Accessing the City Centre

As Patrick so eloquently described in his Metro article – and post yesterday – Auckland is experiencing an unseen revolution in transport. While the pace of the change is becoming increasingly evident, what many people don’t realise is that this revolution isn’t new, instead it’s been slowly building up a head of steam for over a decade. Nowhere is this more evident than in the central city where the sure but steady change has now become so dramatic that it’s now challenging the stereotype of Auckland being a drive everywhere city. Despite the frustrations we see from time to time one shift is that public transport and active modes are increasingly becoming normalised and not solely for those not able to drive.

We can see this change quite clearly from the data collected annually since 1986 by Auckland Transport and prior to that the Auckland Regional Council. The data comes from a screenline survey which counts all vehicles and people crossing a certain location. In the case of the city centre that screenline survey takes place on all roads that cross the motorway moat that rings the city.

The backdrop to the change has been growth in employment and education coupled with vastly improved retail and hospitality offerings. It’s difficult to get figures for some of those areas however for employment Stats NZ figures show there are now over 100,000 jobs within the screenline boundary mentioned above. That’s up from around 80,000 in 2001 – an almost a 25% increase despite a few bumps along the way such as the Global Financial Crisis. In addition there were only around 10,000 people living in the central city whereas now there are over 31,0000 helping to bring energy and vitality to the urban environment – and all/most without needing to drive to get to work or play.

AKL CBD employment & population 2000-2014

For people who have to travel to the city for, not all are doing so during the morning peak but it’s certainly when the largest number are of 7am to 9am and this is what the Screenline Survey captures. What the data astonishingly shows is that increasingly the change in the transport use over the has exclusively come from modes other than driving more. This screenline data was presented to the AT board last week.

Back in 2001 some 39,000 people or 64% of everyone arriving in the city centre via motorised transport during the morning peak via did so by way of a private vehicle. That means either they were driving or were a passenger in a car. The remaining 21,100 came by bus (23%), train (5%) or ferry (8%).

In 2014 38,000 people entered by private vehicle representing a slight fall in numbers compared to 2001. That in itself is interesting as during that time we’ve made it easier to get to the city thanks to numerous road projects such as the Central Motorway Junction upgrade. However the big story is that the number of people arriving by public transport share has risen dramatically to over 34,400 (48%). The change is shown on the graph below.

CBD Transport Change

If we throw active modes in to the mix (not including those already in the city centre) then the number of people not driving to the city outweighs the number who do

The graph above is a great result but what’s powering it? Is it just lots more people using PT in general or some parts of the PT network doing much more work. The graph below shows the growth rate by mode. *It’s worth noting that it appears from some of the other data I was sent that the Northern busway refers to people and travelling from the North Shore, not just those on the busway.

AKL CBD mode growth

And the numbers compared to 2001.

CBD Transport Change #

Looking to the future we can only expect the current trends to continue, not least because there is nowhere else to squeeze in additional roads/lanes.

Marking out the CRL

Auckland Transport have taken up an idea by Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse a few months ago and are marking out where the City Rail Link will go in a bid to raise awareness of the project, especially ahead of the enabling works which will be disruptive to a decent portion of the city.

Aucklanders using Britomart this morning found out exactly where their future journey could take them.

Bright red lines tracking across lower Queen Street don’t mark Santa’s planned path but instead show where the City Rail Link (CRL) tunnels will go when the project starts next year.

Adding a bit of festive spirit to the Britomart and QE11 Square, the painted lines mark the centre of each of the two tunnels that will be built from the Central Post Office, under Queen Street and the square before heading up Albert Street and eventually to Mt Eden.

Project director Chris Meale says with construction of the enabling works for the CRL only a year away, the red lines signal the approaching works.

“While there is a lot of work still to be done before then, the red lines will indicate to Aucklanders that the first stage of the City Rail Link is not far away.”

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse says she’s excited that there is a visible representation of where the City Rail Link will take Auckland and she’s eagerly anticipating a start on the physical works.

Mr Meale says the works will change the face of the downtown area for about three years. When the works start, buses will be re-routed, Britomart’s entrance will be relocated to the east end and through traffic will be diverted from Albert Street to provide access for tunnel construction. An information programme is being prepared in the lead up to the work

“It’s just a matter of time before Aucklanders will be able to see progress on our city’s number one transport priority. Tenders for the detailed design have closed with award planned for February,” he said.

Here are a few photos from readers this morning.

And this one from our good friend Sudhvir Singh who Penny credits with the idea.

CRL painting on ground outside Britomart

I grabbed these as I was passing through this afternoon. Good work AT, and Penny Hulse and Sudhvir. Sooooo many people pass through here. I did occur to me that lines showing the actual width of the tunnel might better than just the centre line? Anyone agree? [PR]:

CRL Marking_03

CRL marking_01

CRL marking_02

While on the topic of the CRL, there was this letter to the editor in the Herald today.

CRL Letter to Editor 22.12.14

Of course while the council may not have directly surveyed on the CRL it has come out on top after two local body elections and various plans and strategies that have been publicly consulted on such as the Auckland Plan, City Centre Master Plan etc. It is part of an integrated PT network and Aucklanders have overwhelmingly said in numerous polls that they more focus on PT and it has even had strong support in polling done by the AA. Finally while not a public survey on whether we should build it, the project also received strong support from the public in the designation process and even many who opposed specific elements such as construction noise stated they wanted the project built. It would have been good for Chris Meale to have pointed this out.

If the council conducted a formal survey on the project I’d be almost certain that people like the letter writer above would then just complain about the council spending money on a pointless survey.

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

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The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

*

BRITOMART_9

Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

*

Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

NEW LYNN_9 2

Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

NEW LYNN_1666

All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

MIT_4113

Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

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Getting high patronage in a sprawling city

I’ve talked in the past about Calgary and how I think it’s an extremely useful city for Auckland to compare to and this article from The Transport Politic highlights why.

Calgary is a boomtown — the center of Canada’s resource economy, whose explosion in recent years has led to big gains in Calgary’s population and commercial activity. It’s the sort of place that might seem completely hostile to public transit; 87 percent of locals live in suburban environments where single-family homes and strip malls predominate; surrounding land is mostly flat and easily developable farmland; the city is almost 10 times bigger than it was in 1950, meaning it was mostly built in a post-automobile age; and big highways with massive interchanges are found throughout the region. Even the transit system it has serves many places that are hostile to pedestrians and hardly aesthetically pleasing.

It’s an environment that looks a lot more like Dallas or Phoenix than Copenhagen.

In addition to this it’s not a massive city population wise and is in fact is very similar to Auckland’s – and has had similar growth over the last 30 years.

Auckland vs Calgary Population

And yet Calgary is attracting big crowds to its transit system, and those crowds continue to increase in size. Like several of its Canadian counterparts, Calgary is demonstrating that even when residential land use is oriented strongly towards auto dependency, it is possible to encourage massive use of the transit system. As I’ll explain below, however, strong transit use in Calgary has not been a fluke; it is the consequence of a strong public policy to reduce car use downtown. It provides an important lesson for other largely suburban North American cities that are examining how to reduce their automobile use.

Much of the trend of increasing transit use has come recently, in part because of the expansion of the city’s light rail network, C-Train. That system, which opened in 1981 and has been expanded several times (it now provides service on 36 miles of lines), has become the backbone of the municipal transit agency and now serves more rides than the bus network. C-Train is now the second-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

Calgary C Train network

Calgary C Train Network

Don’t be fooled by the term light rail, Calgary’s C-Train is the equivalent of our rail network and the Northern Busway – a rapid transit network providing a high capacity core network on a dedicated (largely on street) right of way. Supporting the C-Train network is a bus network based on the same principles as Auckland Transports proposed New Network. Both light rail and buses have seen growth over the last 17 years shown in the graph below although the light rail has clearly grown the strongest. Strong growth in rapid transit is a trend we’re really starting to see in Auckland.

The presence of rapid transit is clearly a critical factor in Calgary’s outstanding patronage results but it’ not the only factor.

At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city. Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown).

Perhaps most impressive have been Calgary’s parking policies. For decades, the municipal government has managed parking supply downtown, in part by directly owning a huge proportion of the spaces. The city has also limited the number of spaces allowed to be built in the center. In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet), but today, it has more than 40 million square feet of offices (and more under construction) and 47,000 spaces (1,175 spaces per million square feet, an 11 percent reduction). The limitations on the number of parking spaces has resulted in an expensive parking market; the city has the second-highest parking rates in the Americas, after New York City.

For car users wishing to get downtown, the city has compensated by investing in 17,433 park-and-ride spaces at almost every light rail station, of which 36 percent are reserved for people who have paid $80 a month, a considerable discount off the downtown rates. This emphasis on park-and-ride spaces departs from the typical urbanist emphasis on transit-oriented development as a strategy for station areas, but it seems to have worked in Calgary.

Charging for Park & Ride is a relatively new thing for Calgary and is a response to ever increasing demand for more and doing so has had no impact on patronage. The city is also now looking to reduce the number of P&R spaces it has by using them for development so the total number will drop over time.

I don’t how much office space Auckland has but as a comparison there are around 50,000 carparks in the Auckland CBD and many more on the fringes outside it.

CBD Parking Supply

And what of the impacts of the policy of restricting carparking.

These policies have produced the overall city transit ridership noted above, and have been particularly relevant in affecting travel trends downtown. Between 1998 and 2014, the share of downtown workers using transit to get to work has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent; a rise has also been noted in the share of people walking and cycling, which has risen from 8 percent to 11 percent over that period. That transit share is just a bit lower than that seen in Chicago’s Inner Central Area (55 percent in 2000), a central business district that was developed far earlier and which has a far more developed transit system.

Pro-transit policies have not produced a dramatic move of businesses away from Calgary’s center city — the fear many politicians and business promoters point to when complaining about limitations on automobile access to downtown. In fact, Calgary’s office market is doing quite well, with five office buildings over 500 feet completed downtown since 2010, compared to just one in Dallas, one in Houston, and none in Phoenix. Calgary’s downtown population has expanded rapidly to 16,000 people and now hosts 140,000 jobs and eight shopping centers. It should be noted that the Calgary municipal government has also played an important role in advocating for a compact city and directed local policies to support that goal.

In other words, restricting automobile use and encouraging transit ridership not only don’t hurt business — they may be encouraging it.

Station Boarding Stats for 2013/14

Late last week Auckland Transport provided me with some fascinating stats related that broke down rail patronage results by station. The data is for the previous financial year -so from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 – and covers 10.05 million trips out of the 11.44 million that took place. The difference between the two figures is primarily made up of special event patronage and legacy tickets still in use such as child monthly passes. Perhaps the best thing about the data though is that for the first time we can see how many people travelled from each station to each other station on the network. Getting this kind of information is one of the reasons that having customers not just tag on but also tag off with HOP is so useful.

The last time we had some station specific data was back in May which showed monthly patronage from July 13 to March 14 (although it was missing August)

In this post I’m just going to scratch the surface of what insights the data provides so please feel free to dig deeper into it and it would be great to see what kind of interesting visualisations you can come up with (and if you do please share them on here first).

To start with here is a map Kent has put together showing all boardings by station.

The data behind that is in the table below along with the number of people alighting at each station. There are a couple of things I notice straight away from the data.

  • There are a hell of a lot of people not tagging off with 5.5% failing to do so. Of course we don’t know where this is happening but I would assume that apart from Britomart and Newmarket which have gates, that it’s fairly proportionate across the network.
  • There has been a big surge in use of Henderson. In all previous figures that we’ve seen including the ones up to March this year Henderson has been around 8th to 11th busiest station based on the number of boardings and was 11th in that earlier data. It has now shot up to become the 4th busiest station which is a massive jump and could be one of the big reasons behind the rise in patronage we’ve seen on the Western line. Interestingly it hasn’t had the same sort of increase in people alighting (unless they make up a lot of the unknowns).
  • Manukau has been the biggest mover after Henderson which has gone from 34th at the end of March to 38th. Panmure is also continuing to climb the station rankings and I’ve heard suggestions that some month’s patronage has been more than double the same month in 2013.
  • The bottom three stations are unchanged although the exact order has shifted slightly. All three combined make up just 0.9% of all patronage. We know Waitakere is set to close once the Western Line is electrified and AT in the past have suggested closing both Westfield and Te Mahia, both of which were being decided on at the AT Board meeting yesterday.
  • Britomart dominates patronage but not as much as you would think. Trips to and from Britomart make up just 55% of all patronage which is less than most people would probably think.

Station Patronage 2013-14

The results get more interesting when you start to look at where people are travelling to and from. As an example for my local station – Sturges Rd – I can see just 37% of people boarding a train there go to Britomart.

Trips from Sturges Rd 2013-14

The two graphs below show the boarding and alighting at each station on a trip towards Britomart (Newmarket boardings are not included).

In the Western Line graph below it highlights that for Western Line passengers, Grafton has now edged out Newmarket as the second most important destination. For the Western line just 40% of people onboard a train bound for Britomart travel all the way.

West Line towards City 2013-14

The profile of the Southern/Eastern lines is quite a bit different with Britomart dominating more and taking 67% of all the trips for trains heading towards the city.

South Lines towards City 2013-14 - 2

It’s fantastic to final get this level of detail and I look forward to when we’ll be able to see it on a regular basis plus see it for at least the Busway stations too.

As mentioned above it would be neat to see what visualisations of the data you can come up with. The data is here.

Regional Land Transport Plan throws up a few surprises

Today the Auckland Transport board are meeting, I’ve already covered the board report and in this post I’ll look at the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP). As a brief description the RLTP

  • Sets out the strategic direction for transport in Auckland including how AT proposes to give effect to the transport components of the Auckland Plan and AT’s strategic themes within the fiscal constraints of the funding provided in the LTP.
  • Is consistent with the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport.
  • Brings together objectives, policies and performance measures for each mode of transport.
  • Sets out a programme of activities to contribute to this strategic direction. It outlines both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Transport Network.
  • Includes transport activities to be delivered by NZTA, KiwiRail, the NZ Police, AC and AT.

The draft RLTP will be open for public submission from 23 January – 16 March 2015 which is the same time as the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). We already know much of the detail about what the RLTP holds as it has come out as part the discussion of the LTP over the last few weeks. In particular that there are two transport networks proposed, what’s known as the Basic Transport Programme – a severely constrained network that will see many critical projects such as new transport interchanges put on hold – or what’s known as the Auckland Plan Transport Programme which is the everything including the kitchen sink approach. We’ve discussed the plans before including the sticky mess the basic plan produces.

What’s interesting about the draft RTLP is some of the language used and even more so some of the suggestions for Auckland’s future and it’s some of these aspects I’ll cover in this post. Perhaps most importantly is the document suggests that Auckland Transport are starting to realise that yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems and AT’s Chairman Lester Levy’s says exactly that in his introduction. He also makes a few other bold statements including that Aucklanders deserve better than choosing between poor transport outcomes or paying an extra $300 million a year.

That language carries on through the document and some parts feel like they could have been written by us. While I’m quite cognisant of the fact that these words need to be backed up by actions, the change in the discussion isn’t an isolated case as we’ve started to see similar comments from other agencies such as the Ministry of Transport and the NZTA. That gives me hope that in coming years we’ll see some real improvements in transport planning in Auckland and across the country.

Some of this comes through particularly strongly in the problem definition section of the document – page 30 in the PDF – which lists the four key problems that need to be addressed. The first one identifies that limited transport options are having a negative impact.

1. Limited quality transport options and network inefficiencies undermine resilience, liveability and economic prosperity

Underdeveloped public transport, walking and cycling networks mean that Auckland continues to have high reliance on private vehicle travel and low levels of public transport use, walking and cycling. Private vehicles account for 78% of trips in urban Auckland.

This high dependency on private vehicles means not only that there are long traffic delays but that many people have no choice other than to travel by car. Cars take up space that could otherwise be used to address Auckland’s housing shortage, improve environmental outcomes, improve economic performance, reduce social inequalities, improve health and safety and improve transport affordability. It also increases the risk to the economy from future oil price shocks.

….

Investments in the rail network and the Northern Busway are already making a difference, and Aucklanders have been taking up these new choices in numbers that exceed all forecasts. Annual surveys of travel to Auckland’s city centre confirm that the growth in public transport travel is already making more capacity available on key links for freight and business trips.

While the fourth problem recognises that we’re basically at the end of the era of being able to build cheap roads to expand the transport network. It also notes that expectations of congestion free driving should be a thing of the past

4. Meeting all transport expectations is increasingly unaffordable and will deliver poor value for money

Providing new or expanded transport infrastructure to respond to growth is becoming increasingly expensive and inefficient. Land corridors designated in the past for transport purposes have now been used, and constructing transport infrastructure on land already used for housing or as open space is expensive and unpopular. The Victoria Park Tunnel and the Waterview Tunnel are two examples of roading projects that have been constructed as tunnels to minimise adverse environmental and community impacts, at significant additional cost.

….

It is clear that expecting a high level of performance from the transport network for all modes in all locations at all times and for all types of trips is increasingly unaffordable and will not provide value for money. The level of performance can appropriately be expected to vary according to location, time of day, type of trip and mode of travel.

And it is carried on into the sections about specific modes/projects. Section 6 (page 41) is all about public transport

Everyone benefits from good public transport, including road freight businesses and car drivers. As more roads are built, more people choose to travel by car and soon traffic congestion is at the same level as before the new road was built. However it is possible to build our way out of traffic congestion by building a public transport system that is good enough to attract people out of cars (16).

Not everyone who uses public transport has a choice. For people who cannot drive, or cannot afford a car, public transport opens up opportunities for education, work and a social life. A public transport system that works well for the young, the old and the mobility impaired, and serves the whole community including low income neighbourhoods, builds a stronger, more inclusive society.

And on the City Rail Link they say:

As more and more people want to live in Auckland, more efficient transport is needed. Cars simply take up too much space, and successful cities around the world have each had to solve the problem of how to get ever more people into and around the city as land and space become more valuable.

…..

More people catching the train and bus to and through the city centre will free up parking and traffic space which can be reallocated to make room for the growing numbers of pedestrians. Projects like the Victoria St Linear Park will replace sterile tarmac with spaces which encourage people to linger and enjoy being in the centre of a world class city. The successful transformations of the Viaduct, Wynyard Quarter and Britomart are a model for how vibrant and lively the heart of our city can become.

Can you imagine the Auckland Transport of a few years ago describing a road as sterile tarmac?

There are numerous other statements that surprised me in my skim though but perhaps the most significant was this about the future of access to the city centre

While the CCFAS was designed to address regional needs it also highlighted residual city centre access issues, particularly from the central and southern isthmus not served by the rail network including:

  • Key arterials with major bus routes are already near capacity will be significantly over capacity in the future even with the CRL and surface bus improvements
  • If not addressed now, there will be area-specific problems, including the impact of a high number of buses on urban amenity, in the medium term and acute issues on key corridors in the longer term

To address these issues, work is currently underway to provide an effective public transport solution for those parts of inner Auckland and the City Centre that cannot be served by the heavy rail network, with CRL; that supports growth requirements in a way that maintains or enhances the quality and capacity of the City Centre streets. A range of options are being explored including light rail.

Re-implementing light rail in Auckland would surely be a mammoth task but there could certainly be some benefits to such an idea. This is especially true on some of the central isthmus routes which already have high frequencies, high patronage and a local road network which supports a good walk up catchment. Of course Auckland Transport would need to show just how they could pay for such a thing when funding is so constrained but if it possible it would certainly be one way for them to highlight that they have been thinking differently about transport than they have in the past. Could this be what the secretive CCFAS2 has been about?

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

The old Tram Network

And let’s not forget we’ve suggested a Dominion Rd tram as part of our Congestion Free Network.

Auckland Transport December Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport Board meet tomorrow and while it might be earlier in the month than usual due to Christmas, there’s no shortage of information. As usual here are the things that caught my attention.

The closed session is once again packed with reports, some are listed as being due to commercial sensitivity and others to allow free and frank discussion with the information released later.

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Diesel Rolling Stock Sale
  • Managing 2014/15 Programme
  • AMETI
  • CCFAS2
  • Dominion Road
  • Bus Service Commercial & South Auckland Tender
  • PT Fare Annual Review
  • Street Lighting Acquisition
  • Te Mahia /Westfield
  • Southern Station Review

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Service Provision Options
  • CRL Update
  • Heavy Rail Strategy update
  • Service Extension Options
  • Te Atatu
  • EW Connections
  • Draft Statement of Intent 2015-16

There are a number of quite specific items there and one I’m surprised about is the annual fare review seeing as we just had fare changes implemented in July that resulted in fares for bus and train trips using HOP reducing. The Te Mahia / Westfield stations will be about whether AT close them as proposed in the new Bus Network. They are the two least used stations on the network with each having less than 100 people use them per day.

Onto the board report

Funding was approved for property purchase and construction for the $26 million Te Atatu Corridor project which will widen and upgrade parts of Te Atatu Rd and Edmonton Rd. Included in the project are some walking and cycling improvements however they are inconsistent. In some places cycle lanes will be on the street while in other places they will just be shared paths. I guess there wasn’t enough room for proper cycling facilities after the addition of a 2.5-3m median.

Funding was also approved for the design and construction of the Upper Harbour Cycleway. As someone who rides along this road weekly the improvements are welcome although I suspect they will ignore the biggest issue along the route being the Upper Harbour Dr/Albany Hwy intersection which is possibly the most dangerous in Auckland. Fixing that is likely dependant on a future 30m+ of an upgrade to that section Albany Highway.

Later on in the report an additional mention is made about the awarding of a number of service contracts. Two are singled out as providing much better value than anticipated with a combined saving of almost $5m compared to what had been budgeted.

  • Security Guard Services and Patrols – Contract awarded to Armourguard. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.1m compared with the two year budget forecast
  • Public Transport Facilities Cleaning – Contract awarded to City Cleaning Services. The successful tender resulted in a saving of $2.7m compared with the two year budget forecast

For specific projects AT are working on the ones that caught my attention are:

Penlink 

Auckland Transport is progressing a planning strategy to ensure ongoing security of the Penlink corridor. This involves lodgement of an alteration to the existing Penlink designation and a suite of consent applications to allow up to four lanes on the Penlink alignment to reflect the updated design, and to extend the lapse date by another 15-20 years to align with the current draft ITP. Some changes to the existing designation boundary are proposed, however, the majority of the proposal will fit within the existing designation footprint. Notification is proposed in early 2015 due to the Christmas and New Year period. Key Stakeholder engagement is continuing and two open days are also proposed to provide the general public with an opportunity to discuss the project and planning process in more detail.

Discussions on alternate procurement methods continues with interested parties. These will be brought to the Board if they progress to any substantial proposal.

I can understand the need to retain the designation but quite where AT will find the over $350m needed for Penlink is unclear.

Devonport Wharf Transport Interchange

AT say the project completion will be delayed by two months to May 2015 after the contractor encountered construction difficulties below the Wharf Boardwalk.

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange

Enabling works are underway and AT say the project is still on track for completion at the end of next year which they say is “to align with the expected roll-out date for PTOM (South) in February 2016“. This suggests that the roll out of the new network has once again been delayed as it had been due to roll out in the middle of next year.

City Centre Integration

City Centre bus infrastructure planning is focussing on the Fanshawe St Busway, Wynyard Interchange and Downtown Interchange. A series of workshops will commence in December with the University and AUT to progress issues and options for the Learning Quarter Interchange and east-west bus corridor.

A City Centre Transport Framework is being developed with NZTA to collate and map out transport initiatives and issues across the city centre, as context for future development. Completion due mid-2015.

 

It’s good to see the Fanshawe St busway progressing as that will help further improve the PT experience for bus users from the North Shore. It is particularly important as at peak times 60-70% of all people using Fanshawe St are on a bus despite buses only having 22% of the space in the corridor. While the amount of space buses have won’t change, what should improve are the bus stops which should become more station like.

CEWT Fanshawe St

Swanson Park and Ride

AT say the tender should be awarded by now with construction starting soon. They are expecting the project to be complete by April next year. It will see 136 new car parks added to Swanson station for a cost of $2.5m. It will include improved lighting, signage, CCTV, additional platform shelters, walkway canopies to the footbridge and stairs, and new platform surfacing and marking.

Other PT improvements:

AT say they are continuing to do shadow running of test trains on the Southern and Western lines. Electric trains will be introduced to the Southern Line in early 2015 with a fully electric timetable by April which I assume means the Western Line too.

The Manukau interchange is being targeted for completion by early 2016.

HOP

The usage of HOP dropped slightly to 70% in November which has attributed to less university and secondary school students using services due to exam breaks.

HOP ticketing usage Nov 2014

AT have a special day pass for use during the NRL 9s in late January which includes discounts to some tourist attractions. They can only be purchased from Ticketek, are $25 and as yet don’t say how discount from the attractions purchasers will actually get.

HOP NRL 9s HOP daypass

Default to Chaos

One of the factors behind the stunning 18% increase in rail patronage over the last year is bound to be the improved reliability that we’ve been seeing. With greater reliability people can trust services more and are much more likely to use them. That improved reliability resulted in a record 92% of all trains in November being on time.  What’s significant about the results is it isn’t simply the result of new electric train being more reliable but that we’ve seen improvements from the old diesel trains too. The graph below from Auckland Transport’s latest statistics report highlights the network performance for the current and previous financial year. As a comparison I remember a few years ago where it wasn’t uncommon to see a result in the 70’s.

Rail Network Reliability

Kudos has to go to all involved for getting the reliability up, some of it is due to better infrastructure such as the new signalling system and the rail network no longer being a constant worksite while other improvements are likely due to better maintenance and management of the trains themselves.

Unfortunately it seems that when something does go wrong the response still leaves a lot to be desired and that has been highlighted a few times in the last few days.

On Thursday a train breakdown outside Britomart caused chaos.

After the week’s second transport debacle, in which about 3000 commuters had their trips to the city disrupted by a broken train outside the Britomart tunnel on Thursday, the mayor blamed “decades of neglect” of the city’s infrastructure.

“We risk repeats of this morning’s delays until the day the [$2.4 billion] City Rail Link is built and Britomart stops being a dead end,” Mr Brown said in a brief statement, issued by his office in the absence of his availability for an interview.

Auckland Transport says 15 trains were disrupted, many of which unloaded passengers at Newmarket Station so they could transfer to buses, after an emergency brake on a new electric train was erroneously triggered outside Britomart.

It took about 45 minutes to shunt the train into Britomart, and about another hour for services to return to normal.

My understanding is this was caused by an error in the signalling system that Kiwirail have known about for weeks but failed to act on. Also despite Len’s suggestions it’s something the CRL wouldn’t have fixed. I was luckily not affected by this particular incident as my train was just ahead of the one that had the issue but many other readers did. Unfortunately it sounds like issues are responded to still leaves a lot to be desired with poor or non-existent communication to passengers the order of the day.

In the piece above AT say passengers were unloaded so they could catch buses, the only problem being that most buses at that time probably couldn’t handle the extra demand and it would take some time to get spare ones in.

Another incident appears to have occurred last night following Christmas in the Park with services cancelled with no apologies or explanation given to customers as to why. Due to the extra number of people out potentially thousands were affected.

It seems like this is something that crops up every few months but Auckland Transport and Transdev really need to get these issues and how they communicate to customers sorted rather than the default setting being chaos. This is especially important as the increasing use of trains means more and more people are affected when something goes wrong.

November 14 Patronage

The number of people travelling on buses and trains has continued to surge in November resulting in more than 75 million trips over the previous 12 months, the first time that’s happened in over 50 years. That means the number of trips taken in the last year is up by 5.7 million (8%). The Rapid Transit Network comprising of the Northern Express and the trains continues to be the star performer with the annual number of trips increasing by 17%. There has also been solid growth in the bus network which carries the majority of people in Auckland with patronage up 6.8%.

14 - Nov AK Patronage table

14 - Nov AK Annual Patronage

The rail network has the highest annual growth of all modes up 17.5% and patronage is up 12.3 million. Within that the two small lines currently served by electric trains are up 20-30% which perhaps gives an indication of what we can expect once the bigger lines go electric. For the month of November patronage on the Manukau Line services alone was up 50%. I imagine that sort of growth will only continue with the new timetable too. Apart from the electric trains one of the reasons given for the improved patronage is that train punctuality and reliability has improved with November recording the highest result Auckland has seen with 91.9% of all services arrive at their final destination within 5 minutes of their schedule. The Manukau line was the highest at 96% and the Western Line the lowest at 89.3%.

If you recall back to my post the other day and the most recent advice from the Ministry of Transport on the CRL from August where they said

Growth of 1.4 million trips for the year to June 2014 is the highest annual growth in Auckland rail patronage achieved to date.

If growth continues at 1.4 million trips per year, annual patronage would hit 20 million trips around 2019/20. We expect patronage growth to continue at a similar rate as for the year to June 2014 until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. After 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow and at this stage do not anticipate it is likely that the threshold of 20 million trips well before 2020 will be met.

Well patronage is now up over 1.8 million trips and not showing signs of slowing down.

14 - Nov AK Rail Patronage

The Northern Express is also seeing fantastic growth this year with annual patronage now up 14.4% and rising above 2.6 million trips.

14 - NEX AK NEX Patronage

What’s also notable about this is that over the same time period the number of vehicles that cross the Harbour Bridge every day has dropped by 2%. Of course the NEX doesn’t include all bus trips across the harbour bridge and it would be fascinating to see just how many there are in total.

AHB Nov - 14

The sticky mess of the transport budget

The big news that the Council will be pushing back its preferred start date for the main part of the City Rail Link was not a huge surprise – aside from the enabling works the project’s probably not practically ready to start so quickly, even if funding support was available from Central Government (which it’s not). However, this is hardly a “win” on any account, as reduced spending on CRL in the next few years doesn’t free up money for other projects – as we stressed last month. This is because CRL doesn’t have an impact on rates until it opens, and it apparently is the level of rates income that constrains the transport budget.

So what does the rest of the transport budget look like? Looking at the details, the result is quite a mess, particularly during the first five years. This will become a core part of the big LTP question around whether the public wants a much larger transport programme and if so, how we’d prefer to pay for it (rates & fuel tax increases or a motorway toll). Hidden away at page 252 and 253 of the November Budget Committee agenda (27MB PDF) is the 10 year transport programme (although this is from before yesterday’s decision to delay the CRL):

2015draftltp-capex-list

This reflects the list of projects “above the line” in Auckland Transport’s ranking of all projects and reflect’s what’s possible in the “Basic Transport Network”. I don’t have a huge concern about the project list itself, although there are a few pretty low value things in there like Mill Road. The issue is more about the timing and sequencing of the programme – especially in the first few years.

You’ll see a number of important projects in there that are based around supporting the new public transport network that Auckland Transport are implementing over the next few years. Projects like the Otahuhu, Te Atatu and Manukau interchanges. Or the necessary improvements to Wellesley Street so it can cope with becoming the main east-west bus route across the city centre. The big problem is that these projects don’t appear to be funded until 2021 or in some cases (like Wellesley Street) even later:

2015draftltp-newptnetwork

This is a pretty insane situation, especially for projects like the Otahuhu interchange which is utterly fundamental to any implementation of the new PT network in the south. AT have started on the project but it seems they only have enough money for early works and design. The other big issue is the walking and cycling programme – which appears to be the line item “W+C Programme Risk Management”, that doesn’t have any funding at all for the first five years of the budget period.

The numbers at the bottom of the table above tell a rather strange and difficult to understand story about the total amount of funding available for transport over each of the next 10 years, jumping all over the place from a low of $453 million in the 15/16 year up to a whopping $978 million in 20/21 before dropping back down again significantly. The CRL numbers will change a bit, but remember not the rest of the programme.

But even within the funding envelope available, it seems that Auckland Transport has made some strange decisions around the timing of projects. Why is Albany Highway such an extremely high priority that it sucks up nearly $40 million in the first couple of years? Why is there no funding for AMETI, then one year of funding, then no funding again? Some of the project costs raise questions too – how does a Te Atatu bus interchange cost $46 million? How can a Wynyard interchange cost $25 million and a Downtown one $24 million when a Learning Quarter interchange only costs $8 million? Should we really be spending $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover?

There seems to be an expectation that the “Basic Transport Network” is just an academic exercise, with the public supposedly hugely in favour of the motorway tolls scheme (or higher rates and fuel taxes) that will “save the day”. I’m a bit sceptical about this – the government has not greeted the tolls scheme warmly and the public seem to be screaming even about the proposed 3.5% rates increase. We could very well be stuck with the Basic Transport Network for the foreseeable future, which means it needs a hell of a lot of work to ensure the new public transport network doesn’t fail, to ensure momentum on the walking and cycling programme is not lost and to finally make some tough decisions around whether we should be spending $143 million on Mill Road, $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover or $135 million on the East West Connections project.

The currently proposed budget is just a sticky mess that seems almost designed to fail.