Dwelling on dwell-times — Estimating the economic benefits of speeding up Auckland’s trains

Introduction

If you’ve been reading TransportBlog for a while, then you may have noticed that the term “dwell-times” crops up relatively frequently. The term describes the average time that trains are stopped at stations. In several previous posts, we’ve discussed how average dwell-times on Auckland’s new electric trains are approximately 50-60 seconds per stop. In contrast, best-practice dwell-times on rail systems overseas are in the order of 20-30 seconds per stop, so 20 – 40 seconds faster than ours.

In this recent post, I suggested something “had to be done” to shorten dwell-times, to which one commenter (quite reasonably) asked “why“. I was surprised by their question, because to me the benefits of reducing travel-times by 30 seconds per stop seemed obvious. It means that we take Auckland’s trains out of the steam age and into the electric age.

Upon reflection, however, I realised that it wasn’t immediately obvious how apparently small delays of 30 seconds per stop would incur economic costs that warranted action. This realisation motivated me to write this post, in which I attempt to estimate some of the economic benefits of shorter dwell-times on Auckland’s train.

Note that this post does not consider how we might go about reducing dwell-times, and I’d like to ask people who comment not to de-rail the post with such technical matters. The point I’m trying to convey, and which I am interested in discussing, is the economic benefits that flow from running trains faster. Similar arguments apply to efforts to close small intermediate stations, such as Westfield and Te Mahia.

When I think about reducing dwell-times, four obvious sources of economic benefits spring to mind: 1) Reduced costs; 2) Existing user benefits; 3) New User Benefits; and 4) Decongestion benefits. Let’s now dive into the data (hand-waving?) ….

Cost savings: The total cost of running Auckland’s rail services is likely to be in the order of $125 million p.a. Various factors contribute to these costs, but major componenets are likely to be:

  • Staff, including drivers and train managers;
  • Operating costs, such as fuel, mainenance, and track access charges;
  • Asset depreciation, especially on the rolling stock, electrified infrastructure, and depots; and
  • Station operations, such as ticketing and security services.

Different places account for these costs in different ways, which can end up making things quite complex. To simplify things, it’s common to analyse public transport costs in terms of three underlying drivers: 1) vehicle-kilometres; 2) vehicle-hours; and 3) peak fleet requirements. These cost drivers are, more-or-less and to varying degrees, what determine the costs of the services that we operate. Shorter dwell-times won’t, of course, affect the distance that trains travel, even if they will reduce vehicle-hours and/or peak fleet requirements.

To estimate the cost savings from shorter dwell-times, I assumed that measures are taken to reduce dwell-times by 30 seconds per station. If I assume there are 15 stations on the average rail run from Swanson/Papakura/Manukau to the City, then this saves 7.5 minutes on every 55 minute run, or ~14%. I then assume that one-third of this 14% reduction in (in-service) vehicle-hours flows through to the operating cost bottom-line, that is, shorter dwell-times reduce total costs by 4.5%.

Given a total annual spend of $125 million p.a. on operating rail services in Auckland, normal practice dwell-times would reduce costs by $5.68 million p.a. If I then assume an 8% discount rate over 30 years, then this has an NPV of $69.1 million.

That’s the first example of how an apparently small number can lead to a large number when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective …

Existing user benefits: The second effect of shorter dwell-times is to expedite journeys by rail. That us, existing rail users will also benefit from faster travel-times. Current rail patronage is about 18 million journeys p.a., which is predicted to grow to 40 million in a post-CRL world. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that Auckland averages 30 million rail passengers per year over the next 30 years.

Moreover, I now assume these passengers travel an average of 15km per rail journey. If I assume rail stations are spaced, on average, at one station per 3km, then this implies there are 4 intermediate stations per journey (NB: Remember that users will not benefit from faster dwell-times for the last station). Saving 30 seconds over 4 stations equates to a time saving of 2 minutes per journey. If I assume a value-of-time of $10 per hour, then we can monetize the value of these time savings as follows: (2/60) hours per journey x $10 per hour x 30 million journeys per year = $10 million p.a. This has an NPV of $121.6 million. Happy train users are valuable train users.

New User Benefits: Faster trains will, of course, also attract new users. Let’s assume the elasticty of demand with respect to in-vehicle travel time is -0.50. That is, a doubling in travel-time leads to a 50% decline in patronage. In turn, this means that the 14% reduction in travel-time associated from shorter dwell-times would be associated with a 7.0% increase in patronage, or an additional 2.1 million journeys p.a. If I now apply the rule-of-half, that is 2.1 million x (2/60) x $10 per hour x 0.5 = $0.35 million p.a. Or $4.3 million over 30 years.

Decongestion benefits: Some of the additional rail journeys undertaken as a consequence of faster travel-times would have otherwise been loaded onto the road network. This in turn means congestion would be higher. If I assume that 60% of new rail journeys occur in peak periods, and that 25% of these journeys would have otherwise been placed on the road network, then this suggests faster dwell-times diverts 315,000 vehicles off congested roads every year. If we again assume the average rail journey is 15km long, and that decongestion benefits are valued at $0.40 per kilometre, then I find that decongestion benefits are valued at $1.8 million p.a., or $23.0 million over a thirty year period.

Summary

Let’s summarize the estimated economic benefits of faster dwell-times:

  • Cost savings of $69.1 million
  • Existing user benefits of $121.6 million
  • New user benefits of $4.3 million
  • Decongestion benefits of $23.0 million.

Yielding a total of $217.9 million. I must acknowledge these are extremely rough and ready estimates and I could well be wrong and/or out by a decent margin of say +-50%. So don’t anyone go quoting me to the decimal point.

Notwithstanding their approximate nature, the order of magnitude of the estimate is significant. To put it in context, an economic benefit of $217.9 million is equivalent to approximately $7.3 million for every second we cut from average dwell-times. Another way to look at it: I understand the total cost of Auckland’s new trains was in the order of $500 million. Cutting 30 seconds per stop is then worth approximately half of the cost of buying completely new trains. This seems plausible to me; I suspect that a large component of the anticipated benefits of electrification would stem from faster journey times, which have not as yet materialized (NB: In some ways you could argue it’s impressive Auckland has achieved so much patronage growth despite the slow travel-times.

Anyway, the main point is to demonstrate how small time savings can quickly add-up to large dollar values when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective. This is why we harp on about dwell-times and why it’s heartening to see Council putting pressure on AT to sort this mess out. Indeed, cost savings of $69 million above would go straight to Council’s bottom-line, as would approximately $100 million in additional fare revenue over 30 years (NB: This is not an economic benefit per se at it’s simply a transfer from passengers to Council — even if it is of course a fiscal benefit). These fiscal cost savings would result in either lower rates and/or improved services.

In our increasingly resource-constrained world, I consider frugality to be not just prudent, but indeed relatively noble. This is especially true when it comes to other people’s time and money. On this topic, Benjamin Franklin, once said “The way to wealth … depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.” Confucius put it even more succintly when he said “he who will not economize will have to agonize”.

Or, if you prefer the words of Bruce Lee.

On that note, I suspect my marginal utility of spending more time on this post is by now lower than my next best alternative option.

Have a good ‘un.

Tendering to start for rest of CRL

The first section of the City Rail Link, from Britomart to Wyndham St, is now well under construction. Yesterday Auckland Transport announced the first contract documents for the rest of the project have now gone out to the industry. This is for the all the rail related infrastructure that will eventually go in the tunnels, the filling to the CRL sandwich if you will. The tunnels themselves will go out to tender later as they need the winner of this contract to help finalise the documents for the tunnels to make sure they’ll all work together.

Expressions of Interest are being sought for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of all tunnel track work and rail systems between Britomart Station and the Western Line at Mt Eden. The work involves the provisioning of track slab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, tunnel ventilation, fire strategy and communications system.

The successful contractor will be responsible for the integration of the systems with the existing operations at Britomart and Mt Eden and the new tunnels and stations being built for the CRL.

The documents, the first to be released to build the project past its current Britomart and Albert street sites, have been prepared as a result of the agreement between the Government and Auckland Council to jointly fund the project.

The C7 systems package will be procured using an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) model followed by a Design and Construct contract.

Other packages to be released this year include one for the construction of the CRL tunnels and new city, Karangahape and Mt Eden stations and a further package for a stormwater diversion in Mt Eden.

The various contracts as part of the project are shown below

It’s good that we’ve reached a milestone, and will obviously be even better once these contracts are signed. The graphic below gives an indication of when that will be.

But the purpose of this post isn’t just about some PR fluff. The announcement prompted me to look and see if there was any new information about the project, and I was in luck, finding a number of new presentations on AT’s CRL Procurement page that came from an industry briefing at the end of November.

Below are some of the items that caught my attention from the documents.

One of the first things to strike me was this new map showing the rail network with and without the CRL and it raises some concerning questions. These include

  • I count seven different service patterns for a what is a fairly basic four track network. This seems focused on running trains rather than making things easier for customers and so all this will do is make things more confusing for passengers when all that is needed is a simple two line network.
  • Related to above, why are services shown as terminating still at Britomart and not through routing – which is the entire point of the CRL.
  • The map shows most of the Western Line, west of Mt Albert, stuck with no additional frequency to get to the city whilst sending the same number of trains to completely avoid the city centre. The demand to the city will be many many times larger than those wanting to go west-south so what’s the point in investing $billions in infrastructure if we’re not going to use it to improve service for a large section of the rail network.
  • The map shows another new service pattern running from Mt Albert to Otahuhu. How’s that going to work, are AT planning on building new platforms at Mt Albert?
  • There is also an orange label for extra trains from the south but no line to match it.

You can see a larger version of just the post CRL map here.

Another perhaps clearer version of what is planned is shown in this operations diagram – note to AT: if your operations diagram is easier to understand than a more customer centric map then you’re doing it wrong.

An aspect of both maps that really annoys me personally is that there is no planned change to services past Henderson meaning what exists today is as good as it gets.

A document also contains the outcomes of some of the passenger modelling. The concerning thing here is that they suggest Aotea will only see 6,750 people exiting the station in an AM peak hour and 6,500 at Britomart. We know Britomart already sees over 10k exit over a two hour peak (of which most would be in a single hour) so these numbers seem way too low. I’m guessing this could be another victim of our transport models which like to think no one wants to use trains in Auckland and continually underestimates usage.

One quite concerning slide is this, suggesting the project now won’t be completed till 2024. It would be extremely disappointing if it slipped to then.

Part of the C7 contract will see changes made to the platform layout, making Britomart a four-track station (from five) so bigger platforms can be provided for the CRL though routed lines. As part of the C9 contract (Britomart East), changes will also be made to the station to improve access from the eastern end. I’m sure the design will be refined over time. This isn’t planned to start construction till after the CRL is operational.

Around Mt Eden, two new pedestrian bridges are being built across the network, one at the current level crossing next to the station linking into to Ngahura St (top) and one which will replace the Porters Rd level crossing (which is to be closed).

Speaking of Mt Eden, the project needs a chunk of land near the station to build the project but which can be later developed. This image shows the potential development for that land, adding thousands of new dwellings. It’s also worth noting that the value of this is something not captured in the formal economic case.

Also on development, the Wellesley St (Aotea) and Mercury Lane (K Rd) entrances are being designed to be built over. At the Wellesley St, they have allowed for a 17-24 storey building above and beside the station entrance while at Mercury Lane a 7-8 storey building is possible. I’m sure this image of Aotea is just to show the scale of what’s possible rather than any proposal.

At Aotea, the documents indicate some neighbouring land owners might want direct connections to the station. This includes to the NDG tower proposal (the current vacant site on Elliott St) and a potential link to Skycity. They’re also say this on future proofing for a potential North Shore Line.

The design also provides for future-proofing for the assumed alignment of a North Shore Line in Wellesley Street. It includes an adjustment of the size and location of piles that form part of the station box

There’s also this new image of the entrance on Victoria St. If you look closely you can see they’ve squeezed four lanes of traffic in but one thing that’s notable that’s missing is any cycleway – which is listed as an Urban Cycleway Fund project. See here for more information on why the AT design is poor.

In addition to the CRL itself, some of the wider network works associated with the project include

  • adding the connection from west to platform 4 as Newmarket
  • provisioning the additional platform at Otahuhu (the platform itself was built as part of the station works).
  • additional platforms at Henderson to deal with services terminating there – this is shown below.

 

Have you had a look at the documents, is there anything else from them that stands out to you?

Westfield Station to be cut

Yesterday Auckland Transport finally confirmed that the Westfield station would close, after it was put on death row back in 2013 following the consultation for the New Network in South Auckland.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the demise of the station with AT citing its low patronage with little prospect for future growth given the stations catchment of light industrial land on one side and the Mangere Inlet on the other.

As AT point out in their press release (below), the station has less than 330 passengers a day boarding or alighting at it, which is tiny when you consider that on the average workday the rest of the rail network carries about 65,000 trips. What’s more is the rest of the rail network is growing at a faster rate. Westfield isn’t the least used station however, Te Mahia has held that honour since Waitakere closed in 2015. Te Mahia was also on the chopping block in 2013 but AT decided to spare it after locals campaigned to save it, claiming the development nearby at the Manukau Golf Club would boost use – although I remain sceptical it will have much, if any impact.

The graph below is based on data AT have provided us in the past on rail station usage and shows the origins and destinations for trips that involve Westfield to the end of June. Of the two biggest, just over a third of trips are Britomart and further 7% are Newmarket.

Perhaps what’s surprising about this announcement is not that it’s happened but that it’s taken so long to happen. As mentioned, Auckland Transport indicated way back in 2013 that they wanted to close the station. I had assumed they might do it when the electric trains were rolled out but they left it open. I then thought they might do it back in October last year when they rolled out the New Network in South Auckland, including opening the impressively upgraded Otahuhu Station just down the road.

Closing stations, even under-performing ones like Westfield is never going to feel great, after all there might not be many of them but there are obviously people who use the station and they will be affected. The flip side to that is that closing it also allows AT to speed up the journey for everyone else who uses the trains from south of the station – although that itself will be balanced out by the opening of the new Parnell station which will only be stopped at all day by Southern Line trains.

Here is AT’s press release:

Westfield rail station in Ōtāhuhu is closing in March.

Auckland Transport says the station is one of the quietest on the Auckland rail network, in November last year it had less than 330 passengers getting on and off services each day.

Chief AT Metro Officer, Mark Lambert, says the station will close on 12 March. “The numbers using the station are low and it would require significant investment to bring it up to the standard of other stations.”

Mr Lambert says forecasts of future patronage indicate that demand is likely to remain low given the location in a light industrial area and new public transport options created in the past few months.

Auckland Transport consulted with the public on the closure in 2013. “In the past few years, Auckland Transport has invested heavily in public transport infrastructure in south Auckland, we rolled out the New Network for bus services last October and also opened the new bus/train station at Otahuhu.”

Other planned improvements in the south include the construction of a new bus station in Mangere Town Centre, the creation of a new of a new transport hub in Manukau and upgrades of Pukekohe, Manurewa and Papakura stations.

Mr Lambert says there are bus stops nearby on Great South Road which provide links to a number of places including Otahuhu, Onehunga, Avondale and Britomart.

He says further north, services will begin at the new Parnell Station on 12 March. “This station will serve local Parnell businesses and residents, the universities, Auckland Museum and will be great for events at the Domain.”

 

Note: We’ve been a bit concerned recently about the comments threads of rail network related posts deteriorating into ugly arguments so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this post and strictly moderating it. So consider this a warning to stick to our user guidelines or your comment may be deleted.

Transit fare changes for 2017

Yesterday Auckland Transport announced that at the end of the month they are changing some public transport fares after just reducing them less than six months ago when the rolled out their Simplified Fares scheme.

Bus, train and ferry fares will be changing from 29 January 2017.

Auckland Transport is required to review fares annually to ensure they keep pace with operating costs and a portion of cost recovery from fares.

Colin Homan, Group Manager, AT Development says Auckland Transport has a target to recover 50 percent of the cost of public transport from fares, but this is currently at 46.3 percent.

“Compared to many other cities, Auckland short distance fares are relatively low so we have targeted some small increases for fares for some shorter trips. Fares for longer trips, beyond 4 Zones will not change.  We want to promote reducing congestion by making public transport fares attractive for people making longer journeys.”

Mr Homan says public transport in Auckland still represents very good value for customers.  Auckland Transport has added a number of new services over the past year, such as the introduction of 65 double decker buses, the roll out of a new bus network in South Auckland, the addition of 19 km of bus lanes in the year to June 2017, rail service increases on the Western Line, as well as Simpler Fares (which allows customers to take a bus, train or combo and pay just the one fare for the entire journey).

Mr Homan says that over the past 12 months Auckland Transport has reduced the cost of public transport by on average 7 percent through Simpler Fares and encouraging customers on cash to transition to HOP, which represents at least a 20 percent saving.

He says in the year to the end of December 84.8 million trips were taken on public transport in Auckland, an increase of 4.6 percent since July.

“Even though the average fare increase is 1.7 percent, the average cost of travel for customers remains lower than it was at this time last year.”

Main changes

  • AT HOP bus & train fares for 1 Zone, 2 Zones and 4 Zones increase by 5 cents and 10 cents
  • Cash bus & train fares for 1 Zone and 2 Zones increase by 50 cents
  • AT HOP tertiary student bus and rail fares increase by 4 to 8 cents between 1 Zone and 4 Zones to ensure a consistent discount compared to AT HOP adult fares
  • AT HOP Monthly Bus & Train Pass increases by $10
  • Ferry fares reflect a mix of increases and decreases to continue the alignment by distance travelled in preparation for full ferry fare integration
  • AT HOP adult and child fares are at least 25 percent lower than the equivalent cash fare
  • AT HOP child fares are at least 40 percent lower than adult AT HOP
  • AT HOP tertiary fares are at least 20 percent lower than adult AT HOP

Here are a few thoughts I’ve had about this, in no particular order

If you’re paying by HOP, and you should be, the main changes suggested certainly aren’t huge at 5 to 10 cents per trip. For a regular commuter doing two bus or train trips a day this equates to $25-50 a year. Also, note that the 3-zone fares actually come down slightly too. The new Adult bus and train fares are below.

As a reminder, four zones cover all trips from the main urban area to the city centre

But what I do find odd is that this comes so quickly after Simplified Fares rolled out in mid-August. With Simplified Fares one of the aims was have as few people as possible negatively affected by the change. Perhaps AT didn’t get their modelling quite right and went a bit too far in this regard. We’ve certainly been seeing the farebox recovery rate (below) fall in recent months since the introduction of Simplified Fares and the later the New Network in the South.

I also get the feeling some in the organisation might have panicked without giving the changes a chance to settle in. Big changes like the New Network or fares, are not quick fixes and time is definitely needed for the public to adjust their travelling behaviour based on those changes.

 

One group of customers that have had some wins is users of some ferry services, most notably Hobsonville Point users who see some decent trip savings – 50c per trip for Adult HOP users. This is part of AT’s goal of aligning ferry fares for similar distance trips.

One area I find extremely disappointing is that AT have once again put up the monthly pass, this time by another $10 to $210. Monthly pass customers tend to be some of AT’s most loyal. As a regular monthly pass user myself, I find I’m much more likely to use PT for a wider range of trips when I have a pass than when I don’t have one. AT continuing to push up the price of the pass seems to be part of a wider strategy to stop people using it all together which, in my view, would be a huge mistake. If anything, they should be doing the opposite and trying to make it more attractive to encourage more people to use PT.

A wider issue at play here is the NZTA’s arbitrary farebox recovery target that by mid-2018 50% of all PT operational costs nationally need to come from fares. Whilst that sounds good in theory, it’s a really blunt instrument that is likely meaning we’re not extracting the most value out of our PT system. For example, what if a 40% farebox ratio delivered a better overall economic outcome due to moving more people and taking an the edge off congestion.

 

What do you think of the fare changes?

Ka mua, ka muri: Looking back in order to move forward

‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol

Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.

It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.

We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:

1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?

People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.

Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.

2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.

However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.

This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.

3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).

There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic].  For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.

This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.

Same as it ever was.

Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work

 

 

 

Britomart’s new temporary entrance is open

The new temporary entrance at Britomart, which I’ll refer to as ‘the shed’ and is needed while the City Rail Link is built under the old Chief Post Office (CPO), is now able to be used by the public. From next week the CPO will close making the shed the main entry to the station and the only way to access it at the western end – the entrance under the EY building is unaffected.

I haven’t been though Britomart yet this year but Cam Pitches kindly grabbed some photos for us.

And here it is a little closer up

This looks quite different from the renderings Auckland Transport produced earlier showing it looking more transparent

and

The material is translucent though letting a lot of light in as shown in this image from AT when iwi blessed the entrance last week. I wonder the choice of material was to stop the place suffering from becoming a glasshouse effect during the heat of the day.

One can see above is the new train display that’s been installed. Here’s a better look at it from Cam and to me, it looks a considerably better than the old red LED displays in the CPO (above the HOP machines and ticket counters)

With most people arriving at Britomart heading south towards Customs St, the most heavily used entrance will see passengers pouring out onto Galway St. Here’s what that entrance looks like as finishing touches are put on.

For some time now, the footpaths on Galway St have frequently been parked over by delivery vehicles, tradies and taxi’s. With thousands of people daily now about to use it, it will be imperative that Auckland Transport step up enforcement and keep it clear

Here are also some photos by Luke

One thing to note is that there are no escalators from the ground level down to the lower concourse, only stairs or the elevators.

The entrance certainly looks temporary from the outside but as Luke mentions, and what I felt looking at it during construction, it does feel light and spacious. It will also be fascinating to see how long it lasts after the CRL is complete. Temporary structures tend to have history of sticking around a lot longer than intended with a great example being the slug on Queens Wharf.

 

Update: the CRL team have sent me this

The CPO Queen St doors will close after the last train on Monday night (for three years) and the new entrance will be in operation from first thing this Tuesday.

ATAP ASAP’s – Extra Trains

In Part 1 of my series I wrote about the Third Main between Westfield & Wiri as being an ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project) ASAP, a first decade project that in my opinion needed funding straight away, my second post of this series is about the need for extra trains pre-CRL (City Rail Link).

Currently we have 57 three-car trains and anyone who uses trains on a regular basis will have seen the massive growth in patronage. People at peak report crowded trains, as well people in some shoulder peak services in which some services are only three-car trains instead of six. Even I have noticed it the 5:58am from Avondale which is no longer a very empty train. But don’t take my word for it, the patronage figures speak for themselves.

By allowing for more efficient operations, the CRL will improve capacity but that is not due to be finished until 2023which means we have a long way to go & a lot of growth needing to be accommodated.

ATAP states that three tranches of 21 extra trains are needed over the 30-years between 2018-2048, one tranche per decade. In order to cope with the growth we’re already seeing, let alone what the CRL will deliver, we really need to order the first tranche of additional trains now. That will allow Auckland Transport to run more services as six-car trains, ensuring that all peak and shoulder peak trains are appropriately bulked up, especially in the afternoons where trains are used for school students.

Rail Development Programme

It is imperative we order the trains sooner rather than later as the trains have about a 2 year lead time, meaning if we ordered them today they still wouldn’t arrive until late 2018, by which time services will be significantly more crowded. Of course trains don’t come cheap and each one costs around $10 million and ATAP budgets $210 million for each of the first two tranches. We also know that AT have been looking at the idea of buying some battery powered trains to allow them to serve Pukekohe without needing wires.

Regardless, the network is growing like crazy and we need the capacity to get through to the CRL. Add in the long lead times for production and that we’ll definitely need them once the CRL opens and I think we have ourselves an ATAP ASAP.

 

I have an extra set, but it may still have capacity issues :D

I have an extra set, but we may still have capacity issues 😀

So what do you think?

Seattle moves on Transit

Another great video from the ever excellent Street Films highlights the work being done in Seattle to make the city particularly more PT friendly but also more bike friendly. Seattle is a perhaps one of the more useful comparator cities for Auckland due to its similar geography and topography challenges.

One big takeaway is the off board fare collection and all door boarding on their RapidRide bus services which sound equivalent to the frequent network Auckland Transport are rolling out as part of the New Network. I especially was surprised to see they achieved a 20% increase in the speed of the service. This is something AT need to roll out to the Northern Busway as soon as possible and eventually to the entire frequent network.

It was also interesting to hear that now, 70% of trips to the city centre are by non-car means and that is expected to increase to 75% in coming years. By comparison, Auckland currently has around 50% access by car and the numbers arriving by car are about the same as 15 years ago with all the growth coming from PT and active modes – and this doesn’t even count all the people who now live in the city centre who don’t cross the motorway boundary.

via Transitcentre

While on the topic of Seattle, if you have a spare hour or so, you may also be interested in this Auckland Conversations style video from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies from Seattle on the findings of their trip last year to Auckland about the things they learnt from us.

Wheely suitcase in Europe #8: Santiago de Compostela to Lisbon — Where dwell-times are short

Earlier this year I undertook a rather long and splendid journey starting in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and ending in Lisbon, Portugal. In seven previous posts I document our progress as follows:

  1. Amsterdam to Annecy
  2. Annecy to Cassis
  3. Cassis to Llanca
  4. Llanca to Zaragoza
  5. Zaragoza to San Sebastian
  6. San Sebastian to Gijon
  7. Gijon to Santiago de Compostela

The routes we took are also illustrated in the map below. At various stages in our journey we used different transport modes, including combination of plane, car, bicycle, train, bus, and ride-share.

At first glance this may seem like a strange route. After all, the natural line of travel from the south of France is to continue south along the east coast of Spain. Two seasonal factors influenced our decision to head west instead (NB: We were travelling in July and the end of August), namely 1) the heat of the Spanish summer and 2) the influx of summer tourists. Spain’s Atlantic coast is both milder (20 – 30 degrees) and receives fewer summer tourists. So if you do go to Spain in the summer, then I’d recommmed heading north-west.

In this post, I document the final leg of our journey, which us from Santiago de Compostela, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. We travelled by BlaBlaCar to Porto, and then caught the train to Lisbon. Combining two transport modes enabled us to save us both time and money. More specifically, the train from Santiago de Compostela to Porto runs infrequently (every 3 hours), is slow (4.5 hours), and relatively expensive (35 Euro per person). In comparison, BlaBlaCar picked us up from our door, took 2.5 hours, and cost only 16 Eur per person.

An apt way to end our journey, I thought. One of my fellow bloggers (a’hem, PATRICK) expressed bemusement that we didn’t use the train to travel everywhere. I freely admit rail is nice, where it exists, is frequent, fast, and affordable. On our journey, however, not all these criteria were met all of the time. The two reasons I gave to Patrick for using non-train transpot modes, which I think is worth repeating here, are:

  1. If you want to travel off the beaten track in Europe, ***then*** sometimes you will need to make use of transport modes other than rail. This is especially true when travelling in countries with less well-developed rail networks; and
  2. If you are travelling in Europe at peak times, e.g. summer and/or oevr Christmas, ***then*** you can expect that the high-speed trains will be expensive if not completely full on some days.

For these two reasons I’d strongly suggest that people add buses and BlaBlacar to their list of back-up transport modes. When combined with rail, they make it really easy to travel in Europe without hiring your own car. Of course, neither of these modes is perfect either, hence the need to be flexible.

There, multi-modal sales pitch over. Having arrived in Lisbon, we then set about enjoying ourselves even more than we did on the train. Being late August, the temperature was pushing 30 degrees. I must say that we had 5 days in Lisbon, and it wasn’t enough. Two things strike you almost immediately about Lisbon: 1) the city is extremely beautiful and 2) the geography and topography is spectacular, albeit something that makes it harder to get around.

From a transport perspective, the most interesting aspect of Lisbon has to be the quaint trams that navigate through very narrow streets and up very steep hills, as shown below.

Apart from exploring the city, including the castle shown in the prevous image, we also took two day-trips further afield. One day we caught a suburban train along the coast to a sea-side village called Cascais. The train takes ~40 minutes, and runs right along the coast.

I can report that dwell-times on Lisbon’s (heavy) rail line to Cascais are approximately 25-35 seconds, even under peak summer loads. I mention this because Portugal is not, shall we say, the wealthiest and/or most technologically-advanced nation in Europe. Nonetheless it still manages to achieve dwell-times half that of Auckland. Shame on us.

If Phil Goff and the new Council need any convincing that they should push AT on the dwell-times, then I’d suggest we put them, first, on a plane to Lisbon and, second, on a train to Cascais. Perhaps we could even find a European watch-maker to sponsor the trip and supply watches so the Councillors can precisely time the dwell-times?

On our other day-trip, we rented a car and headed to the UNESCO world-heritage site of Sintra. While Lisbon is a wonderful place to visit in of itself, Sintra moves the region into the top-shelf. Sintra manages to combine both natural and historical beauty in a way I’ve not really experienced anywhere else, and which is as a result somewhat hard to explain.

I would say that Sintra is best understood as a sub-region, which is dominated by a large forest and mountain range within which are sprinkled an amazing number of amazingly beautiful places of interest, such as public gardens, villages, palaces, castles, and convents. Here’s a few images to whet the appetite (NB: All images are grabbed from the web; let me know if they are yours and you would like credit and/or them taken down). If you’re intrigued, then check out the Wiki page for more detail.

Sintra is only an hours’ drive from Lisbon, or there is also a train from Lisbon. Just be aware that the coast west of Sintra is also worth exploring, and cannot be reached by train.

Having spent five wonderful days in Lisbon, and four weeks travelling across Europe, we then flew back to Amsterdam so that I could begin the current academic year. If you are interested in the relative cost and speed of the different travel modes we used then let me know and I’ll try and write up a summary post. Otherwise, I have another upcoming travel post which considers our Christmas adventure in Bordeaux.

Until then, I will leave you to enjoy the New Zealand summer, of which I am suitably jealous. Travel safe y’all.

2017 – The Year Ahead

In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.

City Rail Link

With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.

Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.

Mass Transit

The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.

If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.

The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.

Rapid Transit

I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.

New Network Rollout

In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.

Parnell Station and new rail timetable

In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.

Government Elections

Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.

Cycleways

We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include

  • The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
  • Quay St extension to The Strand
  • The next sections of the Eastern Path
  • Ian McKinnion Dr
  • Franklin Rd

We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.

 

Waterview

After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.

SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange

The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017

East-West Link

The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.

Northern Corridor

The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.

Auckland Plan refresh

A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.

Auckland Transport

We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.

All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year