Rail and congestion relief

A conference by the Traffic Institute – a group primarily made up of councillors and officers from a number of local authorities around the country to represent views on road safety and traffic management – held its annual conference earlier this week. There have been a few articles emerge from the conference and the one I’m going to focus on today is one titled Metro Rail won’t fix congestion which relates to a talk at the conference by Dr Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Metro rail systems such as Auckland’s proposed $2.4 billion link from Britomart to Mt Eden do nothing to reduce congestion in the long run, says a visiting international transport expert.

“With metro, all you do is create extra capacity,” Dr Dinesh Mohan told the Traffic Institute at its annual conference in Auckland today.

“Then, after two years, all the roads are congested again – and the metro is full.

“You just increase transport, you don’t reduce congestion.”

More total travel with the same amount of congestion/car use is exactly the point and primary purpose of the City Rail Link. The CRL network will move a lot more people around the region regardless of traffic. It’s also why we need greater investment in bus infrastructure both in the city centre and across the region as it allows us to get more use out of our road networks. The table below shows this, it comes from the City Centre Future Access Study released at the end of 2012. Regardless of the solution investigated (the integrated CRL and surface bus option was chosen as the best) vehicle traffic didn’t decline – although I think this is in part due to poor transport modelling.

CCFAS - City Centre Access
Of course it also means that if projects that don’t reduce congestion long term are not worth building then you can say goodbye to any future road widening programmes. Instead we’d look at getting a better outcome from the existing road resource, which leads us to this point.

“The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce road area, there is no other way.”

One way to do that was to allocate a lane along every road for buses, and another for cyclists and pedestrians.

Great we agree again, so when do we start? I look forward to a network of bus and cycle lanes made from reclaimed traffic lanes. Projects like painting new bus and cycle lanes often have very high economic returns due to being comparatively cheap to construct (often just some paint is needed) and benefiting a lot of passengers.

He also addresses climate change

Only 25 per cent of the “life-cycle” energy costs of underground passenger trains went on running them, but that left the production of concrete, steel and other infrastructure components contributing the remaining 75 per cent.

“Putting anything underground increases carbon dioxide,” he said.

I guess it’s a good thing then that the vast majority of the other ~90km of the Auckland Rail network ins’t underground.  As mentioned the point of the CRL is to unlock the latent capacity in the existing network so we can use it better. If we were building a full underground metro from scratch then he might have a point. But the City Rail Link is a mere 3km of tunnel turns that whole 90km legacy rail network into a highly efficient regional rapid transit system. To achieve the equivalent outcome with buses would similarly require a bus tunnel of some 3km, given that all the surface corridors are  busy carrying hundreds of buses already. But that’s not the end of it, a bus solution would also require the construction of three or four new busways, in addition to those already planned, to do the same job as the rail network with the CRL.

I’m pretty sure that a bus tunnel and three brand new suburban busways will result in a lot more emissions that a rail tunnel alone.

Also from this article he talks about his figures for carbon emissions being based on coal fired power plants which is something we have very little of.

So, he reasons, if you have a transport system that operates underground or is elevated there are huge amounts in investments in tunnels, bridges and so on. Much more cement, concrete, electricity (for air-conditioning, lighting and so on) gets used, all of which is related to life-cycle costs in which “anything that uses more infrastructure comes off worse”.

Therefore, since most of energy in India is from coal, the carbon emission and energy consumption per passenger in the metro is higher than a bus

He then suggests that deep down everyone wants to drive.

“You must have congestion for the public to use public transport – if you don’t have congestion, you would be very stupid to use public transport, because you could get there faster by car.”

I guess someone better tell the thousands of people who catch PT off peak when the roads are flowing that they are stupid.  The reality is that many people will happily use PT if it’s fast, frequent and reliable (not necessarily in that order). Increasingly people are just fed up of driving, parking and congestion, whatever the time of day. Classic examples of this are on the Northern Busway where there are often queues to get on even after hours as this tweet from the other day highlights:

And lastly

Told about Auckland Transport’s goal of making trains circulate through the central business district rather than having to back out of Britomart, he wondered whether the planners had considered running buses in a circuit instead.

Asked where London would be without its Underground, he said that was an unfair question as the system was built in the 19th Century when there were no buses, which did not become efficient people-carriers until the 1950s.

Well yes buses have been considered in depth, in fact buses featured strongly in the 46 different options considered as part of the CCFAS and enhanced bus operations are part of the preferred option together with the CRL. Bus options included the options below and multiple variations of each one:

  • Best use of existing infrastructure
  • Enhanced Bus operation – this builds on the previous options with additional bus priority through things like double bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – both surface BRT options and ones elevated through the city.
  • Underground Bus – various tunnel alignments and operating patterns.

Overall it seems like his quoted comments are a case of him making a judgement about solutions for Auckland without having looked at any of the details. On the positive side it seems the Herald are finally calling the CRL a Metro Rail system rather than a just a rail loop.

Where is the Heart? Critical Public Space in the City Centre

Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew

Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there.  No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.

Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canalis still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908

The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without  building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.

These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.

And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.

The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963

QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:

CPO 1920s

CPO 1920s

Then just general traffic:

CPO Lower Queen

CPO Lower Queen

Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:

CPO 1980s

CPO 1980s

The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.

Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.

Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.

It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.

This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.

So the plan is a good one:

1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances

2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]

3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square

4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces

All at the cost of the current QEII Square.

However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.

Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.

This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.

Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:

Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre

Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could  ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France

Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France

This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.

 

Space is expensive in cities, so why don’t we use it more efficiently?

Land is a scarce and expensive resource in Auckland, as the city’s strong economy and natural amenities (sunlight! beaches! bush!) mean that a lot of people want to live in a relatively small area. But we often insist upon acting like urban space is worth nothing – why else would we have so many underutilised parking lots around the place?

To an economist, this is perplexing. Econ 101 predicts that when one factor of production becomes expensive, firms and households will respond by substituting other inputs instead. This is easy and intuitive to grasp in practice. For example:

  • If your local fish and chip shop puts up the price of snapper fillets, some people will choose to buy terakihi instead.
  • If wages for checkout operators increase, supermarkets will consider installing self-checkout counters to save on staff costs.

We should expect the exact same thing to happen in the housing market. Broadly speaking, developers produce housing (H) using a mix of land (L) and capital (K), which we can loosely think of as the size of the building constructed on a site. So, for example, a ten-story apartment building will tend to have a quite high K/L ratio, while a detached house constructed on a large lot will have a low K/L ratio.

retrofitting suburbia density gradient

Gradient of low to high K/L ratios (Source: Retrofitting Suburbia)

Warning: Arithmetic ahead. Come back after three paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing.

If we assume (as economists so often do) that housing production follows a standard Cobb-Douglas production function, then total dwelling supply can be modelled as a function of land and capital inputs, where a is the input share of land:

Housing equation 1

We can use this equation (plus a little bit of simple calculus) to estimate the marginal rate of substitution between L and K. Or, in other words, the degree to which rising land prices will encourage us to build up to save on land. If we assume that PL is the price of land and PK is the price of capital, then the ratio of K to L is given by the following equation:

Housing equation 2

We can immediately observe a couple of crucial relationships from this equation. First, if the price of land increases (and the cost to build up doesn’t), we’d expect the K/L ratio to rise – in other words, we expect people to build taller buildings on more expensive land. Second, if the cost to build up decreases – for example, through a technological innovation such as steel-framed buildings or elevators – the K/L ratio should also rise. This explains the emergence of high-rise Manhattan in the early 20th century. Third, the relationship between changes to prices and changes in the K/L ratio will hold true in both low-density and high-density areas, although changes will occur at different rates.

Armed with this economic framework, we can start to make sense of the way that various cities look.

Here’s New York. It doesn’t look like this because it’s full of people who, unlike Aucklanders or Texans, have a mysterious preference for tall buildings. It looks like this because land is expensive and people have responded in a rational way.

Manhattan

Here’s an aerial photograph of a suburb in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the world’s true hellholes. Once again, it doesn’t look like this because Georgians have some oddly-shaped utility function. It looks this way because land is cheap in Atlanta (and motorways are large).

atlanta suburbs

And here’s a picture of a typical Paris boulevard that somebody has photoshopped an enormous woman into for unknown reasons. While I’m sure many Parisians would claim that they have a unique cultural preference for seven-story apartment blocks with cafes underneath, Paris actually looks this way because land is expensive and developers have responded accordingly.

paris street with giant woman

With that in mind, how does Auckland stack up in terms of efficiently using its expensive land? Well, as it turns out we’re doing some smart things and some blitheringly idiotic things. Here’s a brief tour.

The Northern Busway: Really smart. Adding two lanes for buses has enabled the capacity-constrained Auckland Harbour Bridge to carry many more commuters than it otherwise would have been able to do. Today, 40-45% of the people crossing the bridge during rush hour are on buses. It’s the most revolutionary transport investment to hit the Shore since the Harbour Bridge’s completion.

Northern Busway efficiency

Manukau Centre’s sea of carparks: Mind-bogglingly irrational. As the map shows, Manukau actually devotes more land to parking lots than to commercial uses. Whoever laid it out obviously hadn’t paid any attention to Auckland’s real estate prices.

mcc-coloured

City centre shared spaces: Bloody clever idea. Turning service lanes and carparks into spaces for businesses to expand and people to enjoy allows us to make much better use of space in the city.

Fort Lane Before and After

Spaghetti Junction: A tortured trade-off. Demolishing a tenth of the city’s housing stock and abandoning much of the city centre to urban blight was undoubtedly an audacious gamble. The motorways move a lot of people, but we’re never going to reclaim the valuable, centrally located land that they occupy.

Newton then and now

Vancouver’s Skytrain – a future option for Auckland? Now this is about as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. Vancouver built a space-efficient (and cost-effective) transport system that created an incentive to build more densely. A perfect example of the virtuous cycle in which better transport options encourage more efficient use of land.

Vancouver’s Skytrain also provides an impressive contrast to the effects of Spaghetti Junction on Auckland’s city centre, which raises the question – are we smart enough to start building like that, or are we going to carry on with the pretense that urban space is free?

Vancouver skytrain development

View the full video showing changes from 1985 to 2012.

The Alternative Mode Commute

Yesterday I decided I would complete what I call the Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute. In essence I managed to combine walking, cycling, a bus, a train and a ferry trip into my commute between Henderson and Takapuna.

Ultimate Alternative Mode Commute 2

 

I started by riding along Northwest cycleway in to town including down the newly opened Grafton Gully cycleway. It definitely made things quick for getting from upper Queen St to Quay St although I did manage to get held up for a long time at every single set of lights between Grafton Rd and Quay St. I’m not sure if that was just me being unlucky or if perhaps AT had the cycling phases permanently on during the weekend in anticipation of lots of people using it. I’ll probably ride my bike home tomorrow however I normally do that via Upper Harbour.

I managed to time my run to the Ferry perfectly and turned up just as it was unloading. I used the route that Peter outlined in this post. Of course while ferries do have some limitations, the views they offer on a nice day aren’t one of them. One big frustration I have though is the absurd situation that monthly passes doesn’t cover the use of ferries.

Ferry View to CBD

For my trip home it was a walk to the Akoranga to catch the Northern Express (NEX) back to town. I could have also just caught the bus from Takapuna which would have been faster but I’m trying to add a bit more walking into my daily routine so have been doing this walk more often recently. Catching the in both directions has also really highlighted to me that while it’s an awesome service, it does need some improvements to it’s counter peak frequency. Buses are only every 10 minutes on the runs back to the city in the afternoon. For most Auckland bus routes that would be fantastic however for the NEX it’s clearly not enough as the bus was at bursting point which is a fairly regular occurrence in the afternoons. It is probably time for AT to make use of some of the buses which provide extra peak capacity to bump up the counter peak frequency.

A short stroll from the corner of Customs St and Queen St provides a connection to the train which would take me my local station.

Lastly from my local station it’s only about an 800m walk along quiet back streets to my house and which completed my alternative mode commute.

I’m guessing I’m fairly unique in that I’m actually able to combine all of these modes in a semi logical way – albeit one that’s definitely not going to break any speed records. At the very least it’s a n idea I can cross off a bucket list hidden somewhere. It’s also a commute I’m not likely to do again as if I’m riding it’s quicker and cheaper (because it’s free) to us the Upper Harbour route.

The question for readers is what’s the most number of modes you have used as part of your commuting and if you had to, how many could

Freeing us from traffic

Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”

We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.

Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.

Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.

But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.

Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.

If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.

In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.

The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.

If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.

This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.

In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.

If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.

We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this

before

to this

cheonggyecheon

The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.

One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.

Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.

Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.

Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.

That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.

I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.

So yes let’s start focusing on people.

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

Deferring Transport Projects

So what do you do when you’re told you have to cut some of your $826 million budget for capital projects and that in choosing what to cut it can’t apply to public transport projects?

Well it seems if you’re Auckland Transport you start by cutting PT and active mode projects.

Back in May when the council was discussing their budget for this year it was decided that Auckland Transport should reduce capital expenditure spend. At the time Chris Darby managed to get this amendment passed saying that the cuts won’t impact on PT.

MOVED by Cr C Darby, seconded by Cr PA Hulse:
Cr Darby moved by way of amendment, seconded Cr Hulse.
That the Budget Committee:
i) agree that the $5.1 million transport opex increase is dedicated to public transport and the $50 million reduction in transport capex will not be applied to public transport.

But it seems the $50 million isn’t enough if the council wants to keep to Len Brown’s goal of having rate rises next year average 2.5%.

  • On 26 March, staff provided the results of financial modelling in response to the mayoral direction for the LTP 2015-2025. One conclusion from this analysis was that it is not possible to reduce the average rates increase for 2015/2016 down to 2.5 per cent solely by reducing or deferring capex in that particular year.
  • The lagged impact of changes in the capital programme on operating budgets means that reducing or deferring capex in 2014/2015 will have a greater impact on rates for 2015/2016. The Budget Committee therefore agreed on 8 May 2014 to request the Chief Executive undertake an immediate review of 2014/2015 capex programme with a target of reducing or deferring $300 million of capex.

The cuts mean Auckland Transport has to find $100 million (which goes up to $150 million once NZTA subsidies are included). They don’t say all the items they’ll cut but the ones named are all PT projects.

The targeted reduction can be achieved via the reduction of budget across all transport activities. Projects such as Parnell Station, the Pukekohe Station upgrade and bus and transit lane improvements may have to be deferred to the LTP period. The Auckland Transport Board will consider the current capital programme to confirm which projects may be stopped, reduced or deferred to the LTP in order to minimise negative impacts on Auckland Plan outcomes. An updated 2014/2015 capital programme will be provided to the CCO Governance and Monitoring Committee in November.

It seems the only projects specifically named as being deferred are those that PT projects which goes against what the council asked for in the first place. Further projects like bus and transit lane improvements are often some of the cheapest and highest benefit projects. An example of this is the recent extension of the Fanshawe St bus lanes resulted in lots of full buses being sped up in the evening for what I understand was a fairly minor cost. In saying that I can live with the Silverdale Park and Ride (which is having issues of it’s own to sort out first) and can also live with Parnell to a degree.

Here’s the total list of capital projects in the current annual plan.

AT Funding - 14-15 - PT

AT Funding - 14-15 - Parking

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 1

AT Funding - 14-15 - Roads 2

It seems to me there are a lot of other projects on the list that should be being cut before $2.5 million bus lane improvements, for example Lincoln Rd or Penlink.

For their part the council passed a (much weaker) resolution saying that AT should take into account the councils priorities around PT and active mode outcomes however based on past performance I wouldn’t hold up hope of AT actually listening to that.

Recapping the Congestion Free Network

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy.  Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.

What is the Congestion Free Network?

The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.

As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.

cfn-implementationThe CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.

Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?

The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.

Congestion is predicted to get worse:

Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:

Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:

When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!

With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.

How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?

Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.

The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:

The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major  centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas.  It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.

But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.

How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?

A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:

  • Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
  • Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
  • Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
  • Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport

In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:

The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.

Conclusion:

The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.

Auckland Transport August Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is today and below are the bits and pieces from the reports that caught my attention.

First up as usual there are a number of items in the closes session of the meeting that it would be very interesting to see the details about. These are

  • Ferry Services Contract
  • EMU Implementation
  • Tiverton/Wolverton
  • City Centre Access Options
  • Mill Road
  • Parking Services report
  • AT HOP Update
  • Rail Operations shortlisting

On to the Chief Executives report. These are generally just in the order they come up in the report.

AT are working with some of the teams from the HackAKL event and two of the top five teams will have a completed concept within three months.

Discussions have been held with the top 5 teams, 2 have progressed to a stage where the concept will be completed inside of 3 months, with the help of AT. The other 3 in the top 5 are still discussing within themselves how to progress. As well an additional application (hop Balance) from one of the other groups has been launched. We are still restricted in the data that we can make available, PT is working on this with the bus operators.

AT are creating a customer charter which includes specific measures that cover PT, roading, walking and cycling and they say they have been looking overseas to find out what the best practices are. They say the draft versions of the charters will go to a board committee in October. I think a customer charter with specific measures is a good thing and I would hope that there is some consultation from the public on final versions.

AT will be holding a consultation in late September on the rehabilitation of Franklin Rd and surrounding streets. They say Major focuses for the consultation include maintaining the heritage value of the
road (including the trees), parking, a lowered speed zone, walking and cycling. 

A detailed business case will finally be done for the East West Link. It’s something I would have thought should have happened long before it was moved near to the top of the priorities list.

AT say the Environment Court appeal against the Silverdale Park n Ride might delay construction till the next financial year (i.e. after July next year).

 

On the EMUs there were 22 in the country at the time of writing the report however some more arrived yesterday and provisional acceptance had been issued for 18 of them. After the August summer holidays production will be ramped up as the intention is that by the end of the year we will get four delivered a month instead of the current two per month. On the issues with the over cautious signalling system they say

The ETCS system has been modified by reducing the driver warning before curves and other infrastructure features and the resulting improvement in running times.

 

As part of the Otahuhu Bus Train Interchange AT are looking at connections to and from the station. The report notes that this will include additional bus priority and improved walking and cycling connections.

At Panmure the new road alongside the tracks is almost finished and due to open to use at the end of September. It’s been called Te Horeta Rd. The image below is from the board report showing the road and it’s looking very much like a mini motorway although I would be happy to be proven wrong once it’s finished.

AMETI - Te Horeta Rd from AT Board Report

HOP use keeps on growing which is a great sign. Overall 67% of trips were paid for with HOP which was up from 65% in June. By mode bus was up from 62% to 65% while rail was up from 75% to 76%. In some ways this is not surprising given the changes in fares that occurred and means the trend of increasing HOP card usage is likely to continue. They also say a strategic business case as well as revenue and patronage modelling for integrated fares is almost complete.

2014 - August - HOP Card graphs

Perhaps the biggest news from the report is about the next train timetable which is now targeted for November

Finalisation with KiwiRail and Transdev of the new timetable to support the increased frequency of Manukau services and the introduction of an EMU weekend timetable was progressed in July and early August. This provides 6 trains per hour from Manukau in the peak period and 3 trains per hour in the interpeak and off-peak, with weekends going to a 30 minute service plan. When the timetable commences, diesel shuttle services will run an hourly service between Pukekohe and Papakura on Saturdays and Sundays and connect with arriving/departing EMUs at Papakura. The target date for the timetable introduction is early November following progressive replacement within the existing timetable of diesel rolling stock with EMUs on the Manukau Line.

Some good news about the look of buses in the future with AT developing what sounds like a region wide design. This is long overdue although I’m sure some operators won’t be happy (I for one can’t wait to see the back of the horrid Birkenhead bus livery). They say the starting point for the new livery is based off the design used on the electric trains and the livery will be included in the future operator contracts which will be rolled out with the new network.

AT say they are also working on a wayfinding system which is something long overdue.

Labour announces transport policy

The Labour party released its transport policy yesterday and it’s one that has some really good aspects to it but that also leaves a lot of questions. Here are what they say are the key points.

Labour will:

  • Build a 21st century transport system that provides choice and is cost effective
  • Rebalance the transport budget away from the current government’s exclusive focus on motorway projects towards a more rational investment in the most efficient and sustainable combination of transport modes. For freight this means investing in roads, rail, our ports, and coastal shipping. In our cities it means a greater emphasis on public transport, and walking and cycling
  • Invest in the Congestion Free Network for Auckland
  • Reduce congestion in Auckland by building the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council
  • Eliminate an unnecessary hassle by removing the annual registration charge for light trailers and caravans
  • Reduce congestion and make the roads safer by requiring trucks to not drive in the fast lane on three and four lane motorways
  • Reduce costs for motorhome and campervan owners by reversing changes made by the current government that have doubled their Road User Charges

The last three points were announced back in April and frankly they seem like tinkering around the edges to keep a few people happy. Today’s announcements were obviously more substantive.

For Auckland they say Labour will:

  • Build the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council. We won’t wait until 2020 and hold back Auckland’s growth and prosperity for another five years.
  • Negotiate with Auckland Council a 30 year transport plan for Auckland, including funding, with our starting point being the Congestion Free Network. As well as the City Rail Link, this includes giving priority status to rapid transit busways in the North West and South East, electrification of the rail to Pukekohe, rail to the airport, and ensuring the next harbour crossing includes rail to the North Shore.
  • Integrate transport infrastructure with residential and urban development

For me it’s fantastic to see that Labour are backing the Congestion Free Network. We put a lot of time and effort into creating it and so it’s great that we now have two parties that have adopted it as part of their official strategy. Of course we’d love it if National also adopted the CFN but we’re I’m not holding my breath on that one.

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

What’s not clear as part of this policy is just how much Labour would contribute towards the CFN. The Greens have said they would fund everything bar the CRL at 50% with the council needing to pick up the tab for the rest (CRL is at 60%). Labour on the other hand has said they would fund the CRL at 50% but not how much they would provide for the other projects that make up the CFN. As I mentioned with the Greens policy, why pick such an arbitrary amount of funding as 50%. The rapid transit investments are really more akin to state highways which enjoy 100% funding from the government and so I think there’s at least an argument to be had over what’s the right level of funding.

I also like that they have singled out the need to integrate transport infrastructure to with land use planning, something the government doesn’t seem to worry about when making their decisions.

The CFN isn’t the only plan adopted by Labour with them also agreeing to Operation Lifesaver as part of their official policy. It’s included of the State Highways section under which they say they’ll review all of the other RoNS projects too.

Labour will

  • Prioritise highway investments that stack up economically and environmentally.
  • Review RoNS projects that are under construction, and look to modify negative impacts. Where construction is not underway, we will consider affordable, safe and environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • Require heavy trucks to not use the fast lane in multi-lane roads.

However it’s here where I have the first major concerns. They single out each of the remaining RoNS and what they would to do and that includes leaving some of the worst performing ones on the books, projects like Transmission gully which I can only assume is for political reasons.

When it comes to walking and cycling they say they will improve it by significantly increasing the budget. They don’t specify just how much they would spend other than to say that it’s higher than the $100 million National have proposed. They also say they’ll say they’ll require all future roading projects make provisions for a cycling.

Scattered throughout the policy document are a number of other interesting and potentially important changes. These include:

  • Giving local communities more of a say on how the money is spent in their areas.
  • Re-opening the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
  • Looking into building a rail line to Marsden Point to allow imports/exports to use rail to get their goods to the wharf.

Overall the policies seems fairly solid however in my opinion there are some significant issues to be addressed. The biggest of these is that there are elements of Labour having just added to what’s already happening in a bid to keep everyone happy rather than making some tough calls and cutting the projects that have poor business cases. The outcome of this likely to be an over-commitment of our transport funds unless or they will need to scale back what they promise. That is made harder to see as the costings for what is proposed is completely missing from the policy document.

One last point, to both the Greens and Labour. One of the key drivers behind the CFN was to create a vision that people could quickly and easily understand and that’s why we went with the network map. It’s a core part of the CFN message so how about putting the map/s on your websites or in your policy documents themselves. Also I would expect a lot of people don’t know what the CFN actually is, how about a link to www.congestionfree.co.nz