CRL targets August 2015 – six-monthly review

Every six months the Ministry of Transport produce a monitoring report on how Auckland is performing against the targets the government set for work to start prior to 2020 on the City Rail Link. As a reminder

On 28 June 2013, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s commitment to a joint business case with Auckland Council for the City Rail Link in 2017 and to providing its share of funding for a construction start in 2020.

The Prime Minister also stated that the Government would consider an earlier business case and construction start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest. The two thresholds are:

  • an increase in Auckland CBD employment of 25 percent over the February 2012 estimate (the baseline), which is half of the increase to 2021 predicted in the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study ; and
  • rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips a year well before 2020.

The reports are in August and February each year based on patronage to the end of June and December. So far the reports have been extremely underwhelming, especially in relation to patronage. The first one in December 2013 essentially predicted that Auckland would never make the CRL target. The second one in August 2014 and the third one in February this year predicted that patronage would grow till about 2017 then taper off.

With a new report due soon, I thought it would be worthwhile do give my take on the report if I was writing it for the minister.

CBD Employment

We remain unconvinced that CBD employment is a particularly useful measure of the need for the City Rail Link. Even if just as a measure of demand for travel to the CBD, there are many other factors – such as parking costs and availability, public transport offerings – which can and are changing travel demand.

Data on CBD employment is produced annually and isn’t due from Stats NZ until later this year. At this stage we’re not expecting any significant change in employment numbers as research from Colliers International shows that the Auckland city centre continues to experience historically low vacancy rates. They say prime office space has a vacancy rate of just 1.4% compared to a 20 year average of 8.2%.

We do note that a number of new builds are due to be completed in the next year or two and since the last update, a number of very large projects have been announced or made significant progress towards starting construction over the next few years. In addition many of these projects are along the City Rail Link route.

CRL Growth Corridor

Rail Patronage

Auckland Transport’s rail patronage data for the year to June 2014 shows patronage of 13,916,822 trips, an increase of 2,481,737 or an increase of 21.7%. This is ahead level needed to reach the target by 2020.

2015-06 - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target

Over the course of the Ministry’s monitoring reports the rate of patronage increases has actually accelerated. We expect that high patronage growth will continue for a number of years yet as the full impacts of rolling out the electric train fleet, the new bus network and integrated fares are rolled out. Extrapolating the trends witnessed in recent years shows – as Auckland Transport have in the chart below – that patronage could hit the 20 million target as early as mid-2017. The chart plots the extrapolations out to 2020 however we expect capacity constraints to prevent patronage rising too much above 20 million trips.

Extraploated Patronage Growth Trends

While we expect patronage to reach the 20 million target in advance of 2020, we do see some potential risks to that – although it is worth pointing out none of these risks relate to demand for rail trips. The two biggest risks are:

  • Capacity of the rail system – Despite the extra capacity provided by the new electric fleet, there are already reports of capacity constraints emerging. These will be exacerbated by future growth including the changes resulting from the implementation of the new bus network. We recommend that the government urgently enter into discussions with Auckland Council/Transport about the potential of buying additional trains.
  • The City Rail Link enabling works – The enabling works will see the main entrance to Britomart closed as part of the works to start building the CRL. It is unknown if this will have any impact on patronage from people looking to avoid the disruption. Conversely it is possible the enabling works may have a positive impact on patronage as a number of other city centre roads will be adjusted to also handle AT moving buses off Albert St during the construction period.

Assessment

Rail Patronage growth has been strong and remains on track to reach the target needed for an earlier start to the CRL.

Employment has been stymied by a lack of available office space however that looks set to change over the medium term as a number of large developments in the city centre become available.

We believe the government should urgently re-consider it’s timeframes for the project with a look to getting it under-way as soon as possible. The longer it is left the greater the number of people and businesses will be negatively affected by crowded trains and construction disruption.

 

Do we have enough trains?

The new electric trains have by in large been a fantastic addition to Auckland. This is not to say that there haven’t been implementation issues however they are things that I expect Auckland Transport, Transdev, CAF and Kiwirail will iron out over time – though perhaps not as fast as we’d all hope for. One issue that is already emerging and that will be much harder to fix is the issue of whether we have enough capacity or more specifically did AT buy enough trains?

Auckland is getting 57 new three-car electric trains or 171 carriages. That is up from what was around 148 carriages with the old diesel fleet however as each carriage is also longer it equates to an overall capacity increase of something like 40% (sorry can’t remember the exact number).

carriage-allocation

A single three-car EMU is meant to have a total capacity on part with one of the four-car trains they’ve replaced. In addition there should be enough trains that a number run as six-car trains with a capacity that eclipses anything we had before.

Train Capacity 2

However despite this increase in capacity it seems we’re still having a lot of issues with trains that are over full. This tends to be on the fringes of the peak. It’s something that’s come up on social media a few times such as yesterday where trains on both the Southern Line and Western Line were affected by trains so full, they left hundreds waiting for a following service.

And

There have been many more experiences like these in the last few weeks.

What’s more with the growth in patronage that’s been occurring and with what’s projected – from the fact they are better trains, that within a few years there will be the new bus network that will see a lot more people transferring to trains to complete journeys and with integrated fares – this will only become more and more common. Trains too full will put people off using them and that will affect the entire PT network.

I’m also aware that there are still a few more trains yet to enter the country, I imagine they could help a small amount – although AT are also meant to be increasing frequencies on the Western line to match those on the other main lines, six per hour.

With this in mind I put some questions to AT about capacity. Here’s the response I got

CAF has committed to supplying 46 EMUs for weekday operations. That number is sufficient for 12 of the 34 train sets required to operate the timetable to be doubled as 6-car trains. In determining where the 6-carriage trains would be best utilised, AT reviewed passenger demand profiles which show that in the morning passenger boardings and alightings peak 07:45am to 08:30am. Given this, and demand profiles observed from other sources the allocation to services of these 6-carriage trains was prioritised to those service scheduled to arrive at Britomart within this time band.

A 3-carriage EMU has slightly fewer seats than a 4-carriage SA train (234 seats on an EMU versus 250 seats on a 4-carriage SA), however an EMU is better equipped to cope with standees as passengers can move through the train rather than being “compartmentalised” in a single carriage. On the Western Line the planned capacity supplied during the peak hour under diesel operations (the four trains arriving at Britomart between 07:44am and 08:30am) was a 5-carriage SA train (312 seats) followed by three 6-carriage trains (384 seats each). These four services have been replaced by 6-carriage EMUs with seating capacity of 468 per train. The net result is that on the Western Line during the peak hour (four service arrivals at Britomart 07:44am to 08:30am) the EMU capacity has increased by 408 seats, or 28%, when compared to the planned capacity under diesel operations.

The two services either side of the peak hour were previously programmed with 4-carriage SA trains, which is more of less the equivalent to a single 3-carriage EMU. In periods of service disruption which results in delays or cancellations it is possible that the trains will not be operating in sequence as planned and a single EMU may turn up at about the time that a double EMU would normally operate. That will result in crowded conditions and may mean that some passengers may not be able to board. Over the next few weeks AT will be monitoring demand to determine the services that should be prioritised for 6-carriage trains once all 57 EMUs have been fully commissioned.

Unfortunately they didn’t answer about whether the final three sets due to arrive soon will be on top of the 46 mentioned above. There’s also no answer on where trains to increase frequency on the western line to six per hour – like promised would happen in 2010 – will come from. On that, I expect the answer is they won’t come from anywhere. Instead that AT will keep the western line frequency at the level it is now till after the CRL is built as it’s likely the works around Mt Eden will limit capacity during construction.

Could it be that the biggest risk to meeting the CRL targets is AT not buying enough trains to handle the demand and the disruption the CRL construction itself will cause. What is clear is we’ll need the CRL asap if we don’t want the rail network to cease up in the next few years.

A Random Assortment of Charts

A random assortment of charts from data that I regularly collect but which don’t often warrant their own post.

That downward spike in fuel prices a few months ago didn’t last too long

Petrol Prices 2015-07-17

Average traffic volumes over the harbour bridge are up slightly – an increase of 0.9% over this time last year – but still below what they were a decade ago. For an explanation on why there is a new and old count see this post.

Monthly AHB - 2015-06

The road toll is creeping back up. The 12 months to the end of June were up 11% on the same time the year before. Note: back in the mid-late 1980’s it was over 800 in a year so this is an improvement but still way too many people killed and injured on our roads.

Road Toll by Month - 2015-06

Airport passenger volumes continue to increase, now over 15 million passengers a year pass through the airport. Of the 4 million international arrivals, 1.9 million are New Zealanders (I assume a similar number of departures are too).

Auckland Airport Passengers 2015-06

Wellington patronage data for June is now available and shows modest growth of 2% for the year. The strongest growth is on the rail network at just over a 4% increase in patronage.

2015-06 - WLG - Total Patronage

On the issue of rail, a year ago the Auckland rail network carried less passengers than the Wellington network however (11.4m vs 11.6m) however the huge growth in Auckland has dramatically turned the tables.

Auckland vs Wellington Rail Patronage

While still on rail, here’s the results for each month shown over a calendar year – highlighting just how much larger patronage is this year compared to previous years.

2015-06 - Monthly Patronage Calendar year

Lastly on PT, how we’re tracking against the Auckland Plan target of doubling patronage from 70 million in 2012 to 140 million in 2022 (we’re just over 78 million now). After a slow start, patronage now seems to be tracking at a similar level – albeit with a lower number – to the Auckland Plan target. If the current trend continued we’d probably end up with around 130 million trips.

2015-06 - Patronage vs Auckland Plan Target

AM peak cycling counts from 9 of ATs automated cycle counters shows numbers continue to rise.

2015-06 - AM Peak Cycle counts

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange design

In my post about the AT board meeting last week I highlighted that construction of the Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange station is currently out for tender. This interchange is crucial to enabling the new network for South Auckland to be rolled out

The AT website contains a few new images of what’s proposed for the site and which are different to what we’ve seen before.

First up the overall layout

Otahuhu Interchange plan diagram

I agree with some of the comments from the AT Board Meeting post that said having a single entrance meaning buses travelling though the station have to loop around isn’t ideal. I guess the only counter to that is that having another entrance/exit adds an additional intersection which may not be idea.

Here’s what the interchange may actually look like. First up an aerial overview of interchange.

Otahuhu Interchange aerial overview

The main entrance

Otahuhu interchange plaza area in front of entrance

Walking along Walmsley Rd from the North

Otahuhu Interchange from Walmsely Road

Overall it looks like a very nice station and a great addition to the network. Currently the station is not highly used however once complete the bus interchange should see a lot of people flowing through every day.

Of course it also needs to be supported by improved walking and cycle connections. There are plans to improve the connections to the Otahuhu Town Centre but these don’t seem to include improvements such as along Walmsley Rd into the nearby residential areas.

AT July Board Meeting

On Monday the Auckland Transport board hold their next board meeting and as I normally do, I’ve gone through the reports to see what’s being discussed. Starting with the closed session we have a number of topics that could be quite interesting. These include:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP) –  I assume discussing the changes based on the updated RPTP consultation they conducted recently
  • Media Advertising – Given it’s coming from the PT team it seems to be about how AT advertise PT in the media.
  • CRL Business Case Summary – This should be interesting. I wonder if it is something new that will soon be released to the public or is a rehash of the old business cases.

Items for Noting

  • Infringement Revenue – I assume this will be discussing what happens with infringement revenue
  • LRT Stakeholder Engagement Plans – AT are continuing to progress their LRT plans (and a tender closes today for a Technical Advisor for the project) and so engagement with stakeholders is bound to increase. This appears to be information on how they’ll do that engagement.

On to the main report and first up are the project updates.

Te Atatu Road Upgrade – It appears that since the report was written the contract for this $30 million project has been awarded to Higgens Contractors and work starts 4 August. The project effectively widened to provide a flush median and sporadic on road unprotected cycle lanes and shared paths as well as replaces the roundabout at the intersection with Edmonton and Flanshaw Roads with signals.

K Road Cycleway – Around a year after we last heard anything there’s finally a mention in the board paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t give us info on when it might actually start being built.

K Rd Cycleway

An artist impression from last year. I believe the design has evolved a lot since this

Eastern Rail Cycleway (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive) – The report says the NZTA should be awarding the contract to construct the first stage from Glen Innes to St Johns Rd by the end of this month while design and consent works continue on the rest of the project.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape – Construction starts mid-August on an upgrade of Onehunga Mall. The first improvements will be to the footpaths.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept impression

Mission Bay Street Upgrade – An upgrade of Tamaki Dr in front of the block of shops to the east of Patterson Ave in Mission Bay is also planned. The report just says they will be widening of a section of Mission Bay’s town centre and I can only assume they mean of the footpaths. Consultation will happen this year but construction won’t start till next year after the Christmas season. This is what a local board report says

The proposal is to widen the footpath, by removing the car parks along that stretch of Tamaki Drive. There will be a new mobility park installed in Patterson Ave, as a result of removing the existing mobility car park. Parking on Patterson Ave will remain as it is, with exception of the allocation of the mobility park. This will require the use of two existing car parks.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – The detailed design is complete. There is currently a tender out for construction which closes mid-August and be awarded in September. Completion is now not till June 2016 and the new network for South Auckland continues to be on hold till this project is finished.

Otahuhu interchange

AMETI – Movement appears to be happening with the extension of the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga along with discussions of how it travels through Pakuranga

Lodgement of the Stage 2A NoR for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga (Ti Rakau Drive) is pending resolution of the cultural mitigation process; this is expected by late July to permit on-going dialogue between lead iwi Ngati Paoa and other relevant iwi.

A joint review of the AMETI delivery strategy with regards to the timing of the Reeves Road flyover and Stage 2B (busway between Pakuranga and Botany) components has been carried out between AT, Council and the NZ Transport Agency, with final dialogue scheduled for July.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St Level Crossing) – AT say in August they will be seeking approval to lodge a notice of requirement for the project however that means it will still have to go through a considerable process before it is built. This is important as AT claim it’s the one thing that’s stopping them from being able to increase the frequency on the Western Line.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

On to other areas

Some new ads for the benefits of bus lanes. This is an area I think AT have been doing very well in lately.

Bus Lane Ads 2015-07

Moving on to the projects and initiates that make up AT’s key strategic priorities.

Ticketing and Fares – AT have giving some a high level summary of the response to the integrated fares consultation a few months ago. All up 1556 submissions were received and the broad results are below.

  • Do you think the proposed zone boundaries are about right? Yes 60% No 20%
  • Do you think the proposed products are about right? Yes 51% No 37%

We won’t know the final outcome and any changes that would be made till later this year.

Electric trains – In total 54 trains are in the country and of those 47 have been accepted for carrying passengers. The last three sets arrive early August and all trains will be on the network by the end of the year

New Network – at the time of writing the report there were over 1000 submissions on the network for the North Shore. Consultation for the Isthmus and East Auckland is being targeted for September/October. The first area to go live will be Hibiscus Coas in October this year.

Capacity – The first two of Howick & Eastern’s 15 double deckers have come off the production line in Scotland. They will arrive for testing in October and then the remaining ones will be built in Tauranga. Ritchies have 18 double deckers on order and I’m aware one is already on the network.

Infrastructure – There are a number of bus priority improvements that are due to start or be completed this month

  • Onewa Road T3 lane (city bound) – construction progressing and due to be completed in July
  • Park Road bus lane (hospital to Carlton Gore Road) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Parnell Road bus lane (St Stephens to Sarawia Street – outbound) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road transit lanes – internal consultation completed – external consultation commenced
  • Great North Road bus lanes (New Lynn to Ash Street) – final concept plans completed – consultation underway
  • Totara Avenue signal removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange; construction due to be completed in July
  • Esmonde Road bus lane – construction to commence July

Customer Experience – Some more things for bus users not to look forward to

AT’s partner for bus shelters, Adshel, are launching 35 digital screens at prominent Auckland bus shelter locations, in a move that will offer advertisers unrivalled impact and targeting opportunities and in line with global leaders like London, San Francisco and Stockholm, where roadside digital advertising has seen large demand. Spanning sites across the Auckland CBD and key fringe suburbs such as Ponsonby and Mission Bay, the new format provide more opportunities for advertisers, and this will increase the revenue share available for AT.

NZTA OIA Response on Additional Harbour Crossing

Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.

I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:

1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.

The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:

  • Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
  • Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
  • Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008

Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

The Description of Service Need is this:

statementofserviceneed

What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.”  Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”.  This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.

There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained.  Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.

traffic volumes

However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2014

And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:

Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.

On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:

tunnel map

Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:

nominal costs

The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling.  Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting  that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland.  Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.

Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)

A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).

There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.

Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?

The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required.  This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:

options

The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.

summary

So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options.  Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:

Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.

And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.

optioncosts

A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.

In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work.  By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed.  (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)

I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either.  You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.

The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things.  I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.

This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.

June-15 Patronage

We learned the other day the patronage results for rail in June, now we have them for all modes and once again they are extremely good – helped a little bit by there being an extra business day compared to June last year. The results are also significant as June is the end of the financial year so the results are what are compared against targets and compared against other metrics.

For the 12 months to the end of June, patronage was 79.25 million trips which is up 9.5% on the 2014 result. That’s an increase in almost 7 million trips over the course of a year and given the strong weekday growth probably represents around an extra 30,000 trips being taken each working day. When you think of it this way it’s not surprising that so many trains and buses have been full to the point of leaving people behind.  The changes for individual modes were:

  • Bus (excluding Northern Express) – 57 million trips, up 6.6%
  • Northern Express – 2.8 million trips, up 17.2%
  • Rail – 13.9 million trips, up 21.7%
  • Ferry – 5.5 million trips, up 8.3%

2015-06 - Total Patronage Chart

2015-06 - Patronage Table

As you can see from the numbers above the Rapid Transport Network (rail and busway) continue to shine with stunning levels of growth once again highlighting that investing in frequent and high quality services is really pays off. And of course the growth is likely to continue strongly following the roll-out of the electric trains on Monday – which should really help drive up patronage – and the Northern Busway which is about to get a capacity and free advertising) upgrade in the form of new double-decker buses which should improve (the new network for most parts of Auckland doesn’t start rolling out till next year).

The results meant that AT smashed it’s patronage targets for the year – although in fairness the Council had agreed to lower them to stupidly low levels. The Long Term Plan sees some much rougher targets

2015-06 - Patronage vs targets

And here’s an update as to how rail patronage is tracking vs the 20 million trip target the government set back in 2013

2015-06 - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target

 

The patronage increases along with the roll-out of the electric trains on the rail network are clearly having an impact on subsidies with the per passenger kilometre figures continuing to fall.

2015-06 - Subsidy per PAX KM

Not everything is good news though. On the rail network the key stats of punctuality and reliability are some of the worst I can remember seeing. If such poor outcomes continue it must surely start having an impact on patronage at some point.

2015-06 - AKL - Rail Punctuality

 

Things are a bit brighter for buses with results improving since AT started using actual data to monitor where buses where – as opposed to AT being provided data from the operators. While they might be much smaller than the other companies, Urban Express are out performing them on these stats.

2015-06 - Bus Reliability

Overall it’s been a pretty good year for patronage growth in Auckland. Let’s hope that the same thing happens again this new financial year and that AT and the bus companies have the ability to respond to the capacity needed

Swanson Developments

I rode out to Swanson on the weekend to have a look at the two developments that have been happening out there.

The first was to see what $2.5 million of Auckland Transport and NZTA money buys us. The answer, a new park n ride facility with 136 carparks. This is in addtion to the small existing carpark. The new addition works out at over $18,000 per carpark highlighting just how expensive it is to add capacity by way of park n ride. If every space is used every working day in a year it would add about 34k trips per year.

Carparks are fairly boring but the images below highlight the location of the carpark in relation to the station. The second image is taken from the platform

Swanson Park n Ride 1

Swanson Park n Ride 2

AT say the works are completed however there’s no sign of the covered walkway or station upgrades as initially mentioned.

The proposed improvements at Swanson include

  • Construction of a Park and Ride with an additional 136 car parks and a covered walkway to the station. This is expected to cost $2.5 million and be completed in March 2015.
  • A station upgrade which will include improved lighting, signage, CCTV, additional platform shelters, walkway canopies to the footbridge and stairs, and new platform surfacing and marking. Design is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.

Note: the original carpark below

Swanson Park n Ride Original

The other and more interesting development is the Penihana North development that’s happening to the south of the tracks.  This is the only greenfield development next to a station served by electric trains and as such it will be interesting to see what impact the development. I’d suggest it will probably lead to a greater gain in patronage than the Park n Ride will – although it obviously takes up more space too. I understand it has taken over 13 years to occur due to a lot of opposition from local residents – some who suggest it will be an urban ghetto (I suspect they don’t know what a real urban ghetto is). Perhaps one positive is I suspect the delay has meant the development is better than it would have been as if if occurred 13 years ago the idea of the station being important wouldn’t have crossed the developers mind.

The development basically covers the area below that is (was) lined with hedges.

Penihana North Area

It seems that a lot of bulk earthworks are going on but I’d suggest we’ll start seeing houses sprouting up later this year as the sections closest to the station look almost ready for them – including with formed roads. In total it is expected there will be about 330 dwellings in the development with those closest to the station being terraced houses. One aspect that I really like that has already been completed – but is not open to the public – is a shared path that runs alongside the tracks from Pooks Rd/Oneils Rd at eastern edge of the development. Importantly the path leads directly in to the station platform where there are also some new bike racks, this is something we need at many more stations. You can see it in the image below along with some of the development.

Perihana North new path to station

Oh and yes there is a small gap in the railing between the platform and the path at the end allowing for more permeability – it just needs some more HOP readers installed.

Perihana North new path to station 2

The new bike racks are slightly protected from the elements by the stairs for the pedestrian bridge.

Perihana North new path to station bike racks

From the station the development stretches up away from the station

Penihana North Development 2

 

The map below gives an idea of how the development is being laid out

Penihana North Development Concept Plan

My guess is that all the developments at Swanson – including the electric trains – will help considerably boost patronage from the station which has been one of the lesser used on the network

Penihana North Development 1

 

 

Getting to an all electric network

Today marks the first time in Auckland that all train services on a normal weekday will be run by electric trains. While I’m sure there are bound to be more teething issues as a result, it represents a significant milestone in the progress towards a better and more balanced transport system for Auckland. However while I’m glad to see the back of the old diesels, without them we also wouldn’t be in the situation we are today. It’s clear that earlier investments in both the diesels and the network achieved enough patronage growth that they helped convince officials and politicians to agree to spend over $1 billion, to electrify the network and buy new trains. With that in mind, I thought I’d once again take a bit of a look at the history of the rail network and what led us to this point.

Up until recently, trains in Auckland were not that widely used, and could best be described as being in a fairly constant state of decay. That’s the result of a few things including:

  • Up until the mid-1950’s most of the population was covered by trams, trains only served outlying areas.
  • In 1930 the main train station was moved from where Britomart is now (but on the surface) to the now old Auckland Train station next to Vector Arena. That made trains an inconvenient mode for most.
  • Despite repeated attempts over many decades to improve rail, nothing ever got off the ground and no real investment was put into the system.
  • During the same time we put huge investment into the motorway network and making it easier to drive.

Due to the factors above – and likely others – patronage continued to decline. Usage of rail was so low that in the 1980’s serious consideration was put into ripping up the tracks alongside the southern motorway and turning them into more lanes. By the early 1990’s patronage was reached its lowest point, barely scraping above 1 million trips a year. However it was about this time that a turnaround started and it was all the result of one man and some amazing luck. You can read the full story here but the short version is:

He had been tasked with shutting the network down but after looking at the operation he worked out he was able to cut costs and start turning a profit and extend the contracts. At the same time Perth was just finishing electrifying their own rail network and had no use for their old diesel trains allowing most of them to be brought at scrap value for use in Auckland. The Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) started plying the tracks in 1992. Within a few years patronage had doubled to over 2 million trips per year – higher than it was for most of the 1980’s and late 1970’s.

AT-ARTA-Image-TrainsAtBritomart

A DMU (left) and SA set (right) at Britomart

Things really kicked up a gear in 2003 when Britomart opened, once again returning trains back to the city. The growth in patronage was too much for the DMU’s to handle and so from 2004 the first of the SA sets started arriving. These are the refurbished carriages – originally from the UK – that are hauled by freight locomotives and which became such a common sight on the rail network in Auckland. In total over 100 carriages were refurbished over a five year period.

Both the DMUs and SA sets represented a big step forward compared to what had existed before and growth continued as more services kept being added. In 2006 this was further boosted by the government agreeing on Project DART (Developing Auckland’s Rail Transport Network) which saw the double tracking of the Western Line as well as station upgrades such as Newmarket and New Lynn, the reopening of the Onehunga line and the building of a new line to Manukau. Impressively despite frequent and often massive disruption as a result of the major works being undertaken, patronage continued to rise.

In 2010 after delaying electrification to re-evaluate it and cancel a planned regional fuel tax that would have paid for the trains, the current government agreed to fund electrification and give the council a loan to buy the new trains. This meant that from 2011 onwards the rail network continued to be plagued by significant disruption however despite this patronage kept rising. The only exception to this was in 2012/13 when the after-effect of two significant events kicked in at the same time. One was the boost that came from the Rugby World Cup (~400,000 trips) and the second was a change in the way patronage was counted as a result of the introduction of HOP. However since then patronage has once again risen again – more than making up the lost ground.

The plan was to buy 38 trains and then separately buy some electric locomotives to haul the SA sets around for another decade or so however in 2011 the government agreed it would be better and cheaper over the long term to buy an extra 19 trains and run a single uniform fleet – plus the SA sets couldn’t run through the future CRL for safety reasons. All of this meant we’re getting a total fleet of 57 trains.

The first Electric Train (EMU) arrived in August 2013 and entered service at the end of April 2014. They then slowly started to be rolled out to Manukau line services in August before being rolled out to all services in December. This year we’ve already started to see electric trains on some Southern and Western line services. While the full roll out to all lines has only been completed today the impact of the new electric trains has been extraordinary. For example in the 12 months to the end of May patronage on the Eastern Line is up a staggering 43.7%. As I understand it, of the 57 trains we ordered, all but the last few are in the country with the final ones arriving in August.

EMUs at the Depot

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

The chart below shows the history of rail patronage over the time-frame above including some of the significant events mentioned. Of note is it includes the 2014/15 result (to the end of June) which AT has confirmed to me as 13.9 million over the year. That’s up almost 22% over the 11.4 million trips to the end of June 2014. That level of growth puts us well on track towards the target the government have set for an earlier start date for the next major rail project – the CRL. Current estimates see that figure being passed in around 2017/18.

Auckland Rail Patronage 1990-2015

While the diesel trains have definitely served a purpose and helped improve rail use in Auckland. In the last eight months or so they’ve been increasingly unreliable as maintenance on them was reduced. At the same time there have been bedding in issues with the new EMUs. With a single fleet now it should mean that those involved in delivering train services in Auckland – AT, CAF, Kiwirail and Transdev – should be able to focus on addressing just one set of issues. At the end of June we learned of their action plan for the next year for this.

EMU + Rail improvement action plan 1 - Jun - Sep

One of the most interesting aspects of the Auckland rail story is the links with Perth. Not only did we buy their old diesel trains but they’re often cited as a case study by officials thanks to the significant uptake in rail use thanks to electrification and new projects.  At the time they went electric their system carried around 10 million passengers which is not too far off what our network was carrying when we first started running electric trains. It is hoped that we’ll emulate some of the success they’ve had – which has also come from building significant new lines. Here’s how patronage on the two networks look.

Auckland vs Perth Patronage - 2015

I believe that in a few years-time that electrification, just like with Britomart, will be one those projects we look back on and wonder why it took us so many decades to do, why politicians from all sides refused to believe it could work. Lastly I was in Britomart yesterday and it really is wonderful how quiet the station is now that we don’t have rattly old diesel trains in it. Thank you to everyone who has helped get us to this point.

p.s. next we need to get electrification extended to Pukekohe for a fully all electric network.

The economics of fare policies, part 3

For those that don’t read Transportblog on a daily basis, this is the third part of a series I’m writing on the economics of public transport fare policies. Part 1 discussed a key rationale for public transport subsidies – lower fares keep people from clogging up already-congested roads. Part 2 considered the case for distance- or zone-based fares to ensure that people taking longer (and hence more expensive) trips pay more.

In the comments on those posts, several sharp readers asked about the relationship between fare levels and ridership, and whether there are any opportunities to improve outcomes by targeting lower fares to highly price-sensitive groups. These are excellent questions to ask!

In this post, I’ll take a look at the first question: In the aggregate, how does ridership respond to changes in fares? Hopefully, this will give us the theoretical tools to take a look at the second question in the next installment of the series.

In economic terms, we are asking about the “price elasticity of demand” for public transport. Fare elasticities measure how responsive people are to higher (or lower) prices. They’re usually estimated empirically by analysing data on changes in fares, patronage, and other control variables (e.g. per capita income or GDP) over time.

There are many studies on fare elasticities from around the world, some of which are summarised in the Australia BITRE elasticities database and this useful summary paper by Todd Litman. NZTA has also commissioned research into the structure of demand for public transport – see e.g. Wang (2011) and Allison, Lupton and Wallis (2013).

These studies don’t always arrive at precisely the same result, but they agree on one key thing: Demand for public transport is relatively “inelastic”. All else being equal, a 10% reduction in fares will increase ridership by less than 10% in the short and long run.

Shay-Horay2

Some odd bloke demonstrating the concept of elasticity

The implication of this is that if a public transport agency reduces fares, it will tend to collect a smaller amount of money from users and hence require a larger subsidy. And, conversely, raising fares can increase overall revenue, albeit at the cost of unintended consequences for increased traffic congestion.

Here’s Litman’s best-guess estimates of elasticities for public transport. The key figures are in the first row – “transit ridership with respect to transit fares” for the overall market. Litman’s estimates a long-run fare elasticity between -0.6 and -0.9. This means that a 10% increase in fares would be expected to reduce ridership by 6-9% in the long run.

Notice that short-run elasticities tend to be smaller, indicating that people take a while to fully respond to changes in prices. For example, if someone’s fares for their bus to work went up significantly, they may tolerate it for a little while but choose to buy a car (or rent a parking space) six months down the line.

Litman (2014) recommended transit elasticities

Personally, I wonder if Litman’s estimates are a bit on the high side. Figures from Wang (2011) suggest that long-run fare elasticities (in the second row of the following table) are -0.46 in Wellington and -0.34 in Christchurch. This would indicate that a 10% increase in fares would reduce ridership by 3.4-4.6%.

Wang (2011) NZ bus demand elasticities

Both of these tables also contain information on how people’s demand for public transport changes in response to other price changes and service changes, which is another interesting topic. Without going into a great deal of depth, I’d note two things:

  • First, increasing petrol prices do tend to increase public transport demand, but this effect may be relatively modest. Car ownership, on the other hand, can have a big impact, as people who have already paid the fixed costs to own a car have strong incentives to get as much use out of it as possible.
  • Second, improved service quality – meaning better frequency and reliability of buses and trains – has a stronger impact on ridership than lower fares. This has important implications for transport agencies, who are often better off putting their marginal dollar towards upping frequencies.

Lastly, it’s worth considering how this might play out in practice. Let’s assume, for a moment, that fare elasticities of demand are at the low end of Litman’s range, i.e.:

  • Short-run fare elasticity = -0.2
  • Long-run fare elasticity = -0.6.

Now, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in which public transport fares are $2 and there are 1,000 daily riders on a given bus route. The public transport agency collects $2,000 in fares every day ($2*1,000 riders).

Now let’s consider what would happen if the agency chose to reduce fares by 10%, from $2 to $1.80. This is obviously great for people who are already on the bus, as they can pay less to get the same service. Daily revenue collected from them drops to $1,800 ($1.80*1,000 riders).

However, the lower fares also attract new riders. In the short run (0-2 years), we predict that a 10% reduction in fares will lead to a 2% increase in ridership (-10%*-0.2). This means that an additional 20 people (1,000 riders*2%) will take the bus and pay a total of $36 in fares every day ($1.80*20).

So far, this is not looking great from a financial perspective. The transport agency has lost $200 in fare revenue from existing riders and gained only $36 from new riders.

Things aren’t much better in the long run, where a 10% reduction in fares is expected to lead to a 6% increase in ridership (-10%*-0.6). This means an added 60 riders who pay $108 in fares every day. Again, this is not enough to cover the loss in revenue from existing riders.

Does this mean that fare reductions are never worth it? Not necessarily – if the reductions in congestion from fewer people driving are sufficiently large, then we should be willing to pay a bit more in subsidies.

singer subsidy cartoon

A second factor is that different people and different types of journeys respond to higher prices in different ways. In principle, we may be able to increase patronage at a relatively low cost by targeting fare discounts to price-sensitive people. But that is a topic for next time!

What do you make of the data on fare elasticities of demand?