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A Congestion Free Network

In this recent post we highlighted how, despite $60 billion or more of transport spending over the next 30 years, congestion is due to get significantly worse. This is a pretty disappointing result – occurring both in the scenarios when all the projects are funded and also in the scenario when we spend less money and build fewer projects.There’s about $10-15 billion of spending difference between the two scenarios – to achieve what really seems to be a pretty minimal difference in outcomes. As noted in recent posts, most of that spending is in the form of road projects – many of which make little sense.

The real problem for Auckland, compared to so many cities around the world is not the severity of our congestion but the fact that we generally have no alternative. Most public transport trips are on buses which mix with general traffic – meaning they get stuck in the same congestion as everyone else. For most trips, public transport is a poor alternative to driving. Too slow (because it’s stuck in the same traffic jams), too expensive, too unreliable. While perhaps overblown a bit, transport modelling highlights how pathetically slow public transport currently is for many trips across Auckland:

Improving the quality of the alternatives to driving does help free up the roads by attracting number of people away from driving but really this isn’t the main role of Transit networks. All big cities have congestion – and Auckland will be no exception to this rule. But they also all provide alternatives. The streets of Manhattan are congested but most people avoid it by catching the subway. Nobody drives from Parramatta to downtown Sydney at peak times, they catch the train because it’s so much faster. London would collapse without its Underground. These cities all experience congestion, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as in Auckland because an alternative, a network free of congestion, exists.

Decades of research show that you can’t build your way out of congestion. Widen a motorway and it fills up again. Build a new motorway and it fills up. Even the widest motorways in the world still get jammed up at peak times:highway401-jammedWhat Auckland so desperately needs is an alternative to its congested transport network. A way to ‘opt out’ of congested travel. True travel choice that’s faster, more reliable and reduces the burden of getting around our city.

So we, in collaboration with Generation Zero, have developed an alternative plan for Auckland called the Congestion Free Network. 

We have a limited congestion free network today: the existing railway lines, parts of the Northern Busway (Constellation to Akoranga) and some stretches of bus lane. In these locations no matter how congested up the roads get, there’s always a congestion free alternative available. But they’re relatively few and far between.

Over the next 20 years Auckland can, for the same price or less as what’s currently proposed in the ITP, construct a congestion free network which covers almost every corner of the urban area. Electrified rail to Pukekohe, busways to Silverdale, Kumeu, Botany to Panmure, Manukau to Botany, rail to the Airport, light-rail along Dominion Road, an extensive ferry network and even rail to the North Shore.

We think that this is a much better approach than what’s in the Integrated Transport Programme. We think that this approach takes the best parts of last week’s transport announcements by Central Government, the best bits of what’s in the Auckland Plan and creates a modern, world-class transport system that Auckland can be proud of. We think that a proper congestion free network will actually be so attractive for Aucklanders that it can be more successful in freeing up the roads than heading down a path towards our own 18 lane motorways.

A plan for a congestion free network must also be realistic. While in many respects we have a lot of money to play with, given the eye-watering sums proposed for spending on transport in Auckland over the next 30 years, we think that there’s probably no need to spend as much money. So we’re going to let you know exactly what transport projects we don’t think Auckland needs and how we can redirect that money towards the projects Auckland actually does need. And have no fear, of course Auckland’s going to have more roads in 2030 than it does today. As we’ve discussed previously a number of roading projects do make some sense – although perhaps not in their currently planned gold-plated form.

We have an idea about what should be in a 2020, 2025 and 2030 congestion free network. We think the projects that make up these networks are affordable, realistic and can deliver a transformational shift in the quality of Auckland’s transport system. But before we get onto what we think, we’re keen to know what you think.

  • How would you phase in a congestion free network over the next 17 years?
  • What do you think are the most important projects to have done by 2020?
  • What do you think should be cut or wound back to free up funding for the congestion free network?
  • What parts of the congestion free network should be provided by buses and what parts by trains?
  • What do you think is the role of light-rail in a congestion free network? Or ferries?

Ultimately, the congestion free network is about giving people real and genuine choice. The choice to opt out of being stuck in traffic:NZH0552245483

Wellington PT study and RoNS info released

Some big news out of Wellington yesterday with the release of the Public Transport Spine Study as well as more news on the Basin Flyover and Duplicate Mt Victoria Tunnel. Both are actually fairly intricately tied together. Here are the two press releases from the NZTA about the spine study (why did we need two). First let’s look at the PT spine study. It was described by the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) as:

The Public Transport Spine Study (PTSS) is about determining what a future public transport solution for Wellington city might be – one that is high quality, modern and meets the longer term aspirations and demands of our city.

The study has been undertaken by AECOM, and was commissioned jointly by Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council and the NZ Transport Agency. These three agencies are working in partnership to ensure this work is aligned with economic and transport developments in Wellington City and the wider region.

This PTSS is a key action from the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan (2008), which seeks major improvements to public transport to provide a high quality, reliable and safe service between the Wellington Railway Station and the regional hospital. It sits alongside significant improvements to the strategic road network that are now being planned and designed as part of the RoNS programme and major upgrades to rail network.

The study initially looked at a number of different options from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network. From there the options were narrowed down to three:

  • Bus priority – $59 million, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $209 million, which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
  • Light Rail Transit (LRT) – $940 million, which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie

One I noticed straight away which is odd is that the LRT option required its own tunnel under Mt Victoria whereas the BRT option was using the duplicated road tunnel. I imagine that this is a large part of the cost difference between the two. The NZTA say that the road tunnels will be limited to 50kph so I’m not sure why buses can use it but why LRT can’t (the official reason given is concerns over fire and safety issues of LRT in mixed traffic – something that doesn’t seem to be a problem elsewhere in the world). It’s also worth noting that buses through the tunnels wouldn’t have any bus priority. One thing that is crucial to later on in this post is the report notes that buses would also be able to run in the LRT corridor. Anyway here are the routes that were assessed.

Spine Study Route Alignments

The report also contains cross sections of various parts of the routes showing where the lanes would be located within the street environment. For both the BRT and LRT options this means on either one side of the road or down the centre. But it isn’t just routes or modes that are important, so on to the impacts these options would have. As you would expect, each option seems to have been assessed multiple ways. The ones I’m most interested in are the impacts on patronage, travel times and the economic assessments.

Travel Times

The travel time savings for both the LRT and BRT options seem fairly impressive. From Kilbirnie these two options each save over 10 minutes while they also save 6-7 minutes from Newton.

Spine Study Time Saving Kilbirnie

Spine Study Time Saving Newtown


Each option has been assessed at both a regional level and in the South and East, the area served by the infrastructure and here is where I think things get interesting. The modelling only looks at the AM peak period – something that has been happening in Auckland too – and even in the reference case shows patronage dropping between 2021 and 2031. Presumably this is caused by the RoNS making it easier to drive. At the regional level the report suggests that even the best performing option – BRT – will only add 900 passengers (2.6%) to the morning peak period by 2041. By comparison it suggests that LRT will only add 400 (1.1%).

Spine Study Regional Patronage

The impact in the South and East gets even weirder with LRT only being suggested to increase patronage over the base case by 80 passengers (1.1%) compared to 220 (3.1%) for bus lanes or 550 (7.8%) for the BRT option.

Spine Study South East Patronage

To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is something funny going on in the modelling. We know from the CCFAS that our modelling of PT usage is very poor, and even after a lot of effort is put in to improving it. Considering that we don’t have any cities in New Zealand using LRT for PT purposes the impacts of it are probably not being assessed properly. Further when considering just how much time the BRT and LRT routes save, it seems even weirder that patronage numbers are so low.

Economic assessment

All of the options appear to perform very poorly in an economic assessment however reading through some of the report it is clear that there is a massive issue identified in the standard assessment.

There is no limitation on the number of car trips that can be made to the CBD, the implication is that parking will increase to meet demand.

So effectively I read this as saying is that the RoNS will create a whole heap of road capacity which will encourage people to drive and that our economic assessments assume that more parking will magically appear in the city centre to cope with this. The report says that capping parking would increase the patronage from both the BRT and LRT options by 1600-2100 peak trips which is a fairly significant increase. Even with that in place the BRT option only just scrapes over the line.

Spine Study Economic Assessments


One other comment from the press release caught my attention

The benefits are calculated using NZTA guidelines. These apply a monetary value to travel time savings experienced by existing and new public transport users and are offset by ‘disbenefits’ experienced by motorists because road space has been allocated to public transport.

Now I agree that when assessing these options the impact on road users from less road space being available needs to be taken into account however I would almost guarantee that the opposite thing isn’t taken into account when roads are being assessed.

Looking over all of the different aspects of the report it is fairly clear that the BRT option is what has come out on top. This doesn’t surprise me and as much as I might like to see light rail installed, even if it were half the price it just doesn’t seem feasible.

The other major piece of news mentioned is that hat NZTA has lodged applications to the Environmental Protection Authority for the Basin Flyover. They like to call it the Basin Bridge to make it sound cuter than it is but that doesn’t change the fact it is likely to end up a very imposing piece of infrastructure. This kind of thing is what cities around the world are now starting to tear down. Even the NZTAs own very pretty videos don’t make it look appealing – unless you are driving.

“Buses as pedestrian fountains” – Jarrett Walker in Auckland

Some you may recall that a month or so ago my colleague Jarrett Walker came to Auckland to talk about public transport. In this presentation, Jarrett discussed some of his work on Auckland’s new network. The general thrust of his talk was that improvements to Auckland’s bus network will play a crucial role in Auckland’s future public transport network. Highlight of the talk for me personally was Jarrett’s suggestion that we need to start thinking of buses as ”pedestrian fountains“. That’s a point to keep in mind the next time you look at pictures of Auckland’s city centre filled with people enjoying themselves; many of those people will have arrived by bus.

Jarrett also emphasised the often overlooked fact that even post-CRL, significant numbers of people will still be arriving in Auckland’s city centre by bus, especially from those areas which are not well-served by rail. For example, buses will still be required on Manukau Rd, Mt Eden Road, Dominion Rd, Sandringham Rd, and Jervois Rd, which are some of the densest parts of the region. The CRL does not make buses go away, even if it allows their role to change in some parts of the region, and that buses will continue to be an important part of Auckland’s public transport system for the foreseeable future.

For this reason Jarrett suggested that we start thinking about how buses can be integrated into the city in a way that enables them to move efficiently, without clogging up the roads and detracting from urban amenity. And that means – in my opinion – that we need better bus infrastructure, like what you find in more enlightened cities overseas. Indeed, even Vienna – which is a city known for its relatively dense metro and tram network – has a bus system that carries 120 million passengers per year. That’s more than twice the passengers currently using Auckland’s bus network. Basically, there is no conceivable (realistic) future for public transport in Auckland that does not involve making better use of our buses.

Jarrett really lays down an intellectual challenge to people that “hate buses”.

Hate buses

In his talk Jarrett also emphasised that the best bus routes almost always make the best tram routes. So if you are a person who want trams to be part of Auckland’s transport future (and I would count myself as one of these people), then the best thing you can do is support the development of a high-quality bus network supported by appropriately future-proofed infrastructure.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the presentation, albeit without audio/video (technical difficulties on the day meant this is unavailable). In my next post I’ll upload a copy of Jarrett’s talk at the public transport careers evening that was held at the University of Auckland (again apologies for the delay with getting this uploaded; I know some of you have been asking for it).

And for those of you who missed hearing Jarrett on his last visit, rest assured that we’re already working to bring him back to Auckland later this year.

Auckland’s Historic PT Patronage

Some comments the other day raised the question about what led to patronage dropping so much in the late 1950′s. Was it the removal of the tram network or was it the opening of the Harbour bridge, the motorways and the introduction of cheaper cars. In a way it is kind of a chicken or egg debate. It was sparked by this graph from Auckland Transport and thankfully they had previously provided me with the data behind it allowing us to look at the info in more detail.

Population, cars and Public transport use (1925 - 2012) 1

So let’s have a look at things in more detail. I think that there are four distinct periods in the history of PT patronage in Auckland and with the exception of the one we are in now, they conveniently each lasted about 25 years. I characterise these four periods as:

  • The Rise – 1920 to 1945
  • The Fall – 1946 to 1970
  • The Bounce – 1971 to 1995
  • The Revival – 1996 to Now

The Rise

By 1920 electric trams had been plying Auckland for almost two decades (having replaced Horse drawn trams) and they had enabled the city to spread out across large portions of the central isthmus. Effectively where the trams went, development followed and the suburbs were designed to make trams easy to use. This is most noticeable in the western side of the isthmus where most houses were within 400m walking distance of a tram route. Further looking at aerial images from 1940 on the councils GIS viewer, it doesn’t appear that there were very many houses outside of the areas covered in the map below


400m catchment from the former tram lines. (thanks to Kent)

Patronage during this time was clearly affected by the great depression however rebounded afterwards then surged during the war thanks to the rationing of fuel and rubber as well as the increase participation in the workforce to support the war. The graph below shows patronage by mode up for this period. As you can see the trams carried the vast majority of passengers with over 80% of all trips occurring on them. Auckland’s population during this time went from around 150,000 to just under 300,000 however even at the lowest point, there were an average of over 240 trips per person per year. During the war patronage peaked at over 420 trips per person per year.

By Mode 1920-1945

The Fall

As you would expect, after the war patronage decreased however it didn’t fall back to pre-war levels and instead stayed above 100 million trips per year. All up by 1950 patronage had only decreased by ~11% from its wartime peak. While the total number of cars in NZ had definitely increased over time, annual new car registrations were still below levels seen during the depression, so much so that between 1945 and 1950 the total vehicle fleet in NZ had only increased by 12%. Per capita usage in 1950 was around 330 trips per person.

A tram in Queen St 1949 – Queen Street, Auckland city. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-7171-06. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Unfortunately our city leaders fell hook line and sinker for the utopian dream spreading out from the US that cars and buses powered by petrol and diesel were the future. It was decreed that buses were to replace the trams and in typical Auckland fashion, we not only proceeded to do this but extremely rapidly – and likely very expensively – pulled out the entire tram network over roughly a 6 year period. What was likely an initial optimism about the future of Public Transport seemed to be wiped away once people actually tried the new bus services and by the time the last tram was removed from the city in 1956, patronage had plummeted from over 105.5 million in 1950 to around 66.5 million in 1957.

During this time period the first motorways also started to be completed and by 1957 sections on the Northwestern were open between Lincoln Rd and Pt Chev while the Southern motorway was open between Ellerslie -Panmure Highway and Redoubt Rd. It’s interesting to question how much impact they would have had on PT patronage initially as both ended outside of furthermost extent of the former tram network. Car ownership throughout NZ also increased during this time which I suspect is partly due to more being available and partly people not happy with the bus options being provided.

After the sharp fall caused by the removal of the tram network, patronage then went into a steady decline as the car culture became further entrenched and more and more motorway extensions were opened. Despite what one person has suggested, the only noticeable impact of the harbour bridge opening seems to have to the ferries which is understandable.

By Mode 1945-1970

The Bounce

By 1972 public transport patronage had reached a low of just 42 million trips per year and then the oil crisis hit. Almost instant it seems as though patronage bounced back with it increasing by over 10 million trips in a year. From there it bounced around between 50 and 60 million trips a year for around 15 years. I don’t know the history behind it but it also seems odd that just as oil prices spike, we obviously started pulling out the trolley buses and replaced them with diesel ones. Both trains and ferries had little to no impact on patronage during this time period.

I have also called it the bounce because the increases experienced didn’t last. By the late 80s petrol prices started to decline once again in real terms. Around the same time (or early 90′s) reforms made it much easier and therefore cheaper to import cars which saw PT patronage fall away again to new lows. In 1994 we reached the lowest point ever with just over 33 million trips in the year.

By Mode 1970-1995

The Revival

Bus patronage started to see a revival in the late 90′s spurred on primarily on buses. I’m not entirely sure what started it so perhaps some readers can fill me in. In 2003 Britomart opened which was really the turning point for the rail network, it initially saw some impact to bus patronage however both have grown and it has seen patronage climb back above 70 million trips. Incidentally the last time it was that high was the year the last of the tram lines were pulled out.

By Mode 1995-2012


So did greater availability of cars turn people off PT or were people put off PT by the removal of the tram network and pushed into using cars? I think it is a bit of both. Had the trams not been removed I suspect that patronage would still have dropped as car use became more prevalent however I doubt it would have fallen by as much as it did. Of course we can’t know for sure but I think we can say with certainty that Auckland would be quite a different city if we still had those tracks in place today.

For a total comparison, here is the total change experienced by mode since 1920.

By Mode 1920-2012 Stacked

And here you can see the impacts that at a per capita level. A rapidly increasing population has meant that despite recent gains in patronage are still not using PT anywhere as much as even a few decades ago.

Patronage vs per capita

Guest Post: 23 reasons why trams are awesome

This is a Guest Post by Geoff Houtman

In the dying days of the ARC, with the “People’s Paradise” of Wynyard Wharf about to flower it was decided that a Tram Loop would be built, with future plans to extend it to Quay St and beyond. Mission Bay? Dom Rd? Ponsonby? Unitec? Wherever the people demanded it.

The loop was built, money was sourced to extend it to Quay St, linking the Ferries, Britomart Trains and Wynyard like an “innovative” city would. Inexplicably Waterfront Auckland delayed the extension of the line, the extension that would give it real utility, and now their unelected Board want to remove the Trams so as not to offend their bosses. No, not the Residents of Auckland, not even the Council- the corporates who lease the land and want everything their way.

Here are 23 reasons we need trams/light rail and now!

1- Improved Air Quality. Reducing air pollutant emissions by 50% by 2016 is the Council’s stated goal. Diesel buses drive and wait idling all day every day, adding cancerous diesel particulates to the air from early in the morning until late at night. Electric trams not only take cars off the road more successfully than buses, they doubly reduce air pollution because they are zero emission themselves. Exhaust fumes are estimated to prematurely kill 400 Aucklanders per year.

2- Safer For Cyclists. It is physically impossible for a tram to swerve out of it’s lane and hit a cyclist. Cities with high cycle usage and high tram usage are the same cities precisely because of this reason. Riders must take care to cross the tram rails correctly but it’s not any more care needed than crossing a painted road marking or pothole. Trams are the cyclist’s best friend.

3- No Conflict with City Rail Link. Mike Lee’s desire to get “Trams now” and the Mayor’s wish to Tram Queen St up to Karangahape Rd (from 05.00) mean that trams are not a competitor for funding or patronage, more a complement to the existing plan.

4- Higher Quality Urban Results. The densest parts of Melbourne (and generally the most desirable and livable) are largely congruent with the extent of the tram network. Ribbons of lesser density extend out along the train lines. The areas served only by buses in Melbourne are low density. Causality cannot be proven but, in the case of Melbourne, trams go hand in hand with medium density and desirable areas.

5- Safer For Pedestrians. Trams calm traffic. The speed limit (even Ponsonby Rd’s 40 km/h) is being ignored constantly and is not being enforced. Trams calm traffic in a way no other vehicle can, many cities, like Melbourne, have passengers boarding from the centre of roads at pedestrian safety zones. Safer for pedestrians, safer for drivers.

6- Heritage and History. Many inner-city shopping centres formerly had tram lines along their entire length. When the trams and historic trolley poles were removed in the mid 1950′s the area lost much valuable heritage. Auckland developed along the Tram lines. Some could go as far to say that Trams built Auckland. Could they do so again?

7- Increasing Tourist Stay Days. (Western Bays Line example). Rightly so, the Council wants to increase Tourist Days spent in Auckland. A tram from Quay St though Wynyard, Victoria Park and Ponsonby Rd could connect to Great North Rd and from there to the existing tram lines in Western Springs- effectively linking 6 retail areas (CBD, Viaduct, Wynyard, Victoria Park Market, Ponsonby Rd and the Grey Lynn shops), 3 parks (Victoria, Western and Western Springs) and 4 tourist attractions (Springs Stadium, MOTAT 1, Auckland Zoo and MOTAT 2) with Britomart trains, Queens Wharf cruise liners and Ferries. Independent of destination, some cities use the Trams themselves as attractions. Melbourne even has fine dining trams!

8- Easy To Install. Many streets are wide enough and suitable for trams as they were all former tram routes. Reinstalling the rails is fairly straight forward and will have no incompatibilities with current services (buried pipes etc). In “Olde Aucklande” 27 miles of track was laid in just 14 months. These days we may not have the superior technology of the 1920′s but I’m sure we could find a way to lay 715 metres of track per week as they did 90 years ago…

9- Mass Local Support. The former Western Bays and Hobson Community Boards both supported the reintroduction of the Trams, as does the Ponsonby Business Association. A petition presented to Parliament last year was signed by nearly 1100 locals, including almost all Ponsonby Rd and K Rd businesses, asking “the House to consider whether legislation will be required to facilitate the extension of Auckland’s tram system as part of an integrated system that complements the proposed City Rail Link with the aim of reducing congestion in Auckland.”

10- Shush- quiet now. Tram technology has advanced considerably since 1902. The only downside to Trams- the noisy rails, have been taken out of the equation. The Wynyard Wharf loop makes great use of current dampening techniques. This makes trams quieter than buses and cars, although not as quiet as cycles!

11- Less Oil Imports. New Zealand’s economy will also benefit at a macro level. Domestic electricity beats Imported oil every way it can be measured. If oil prices continue to skyrocket the price of fuelling all our diesel buses will also go up, driving fares up to compensate. A tram network will help us avoid the effects of the oil spike, and public transport will have a cost-advantage over private vehicles.

12- Better Ride Quality. Trams have a smoother ride and less vibrations, due to the guided tracks, more ability for commuters to work enroute, more comfort overall. Railed vehicles are far less likely to induce motion sickness than road vehicles.

13- Permanency and Certainty. By their very nature the immovability of Trams encourages intensification along the tram corridor. The caryards on Great North Rd ridge in Grey Lynn, slated to become city fringe apartments, are a prime example of this. This has been shown on many occasions overseas (Portland, Oregon being a classic example). This can have significant economic benefits bringing more people and businesses within an easy tram ride of each other.

14- Higher Capacity than buses. Trams (both single carriage and articulated multiple units) have up to twice the capacity of buses.

15- Remove more cars. Trams have much greater appeal to the general public as they are generally more attractive than buses (cleaner, quieter, superior ride quality), and because they only follow the tram lines, there isn’t the fear that some people have with buses where they may get on the wrong one, so more people are more likely to use them than buses. Tramways are proven worldwide to attract up to 50% of their patronage from former drivers.

16- Faster Loading / Disabled Access. Newer trams with 100% flat floors, wide aisles and three or more double doors per side lead to very short “dwell times” making faster “headways” possible. Mobility is also improved for the disabled.

17- Increasing Existing Road Capacity. Following the Melbourne example of trams sharing the two lanes closest to the centre-line increases road usability without adding extra lanes. Both tracks share trolley poles, reducing the visual clutter as well as halving the cost of accessories.

18- Successful Public-Private Partnerships. Trams in Auckland were installed and run by the Auckland Tramways Company (as an aside- the bus driver’s union is still called Auckland Tramways Union). In July 1919 the Tramways were purchased by the Auckland City Council and ten years later taken over by the newly constituted Auckland Transport Board.

19- Trams Are Fun. People love Trams! Is it nostalgia? Perceived “coolness”? Exoticism? Higher desirability due to a “better” quality of ride? Greener? Nobody knows. The specific reason is ultimately not the point. People actively wanting to try Public Transport as a regular thing is the real win.

20- Names! A generation has grown up with Thomas the Tank Engine and know instinctively that all Trams (and trains) should have names. A Streetcar named Mike. Named Christine. Named Sene. Named Len. Named Bob. If we anthropomorphosise each car, people with think of them as “folks they know” rather than number 109. Kids love trams, this system is not just for us, it’s for them, and their kids.

21- Previous Council Support. The ARC under Mike Lee pushed hard for Trams, succeeding with the Wynyard Loop. The ACC had plans to investigate a 4km $16M Tram route. The ACC Transport Committee decreed that it “supports an electric tram proposal in principle and recommends to Auckland Transport that it gives consideration to the proposal as soon as practicable”. In September 2010…

22- Innovative Cities Have Trams. Auckland’s future is about being a “City Of Innovation”. Innovation is about being “ahead of the curve”. One part of being ahead of the curve is Trams. After all these cities are all doing it

23- “Trams” is a palindrome of “Smart”. ‘Nuff said.

Giants building a tram

Giants building a tram

Train, Bus, Tram, or Camel?

We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.

And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.

It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….

ROW_Alfred Twu

Above is a chart  from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].

Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].

Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.

Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.

And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.

There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!

There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.

Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.

Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.


We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand

So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.

Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.

Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.

Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].

EMU painted 3

Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.

But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?

-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe

-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this

-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.

-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.

I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.

But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.


My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.

And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.

So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.


* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.

Trams in Trouble at Wynyard

News this morning that Waterfront Auckland is looking to shut down the Wynyard Quarter tram.

The future of Auckland’s trams is on the line after a sudden decision by the council’s waterfront agency to withdraw funds needed to keep them running. The decision by Waterfront Auckland’s board over the fate of Wynyard Quarter’s two vintage trams and their 1.5km circuit – after just 18 months of operation – has come as a bolt from the blue for Mayor Len Brown and his transport committee chairman, Mike Lee. Mr Lee, who headed the former Auckland Regional Council when it set aside $8 million for the initial circuit, was last night scathing of the decision, on top of a “failure of management” by the agency in delaying plans to extend the tracks to Britomart. The decision casts grave doubt on such an extension, to which the new Auckland Council allocated a further $8.2 million.

The debate about the merits of the tram is an interesting one. If it is left as, only looping around Wynyard, then it is nothing more than an expensive gimmick and one that doesn’t serve any kind of useful transport purpose. With Wynyard also still a long way away from being a bustling hub of commercial and residential development, there is little to attract people to use it in its current state.

At the time it was being built, many people described the Wynyard loop as a beachhead, the first step in building a new tram network and that is where the real benefit of it lies. Extending the tracks to Britomart enables it to be become part of the cities transport network. With more developments, like the new ASB building, popping up in the future there are expected to be more than 10,000 people working in Wynyard Quarter. Getting the tram to Britomart will allow for many of those workers to use it to get from trains or ferries to their offices.

Of course as Stu is bound to remind us, we do already have the red City Link buses that do exactly this. I guess my response to that is that the trams are a place making activity. They are the same as how that don’t need streetscape upgrades or shared spaces to allow people to walk yet we build them due to the nicer environment they create. Longer term I think that the entire City Link bus route is an ideal candidate to be replaced by modern trams, tied in with plans to pedestrianise Queen St. This is effectively what is proposed in the City Centre Master Plan.


CCMP – Queen St Tram

Perhaps the most worrying aspects of the report this morning is the suggestion that there are issues with integrating the tram into the upgrade of Daldy St and that there are squabbles going on between Waterfront Auckland and Auckland Transport. If it is true then both issues need to be sorted out very quickly.

I can live with the tram being stopped for now on the provision that A) any upgrade to the streets around Wynyard doesn’t prevent the tram from running in the future, B) that we still commit to extending the route to Britomart soon and C) that there is a guarantee that when that that extension is completed, the trams are restarted again straight away.

Get Connected – Futures in public transport? Careers evening at UoA

Are you passionate about cities? Want to know more about public transport?

If so then you might be interested in an upcoming event being held at the University of Auckland: “Get Connected – Futures in Public Transport” (NB: The link takes you to the Facebook page for the event, where you can RSVP). On the night (19 March) you will get the opportunity to hear from the following speakers:

  • Jarrett Walker - who has 20 years experience working on public transport projects across the Asia-Pacific, especially the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. FYI Jarrett was the lead consultant on the recent re-design of Auckland’s PT network. Jarrett currently resides in Portland but – as mentioned in this earlier post - he has a soft-spot for Auckland, which he describes as:

“… New Zealand’s largest city, the focal point of an agrarian nation’s ambivalence about urban life.  If you’re a young North American who wonders what Seattle was like 40 years ago when I was a tyke — before Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks — Auckland’s your answer.   To a visitor accustomed to North American or European levels of civic vanity, it often seems that Auckland still doesn’t know how beautiful it is.  That’s always an attractive feature, in cities as in people, even though (or perhaps because) it can’t possibly last.”

  • Anthony Cross – who is employed by Auckland Transport in the enviable position of “Public Transport Network Planning Manager” (aka “PTNPM”). Anthony was raised in Auckland but spent much of his early professional career working  in Wellington. After helping the Capital’s public transport network become one of the most efficient and effective in Australasia, he was kidnapped by our oompa loompas and brought to Auckland. We managed to convince him to stay after promising him a job title that sounded important but was difficult to say.
  • Joshua Arbury – since founding the Auckland Transport Blog (I can hear the cries of gleeful appreciation resonate across Auckland) Josh has upped sticks and moved onto greener – in the money sense – transport pastures at the Auckland Council, where he now occupies the position of Principal Transport Planner. My oompa loopma spies at Council inform me Josh can speak knowledgeably and with ease on any transport and land use topic, particularly the transport sections of the Auckland Plan. And that he loves his daughters.
  • Pippa Mitchell – last but certainly not least we have Pippa. In her career Pippa has worked on a range of complex and fascinating projects, such as the roll-out of real-time information at bus stops. She has also worked on some not so interesting projects (haven’t we all!), such as bus stop re-locations. I would expect Pippa to inject some level-headed reality into the evening’s discourse, because we don’t want anyone to finish the evening having listened to Jarrett, Anthony, and Josh and come away thinking that it’s all drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll in this industry.

That’s not all. In between these distinguished and knowledgeable speakers you will also get to hear from our very own Patrick Reynolds; a man who is known for his enthusiasm, beautiful photos, and occasional words of random wisdom.

You know that if you give enough monkeys enough time banging away on a keyboard then chances are they will eventually churn out a word-for-word version of Hamlet? Well the same goes for Patrick when he’s talking about transport – eventually, and after much gnashing of teeth, he will say things that are both intelligent and witty. If for nothing else, you should come along to the evening and listen to Patrick (NB: Patrick I do love you).

Here’s the event flyer if you’re interested (kudos to Kent); please remember to RSVP through the Facebook event page for catering purposes. Important notes:

  • For those not in Auckland we will try to video the event so it can subsequently be uploaded on onto the blog; and
  • The point of the event is to get people (especially students) thinking about PT careers. It is not to debate the PT situation in Auckland.

P.P.s You will note that some of the people in the photo below are illuminated. This represents current peak hour bus mode share, i.e. a little less than half of people travelling into the city in peak periods arrive by bus.

getconnected_futuresinPT (1)-page-0






Rethinking Ponsonby Road

The following is a guest post by regular reader and tram and heritage aficionado; the always analogue Geoff Houtman.

Last February, the Western Bays Community Group was asked to come with a “Ponsonby Road Plan”. We have received hundreds of suggestions to the deliberately open questions,- “What would you like more of?”, “Less of?”, and “None of?”. This is the first in a series of posts based on the answers received.

Ponsonby Rd Lane Uses

Three options are presented below, incorporating those ideas relating to the Roadway. Firstly though, let’s look at what we currently have.



Ponsonby Rd is a little over a mile long (1724m) running basically North-South. The Roadway is generally 18-19 metres wide and divided into 6 or 7 lanes; the two outermost being parallel street parking, with two general traffic lanes each North and South bound and a central median designed to facilitate right hand turning at nearly every side street and intersection. There is no cycling priority at any point. And very scant bus privilege at the southern end plus the mostly mid block bus stops. Clearways operates to speed peak traffic on the section between Williamson and Crummer Rds. At its northern Three Lamps end Ponsonby Rd is one-way, just before it meets Jervois and Crummer Rds. Redmond St and the top of Pompallier Tce have also been one-wayed to handle all of Ponsonby road’s north bound traffic movements for this section.

Can we make it better? Here are three possibilities based on community suggestions.


Option A

Traffic cut to one lane each way, Cycleway runs beside the footpath with vehicle parking between it and the traffic lane, Light Rail or buses use dedicated centre lanes.


Option B

Footpaths are pushed out a lane on each side, bike lane, then parking and one lane general traffic each way, PT lanes removed, painted median/turning lanes retained.


Option C

Parking lanes contain spaced trees, one general traffic lane each way, Cycleway brackets PT lanes.

Do any of these choices seem like an improvement? Do you have any better ideas?

UPDATE: Thanks to all the commenters, based on your helpful advice an Option D has been created. The cycles lanes are now buffered from moving traffic by footpaths and combined parking/ tree lanes. A bus has been added in the PT lanes to indicate their continued viability until the next oil price rise and the possible return of light rail/ trams. On a technical note the parking lanes are now only 2m wide instead of the previous 2.5.



Option D

The importance of speed!

There’s a lot I agree with in Stu’s post yesterday about being careful how we look to grow the public transport market and focusing on low-hanging fruit before trying to convince rich people to give up the BMW’s by building super-expensive light-rail lines everywhere. However, there’s an interesting area where I’m not sure I do agree with Stu – and that is in relation to what emphasis we should place on making public transport faster. Here’s what Stu says:

Before wrapping this up, I think it’s also worth mentioning that some aspects of this discussion are related to an earlier post on generational differences. That is, because most of our transport decision makers (including myself) fall into the 19-65 age-group there is a natural tendency for us to propose solutions that address our needs, rather than the needs of our users. This can result, for example, in a undue focus on high-speed services. For their part, PT users seem to not value speed – or more accurately “travel-time” – as much as other attributes, such as frequency, reliability, simplicity, and affordability.

There are some really important discussions and debates which fall out of this issue and come down to the fundamental reasons why people choose either one mode of transport or another. Should we focus on improving speed of service if it comes at the cost of reduced convenience of stops (such as spacing bus stops further apart)? How important are fast services compared to simplicity – like the debate over whether there should be express bus services or not? How important is increasing speed, if it comes at quite a high cost and therefore might require an increase in fares to reflect that investment (or an increase in rates or petrol taxes or foregone investment elsewhere)?

Stu’s arguments are very similar to those made by Jarrett Walker in the book Human Transit.In Human Transit Jarrett critiques much of the focus on speed on the ground that it’s generally people who mainly drive (and therefore understand the concept of improving speed) thinking that public transport works exactly the same way. Of course public transport is more complex in the sense that other issues like reliability and frequency matter a lot as well. Along with other, more difficult to quantify matters such as simplicity and ease of understanding of a PT network, quality of waiting facilities and so forth.

Perhaps what’s really key here is to focus on improving public transport speed as actually meaning improving the time it takes to get from your door to where you’re going, including wait times, including transfer times, including how long it takes you to walk to the stop and so on. In this sense, the actual speed your vehicle goes is going to have a fairly tiny influence on the speed of your entire trip (i.e. how long it takes to get from A to B). What’s going to matter a lot more are things like:

  • How frequently does the service come? (i.e. if I turn up randomly how long am I likely to have to wait)
  • How long does it take for people to board the service? (this matters a lot for buses when they’re stopping to pick up passengers all the time)
  • Does the service get stuck in traffic congestion or does it have a dedicated lane?
  • Does the service have to wait at traffic lights all the time or is there a clever pre-emptive phasing system?
  • Does the service take a straight line from A to B or does it go all over the place down every back street imaginable?

At risk of falling into the trap that Stu outlines above, it is the excruciatingly long time that public transport takes for most non-commuting trips which puts me off using it for pretty much anything other than getting to work. Even for getting to work, catching the bus is far slower than driving would be (probably at least twice the time), but as I don’t want to shell out for parking each day I catch the bus.

By contrast, in cities where public transport seems to be used for a wide variety of trips every little piece of the system seems dedicated to making your trip time as short as possible. Frequencies are high, dedicated infrastructure is provided to separate the service from congestion (whether that be bus lanes or rail infrastructure), routes are straight, traffic lights turn green when the bus/tram approach them and – yes – the services are fast. In a successful PT system the weighting given to all these competing factors (frequency vs speed, simplicity vs speed etc.) varies by the area being looked at. In inner suburbs frequency and simplicity are perhaps more important than sheer physical speed because a greater proportion of the trip is likely to be waiting for the bus/train to turn up. For longer trips speed becomes more important because you’re on the service for much longer.

I’m guessing that perhaps Stu’s position is not as different to mine as you might think – because it comes down to defining what is actually meant by “speed”. In my mind we do need to make public transport a lot faster. However the most important ways to do that in the vast majority of cases won’t be through making the vehicles travel quicker when they’re at top speed – instead it’ll be things like better frequencies, straighter bus routes, faster boarding times and the most important of all…