Is public transport an “inferior good”?

I’ve recently been taking a look at Statistics NZ’s Census data on car ownership in Auckland. One interesting observation is that low-income households are considerably more likely to not own a car. One implication is that minimum parking requirements, which require everyone to have carparks (or pay for their provision every time they go to the shops), are a quite regressive policy. (More on this in a future post!) And, of course, providing frequent, reliable public transport services and safe walking and cycling options throughout the city will benefit low-income households the most. (In other words, separated bike lanes are not just about hipster urbanism!)

Another interpretation of the data on car ownership is that it shows that a car is what economists call a “normal good“. In plain English, this means that when people’s incomes increase, they tend to have more of them. This seems to be true in Auckland: high-income households are less likely to own no cars and more likely to own three or more cars.

However, people commonly assume (or assert) that public transport is an “inferior good“, or something that people consume less of as their incomes increase. This assumption is deeply embedded in transport policymaking and transport modelling. It’s part of the reason that policymakers have been so eager to disinvest and underfund our public transport networks over the past half-century: “In the future, we’ll all be richer and drive more.”

But is this actually true? Let’s take a look at the data.

First, I took a look at the Household Economic Survey data, which Statistics NZ has very helpfully broken down by decile of household income. Here’s a chart showing the percent of household spending that goes to transport (including cars, petrol, public transport, etc) and passenger transport alone:

HES transport spending by decile 2013 chart

In short, higher-income households do seem to spend more money on passenger transport, both in absolute term (i.e. dollars per week) and as a share of their incomes. This may suggest that public transport isn’t an inferior good. Unfortunately, though, it’s not possible to draw any definitive conclusions from this data for two reasons. First, the Stats NZ data doesn’t allow us to split out urban areas (where average incomes tend to be higher and PT is available) from rural areas (which tend to be poorer and lacking in PT). Second, Stats NZ has grouped air travel into the passenger transport category… which means we might just be picking up the fact that richer people fly more.

So let’s take a look at a second set of data: 2013 Census data on household incomes and main commute mode. To avoid issues with comparing between rural and urban areas, I focused on data for Auckland alone. The following scatter-plot shows the correlation between PT mode share for commute journeys and median personal income for Auckland area units. (I’ve excluded area units with population densities less than 1 person per hectare, as they’re likely to be rural areas where PT isn’t available.)

Census 2013 personal incomes and PT mode share chart

There isn’t much of a pattern in this data. There are some higher-income areas with high PT mode share, and some with low PT mode share. But the trendline does seem to be moderately positive. In other words, the Census data doesn’t seem to indicate that PT is an inferior good – people in higher-income areas are slightly more likely to use PT.

Finally, it’s worth taking a look at changes over time. In other words: Are Aucklanders using PT more or less as average incomes increase? In order to examine this question, I looked at Statistics NZ’s data on household incomes by region as well as the public transport boardings data that Matt has diligently compiled. The Stats NZ data only reaches back to 1998, so we’re limited to looking at recent changes.

Matt’s data on patronage shows that total PT boardings in Auckland rose from 37.6 million in 1998 to 72.4 million in 2014 – significantly outpacing population growth. Incomes also rose over the same period. Here’s a chart comparing changes in (nominal) median household incomes with changes in PT boardings per capita for the Auckland region:

Auckland median household incomes and PT boardings chart

In recent years, Aucklanders haven’t reduced their use of public transport as incomes increased. In fact, we’ve seen the exact opposite – PT trips per capita have risen in line with median incomes. (Or even slightly faster, as I didn’t account for the effect of inflation on incomes.)

Is this conclusive evidence that PT is a “normal good” that people will demand more of when they get richer? Probably not – I don’t have the time, budget, or micro-data to analyse the behaviour of individual transport users. But it provides no empirical support whatsoever for the assumption that PT is an “inferior good” that people will want less of in the future.

In short, we should probably stop simply assuming that PT use will wither away with rising incomes. That might be true, but it’s not obviously apparent in the data. A better course of action would be to start planning to provide public transport that will be useful to people of all incomes.

A year ago today – Auckland’s first electric trains

A year ago today transport in Auckland was forever changed as the first electric trains started carrying passengers – although they didn’t start running in normal service till the following day.

EMU Southern Motorway - http://nzrailphotos.co.nz/

Electrifying Auckland’s rail network is something that had been on and off the transport agenda for almost 90 years. There’s a more detailed history of how we got to the current point in this post however briefly the first talk of electrifying the network originated in the 1920’s and were associated with the Morningside Deviation (early version of the CRL). This came about as electric trains would have been needed to operate in the tunnel. It was the extra cost for electrification – which they said would need to extend between Papakura and Helensville – which helped to kill off the tunnel plan. Calls for the network to be electrified have been made at other times – such as in the 1930’s when the Wellington network was being electrified and as part of other CRL type schemes.

It wasn’t until the mid 2000’s after Britomart opened that we started to get serious about electrification with the then Labour government finally approving it in 2007. After the current government came to power they decided to review the project however thankfully a year later agreed to carry on with the project.

Since they launched not everything has been plain sailing for the new trains or the network. We quickly learned the trains were running slower than the old diesels they replaced which turned out to be a mix of the overly restrictive new signalling system and longer dwell times thanks to the door operations. As of today some of these issues have been addressed although there definitely seems to still be room for improvement. Over the year there has been a few other issues too such as power fluctuations on the network affecting trains and traction issues – both of which are now meant to be fixed.

In August the trains started running from Manukau – initially just off peak before all services were electric a few months later. In December Auckland Transport significantly increased the number of services to Manukau while at the same time splitting out the southern and eastern line services so all Eastern line trains go to Manukau and all Southern line trains to Papakura/Pukekohe. We’ve also seen a few electric services on the Southern line and a couple of isolated ones on the Western line and Auckland Transport have announced all services between Swanson and Papakura will be electric by the end of July.

HOBSON BAY_3329

According to the most recent AT board report we now have 50 of the 57 trains ordered in Auckland and an ever increasing number have passed their tests and are available to be used

We might be only a year in however we’re already seeing the Sparks Effect occurring with significant increases in patronage on the lines that have electric trains running. The graph below shows the rolling annual patronage on the Onehunga line which you can see has really kicked up a gear from May 2014 onwards (May was the first full month of operations).

2015-03 Onehunga Line Patronage

Splitting out the Manukau line patronage is a bit more difficult due to the changes made in December – although it appears the Eastern line is growing even more strongly. When looking at the Southern, Eastern and Onehunga lines combined compared to the non-electrified Western line the difference in growth recently is quite clear with the former accelerating away – although I’d expect the Western line to grow strongly once services start too.

2015-03 Southern Line v Western Line Patronage

While it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing I certainly think the change has been a welcome improvement and I would expect services and reliability to continue to get better over time as every little issue gets worked through.

Auckland Train Ops Shortlist

Auckland Transport have announced the short list of companies to run Auckland’s trains from July next year onwards and none particularly fill me with confidence.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Auckland Transport has short-listed three companies that will be invited to tender to operate passenger rail services from 1 July 2016.

They are Serco NZ, Transdev Auckland and KiwiRail.

Mark Lambert, general manager AT Metro, says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies soon and the new rail contract will take effect from next year, when the existing contract expires.

Mr Lambert says there was a high level of interest internationally when Auckland Transport sought Expressions of Interest and the three shortlisted companies were selected after careful evaluation.

He says that the new contract will be performance-based and reflect the huge changes in the Auckland passenger rail system since the current contract was put in place in 2003.

Auckland’s Metro rail service has been electrified and modern electric trains will soon be operating on all lines, stations have been upgraded, new stations built and the Western Line double-tracked. The number of services has significantly increased from 40,000 to 140,000 per annum since 2003. Passenger boardings have passed a record 13 million a year and are climbing at record rates, with growth of 33% in March 2015 compared to the same month last year. Annual growth for the March year was 21%.

Shortlisted companies:

  • Serco NZ is the New Zealand arm of the British Serco PLC, an international service company working in a variety of sectors including transport, health and corrections. Internationally, Serco’s rail operations include the MerseyRail and Northern Rail operations in the UK and the Dubai Metro in the United Arab Emirates. Serco delivers services to central and local governments in New Zealand and Australia with over 9,000 staff across the region and 600 based in Auckland.
  • Transdev Auckland is part of the Transdev Group, one of the world’s largest private passenger transport companies. The Group, whose head office is based in France, operate light and heavy rail services in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. Transdev has been operating the Auckland Metro rail services since 2003.
  • New Zealand Government-owned KiwiRail owns and manages the national railway network. It operates freight and passenger rail services throughout New Zealand, including the Tranz Metro commuter rail operation in Wellington, which provides 2,200 services each week.

With Transdev and its predecessors we’ve have more than a decade of poor performance – not all of which has been their fault. Perhaps most annoying to regular customers has been the frequent poor communication when things go wrong.

Serco also operates the Mt Eden prison and if they were to win the contract I’d certainly hope they ran the rail network better they were the prison a few years ago where the failed to meet half of their performance targets.

Lastly Kiwirail who own the tracks and currently run the trains in Wellington. In reality they are a freight company and to date have shown little regard for PT or its users in Auckland.

What’s also noticeable about this announcement is that the three companies shortlisted are the same as those shortlisted for the Wellington contract with one exception. In Wellington Kiwirail have bid in joint venture with Keolis Downer.

All the companies shortlisted will almost certainly be hoping to win both the Auckland and Wellington contracts which would allow them to leverage some economies of scale across both operations. That has the potential to be good if it means services can be delivered cheaper but might have negative consequences if it limits how easy it is for other companies to compete for future tenders.

AT April Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is next week and as usual I’ve scoured the main report looking for the interesting bits of information. I also normally highlight the topics being discussed at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this the agenda is not available as doesn’t appear to have been uploaded correctly.

Project updates

Te Atatu Rd Rd – They now has all the consents needed to start construction and AT are targeting work to start in July. Also about Te Atatu, AT say that within the next three months they will lodge notices of requirement for the Te Atatu Bus Interchange.

AMETI – The Notices of Requirement are being prepared for the Panmure to Pakuranga busway and are expected to be lodged within the next three months.

Great North Road/Surrey Crescent – AT are looking to upgrade the intersection which will also require moving bus stops. It’s not in the report but I understand local retailers are very opposed to the bus stop even existing and want more car parking instead. I’ve even heard that local councillor and AT board member Mike Lee supported this view at a public meeting

Franklin Road – AT are still working through the Franklin Rd project however are finding resistance from residents who don’t want cycle lanes on the road and are using AT’s silly and outdate road classifications against them AT say that following an internal safety audit they are now having an independent safety audit commissioned to consider one of the four options before proceeding further.

  1. On-road cycle lanes on both sides
  2. On-road cycle lane on the downhill side and ‘shared path’ on the footpath (uphill side)
  3. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides and normal footpath
  4. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides but ‘shared path’ on the footpath (both sides)

That the last to in particular are even being considered is frankly insane.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – AT are working towards the main construction works to happen in July. In preparation for that over Queens Birthday weekend the old signal box will be lifted off the platform and relocated and foundations for additional canopies will be installed.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing) – The Notice of Requirement will now be lodged in May as final changes are made to the design. Separately AT say they are targeting this to be completed in 2017 but that relies on the process going smoothly and it’s almost certain some of the local residents on Cowie St will complain to the environment court.

Parnell Station – As many train users may have noticed, works have started to build the station with platform edging appearing. The works to enable the platforms to be built are planned to be completed by August and Kiwirail are expected to complete the refurbishment of the heritage Newmarket station by the end of the year. However the opening of the station is two years away as AT want to tie that in with the closing of Sarawia St which is likely due to the increased complexity in signalling it would cause. They say if that can be resolved then the station could open from early to mid-2016.

Westgate Transport Interchange – AT are still trying to work out how they are going to operate buses in the new Westgate town centre which wasn’t designed well with public transport in mind. The initial plan was to have bus interchange spread around the town centre which wouldn’t have been very good from an operational or customer focused perspective. This difficultly that AT seem to have having with getting this changed highlights how important it is that we design our PT networks and infrastructure into new greenfield development properly right from the start.

Half Moon Bay – Funding has been approved for improvements to the ferry terminal. It is hoped the project will be completed by September 2016

Proposed Northcote Cycleway – AT say the final design for the cycleway was presented to the Kaipatiki local board yesterday and will be made public in early May. The main issues they have been dealing with is the complaints about losing publicly provided space to store their personal possessions.

City Rail Link – Of the six appeals against the notice of requirement AT say they have resolved two of them and they’re making significant progress on another three following mediation over the last few months. Only one is outstanding and a hearing on it is due in late June.

PT

AT HOP – AT say that HOP car usage increased to its highest ever level in March with 74% of all trips being made using it. In addition with patronage also increasing, fare revenue has also been increasing which is good.

A separate paper – I assume to the closed session – will cover off AT’s roadmap for integrated fares including boundaries and indicative pricing

PTOM – AT are still waiting on the NZTA to finalise its review of the PTOM contracts so they can start tendering services for the new network

EMUs – There are now 50 out of 57 electric trains in Auckland, 42 have achieved provisional acceptance and 33 have achieved acceptance for normal service.

Mid May is the next significant step for the electric trains which is when they will be rolled out to all weekend services – except Pukekohe to Papakura (no mention of when Waitakere will close). They say additional services on the Southern Line are targeted for June

Bus Lane Rollout – At has an update on some of the bus lanes they’re rolling out and some of the time savings are impressive – such as two minutes faster for every bus that using the Symonds St improvements.

Onewa Road T3 Lane (city bound) – under construction.

  • Symonds Street Bus Lane improvements – construction completed; initial analysis shows 2 minute time savings for a number of peak services – schedule adherence has increased to 93%.
  • Fanshawe Street Bus Lane (inbound) improvements – construction completed.
  • Victoria street Bus Lane Extension – construction has commenced in March.
  • Wellesley Street Bus Pocket – construction to commence midApril.
  • Khyber Pass Road Bus Lane Extension – construction completed.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane (Richardson Road to Denbigh Ave) – 21 March construction completed – initial analysis shows that a number of peak services are saving 4 minutes on travel times compared to the previous year.
  • Park Road Bus Lane – hospital to Carlton Gore Road – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Parnell Road Bus Lane – St Stephens to Sarawia Street (outbound) – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road Transit Lanes – designs near completion; Local Board workshops to be progressed in April.
  • Great North Road Bus Lanes – New Lynn to Ash Street – final concept plans completed – due for consultation 20th April.
  • Totara Avenue Signal Removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange –– construction complete targeted for 20th April

Customer Experience – AT say that this is improving which I find interesting considering the number of issues we heard about in March

2015-04 - Customer Satisfaction

Western Line Padding Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote Auckland Transport padding out the Western Line timetable. Today the Herald picked up on the story. AT have sent me a response to the story which is in full below.

AT is committed to running reliable peak services and achieving this through the introduction of a world class all-electric fleet.

In order to address the recent decrease in reliability and performance, the decommissioning of the diesel fleet has been brought forward to July from a planned August / September date. This will remove one variable of on-time performance – aging diesel train breakdowns that have seen a spike in recent months.

As with any timetable change, the most recent being on 8 December with a +22% increase in services, tweaks are required following introduction. The 3 minute earlier departure times on the Western Line are needed to support the 8 December increased services while diesel and electric trains share the network, to ensure time slots at Newmarket junction and Britomart are met.

As part of the original electric train rollout plan and in accordance with that plan, run-times of the electric trains on the Western Line are being tested and optimised currently prior to introduction in July as part of the existing timetable. Continuous improvements in run times, signalling and track testing to optimise electric train run times are a priority and further run-time testing and optimisation will follow the bedding in of full electric train operations from July, leading to more timetable improvements later in 2015. This work involves looking at reducing dwell times and optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) safety feature on the electric trains.

AT is committed to providing the peak 10 minute frequency on the Western Line as early as possible and will be dependent on progress over coming months.

The historic run times relate to when run times were increased to accommodate the SA train sets. To place this in context, the improvements on the rail network since 2003:

Train Changes 2003-2015
I think it would be good for AT to actually specify exactly what the impediments are to faster and more frequent services and what steps they are taking i.e. how much do they need to reduce dwell times, what are the changes that need to occur for 10 minute frequencies etc.

As often happens when AT release data like above it manages to highlight a couple of other important points. In this case that a few things I noticed:

  • Patronage has increased well above the increase in the number of services per week. This is a good things and shows suggests we’re not only getting better services but also more utilisation out of them.
  • At 30 arrivals at Britomart over a two hour period it highlights just how much more capacity the CRL has the potential to contribute. Although first a quick count suggests the actual number of AM Peak (7am-9am) arrivals is 36 trains which would go to 40 if the western line moved to 10 minute frequencies. My understanding is the CRL allows for up to 48 trains an hour (24 trains per direction) so that’s up to 96 over a two hour window. In other words the CRL more than doubles the capacity of the rail network.
  • Back in early March AT said that on average weekdays in February there were 51,500 trips. For March that has increased to almost 60,000 per weekday

ANZAC Day Dawn Service PT options

AT are putting on a few PT services so that people can reach  the ANZAC day dawn ceremony. The good news is that for the first time that includes being able to catch a train there (plus a little bit of a walk). The details are on AT’s website. The dawn service starts at 6am.

Bus
  • A Saturday timetable will be in place for all bus services with additional Inner LINK and Northern Express services provided for the ANZAC Day Dawn service from 4:30am
  • Inner LINK buses will operate approximately every 15 minutes (clockwise and anti-clockwise) from 4.45am to 6.30am. From 6.30am the services will operate to the normal Saturday timetable. These services operate to Auckland Museum in the Domain, linking Newmarket with additional rail services and Britomart for Northern Express and rail.
  • Additional Northern Express services will operate from Albany to Britomart at 4.30am, 5.00, 5.30 and 6.00. The normal Saturday timetable resumes from 6.30am.
  • If you have a Veteran’s SuperGold card, SuperGold card or RSA membership you can travel free all day on any Metrolink, Waka Pacific, North Star, GO WEST or any LINK bus.
Train
  • One additional early morning train per line to Newmarket from:
    • Swanson departing 4:15
    • Papakura departing 4:07
    • Manukau departing 4:05 (travels direct to Newmarket)
    • Onehunga departing 4:15
    • Britomart departing 4:50
    • All timed to arrive at Newmarket before 5:00am.
  • Western Line train services travel to Grafton station on Park Rd, which is a 10-15 minute walk to the Auckland Domain. For Southern/Eastern Line services the closest station to the Auckland Domain is the Newmarket station, which is a 15-20 minute walk to the Domain but remember you can take an Inner LINK bus from Newmarket or Britomart to the Domain.
Ferry
  • A normal Saturday timetable will be in place for ferry services. Travel on all train and ferry services is free for SuperGold cardholders all day.

For full details of public transport on the day: https://at.govt.nz/about-us/campaigns/anzac-day/ and for more information about the Dawn Service: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/war-memorial/anzac-day-commemorations

There will however be disruptions to some services later in the day for the various parades around the region and the details of those are here.

Western Line Timetable padding

Regular users of the western line will know that in the services have been struggling in recent months and that’s even when trains aren’t breaking down. It’s especially noticeable in the morning peak when and while there’s been a little bit of relief during the school holidays, with schools back today I’m expecting services will have been chocka again (I say that having written this post on the weekend).

Over the last few years patronage has been growing strongly and in the last 12 months trips up over 16%. That’s increase is not quite as high as the lines which have been electrified but is still a very significant rise. This is even more so considering that there hasn’t been an increase in peak frequency since 2008 despite during that time double tracking has been completed. The timetable changes that have occurred over the years have extended the length of the peak and improved off peak frequencies which only a few years ago improved to half hourly.

2015-03 Western Line Patronage

The yearlong bump was due to the Rugby World Cup

 

One little side note is that based on a patronage per service measure the western line carries about 60% more passengers on each train than what is seen on the other lines. I suspect that this is in part due to the Western line having a higher number of trips to destinations along the line rather than just to Britomart. This is kind of shown in the great visualisations put together by Aaron Schiff

Aaron Schiff Visualisation - away from Britomart

 

While increasing patronage is a good thing, at peak times the lack of improvements in capacity – with the exception of a few extra carriages – has had some negative effects. Now trains are regularly crowded with some passengers sometimes standing from as far as Glen Eden or even Henderson. Those from even closer in such as Kingsland sometimes aren’t able to get on at all – and before anyone mentions it, the buses going past on New North Rd or Sandringham Rd are also full. This is obviously bad for customers but it’s also bad for operations. It means more time needs to be allowed at each station for people to push their way to the doors or find a space to squeeze on while they wait for people to reluctantly move away from the doors and down the aisles. This slows the trains down and therefore increases chance that the service will run late.

Poor punctuality frustrates people and in some cases will put them off using the service altogether. In recent months punctuality has declined and in February it was less than 80%. In other words more than 1 in every 5 trains will run late. The performance results for February are below

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

When delays are occurring due to busy services – or “heavy customer demand” as Transdev would say, there aren’t always that many solutions. The most obvious would be to increase capacity but that isn’t frequently something that can happen quickly. I’d also point out that it was promised that the western line would move to 10 minute services in the peaks in 2010 when double tracking was finished but numerous excuses have continued to be created as to why that can’t happen. The latest excuse is the Sarawia St level crossing and I suspect that once that’s sorted I’m sure they will find another one such as capacity constraints at Britomart or Newmarket or perhaps the CRL works.

A shorter term solution is to simply extend the timetable by padding it out further and it appears that’s exactly what AT have done. This poster started appearing on trains last week.

Western Line Timetable increase poster

The new timetable is here and as it says, travel times are extended by up to three minutes. Below is a quick comparison of travel times between the December 2014 and April 2015 timetables and as you can see a minute has been added between:

  • Sturges Rd and Henderson,
  • New Lynn and Avondale
  • Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave

Western Line Timetable increase num

 

I have a few issues with this approach. While the timetable might more accurately reflect the times that customers will see it does so by making the services slower and therefore less attractive to potential new customers. It also improves AT/Transev’s performance results by simply shifting out the measurement.

Of course this isn’t the first time the timetable has been padded out. The graph below shows the travel times from Swanson of a few of the different timetables that there have been on the Western Line since Britomart opened. In total the new timetable is up to 8 minutes slower than was achieved back in 2003.

Western Line Timetable time changes

Despite what’s been mentioned above the timing of the change suggests there’s possibly another reason for the timetable increase and it’s one I certainly hope I’m wrong about. AT have said recently that they now intend to have electric trains running on all services by August. From what we’ve seen on other lines that should mean we start seeing electric trains running off peak shortly and given that it would seem odd to increase the timetable now. That is unless the testing of the trains has revealed that they’ll be even slower than the old diesel units they’re replacing. It would be seriously disappointing if this were the case as times should be going the other way. As I said, I really hope I’m wrong (and that AT clarify this).

City Centre Investment Map

The last five years have seen Auckland change dramatically for the better. If you were in the city then you wouldn’t have found any of the shared spaces, much of the area surrounding Britomart was still run down and unused and Wynyard Quarter as a people place didn’t exist. While we’ve already seen a lot of change the next 10 years promises even more and much of it – such as the CRL – will fundamentally alter Auckland for the better.

In fact there is so much going on in Auckland’s City Centre right now that it’s starting to resemble a sand pit. There are a huge number of publicly and privately funded improvements happening. Importantly they are leveraging off each other to make Auckland a more liveable and attractive place. That’s good for Auckland’s economy which in turn is good for the entire nation. It also bears reminding that the changes and growth that’s occurred in recent years hasn’t spelt doom on the regions roads as all the growth in travel to the centre has happened not on in cars but via PT and active modes.

To highlight all of the known changes that are planned or desired for the next decade the council have created a map showing all the ones they know about (there are bound to be more appear over that time – especially private developments). Note: not all of these projects have funding confirmed yet so not all might happen. Click to enlarge the images or go here for the PDF version (2.6MB).

City Centre Projects April 2015

City Centre Projects April 2015 Legend

There are of course a few things missing from this map. A few I noticed quickly are AT’s Light Rail plans, Cycle lanes on Pitt St as part of the Nelson St Cycleway and cyclelanes on Karangahape Rd as part of the city centre priority routes.

The major criticism I can see in all of this is that the map is focused on the city centre. That’s understandable seeing as it’s come from the city centre integration group however perhaps the council should create an interactive version for the entire region. It could show what’s going on and how projects like the CRL benefit the entire region.

I’m looking forward to the changes that planned. It should make the city centre a much more vibrant and interesting and liveable place.

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
RTN + LRT
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
CFN
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Massive March Patronage

We were expecting public transport in March to be mad and throughout the month we certainly saw it living up to that expectation with daily reports of full services. Some people watched up to 12 full buses go past their stop before one with enough space arrived for them to squeeze on. On the parts of the rail network not yet served by electric trains services were also overflowing – and that was when they weren’t being cancelled or severely delayed.

Auckland Transport have today released the patronage results showing just how busy the month was and the results are astonishing. Across all modes there were an extra 1.1 million trip taken compared to March last year which at 15% is a huge increase. The annual result increased by 10% in comparison to the year to March 14. The results were helped by there being one extra business day plus events such as the Cricket World Cup, Volvo Ocean race and the Auckland Arts Festival.

2015-03 - AKL - Total Patronage

Once again the star performer was the rail network which increased by a massive 33%. At 1.56 million trips in the month we finally surpassed the one month record of October 2011 which was from during the Rugby World Cup (although we got very close in February). Patronage for the last year is now at 13.4 million (up 21%) and at this rate we could see it top 14 million by the end of the financial year in June.

2015-03 - AKL - Rail Patronage

Of course with rail patronage growth accelerating it continues to reinforce our view that we’ll likely hit the CRL patronage targets well in advance of the 2020 date set by the government. At this stage it’s still looking like it could be in 2017 that we cross the 20 million mark. I wonder what the Ministry of Transport will say about it in their next report due August which will use those June numbers.

2015-03 - AKL - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target-1

The other modes aren’t standing still either, bus patronage is also growing strongly. Patronage on the Northern Express is up over 14% and on other buses it is up over 11% compared to March last year. The 12 month figures are up 16.8% and 8.4% respectively. On ferries there was strong growth however the 12 month figure is still below its peak of mid-2012.

2015-03 - AKL - Bus Patronage

Lastly Auckland has now passed the milestone of 50 trips per capita per year (this accounts for population growth each month). That’s a good improvement from where we were a decade ago but well short of other cities. As a comparison Wellington has around 74 trips per capita while Perth has 80-90 per capita and Sydney about 130 per capita. Where do you think we’ll be in 10 years’ time? If the current growth can be continued – and with all the improvements planned then it should be possible – then around 80 trips per capita is not beyond the realms of possibility.

2015-03 - AKL - PT per capita

Here’s AT’s press release.

There’s been another big jump in the numbers using public transport in Auckland.

Annual patronage now exceeds 78 million boardings, an increase of 10%. In March there were 8.4 million boardings, a jump of more than 1 million on March 2014.

Auckland Transport chairman, Dr Lester Levy says it’s been a big year with increased services across rail and bus and the gradual replacement of the diesel trains with new electric models.

The big performer was rail which reached 13.4 million passenger trips for the year, an annual increase of 21%. March saw a monthly record high of 1.56 million train trips, an increase of 29% on March last year.

The growth is put down to the enhanced travel experience and additional capacity provided by the new electric trains and greater service frequency introduced over recent years.

Dr Levy says, “We’re moving to speed up the roll-out of the electric trains because we know Aucklanders want the extra capacity and the improved service that they provide.”

Auckland Transport is aiming to have a full electric network by the end of July except for the link between Papakura and Pukekohe which will continue to use diesel trains. These will be refurbished over time to provide an enhanced experience. The electric trains will provide improved travel experience and more capacity on the Southern and Western Lines.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says the figures are good news for the City Rail Link.

“At this rate, Auckland will meet the Government’s threshold for financial support for the CRL three years early in 2017, three years earlier than predicted. Growth has been accelerating since late 2013.”

March was also a record breaking month on the Northern Express with patronage up almost 17% on the same month last year, the 12 month total reached 2.8 million.

It was also a record for other bus services as patronage rose 8% to 56.6 million. Ferry numbers for the year totalled 5.4 million trips, up 5% on an annual basis.

General Manager AT Metro, Mark Lambert, says growth on bus services is attributed to increased services and frequency, improving travel times from new bus priority lanes and a significant improvement in service punctuality being achieved by bus operators through new timetables. Further service level increases and punctuality improvements are planned for later this year along with the introduction of double decker buses on a number of routes. New network designs will also be introduced from later this year.

Meanwhile, Auckland Transport apologises for recent disruptions on the rail network including track and signal failures (operated by KiwiRail), mechanical breakdowns with the old diesel trains and staffing issues.

Mr Lambert says, “The new timetable from December 2014 introduced a 20% plus increase in services across the constrained Auckland rail network making it difficult to recover when there is an issue. We are working with the rail operator Transdev to speed-up the recovery time when unfortunately inevitable failures occur.”