wyndham St to Britomart.

Design of the Britomart end of the City Rail Link is being progressed with Auckland Transport asking the construction industry to register its interest in the work.

The focus of the design work will be on the downtown section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart through Queen, Customs and Albert Streets to Wyndham Street.

It is the area that most affects other planned and proposed inner city development by Auckland Council and private developers.

“It’s a sensible next step to get design certainty for the part of the CRL that will most affect everyone else’s plans in the city. It is also important to have the design advanced so any consents can be identified and applied for,” says AT Chief Executive David Warburton.

Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town says “this next step is important as it will ensure the sequencing of city centre improvements is well planned over the next 3 years.

Auckland Transport wants to be in a position to progress work in the downtown area so other city development can proceed without unnecessary delay, once CRL construction funding is approved.

Dr Warburton says engaging early with the construction industry in this way is routine on major projects to ensure a cost effective design that minimises adverse effects.

It’s basically the section shown below (although without needing to take all of the Downtown Mall site like originally thought)

CRL Downtown site

Precinct Properties want to develop the Downtown Mall site and they have already agreed to build the tunnel under the site at the same time, this saved AT from having to purchase the whole site. It makes complete sense to then also join in that part of the tunnel to Britomart and to get it at least under the Customs St/Albert St intersection. The reason for that is there are a lot of plans in the area that will hinge on the CRL being completed so that they don’t have to be redone in the future. This includes:

  • The upgrade to Quay St to be a more pedestrian friendly area.
  • Changes to Customs St to accommodate the new bus network and some of the traffic from Quay St.
  • Potential changes to Lower Queen St and QE2 square


AT have also said they are likely to have some new images available in a month or so relating to station designs which will be exciting to see.

How CRL benefits different parts of Auckland

As the Council undertakes the challenging task of putting together its budget for the next 10 years there is renewed focus on the City Rail Link project and the extent to which Council can afford to fund its share of the project over the upcoming years. With stage one of the project pushing ahead in the relatively near future and lots of questions remaining around the timing of government’s contribution to the project as a whole, the timing and phasing of the CRL will clearly – and rightfully given its cost and its fundamental importance to transforming Auckland – be a key point of discussion over the next few months.

A good conversation about CRL needs to be well informed though – and in this regard it seems that both the Council and Auckland Transport have dropped the ball on the project again and again over the past few years, to the extent that it remains fundamentally misunderstood over and over again, including by local politicians in areas that would benefit from the project tremendously.

A couple of days ago I wrote about how the CRL helps address capacity issues, particularly in the CBD however it’s not only the CBD that benefits from the project. Last year I put together a post outlining how the CRL benefits various parts of Auckland as well as the region as a whole. It’s worth revisiting those key points:

Benefits for all of Auckland (and New Zealand):

We generally don’t invest in transport just for a transport outcome, but because we want an improved transport situation to lead to other, wider, benefits – in particular economic growth and productivity. The CRL will enable the Auckland City Centre to grow much larger than would be feasibly possible without it – the City Centre Future Access Study highlighted the massive transport issues that we’ll face in the not too distant future unless we build the link.

Enabling a larger and more vibrant city centre (amenity of the place isn’t going to be great with thousands upon thousands of buses trawling through it) is shown internationally to significantly boost economic productivity – as city centre workers are generally more productive than those elsewhere. This chart is from the 2010 business case:

There are two distinct elements which make up this difference:

  • Some particularly productive jobs tend to exclusively or near exclusively locate in the CBD
  • The same job done in the CBD is generally able to be performed more productively than elsewhere

Ultimately a more productive and successful economy should benefit everyone, through an increased standard of living, an increased tax take that can be spend on social services etc. Compared to cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Auckland has a relatively small city centre as a proportion of total employment – which the economic research above tends to indicate could well be a reason behind Auckland’s relatively poor economic performance.

The other main ‘region wide’ benefit is how having a vastly improved rail system will take pressure off Auckland’s already stressed roading network as the population grows. The price of planned motorway upgrades (e.g. $5 billion Harbour Crossing) highlights that expanding the motorway network to match population growth is just impossible – whereas the rail system has huge unused capacity that the CRL will enable. It also tends to be the car trips which can easily be replaced by rail (longer peak time trips to the city centre) which create the most significant congestion for everyone else – so getting those people off the road could well help your commute, no matter where you live and where you’re heading to.

Benefits for the North:

Although the rail system in Auckland does not (yet) extend to the North Shore there are ways in which the CRL still benefits those on the North Shore. Let’s just run through a few:

  • The CRL means that fewer buses need to be run into the city centre from the south, west and east – which frees up space in the city centre for buses from the North Shore.
  • A future North Shore railway line would link up to the existing rail network at Aotea Station, therefore the CRL is essential to enable that future line to connect up to the rest of the rail network. A North Shore connection at the existing Britomart Station would place too much pressure on the Quay Park junction and basically negate the ability to ever build CRL.
  • A large number of buses from the North Shore in the future will travel along Wellesley Street, meaning that Aotea Station will be really handy if passengers from the North Shore wish to transfer onto a train to travel elsewhere in Auckland.

Benefits for the West:

For people outside the realistic catchment of the Western Railway Line, the benefits are quite similar to people living on the North Shore. The northwest’s future busway along State Highway 16 will inevitably feed a lot of buses into a city from a corridor that’s not likely to be replaced with rail – and those buses will need to go somewhere and will operate much better if they’re not competing with buses from rail served areas for streetspace.

For those within the Western Line catchment, you are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the CRL as you trips will be significantly quicker if you’re travelling to the CBD, but also you’ll be able to enjoy significantly more trains as a result of CRL unlocking the capacity of the whole rail system – creating a huge benefit even if you’re not travelling into the city centre. Here’s a useful before and after in terms of travel time from key stations to the city centre – note the vastly quicker times from the West:Benefits for the Isthmus Area:

As detailed earlier, areas in the isthmus along the Western Line will benefit hugely from the CRL in terms of travel time and also increased frequency. The city centre will benefit enormously from improved access – meaning that most places will be within a short walk of the rail network – rather than just a few areas around Britomart.catchmentIn other parts of the isthmus, areas near the inner southern line and the eastern line will benefit from faster trips to a greater proportion of the city centre and also increased train frequencies (meaning shorter waits at stations). Areas outside the existing rail network will enjoy similar benefits to the North Shore in terms of their buses not getting stuck in as much bus congestion in the city centre. But also the CRL enables other extensions to the rail system, such as the Mt Roskill branch line – which would be pretty cheap to build and extends the rail network into a part of Auckland with heaps of development potential, along with taking some pressure off Dominion and Sandringham Road buses.

Benefits for the South:

The new bus network in the south revolves around better bus routes for cross-town journeys and feeding a lot more buses into the rail network at key locations like Panmure and Manukau. The City Rail Link will enable higher frequencies along the rail network, meaning less overcrowding on services and shorter waits for trains. It also means faster trips from the south to parts of the city centre beyond the immediate surrounds of Britomart.

The CRL is also a prerequisite for rail to the airport, as without CRL it’s not possible to run trains on the Airport Line at a frequency of greater than half-hourly (and you wouldn’t spend $700m or more on a line that can only run half-hourly). The Airport Line potentially has massive benefits for the south – improving access to the airport itself for employees, acting as a catalyst for the redevelopment of areas around new stations at Mangere Bridge, Mangere Town Centre (and perhaps elsewhere?) and providing a rapid transit quality link between Manukau and the Airport. But none of that can happen until CRL happens.

Benefits for the Southeast:

As part of the AMETI project, a busway will be built between Botany and Panmure. This will provide a really high quality public transport option for a part of Auckland that has historically been incredibly neglected when it comes to public transport. However for trips between Panmure and the city centre, the rail network will still be the rapid transit option and the CRL provides both the additional capacity of extra trains along what will become a very busy section of the rail network, as well as direct trains from Panmure to not only Britomart but also onto Aotea, K Road and Newton stations – providing far better access from the southeast to the wider city centre and its surrounds.


As you can see the CRL benefits all different parts of Auckland – whether they’re on the rail network or not. I think the two areas that will benefit the most are the city centre itself and the west: due to the improvements in coverage of the rail network and the “cutting the corner” between Mt Eden and the city centre respectively. However parts of Auckland which aren’t even on the rail network will benefit: either through the CRL making possible future expansion of the network (i.e. Airport Rail, North Shore rail and the Mt Roskill Branch) or CRL removing many buses from the network and therefore allowing the bus system to operate more effectively – such as for the North Shore and the Northwest.

In addition to these specific benefits the economic growth and the significant capacity expansion of Auckland’s transport network that the CRL will provide have the potential to benefit the whole city, and in fact the entire country.

Some additional key additional points

  • In relation to the south is that without CRL we will never be able to increase train frequencies beyond what they are once electrification has been completed. Papakura has roughly a peak time train every 10 minutes at the moment – without CRL that’s not going to change – ever. How does that work with a city the size of Hamilton planned between Papakura and Pukekohe over the next 30 years, plus huge growth within the existing urban area over that time too.
  • It increases connectivity and reduces travel times via PT for trips that involve the rail network thanks to the higher frequencies and in some cases the more direct services e.g. from the North Shore to the Inner West.

I can’t think of any other project that manages to have such a significant impact across the entire region. It is one of those projects that is so transformational most people simply won’t realise the full extent it will have on how we get around.

The CRL is about capacity

I’ve been noticing in recent times an increasing number of people questioning the need for the City Rail Link. I’m not sure what’s causing it but it might be that Auckland Transport have been remarkably quiet on the project for the last six months or so. With this post I thought I would highlight some of the key reasons why the project is needed and it’s all related to capacity.

It’s commonly mentioned by those that oppose the CRL that the CBD is only 15% of all regional employment. What’s not mentioned is that 15% represents ~100,000 jobs. While the 15% figure is true it ignores a couple of key points.

  1. City Centre employment has grew by about over 20,000 jobs between 2000 and 2013
  2. The numbers are based on a fairly narrow definition of the CBD. Expanding that to include the city fringe areas which are also likely to be directly affected by the CRL means the total number of jobs in the central city is 24% (~153,000).
  3. At ~100,000 jobs the level of employment in the CBD is still significantly larger than any other single area in the region. The second largest number of jobs is the massive commercial area covering Onehunga, Penrose, Ellerslie and Mt Wellington which combined has 60,000 jobs. Areas like the airport (including around Ascot/Montgomerie Rd), Manukau/Wiri, East Tamaki, Albany and Wairau/Smales Farm each only contain between 20,0o0 and 30,000 jobs.
  4. In addition to the CBD, employment areas all along the rail network would benefit from the greater frequencies the CRL would deliver.
  5. Employment isn’t the only thing that happens in the CBD, there are also 40,000-50,000 students at the two universities plus more at other education institutions.

Both employment and tertiary student numbers are expected to grow significantly in the future. AT say that by 2041 employment in the city and fringe areas is expected to increase to over 200,000 and student numbers to around 72,000.

City Centre Employment to 2013

That’s a lot of growth but why do we need it in the CBD, why not encourage it to other parts of the region?

Despite decades of anti CBD policies one of the key reasons the CBD is the size it is, is simply because of its location – it’s central. A large part of that is simply its historical location and how the city has subsequently developed but it means it’s an area that has relatively equal access from the North, South, East and West. That means employers in the CBD have a much larger pool of potential talent to choose from than ones in say Albany or Manukau.

Auckland is home to 60% of the top 200 companies in the country and a many of them based in the CBD due to the reasons just mentioned as well as to gain the benefits of agglomeration. It is why even companies like Fonterra who make their money from the rural sector have their head office functions in the Auckland CBD. The types of roles found in the CBD also means those workers tend to earn on average 27% more than workers in other parts of the region. So yes we could encourage or even require those new jobs to be elsewhere in the region but it’s because of the factors mentioned that growing the CBD is something that can help improve our economy further in the long term.

However if we are to enable that growth to happen we need the capacity so that people are able to get to the city centre and that’s where the problems begin. The roading network is already at capacity at peak times and the costs to increase that capacity from now onwards by any substantial margin are likely to be astronomical. Over the long term there is also likely to be less road space in the CBD to handle traffic thanks to the focus on making the city a more pedestrian friendly area. In short we will have to find a different way of getting more people the city centre and that’s where PT comes in.

Thankfully we’ve already been seeing significant change when it comes to PT use and the city centre. Since 2001 the number of people entering the CBD by car in the morning peak has actually decreased while the number entering via PT has increased substantially and resulted in an increase overall in people arriving in the CBD.


Over the coming years we will see further enhancements that will deliver greater capacity and frequency to the CBD (and other places). This comes from a combination the New Network and electric trains both of which should help to revolutionise travel in Auckland.

But why not just use buses?

The New Network greatly simplifies the regions bus routes and provides more capacity in many locations. However over time an increasing issue is going to be bus congestion and it’s predicted that on Symonds St alone there would need to be over 250 buses per hour in the peaks. In short we would end up with a wall of buses situation and that’s not what anyone wants to see. The map below shows where the most congested parts of the central city are expected to be by ~2041 if we don’t build the CRL .

Bus Network Congestion

The City Centre Future Access Study looked at a huge range of bus solutions to solve the capacity problems but found none were as good as the CRL – although it did say some improvements were needed to surface buses.

While the road networks are at capacity the one network we have that has plenty of capacity just waiting to be unlocked is the rail network. The problem is that despite an estimated 40% increase in train capacity from the new electric trains it simply won’t be enough long term. It’s expected that the strong patronage growth we’re seeing will continue and will be aided further by the new network which sees more buses interchanging with the rail network. While the services we have might be run to capacity the rail network itself is far from capacity and is being held back its own constraints. The tunnel leading into Britomart acts like a funnel limiting how many services we can run. It has long been said the maximum number of services we could run is 20 per hour made up of 6 per hour per direction from the west, south and east and two per hour to Onehunga. We’re already very close to that mark and have been for some time. Other options for expanding Britomart or the approach tunnel have been investigated but are also quite costly and don’t give the advantages of delivering people further into the city centre.

So a large part of the CRL project is not so much about making the rail network better but simply about providing the capacity to allow the CBD to grow. The other options for increasing capacity are more costly or aren’t able to deliver enough extra people to the CBD to allow the growth to happen..

PT fares change today

Public transport fares have changed today and despite cash fares increasing, for the majority of users the cost of using PT has dropped thanks to an increase in the HOP discount. As I said back when the change was announced.

Overall I think this is a very good move by AT. By raising the cash fares but also increasing the HOP discount it does two things.

  1. It increases the differential between cash and HOP fares which will help make HOP more attractive. More people using HOP is good, particularly for buses as it speeds up boarding time.
  2. Over 60% of all trips now take place using HOP, that means for the majority of PT users these changes will actually represent a decrease in fares.

As of the end of May 64% of bus and train users were already using HOP cards and I suspect it has grown further during June. Since the change was announced I’ve also heard of people who have brought a HOP card simply because of the changes which are clearly designed to encourage greater use of HOP.

The adult bus and train fares changes are below.

July 2014 Fare changes

No everyone has benefited though with most ferry fares increasing.

I think it will be a fascinating to see what happens with patronage which has been growing strongly in recent months and I hope will continue to do so.

In addition to the fare changes, last week AT quietly introduced daily passes on HOP. The daily passes work in the same way and with the same zones as the monthly passes yet oddly despite there being an inner zone there isn’t an inner zone daily pass. There also aren’t any child pricing options. The costs are:

  • Zones A & B – $16
  • Zones A, B & C – $22

The map below shows the zones.

Daily Pass Zone

It seems like there is still some way to go before this can be a product easily used by many people

Bring on the New Network

The new bus network aims to revolutionise the bus network in Auckland turning it from a network that resembles spaghetti thrown on a map to a more legible and customer focused one. It provides a lot more routes that run with decent frequencies all day and is able to do so in a revenue neutral way by stopping stupid stuff like bus routes that duplicate and compete with the rail network and by having a greater use of transfers. Below is a map of the frequent network that will have services at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm 7 days a week. It is supported by a secondary network that provides greater coverage with 30 minute frequencies as well as peak only and other localised services.


To me the full roll out of the new bus network can’t come soon enough and that was highlighted again last night with the problems that occurred on the rail network. A water main burst at Fruitvale Station and apparently undermined the tracks. As a result the network was closed for a large portion of the day including the evening rush hour. There were a number of services cancelled outright and those that did run on the western line terminated at New Lynn with a shuttle bus taking passengers between there and Henderson.

Given how poorly these types of impromptu shuttle services have run in the past I didn’t hold out much hope that they would be any better this time. As such I decided to catch a bus home. The experience highlighted two things

1. AT need to have plans in place to make better use of the bus network when events like yesterday’s happen.

I don’t mind using an alternative service – even if it takes a little longer than the train does – if it means I don’t have to worry about mucking around with an hastily organised shuttle service. However while I’m someone who catches PT frequently I don’t have much idea about which bus alternatives I can catch.  AT could make it easier for people by having some prepared information telling people alternative options. For example some posters they can quickly pull out of a storage room telling people their options without having to wade through little pamphlets.

Fixing their journey planner would also help with this. When I looked on it half the services I could have caught didn’t show. It also might not be practical for a lot of people. Further it’s not just about which services but the myriad of potential bus stop locations around Britomart which makes everything confusing, something that will hopefully be addressed as the new network is rolled out.

2. Get the New Network Rolled out.

After fumbling around I found a service that would at least get me home – the 079 to Sturges Rd. I knew the route would be convoluted but that turns out to be an understatement. The map below shows the route the bus takes to get to Sturges Rd. The red part indicates the part of the route where most of the 20-30 people on the bus hopped off. The handful of people who remained on the bus in the blue part were mostly the rail refugees.

079 Route

By comparison if the new network was in place it would have been super easy to find a different way home. I could have jumped on a frequent bus along SH16 and transferred (at a Lincoln Rd interchange) to a bus down Lincoln Rd and had a short walk to Sturges Rd, an excellent alternative.

So bring on the new network with its more frequent and legible services along with the added resilience it provides.

Note: AT are starting consultation on the Hibiscus Coast services in just over a week and Warkworth services a week after that. They are also expecting to consult on West Auckland later this year.

Duncan Garner on using Public Transport

Radio Live host Duncan Garner decided to have a car-free day on Sunday and take his family from Avondale to Devonport using public transport. He has written about his experience here and it highlights many of the things wrong with our current system. He starts:

So, we decided to have a car-free day on Sunday. We had four kids and the wife and I decided to take them to Devonport to climb North Head, explore the tunnels and have some lunch. We arrived at Avondale station, close to where we live to take the train. First mistake: the Mrs read an expired timetable at home and we arrived as a train was just about to leave. Did they see us? Yes. Did it stop and let us on? No. No worries! Our mistake. So the wife pulled out her ‘Hop Card’ and tried to buy us a family pass to Britomart. Did it happen? No. Is a family pass an option? No. Hopeless. So we bought four kids tickets and two adults. Total cost – $19.40.

After going on to describe his day in more detail he ends with a summary of his impressions

So what are my impressions of going car-less? 1. It’s actually harder and you have to plan meticulously. 2. It’s not cheap – the return train cost us $36.20 – that’s a lot of petrol in my car. 3. It takes longer to get places because it’s not point to point. 4. Why couldn’t I buy return tickets at Avondale train station? 5. Why couldn’t I buy a family pass or off peak pass? 6. Why do they offer cheaper prices at Britomart but not at outer suburban stations? 7. As a first time user my wife’s hop card did not work for the train and therefore we flagged it for the ferry. We paid cash. It’s not user-friendly for families. 8. Why were there four ticket inspectors on my train on Sunday afternoon? Almost one per passenger. 9. It involves a lot of walking and we were all stuffed by 7pm Sunday evening. All up, it cost me $68.20 to get to Devonport with my family – that was return. I could get almost ¾ of a tank of gas for that. And I could have driven point to point. I want to use public transport, but it needs to be cheaper and it needs to go to more places, more often – but that won’t happen unless we get the incentives right. Let’s get this right. Let’s make it cheaper. Let’s get people on the trains and buses. There is still plenty of work to be done.

A couple of the points he makes I think are a little bit wide of the mark, for example the ticket inspectors need to be seen on a variety of services to be effective and surely a degree of walking was always going to be needed however his comments about the cost of tickets and how easy (or not) it is to buy them are what AT need to take on board.

Auckland Transport seem to primarily focus their attention and pricing on competing for solo trips to and from town and there has been almost no consideration of people who might want to travel in a group. That can mean even just travelling as a couple can be more expensive than a car and parking. Family passes are one solution to trips like the ones Duncan made however as he found out, they are only available at a handful of stations making them useless to most people.

The range and pricing for group travel leaves a lot to be desired which is a great shame as particularly on weekends they represent a great opportunity for people to try out the system as part of a family outing.

Express vs All Stop Trains

There has been a bit of comment on the blog recently questioning how Auckland runs it’s rail system. In particular around the whether the city should be running express trains or not. In this post I’m going to look at some of the positives and negatives on both sides of the argument. I’m mainly going to be thinking about this from a post electrification point of view so just looking at the network between Swanson and Papakura.

The Auckland’s rail network seems like it’s at a funny size, it’s neither a metro type system made up of lines 10-15km in length but with the exception of Papakura and Pukekohe isn’t really a super long distance commuter network either. Instead it’s somewhere awkwardly in between and made worse particularly on the western line by close station spacing which can make trips quite slow. A trip to Swanson is 27km while Papakura is 31km. We also know we also know from the comparison of the Auckland and Wellington networks that the average trip is about 13.7km in length.

Auckland Rail Network

The key benefit to express services is speed. We know that the vast majority of people are going to the city centre and so if we can get them to that destination faster it can help make services more competitive attractive. More attractive services should also mean more patronage which is obviously a good thing.

But how much time do they save. The figures below are from old timetables from when Auckland used to run express trains.

Southern Line

From To Stopping At Minutes Saving
Papakura Britomart All Stops 53
Papakura Britomart Manurewa, Newmarket 38 15
Papakura Britomart All stations to Otahuhu 45 8

Western Line

From To Stopping At Minutes Saving
Swanson Britomart All Stops 53
Swanson Britomart All stations to New Lynn, Newmarket 49 4

As you can see the savings on the southern line aren’t too bad for the first of the express services on the southern line however the train is only able to achieve that by only stopping at 2 of the 14 stations along the way. In the case of the second express service the train stops at 8 of the 14 stations along the route. On the western line is actually quite small despite skipping all of the closely spaced inner stations, it skips seven stations all up.

Skipping stations isn’t ideal but can be worked around, especially if like New York where there are extra tracks which means the express services don’t affect the frequency of the all stopping trains. However in Auckland that isn’t the case. Further due to the limitations of Britomart we can only run 20 trains per hour on the network divided up as 6 trains per direction per hour on the Western, Southern and Eastern lines and 2 trains per direction per hour on the Onehunga line. Any express train that we run has to come at the expense of one of those services and that’s where the problems really start to come in as any express trains end up lowering the frequency to stations not served by both running patterns.

An example of how services could run was suggested by Dave B in this post.

It is possible to mix limited-stop and all-stop services without any overtaking, but it does disrupt the cherished ’10-min interval between trains’.
Take the Western Line: The express departs Britomart at, say, 00, 20, 40 past each hour, skips Parnell, bypasses Newmarket, first stop Grafton, then selected stops only, from there to Swanson. The stopper leaves Britomart at 02, 22, 42 and proceeds all-stops via Newmarket as now. It arrives at Swanson 2 min before the next express. The stopper takes 55min, the express 49min.

So say you wanted to go to Baldwin Ave, a station that would be guaranteed to be bypassed by any train running an express pattern. Using Dave’s suggestion above it means you only have the option of a train once every 20 minutes. That’s definitely not a turn up and go frequency but one you have to consult a timetable on to prevent long delays. Some suggest that people will only need to do that once however if they’re anything like me their travel doesn’t always happen at the same time. As an example I don’t leave work at the same time every day and arrive at Britomart with the intention of just catching the next train that leaves.

In addition to what’s already been mentioned is also the issue of the New Network which has been designed as an integrated PT network rather an a mode focused one. It will see a lot more bus feed a greater number of passengers on to rail services. Providing consistent and easy connections between those services will be another important step in building patronage.

The decision about whether to run express trains or not is going to differ for each city and for Auckland the decision is between having trains that are frequent but that stop at each station along the way or having lower frequencies but with some trains having faster trips. For me with the system we have I think that we are right to focus on getting frequency rather than speed. Faster speeds *should* come with the electric trains and the faster acceleration they bring will help narrow the gap between the two options further. My position would likely be different if we had the infrastructure and capacity to support express services that don’t get caught behind the train service in front but tat this stage that seems like something.