Campbell Live on Trains and Motorway tolls

Campbell Live have been doing some great stories on transport and urban issues in the last few years and have easily been one of the best media organisations on the subjects. This week contained quite a few transport segments including on Monday when they dedicated an entire show to trains.

First there was this segment on travelling between the CBD and Papakura by train and by car.

Campbell Live - Rail Race

I’m quite sure why John Campbell drove up Queen St to get to the motorway and I was quite surprised by just how quiet the eastern line train looked compared to the Western Line trains I’m used to.

Next up was a segment on extending train services to the Waikato.

Campbell Live - Waikato Rail

We’ve talked about extending rail to the Waikato in the past. Personally I think for it to actually work we will need much faster services, particularly through the urban area and that’s where Kiwirail need to hurry up and get the third main built between Papakura and Westfield. I’ve been told it’s not all that expensive to build but they keep debating with Auckland Transport about who should pay for it. The example for Waikato trains was the Wairarapa Connection in Wellington.

Campbell Live - Wairarapa Connection

I do think we need to be careful in using the Wairarapa connection as an example as the driving alternative isn’t great being a slow and winding road over the Rimutakas. I think if a trip from Hamilton to Auckland could be achieved in around 1½ hours (instead of the 2+ hours it takes) it would be very competitive.

Lastly on Wednesday they looked at the issue of tolling the motorway and compared a trip from Takanini to Mt Eden by the motorway and local roads.

Campbell Live - Road Tolling

As they show the local roads are already much slower than the motorways which I suspect will limit some of the diversion from people trying to avoid tolls but again it’s interesting to note that the same trip via train from Takanini to Mt Eden via train would have taken between 50 and 60 minutes (depending on the transfer).

Auckland Transport’s 30 Year Project List

As part of the discussion on Alternative Transport Funding, which was launched yesterday, the Council also released a copy of Auckland Transport’s entire 30 year transport programme which includes the cost of projects and seemingly ranked according to some combination of criteria. The programme unfortunately does not include state highway projects, which makes it difficult to fully assess the merits of the overall transport packages outlined in yesterday’s announcements. However, it’s certainly clear what Auckland Transport projects can and cannot be afforded over the next 30 years under the two scenarios.

The document doesn’t explain the list in any detail, but it seems as though there are a number of projects on the first page which have some form of existing commitment or are ongoing requirements and therefore are not really considered “discretionary”. These are shown below:

committed-projectsThe ‘committed’ projects include those that appear to have contracts in place (electric trains, Albany Highway, a few things around Westgate), renewing existing assets and the City Rail Link. I actually wonder if it would be helpful for CRL to be ranked against all the other projects – rather than be included in this “other” list – as almost certainly it would rank either right at the top or very near it.

Anyway, moving on to the top of the list the projects listed below are those that are in both the Basic Network and the Auckland Plan Network – as well as some fairly broad brush allocation of funding to support sprawl in some of the areas identified by the Unitary Plan:

basic-network-projects

It’s a pretty short list for the 30 year transport programme, as well as being strangely focused on the first decade. The other key thing to notice here is the yellow boxes, which appear to be wrapped up programmes of projects (e.g. walking and cycling) where the amount of funding allocated to the programme varies quite significantly, depending on whether it’s the Auckland Plan Transport Network or the Basic Transport Network.

Even taking a fairly harsh look at the list above, there doesn’t seem to be too many projects that don’t make sense doing at all over the next 30 years. For me the three most glaring ones that need to be questioned are:

  • The Reeves Rd flyover at $141 million
  • The widening of the almost $200 million and soon to be opened Te Horeta Rd for another $74 million
  • Mill Road at $472 million which is something that we’ve highlighted could be looked at for a cheaper option, especially seeing as the government are now widening the southern motorway.

The rest of the projects are those which form part of the Auckland Plan Transport Network only. Essentially, these are the additional projects from Auckland Transport which the additional funding is being asked to pay for:

auckland-plan-network-projects

While there are a few really dumb projects on the list above (Mt Albert Park & Ride, what the heck?) there’s also a lot of pretty good stuff that is missing out under the Basic Transport Network. Furthermore, while there is some, it seems at first glance that there isn’t a huge amount of really expensive dumb stuff in the programme list of Auckland Transport’s projects. That contrasts with the package of state highway projects highlighted yesterday which doesn’t appear to have been questioned at all.

Over the next few days I’ll be starting to look into the detail at the overall balance of the packages, as well as assessing the extent to which they are similar to what we proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

Alternative Transport Funding Report Released

The latest report on alternative transport funding for Auckland, prepared by the Independent Advisory Board (formerly the Consensus Building Group), has just been released. The report will form a critical part of the Council’s public consultation on the next Long Term Plan (the 10 year budget), essentially asking Aucklanders two key questions:

  • Are you willing to pay more for a better transport network?
  • If so, then should that extra money be from existing sources (rates, fuel taxes etc.) or from a “motorway user charge”?

We have been highly skeptical of past proposals that request more money to be spent on transport – in particular the first version of the Integrated Transport Programme as well as the initial report on alternative funding prepared last year by the Consensus Building Group. In fact, the Congestion Free Network came into being as a result of our frustration with the transport programme being a “build everything” and we felt a large part, if not all of the $12 billion funding gap could be resolved through removing poor value projects, rather than by requiring additional funding.

Overall, the new report is a clear step in the right direction and combined with the work being done as part of the next LTP and the next ITP it seems as though quite a lot of effort has gone into removing the more idiotic projects included in the original ITP, although there isn’t a huge amount of detail in the information that has been provided. There are, however, still many unanswered questions that the report doesn’t seem to address – plus its key recommendation of suggesting a “motorway user charge” is fraught with problems. But I’ll get onto that in a moment – first to summarise some key points from the report.

A comparison between what is in the two programmes – known as the “Basic Transport Network” (that which can be afforded under the 2.5-3.5% rates increase proposed in the LTP) and the “Auckland Plan Transport Network” (the preferred network, which requires additional funding) is shown in the series of tables below.

Firstly, for bus and ferry investment:

bus-ferry

The main difference between the two networks seems to be in the scale of the bus lane programmes and the provision of additional busways in the second and third decades, supported by service frequency improvements. The proposed Botany to Manukau busway appears to be extended to the airport like we suggested as part of the CFN however more interesting is to see a new proposal for a “cross isthmus” bus RTN between New Lynn, Onehunga and Otahuhu. I wonder what route and form that would take.

Next for rail:

railThe difference between the two networks is fairly stark in the second and third decades, with no investment at all in rail over this period in the Basic Transport Network. I must say the complete lack of rail investment in the Basic Transport Network after 2025 is a bit surprising and raises some questions about the prioritisation process that determines what’s in and what’s out of the Basic Transport Network after 2025. Importantly, CRL is in the Basic Transport Network and therefore does not require alternative funding.

Next, for roads:

roadsLooking at arterial roading projects first, it’s clear that even the Auckland Plan Transport Network is much smaller than what was proposed originally in the first version of the Integrated Transport Programme. In fact it seems like billions upon billions have been shaved off the previous ITP’s numbers, which included crazy things like nearly a billion dollars on upgrading Great South Road. We’ll take a more detailed look at this in a future post, but credit where it’s due to Auckland Transport who have responded to criticisms of the first ITP by ensuring the Auckland Plan Network has been significantly refined to deliver much better value for money.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the state highway programme, which doesn’t vary much between the two networks – aside from some rather optimistic “widening to reduce congestion” in the final decade (haven’t they heard of induced demand?) A whole bunch of very dodgy projects (Additional Harbour Crossing, SH16 Port Access, SH1 Warkworth to Wellsford etc.) have been included in the Basic Transport Network for some unknown reason, as well as of course being in the Auckland Plan Transport Network. This is important to keep in mind when considering the resulting “funding gap” – which of course could be a whole heap smaller if we stripped out the $5.5 billion Harbour Crossing and multiple billions on these other unnecessary projects.

Components of the walking, cycling and safety programmes for the two networks are shown in the table below:walking-cyclingIt’s not clear what the cost difference for walking and cycling is between the two networks, but it’s clear that only the Auckland Plan Transport Network goes anywhere close to delivering on the Auckland Plan vision for active transport.

Now for miscellaneous other stuff, like maintenance, renewals and supporting sprawl:

maintenance-renewalsThe shortfall in funding maintenance and renewals under the Basic Transport Network is a real concern, as the last thing we want to do is end up like the USA where infrastructure is falling to bits because politicians want to “cut ribbons” rather than look after what we already have. The lack of funding for developing the greenfield sprawl areas may not be such an issue as this could force the developers themselves to come to the party a bit more.

Overall, as I noted above it’s clear the Auckland Plan Transport Network is vastly improved from what was in the first ITP. A lot of the really poor investment in the arterial network appears to have disappeared, although there are still a few remaining remnants like Penlink and Mill Road, although even with these projects it seems like the bulk of spend has been pushed out into the future. However, the big remaining issue is that a similar exercise doesn’t seem to have occurred with the State Highway network and there are still billions upon billions of dollars in poor value for money projects – most particularly the Additional Harbour Crossing but also other duplicative projects like SH20B, Warkworth-Wellsford and others. NZTA have really dropped the ball on this one and unfortunately I suspect part of this comes about because the under the current situation motorway projects get full government funding while every other transport project has to beg for a slice of the funding pie. More than once I’ve heard council people say we should build certain projects simply because the government are paying for them.

Cut out what I estimate to be around $8 billion in very poor value for money state highway projects and we’re left with a $4 billion funding gap. If we push $8 billion of state highway projects out of both the Basic Transport Network and the Auckland Plan Network, it means we can afford $8 billion more of good projects before we have to turn to Alternative Funding and it means that we only need to find ways of raising an additional $4 billion. Over 30 years, that’s not a particularly huge issue to overcome.

So if we think back to the two questions at the top of the post, it seems as though the answer to the first one is there may well be value from paying a bit more to get a better transport network, but the actual requirement for additional funding might be around a third of what the report highlights. Now let’s turn to the second question of which would be the best way of raising this additional funding.

Essentially the two options proposed are:

  1. Increasing existing funding mechanisms like rates, fuel taxes, development contributions, central government grants etc.
  2. Introducing a charge for entering the motorway network

Some more detail on the “Rates and Fuel Tax” option are shown below:

rates-fuel-taxI must say I was pretty surprised to see how low the additional rates and fuel tax increases would need to be in order to close the funding gap. A rates increase of between 3.4 and 4.4% is actually lower than what was assumed in the 2012 Long Term Plan (that had 4.9%) while a 1.2 cent per litre annual fuel tax hike would probably get lost as a rounding error in typical price fluctuations. It’s a credit to Auckland Transport’s project prioritisation that they’ve managed to develop a network that could be fully funded under the funding assumptions of the 2012 Long Term Plan, and it’s only the political decision to have a much lower rates increase that’s essentially “re-created” the funding gap.

Combine this with the above observation that the “funding gap” could be further reduced to around $4 billion instead of $12 billion and we could see the gap closed by rates increases only 0.3% higher than otherwise or fuel tax increases of a mere 0.4 centre per litre compared to what would otherwise occur. That’s starting to look like a pretty compelling option.

The other funding option is called a “Motorway User Charge” and is summarised below:

motorway-user-chargeThere’s a lot of discussion in the document around the relative costs and benefits of the two approaches – with the report seeming to express something of a preference for the motorway user charge scheme, based on its travel demand management effects of discouraging some trips and encouraging higher levels of public transport use. We’ll look at the details of this analysis in further posts, but note that this option does come with some fairly significant set up and operational costs (~$110 million set up with opex costs of 24c per trip) as well as potentially diverting quite a lot of traffic off the motorway network and onto local roads – which seems quite counter-productive.

To summarise, there’s quite a lot to like in the Independent Advisory Board’s report. It seems like some hard work has gone on by Auckland Transport (although sadly not NZTA) to optimise their desired transport network so it’s far more realistic than what was proposed in the first ITP. Take out a few of the dumber motorway projects and we’re left with a pretty damn good 30 year transport network that can almost be funded from existing sources (just requiring 0.3% higher rates increases and 0.4 cents per litre higher fuel tax increases) or from a very low motorway user charge. Or from other ways we might think up of to find $4 billion over 30 years.

 

Update: unsurprisingly the government has once again poured cold water on the idea of tolling or fuel taxes.

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/govt-responds-auckland-transport-report

Auckland Transport Late October Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meet today and other than the outstanding patronage results, here are the other items on the on the agenda or in the public reports of note. Firstly the closed session which once again contains quite a few interesting topics including:

  • Newmarket Crossing – This is the Sarawia St level crossing issue.
  • Penlink Designation – AT have been looking to make changes to the existing designation to Penlink although hopefully this doesn’t mean it is moving any closer to actually being built.
  • CCFAS2 – AT are being very secretive about just what the second CCFAS is looking at.
  • Integrated Fares Business Case
  • Amendments to Statement of Intent 2014-17 – perhaps they’re correcting for the really low rail patronage targets.
  • Parking Consultation Analysis – the feedback from the draft parking strategy consultation a few months ago.
  • CBD/West Transport – I’m not sure what this is about but I was told it is confidential as involves property acquisitions (or the potential for them).

On to the items that are in the public session. From the board report:

AT are responsible for developing a region wide wayfinding system. Some of it has started to appear and they say the next stage will see precinct specific signage go through user testing and stakeholder feedback in January and February next year.

Construction of the Wolverton to Maioro cycle route will happen over the year end school holidays

AT say after reviewing feedback to the consultation on cycling routes through Wynyard they are now looking at alternative options. You may recall these are the cycling routes that many of the local marine businesses complained about claiming the loss of parking would destroy their businesses despite them having off street parking and the on-street parks being empty a large amount of the time.

AT are still working on the new Otahuhu Bus-Train interchange however they seem to be getting more vague about when it will be completed. This is important as the roll out of new network for South Auckland is reliant on the completion of this interchange and when announced at the end of last year was planned for mid-2015. In August they said the bus portion was targeted for completion in July 2015 with the rail upgrade completed by the December 2015. In September they said the target for completion was by the end September 2015 although this wasn’t specific to modes like August was. Now they are saying the interchange is scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2015 and aligned to the new network. This suggests a delay both for the interchange and for the bus network rollout.

There are now 29 of a total 57 EMU’s now in Auckland with 24 unit’s with provisional acceptance (up from 20 in the September report). They say two more are due to arrive in November and another seven in December. Regular train users will have seen the EMUs start to be stabled at the old Auckland Railway station as Wiri only has the capacity to store 28 trains.

Strand Stabling Yard in use

Strand Stabling Yard now in use, photo by Jonty

There is more detail about the upcoming timetable change which will be the first major one for a number of years. It will come in on the 8th December and as we found out last month all services from Pukekohe or Papakura will go via Newmarket and all services from Manukau will be via Glen Innes. The services on the Manukau line will increase to 10 minute frequencies and should also hopefully include some longer trains. Now AT are also stating that weekend trains to Onehunga will also see improvement moving to a 30 minute frequency (it would be good if they did 30 minute frequencies on weekdays too). Early testing of electric trains on the Western line has also commenced after Kiwirail finally finished in September, over a year late.

The first stage of AMETI is now effectively complete. The new road parallel to the rail line and which includes a 220m tunnel next to the station, named Te Horeta Rd, opens to traffic this Sunday 2nd November and there’s a public open day on Saturday 1st from 11am to 3pm. A separate paper to the board shows some before and after photos. AT say there is still expected to be some minor works on the project till early next year and that the final cost for this stage is expected to be $212 million compared to the project budget of $239 million. Here is a video from AT of the road.

HOP use as a percentage of all trips remained at 71% after jumping strongly in July and August following the change in fares from early July despite AT selling 15,000 new ones in September. AT say that now almost 420,000 have been sold with around 56% of them registered. The exact figures aren’t clear but it appears that HOP use for rail and bus is approximately 79% and 69% respectively. We’re now almost two years since HOP first started rolling out so this got me thinking about how the uptake of HOP compares to similar situations overseas. Back in May 2013 AT received this report from Deloitte doing just that. In the absence of the actual data behind the graphs, I’ve manually added approximately where HOP is and as you can see the result looks pretty good. I would suggest to AT staff that they might want to highlight this fact.

HOP usage compared to other cities estimation

In a good move AT now have an agreement in place with Budgetary Agencies which allows them to give out a free HOP card as part of the assistance they give to clients.

Competition Winners

Attentive readers will recall the little competition we ran some weeks back, well Labour Day has given us the chance to sort through the entries and make some choices.

This exercise has shown that the City Rail Link is a difficult project to summarise and it is hard to feel that we’ve quite cracked it yet, but here goes…

While I for one did particularly like Stu’s CRL: Centre Right Legacy but as there is no sign of this actually happening I think we have to discount that one.

For originality we felt we had to include Mike F‘s: Auckland’s wormhole – a shortcut in time

On the important need to reach out to drivers about the project we also chose:

Greg N‘s CRL – Auckland’s Traffic Decongestant

and

Spartan‘s witty acronym CRL – Congestion ReLief

And finally there’s Nick‘s City Rail Link: Building Auckland’s Regional Metro which he expanded on more fully in a comment on a post earlier today. This is as good a summary of how to better communicate the value of the project as I’ve seen:

They should make a clean cut from the tarnished CRL ‘brand’ and start calling it what it actually is, something like ‘Regional Auckland Metro Rail” (or a snappier alternative). Don’t sell it as a two billion dollar CBD tunnel with two stations, sell it as a two billion dollar metro system with four lines and 40 stations serving 3/4 of metropolitan Auckland, with trains running every five or ten minutes to every station between Swanson, Onehunga, Manukau and Papakura.

Did NZTA sell the Waterview connection as the means to drive from Owairaka to Waterview? Of course not, they spend far more time talking about completing the motorway system, creating an efficient network and delivering a western bypass from Manukau to Albany.

AT seem so intent on hiding all the benefits and potential from the public, so risk averse as to shoot themselves in the foot. Sell the damned thing FFS! get the public excited, have them banging on the beehive door saying hurry up and get on with it. In my experience the only people against the CRL are those that have a mistaken understanding of what it does, or rather doesn’t, do. Those that do understand can clearly see it is the most efficient spend of transport funds possible in the city. That is squarely ATs fault in terms of marketing.

Give it a new name, them stick signs and billboards out next to main roads and motorways showing the travel time and frequency to various places. Put one by SH1 in Manurewa with the travel time to Silvia Park and Aotea, one near Orakei with the time to Eden Park, one in Mt Albert with the time to Henderson and Aotea, one in Howick village with the combined bus and train time to the city centre etc. Hell stick one up in every neighborhood within ten minutes of a rail station.

…and give it a new brand, a regional, metro branding.

Thanks again to Madman Entertainment for the DVDs.

So congratulations Mike, Greg, Spartan, and Nick and stand by for an email from me requesting a physical address so I can send out the DVDs

No correspondence will be entered into etc….

CRL engagement ideas

As the CRL inches closer to reality we’re bound to see a lot more of the general public start to get involved and as such discussion about it is only likely to intensify. This isn’t a bad thing as the more people that learn about the massively positive benefits the project brings the more support the project will have. Penny Hulse has come up with an idea to help push the discussion along which has been highlighted by Metro Magazine.

Deputy mayor Penny Hulse wants to paint some lines on Albert St. And put up some signs. Why? Because she wants to show people where the City Rail Link will go. Railway lines, geddit?

Do that, she argues, and the abstract economic burden of our proposed underground railway will become a really-happening-now project, a talking point, a springboard for the imagination. A mechanism for us to start thinking seriously about what the downtown city might become when tens of thousands of workers and shoppers and students spill every day out of a subway station underneath the intersection of Albert and Victoria streets.

It’s a brilliant idea. Cheap and powerful. They could build on it, too. As the work starts — next year is likely, and it will be disruptive cut-and-cover, not a tunnel — how about they turn it into an “imagine Auckland” project? Use the walls they will put up to keep us out as a giant, ongoing canvas on which people can post their ideas for the city — in words, in pictures, hell, in 3-D installations. Aucklander Stuart Houghton has been posting his “100 ideas for a better Auckland”, a set of beautifully whimsical illustrations, at 100daysproject.co.nz (one of them is shown above), and they’re a terrific provocation. Put some of them up and invite everyone to contribute more.

Penny Hulse wants to lay down the painted tracks because she wants to generate more public engagement with the changing city. She wants us to feel part of what the council is up to. But guess what? She says she can’t get people at council to support her idea. Why not?

I think painting some tracks down Albert St is a great idea but why stop there.

London has long considered the building of full sized mock ups of tube stations a crucial part of the design process to ensure they get the stations right.

Crossrail Station Mockup

Now with just two underground stations – Aotea and K Rd – perhaps AT should do a similar exercise, firstly to ensure they get the design right but if they were also in a publicly accessible location such as AT’s Bledisloe carpark for the Aotea one, they could also be a great tool for further public engagement.

However both of these ideas are focused centrally and unfortunately don’t help address the incorrect assumption of some that the CRL is just about benefits to the CBD. More needs to be done by AT to highlight the benefits the CRL provides to the region and it is something highlighted in the latest newsletter from the AA. They note:

Perhaps for the first time, chinks in the broad support for the City Rail Link (CRL) are also visible.  Many Auckland Members believe that the project will only benefit a small proportion of the population (those who live or work in the central city).

Awareness of the network-wide benefits that the CRL could offer is minimal – instead, it is commonly assumed that the project is only about intra-CBD travel.

As a result, support for the project is surprisingly low: only one-third of Auckland Members believe investment in the CRL would be money well spent.

And in their recommendations they say AT needs to de-mystify the CRL

At present, Auckland’s flagship project is poorly understood, and risks becoming the focal point for public concerns about cost.

Politicisation of the CRL has stood in the way of a conversation about its substance.

Much more needs to be done to develop public understanding of what the project is, and how it could benefit all of Auckland.

Again, the story needs to be told in terms of concrete outcomes – economic growth, travel time savings, and de-congestion.

I think the AA are absolutely correct with this and importantly they’re not saying no to the project but just that more information is needed so the public better understand the need for it.

In my view just having a few open days or putting up some posters isn’t likely to be effective so what are some ideas for getting more public engagement in other parts of Auckland?

Rail vs Driverless Cars

A few days ago there were two major transport stories, the first was about a new record for rail patronage and the other topic was about the government looking to make it easier for driverless cars to be on New Zealands roads.

The prospect of cars travelling New Zealand highways with no one behind the wheel is moving closer says new Transport Minister Simon Bridges. Officials are reviewing legislation allowing for the testing of umanned autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Mr Bridges has pledged to work with environmental interests while also pursuing the Government’s road building programme.

Mr Bridges said he was committed to “a balanced approach” and ongoing investment roads were important even from a green perspective, “over time as we move to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles”.

Mr Bridges said the Government was not doing a great deal to accommodate autonomous vehicle technology, “but I don’t think there’s any doubt that if you look at what’s going on internationally, maybe not in the next couple of years, but over time we will see driverless vehicles and that will have implications, like for example less congestion because vehicles can travel closer together”.

We’ve discussed driverless cars a bit in the past so I’m going to try and not rehash those arguments too much. What I do want to touch on is the odd relationship between them and rail. By that I mean opponents of rail investment often like to claim that rail is an old technology – despite the fact that modern rail systems involve some very sophisticated tech – and that we should instead look to the future which they see as being driverless cars. Of course some rail systems have been driverless for decades.

One of those opponents of rail investment is Phil McDermott who runs the ironically named Cities Matter blog which argues for low density and auto centric cities. He was a guest on Radio NZs The Panel talking about both rail and driverless cars however his contradictions were huge and probably about 0.8 on the David Seymour scale. The section on The Panel starts from ~11:15 and McDermott comes in from ~14:10

or listen here

He starts off by dragging up the old cliché that trains run on fixed routes but that roads allow for flexibility and then says that if the city develops as expected that people will be travelling across the city between centres. Of course everyone traipsing across town to dispersed centres is something we’ve been doing for decades and has only led to more and more congestion. The intention of the Auckland Plan is to focus growth in and around the central city, a handful of major metropolitan centres and a wider range of local town centres which are all linked by high quality public transport. It’s that public transport network, of which rail is an integrated part, that will be key to moving a huge volume of people around and doing so free of congestion.

Auckland Plan - Development Strategy

Here are some of the other points and contradictions he made.

  • Trains in Auckland are full by the time they get to the CBD but that we shouldn’t build the CRL as he thinks the trains won’t carry a lot of people. You really have to wonder what’s going on in his brain as it works through that logic.
  • That the CRL doesn’t do enough for the transport system despite the fact it doubles the capacity of it.
  • That we shouldn’t have intensification near rail lines as somehow it creates a high marginal cost for each extra trip however later he says if we want rail to work in NZ he says we need lots of cars on the road with people driving to stations with big park n ride facilities.
  • That road building is ok because in his view the marginal costs are low which of course conveniently ignores that we’ve exhausted all the easy road building options and are now faced with massive costs for projects, often for not much gain in capacity or mobility.
  • That driverless cars will increase car use and that it will make congestion worse, but it’s all ok because they might not be as polluting as our current fleet.

Many of the views he expressed are downright odd and I get the impression that what people like McDermott are really after is to preserve the status quo which they likely currently benefit from. Some might wonder why bother to even discuss the interview but unfortunately we still see the likes of Phil trotted out on a regular basis.

September 14 Patronage

Auckland’s Transport’s patronage results for September are now out and they show that the city is experiencing spectacular PT growth, growth which is also setting a number of records. The big news was earlier in the week was that when it was announced that over the last year there had been more than 12 million rail trips on the rail network and that for the first time more trips than the rail network in Wellington. As it turns out the 12 million trips milestone has actually occurred some-time in October rather than in September. Here are the highlights according to AT.

Auckland public transport patronage totalled 73,957,488 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.1% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +7.6% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. September monthly patronage was 6,612,702, an increase of 782,718 boardings or +13.4%on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +11.0% accounting for special event patronage, one more businessand one less weekend day in Sep-2014 compared to Sep-2013. Financial year to date patronage has grown by + 8.5%.

Rail patronage totalled 11,923,347 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.7% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +16.7% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Patronage for
Sep-2014 was 1,119,230, an increase of 194,217 boardings or +21.0% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +21.2%. Financial year to date rail patronage has grown by +16.8%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,540,018 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +1.6% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and + 11.1% on the 12 months to Sep-2013.Northern Express bus service patronage for Sep-2014 was 234,282, an increase of 40,686 boardings or +21.0% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +20.8%. Financial year to date Northern Express patronage has grown by +18.6%.

Bus services excluding Northern Express carried 54,387,408 passenger trips for the 12 months to an increase of +1.0% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and +6.2% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Bus services excluding Northern Express patronage for Sep-2014 was 4,887,764, anincrease of 516,418 boardings or +11.8% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +8.8%. Financial year to date bus services excluding Northern Express patronage has grown by +7.1%.

Ferry services carried 5,106,715 passenger trips for the 12 months to Sep-2014, an increase of +0.6% on the 12 months to Aug-2014 and an increase +2.0% on the 12 months to Sep-2013. Ferry services patronage for Sep-2014 was 371,426, an increase of 31,397 boardings or +9.2% on Sep-2013, normalised to ~ +8.1%. Financial year to date ferry patronage has decreased by -0.3%.

14 - Sep AK Patronage table

14 - Sep AK Annual Patronage

At 73.96 million trips to the end of September represents a massive jump in usage compared to last year and even from last month when the total was 73.14 million trips. Importantly it’s not just from the growth of rail but increased bus patronage too that’s causing this surge. The Northern Express along is up 21% on the same month last year. It definitely appears that AT’s major projects such as integrated ticketing and electrification are starting to pay off and with so much positive change to go the tend is only likely to accelerate. One little milestone that did occur is that per capita we crossed 48 trips per person which is the first time that’s happened since 1989.

The rail patronage growth has been stunning for months and is really highlighted on the Onehunga and Manukau lines – the only two running electric trains so far – which respectively saw a 32.6% and a 50.6% increase for the month compared to the same time last year. I’ve personally really been noticing of late that both buses and trains have been getting very full, even if travelling against the peak flow such as from the North Shore to the city in the afternoon suggesting that we’re likely to see this strong patronage growth continue in October and be hopefully beyond.

14 - Sep AK Rail Patronage

Crucially the growth of PT is also happening faster than the population growth in Auckland with the latest results showing Auckland increasing at 2.3% per annum. With PT having grown as 7.6% over the last year it shows the growth is coming from many existing Aucklanders.

Moving on to other modes, for Ferries one thing that did catch my attention was this patronage graph. Significantly they have split out ferry patronage by whether the service is subsidised (contracted) or not. As I understand it only the Devonport and Waiheke runs are exempt and the graph shows how significant the patronage from those two locations compared to the rest of the ferry destinations.

14 - Sep AK Ferry Patronage

Lastly after a few lower months (possibly due to a faulty counter) cycling numbers are up 6.3% on September last year and 11% on a 12m basis (despite what the Monthly Cycle Monitoring Report says). Partly because we’re now in spring but it certainly feels like in seeing a lot more people out and about on bikes, even compared to previous years.

Can new roads pay for themselves?

It’s common to hear people say that because roads are paid for by their users (fn 1), we should build more roads. After all, the new roads will fund themselves!

At first glance, this seems convincing. But a closer look reveals that the “new roads pay for themselves” argument is based on a logical fallacy. Basically, the fact that the average road pays for itself does not mean that the next road will also pay for itself. In fact, there’s a large amount of recent evidence from the transport market that the next, or “marginal”, road will cost taxpayers more than it brings in revenue.

Economists understand the importance of marginal analysis when making decisions about what to build and how to charge for it. Businesses typically make pricing and production decisions “on the margin”. In other words, they look around for the next potential customer and ask: “Can I produce one additional unit and sell it to that person for a profit?” If the answer is yes, they produce it; if it’s no, they don’t as it would reduce their overall profits.

So what is the market telling us about demand for new roads? As always, it’s best to go and look at the empirical evidence. Over the last decade or two, there have been a number of efforts to get users to pay for new roads. Australia, the US, New Zealand, and a variety of other places have built toll roads – sometimes privately financed, sometimes publicly financed. In most cases, revenues from users were expected to pay the cost of the roads.

These costly investments have almost all failed. Toll roads have suffered from low traffic and low toll revenue. They have often required expensive taxpayer-funded bailouts. It looks as though people are not willing to pay for the marginal road.

In Australia none of the toll roads built after 2000 have been profitable:

Australia has some of the finest highway tunnels in the world, but for the private investors who trusted traffic usage projections from leading and respected consultancy firms the story has been a tale of insolvency and disappointment. Most of the privately owned toll highway projects constructed in the last 15 years in Australia have fallen into receivership or administration within a short time of opening to traffic when it became clear that toll revenue from actual traffic usage would be well short of covering its contribution to the construction costs.

The failures include the A$1bn Sydney Cross City Tunnel, which has seen traffic volumes less than half of forecasts, and the Brisbane Clem 7 and Airport Link tunnels, where traffic volumes have fallen short of forecasts by over 75%.

traffic avoids clem 7 tunnel

People would prefer to queue in traffic than pay the Clem 7 toll

In the US, an academic paper reviewing toll roads financed by Australia’s Macquarie Bank found that:

The record for these projects is abysmal.

Two of the projects declared bankruptcy. The assets of one, Pocahontas, were written down to zero by its new owner, and two were bought by the government jurisdictions where they were located. Another is in negotiations to be bought by the state of Virginia. None of these projects fulfilled their initial plans to operate successfully as profitable, private companies. Macquarie’s most substantial U.S. project, the Indiana Toll Road project, is near insolvency and attempting to restructure its loans.

In New Zealand, private finance has been slower off the mark, but there have been a couple of experiments with toll roads. In Tauranga, the Route K toll-road has been a financial millstone for the council since its opening in 2003. This year, NZTA agreed to pay off its remaining debt at public expense:

The New Zealand Transport Agency will take $62.5m of the remaining Route K debt from Tauranga City Council, it has today announced.

The council signed off the agreement with NZTA over the ownership of the debt on Route K in a meeting today.

The agency had already agreed to take ownership of the road from July 2015, but at a council meeting this afternoon, councillors discussed the agency also taking on the debt, less $1 million which the council would still owe.

The removal of the debt would see the council’s credit rating upgraded from A+ to AA-.

This is a clear market signal about the financial viability of new roads. It should not be surprising. After a half-century of road-building, Australia, the US, and New Zealand have extensive and mature road networks. There are seldom opportunities to dramatically improve the network by building another road. (Which is not to say that there are no opportunities to do so – it’s just that they’re bloody hard to find!)

In this context, it makes more sense to invest the marginal transport dollar in providing better transport choices. After half a century of underinvestment in public transport and walking and cycling facilities, there’s a lot of latent demand. As a result, every time Auckland has built a new piece of public transport infrastructure this century, demand has outstripped projections. Here, for example, is a graph from a few years ago that shows that Britomart met its 2021 patronage targets more than a decade early.

In other words, people aren’t willing to pay for new roads, but they are queuing up to get on the bus or train. Transport policy should recognise these market signals and invest in choice.

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

The market has spoken. It wants some more trains.

Footnote 1: This is factually incorrect. Since 2004, the National Land Transport Fund, which consists of fuel taxes, road user charges, and vehicle license fees, has paid 100% of the cost state highways. However, it only pays 50% of the cost of local roads, which account for the majority of vehicle kilometres travelled. The remaining 50% are paid for by local council rates.

PM gets it right about Auckland, mostly

Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:

First home buyers in Auckland might have to consider an apartment in order to get onto the property ladder, Prime Minister John Key says.

After all, the locational efficiencies of well placed apartments can mean great savings in transport expenses, and the smaller size of these dwellings also leads to savings in operational costs such as energy and maintenance. Apartments do offer a great option for getting onto the property ladder in the more central locations that many desire, and in fact in many cases will be the only option.

And he is doubly right when he added:

“If you’re a young person buying your first place in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, in most instances you’ll be going into an apartment.”

Doubly right? Right in the first instance because that’s true, but secondly right because he is implying that Auckland is becoming more similar to these cities in its functioning. Yes, Auckland is increasingly exhibiting the well known economic patterns of cities; high value placed on proximity, increases in productivity with density, the power of spatially efficient transport modes.

He’s kinda right when he then says:

“The real magic here is what’s driving those [price] increases – it’s land.”

Kinda right? Yes because of course it’s land, the cost of land, but he is only telling part of the storey, because he neglects to say that where that land is is the principal determinant of its value: Location, Location, Location. A 300m² site with a problem on it in Ponsonby recently made the news because of the price it sold for and of course it only reached that sum because of its locational value. No one is spending that kind of money on similarly tiny plots with rotting old shacks on them at the fringes of the city. Only by delivering more dwellings on locationally valuable sites can the demand for city proximate living be met and at attainable prices.

Several Densities

Several Densities

But then he was rather curious about the City Rail Link, that project that more than any other, will facilitate Auckland’s urban spatial reset by improving efficient connectivity and extending locational value to more currently underdeveloped parts of the existing city:

“And that’s one of the reasons why we’re not looking to rush to bring forward the rail, in terms of the CBD rail link, because if we do, the other portion of that has to be borne by the rate payers.”

Curious? Yes because he says he doesn’t want to use our taxes to fund half the project because he wants to save us from spending our rates on the other half. Well Mr Key there’s an even better way out of that, and that is to recognise that the CRL’s value to the Auckland economy and therefore the national one too, means that it should be funded entirely from the National Land Transport Fund like other nationally significant land transport projects.

Every project is somewhere, the CRL is no more local than a Highway in Tauranga, nor the coming one that almost no one will use out of Wellington. Aucklanders help fund those roads. The CRL will unlock a network from Swanson to Pukekohe, and points in between, helping shift a great many more people than a State Highway around Te Puke, and freeing up roads for many more freight movements. Therefore it is no less important for the national economy.

But anyway the City’s share of the CRL is already budgeted for in capital works programme so withholding the taxpayers share is not saving the Auckland ratepayer anything.

And this is significant because there are two issues that are vitally important to the success of apartment living that PM understands we now need; the location of the apartments and the quality of their connectivity. It is important that they are well placed in as much walking distance of amenity and employment as possible, but then that they are also well connected to the rest of the city through spatially efficient transport systems. After all the best trip is the one not needed to be taken, or that is shortened or otherwise has less impact on other city users and places [reducing the negatives of  traffic congestion, space consumption, and pollution].

Auto-dependent apartments on greenfields sites at the end of the motorway will only achieve the worst of both worlds: dense sprawl. And this kind of distant and disconnected living supplies none of the agglomeration economies that make cities successful. Furthermore they are unlikely to succeed as they satisfy no one: They provide neither the scale nor gardens that detached house lovers want, nor the city proximity that city dwellers value.

So the successful growing city economy isn’t just about Land, or Dwelling Type, but about Location, Dwelling Type, and Connectivity.

Gotta have all three.

*Adendum. In case anyone is thinking that increasing sprawl doesn’t increase transport demand and therefore pressure on all systems here is an up to date chart derived from the 2013 census Journey To Work data that shows a very clear match for distance from centre and length of journey to work. This is not just about the concentration of jobs in the centre, but also about people working in all sorts of places throughout the city and travelling across  town to get there:

Trip Length residential 2013

So with the interesting addition of that area on the south of the Tamaki River, and a developing one on the mid North Shore, the most efficient journeys to work on a distance basis are all in the City Centre and the older heart of the Isthmus. In other words the further out you live the longer your schlep to and for work is likely to be, by whatever mode.

Source: http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2014/10/INF_20141021_MAT_4791.PDF