From our now exiled oh.yes.melbourne Photographers and Urbanistas comes this Melbourne tram clearly posing as a brightly coloured caterpillar:
An idea that crops up quite often is whether we can get rid of all the buses in the city centre. This idea is normally backed up with the suggestion that buses are dirty, smelly, noise loathesome things that have no place in a civilised city.
Now right up front I don’t agree with that suggestion. Modern buses are actually pretty clean and quiet, especially new hybrid and battery electric models. If we design our bus routes and infrastructure properly they can be very low impact and contribute nicely to the urban environment, but where we treat them like poor cousins or try and “paint the bus routes on afterwards” they can be horrendous.
But let’s ignore that reality for now and run with the premise: what would it take to get rid of buses from the city centre. I can see four general options:
Having only light rail on the streets is an appealing idea, people seem very fond of trams and the idea of an extensive tram network has little push back from architects and urban designers who are concerned with the look, feel and experience of the city. It’s hard to argue that trams aren’t nice to ride on, or that they don’t look cool. If done properly it would mean dedicated lanes for every transit route reaching the city, nice station style stops and permanent and legible ‘proper transit’ for a proper big city.
Light rail on street would have a few unique advantages too. One is that the corridors can be quite narrow given that the vehicles are stuck to their rails. The trams they use in Adelaide and Madrid, for example, are only 2.4m wide. This means a double tramway can fit in only 5m of road width, between stops at least. That could be very useful for our fairly narrow arterial roads, streets like Dominion Rd or Mt Eden Rd which are only 20m wide in total and where even basic bus lanes are difficult. Putting narrow trams in the middle might buy us enough space for cycle lanes, or a row of parking.
So if we put aside the fact you can actually do much the same with buses, if you give them the same level of investment and attention, why wouldn’t we want this?
Well the simple answer is that it would cost a lot of money, money that might be better spent improving frequencies and adding new services rather than changing the existing ones from rubber tyres to steel wheels. So the question is how much would it actually cost, so let’s see. To work out this cost, I have taken the bus network published in the Regional Public Transport Plan and identified all of the routes that end in or pass through the city centre. I then grouped those together into bunches that run on the same corridor in town, giving six groups:
One thing to note here, I tried to be conservative with the track and make stuff as small as possible. To that end I’ve not replace some of the smaller bus routes that enter the city at all, I guess the idea is they would terminate at somewhere like Newmarket, Ponsonby or Parnell and people would have to swap to the trams. This might not be the best way to run things for the network, but it seems to be a simple way to do it.
Adding these corridors up, we arrive at the following figures for the total track required (the total route length is longer because the routes share tracks near the City Centre).
For the city routes I’ve applied a cost of $12m per kilometre for track, power and roadway reconstruction. That’s a mid range estimate taken from review of recent light rail projects in Australia. I’ve also allowed for one pair of platform style stops for every 500m of track, costed at $500k each. On the Northern and Northwestern routes I’ve allowed for the addition of tracks to busway and motorway shoulders, and in the case of the Northwestern, some new stations at $10m each. This does assume that we can simply run light rail tracks on the busway, motorway shoulders and over the general lanes of the harbour bridge, probably in mixed traffic. Again that might not be the best way to do it, but it’s the cheapest. In addition, we’d need a maintenance depot and some stabling yards, total of $100m allowed there.
Finally, I worked out what would be required for a peak frequency of one tram every five minutes on each street level route (giving better frequency where they overlap), while I allowed for one every three minutes on the Northern and Northwestern corridors. Overall that requires 94 light rail vehicles, each costed at $5m.
All together that adds up to 152 route-kilometres operating on 119.7 kilometres of double track electrified tramway, with 119 stations served by 94 vehicles running every five minutes at peak times. That would leave Auckland in a sort of Melbourne like position. Heavy rail for the main trunk routes from most of the region, light rail filling in some other radial corridors, the inner suburbs covered in street level tram lines and buses relegated to feeder and crosstown routes well away from the City Centre.
So, what is the magic number to get rid of buses by building a light rail network covering all routes entering the City Centre? Add it all up and we get an estimate of $2.36 billion dollars (I actually think that is a bit light, not for the street level stuff but I fear the Northern and Northwestern motorway based ones could in practice get very expensive indeed).
The question is, is it worth it? Could we do better with that money?
Well at a service level it’s really no better than what we will have with the New Network buses, at least in terms of frequency and accessibility. Spending that money would buy us a lot of reliability, assuming that the tram tracks would be closed to traffic for the most part and the trams could run without interference at any time of day. However we could do the same with an aggressive programme of bus lanes for a lot cheaper. Likewise with the new station style stops, the corresponding street upgrades, the modern cool looking and comfortable vehicles. We’d get all that, but the question remains could we not do the same with our bus stops and save a whole lot of money in the process. Another point is this would deliver a multi-billion dollar transit boost to the isthmus and the North Shore… which are, excluding the CBD and parts of Glen Innes, precisely those areas that see the least allowance for development in the Unitary Plan.
I’d love it if some minister turned up with two and half billion for such a project, and I do believe Auckland would be an amazing place if this were done. But is it really something to aim for, or can we do better with our money?
Curiously the cost of an isthmus tram network is about the same as the CRL, so should we do that instead? I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, the CRL would need to come first, or at least at the same time, before we look at anything like this. I can see two reasons for that stance.
Firstly a light rail system wouldn’t actually add that much capacity, because it is simply replacing the buses we already have. There would probably be some boost to speed, capacity and reliability, but not that much if it is a case of just changing vehicles and guideway on the same corridors. By most estimates the CRL gives us the ability to run about 48 trains an hour in total, or an extra 28 over current capacity. Twenty-eight full size EMUs is equivalent to about eighty-four light rail trams an hour, or 420 buses!… and that’s new capacity.
The second point is that the CRL really supercharges the regional rail network, which focuses on the suburbs outside the isthmus more than anything. As noted above it’s the rail served suburbs of the west and south that really have the potential to grow under the unitary plan, not the isthmus, so we should build the transport they need first.
Let us know what you think, I hope to see lots of juicy debate on this one!
A final decision on the future Wellington’s PT Spine has finally been made and it’s one that might upset a few people.
The Spine Study had looked at a number of different options for improving PT in Wellington from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network through the CBD and beyond. The options were narrowed down to three:
One of the big problems with the spine study is it made some odd assumptions like that light rail would require its own dedicated new tunnel under Mt Victoria while BRT wouldn’t, instead using a second Mt Victoria tunnel the NZTA plan to build as part of the RoNS work.
However even putting that aside I do feel that the BRT option is probably the right one. One of the reasons for that is that the BRT option wouldn’t just benefit the dedicated buses that might run on routes above but that other buses from the wider area would also benefit. This is as what we currently see in Auckland on the Northern Busway where the Northern Express services only run on the busway route however a large number of other bus routes like the popular 881 use the busway for part of their journey. This appears to have been a key factor in the decision.
There are a couple of key comments in here that are worth expanding on. As Fran Wilde notes the differences between buses and light rail are getting smaller and smaller and that is likely to continue. Wellington already has some trolley buses however with other electric bus options being developed it doesn’t have to mean that BRT is any worse environmentally than light rail. Even more traditional looking diesel buses don’t seem to have been a problem in attracting passengers for Northern Busway services.
The other key comment is from Celia Wade-Brown where she says that Wellington won’t have the highest quality fully separated BRT. The reality is that any light rail system would suffer exactly the same constraints as the bus option. Even so I’m sure they will be able to significantly improve bus priority along the route. This is also recognised in the spine study in that the estimated travel times for both BRT and LRT come out almost identical.
In addition to all of this another advantage of the BRT option is simply that it can be built over time and in doing so each section can provide immediate benefits to existing services. Under a light rail scheme it isn’t until an entire route is really in place that the infrastructure becomes usable. That staging ability combined with the fact that buses from outside of the immediate area of the spine can also benefit from the infrastructure then I think it becomes quite clear that the BRT option was the better one.
But all of this doesn’t mean that light rail couldn’t happen at some point in the future, in fact most of the works needed to secure the right of way to implement a BRT system would also apply to a LRT system so that work would already have been done and it would just come down to the cost of laying tracks. BRT could be seen as means of building patronage numbers faster than possible otherwise which might help better justify light rail in the future. For those pushing for light rail it could be a case where sometimes the best way to achieve your goal is not always to go straight to the final solution.
Now that a final decision has been made hopefully those supporting PT in Wellington will focus on pushing to get the BRT infrastructure needed in place as soon as possible.
As Auckland develops I find it’s always useful to compare how Auckland performs in relation to other similar cities around the world. It allows us to see what they do well and what they don’t and use that information to guide us in making our city better. There are two cities we frequently use as examples Vancouver and Perth. Both cities are larger than Auckland – 2.4 million and 1.9 million respectively – on average have less population density (not that I particularly like that measure) and have similar levels of CBD employment as Auckland. Both cities have also invested quite a bit in public transport over the last 30 or so years. Vancouver has built their Skytrain system after having no rail network at all while Perth started out with a diesel network carrying about the same number of passengers our network currently does, it has electrified and expanded the system considerably and patronage has grown. They even managed to find a city to sell their old trains to (us).
But with this post I want to suggest a new city we should be adding to the comparison list – Calgary.
So why Calgary? Well first of all unlike the two cities already mentioned which have larger populations than Auckland- and therefore are useful to compare where Auckland might be in 20-30 years’ time, Calgary’s population is slightly smaller at about 1.15 million. Yet over the last 30 years the two cities have shown remarkably similar growth with Auckland’s population having increased by 81% while Calgary’s increased by 85%.
Like the other cities mentioned, on average Calgary is also less dense than Auckland and being on a river plain there is little geographically to stop development from spreading in all directions. It does seem to have a slightly higher share of its population work in the CBD but the numbers are on par Auckland if you included the fringe areas like Newmarket, the Hospital etc. Further if you look at the CBD from satellite maps you can see massive amounts of car parking on otherwise empty sites all around the city. So by most measures you would expect that Calgary would perhaps perform fairly similarly to Auckland when it comes to public transport – and by similar I mean poorly. But it doesn’t as you can see from the graph below (note the big dip in 2001 was due to an almost two month strike).
When you combine the population and PT boarding’s you can see that the key difference between the two cities is that Calgary managed to slightly increase its per capita PT boarding’s while in Auckland the number more than halved in the 10 years from 1984 to 1994.
What was different between the two cities that meant Calgary was able to keep its PT system performing and improving while in Auckland things went through the floor? I’m sure there are quite a range of reasons however one of the most obvious has been the effort that has been put into developing a rapid transit network for the city. Starting in 1981 the city built its first light rail line and have expanded it quite a bit since then. But this isn’t just an old school street running tram system, like the one that used to exist in Auckland but a rail network that runs on exclusive right of ways through much of the urban area with occasional level crossings. In many parts it runs in the median or to the side of motorways, much like the Northern Express. The only place that the system runs in the street other than a level crossing is through the CBD where the route is only shared with buses and emergency vehicles. The Calgary Transit site has a useful history of the system showing how it has been frequently been extended.
The map below shows the reach of the system with each colour representing one of the extensions above, the most recent of which was less than a year ago.
Calgary Transit doesn’t break down the patronage by mode but some figures they do release suggest that the LRT system accounts for 50-60% of all PT trips. The LRT network is also supported by a bus network that has a similar design to what Auckland Transport is about to roll out with buses that connect into stations and allow transfers rather than try to be everything to everyone.
But it hasn’t just been a case of extending the LRT network as Calgary has also focused a on a number of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs). The one in the image below is a place called Saddletowne, a greenfield site at the end of the North East line. The satellite images cut off half way the centre through however you can quite clearly see the beginnings of a town centre (looks like a strip-mall though) next to the station. Houses radiate out from it. The LRT line was extended to the town centre just over a year ago and a recent study suggests that over 8,700 begin or end at the station every day with 63% of people getting to the station by walking. To put it in perspective, that is busier than Newmarket. What’s more you can quite clearly see that the city has planned for potential future expansion by leaving a corridor of development heading north for the next sprawl suburb.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Calgary is how they are planning for future PT expansion. They have just completed a 30 year plan called Route Ahead which looked at exactly how they will expand and improve the PT system. But this wasn’t just planners deciding how they will develop the system but they involved the public all the way along, including what corridors and modes would be used. Most of the plan is fairly typical including stuff about how people will access the system, what the customer experience will be etc. As part of the process they have created and published a future RTN map showing how they intend to connect the rest of the city up with a comprehensive system of LRT, BRT and Transitway (Bus Lanes).
Now this on its own isn’t unique and many cities have these types of plans however the thing that interested me the most was that the city is planning to fast track a large proportion of the network over the next 10 years. That plan also includes starting to build the patronage on what will be the third pair of LRT lines but starting off initially with a cheaper BRT solution. The future RTN and the 10 year fast tracked system is below.
Why this is so interesting is that it is a similar approach we have suggested that needs to be taken in Auckland with the Congestion Free Network. We have shown a vision for how we could develop a high quality RTN network that covers much of the city that is a fraction of the price of the massive roading spend up planned and have said that we should fast track it to really reap the benefits. By doing so we could quickly get a much greater balance in out transport system giving Aucklanders some real choice in how they get around.
The development of places like Saddletowne – while not perfect – also provide an example of what we should be doing with the greenfield Special Housing Areas recently announced. If we have to sprawl then we should at least be trying to do a much better job of it than we have in the past by designing them right from the start to be easy to serve with public transport.
The one thing that is clear from the example of Calgary is that the on-going development of an RTN quality service has been absolutely critical in the performance of their PT network and making it attractive to use by a large number of people. Auckland didn’t really start developing its RTN until 2003 with Britomart, over 20 years later. Further, to get to where they are now (and what they are doing in the future) they have put effort into creating an easily understood vision and getting the public on-board. I firmly believe that if AT/the council were to present a comprehensive vision for PT in Auckland like we have done with the Congestion Free Network then many of the conversations and arguments we as a city would be having would be quite different. They would largely turn away from bickering about individual projects to discussions about how we get if built sooner.
This is a Guest Post by Generation Zero Wellington member Paul Young
Following an 18-month process, the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study was finally released in June and picked bus rapid transit (BRT) in favour of light rail as the best option for a new high-quality public transport system in Wellington city. Greater Wellington Regional Council is currently taking submissions on where to next, closing tomorrow. On one hand it’s positive that things are progressing.
However, the results and many assumptions of the study are highly dubious and have raised the eyebrows of many in the transport world. World-renowned transport academic Professor Peter Newman (also a board member of Infrastructure Australia) weighed in on it while in Wellington recently, saying the study “doesn’t do justice to light rail”.
Generation Zero has put together a quick submission form for people to easily have their say along the lines of our views, as explained in this handy little graphic.
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with BRT, and we aren’t blind light rail evangelists – in fact following the release of the study I was pretty convinced BRT was the way to go. But having read up and considered the evidence we believe it’s a short-sighted and problematic choice for Wellington. Light rail is a future-proofed option that we believe would deliver more benefits.
Here are some key points from my perspective about the study and the two options.
Cost and route
The study gave an extremely high cost for light rail ($940 million) because it chose a split route which involved building a whole new tunnel through Mount Victoria. Meanwhile the BRT option got a free tunnel by sharing the second Mount Vic car tunnel proposed to be built following the Basin Flyover. Doing this, by the way, would no doubt cause problems and delays by buses getting caught up in traffic congestion.
We believe cheaper options that avoid the need for a tunnel are feasible. In particular, a single line from the Railway Station to Newtown and then to Kilbirnie over Constable St and Crawford Rd was unduly dismissed in the study. The original reason cited in the study was just that it was “too slow”, but this later evolved into “you’d have to demolish a row of houses”. A quick play on Streetmix suggests otherwise, so long as we could find a way to remove the on-street parking.
Based on a similar cost per kilometre used in the spine study (~$56 million/km), this route would cost less than $400 million (compared with the study’s $207 million for the BRT option).
This route also doesn’t depend on building big new roading projects first, and avoids destruction of town belt land to widen Ruahine St. It would mean adjustments such as loss of parking on Constable St and slightly slower travel times to the CBD for Kilbirnie passengers, but benefits would include higher frequency service for Kilbirnie and Newtown residents and hence shorter waiting times.
In narrow corridors typical of Wellington, light rail has a much higher maximum capacity than BRT – approximately 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction, compared with just 3,000 for BRT. This is primarily because of smaller vehicle capacity (Wellington could handle buses for about 100 people, but trams for up to 300) and restrictions on how many vehicles can use the corridor per hour in order to give them full priority at intersections and maintain reliable service.
The study actually found that for the proposed BRT route, service from Kilbirnie through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnel was at capacity from day one – let alone with any patronage growth. Information about service in the Golden Mile is unclear in the report but it seems BRT may be overloaded from the beginning here too. 
What is certain is that BRT doesn’t allow for significant future growth in ridership without compromising the service reliability and quality. Why invest hundreds of millions in a short-term option that will struggle from the beginning?
The modelling done in the study made no consideration for the higher ridership appeal of light rail over bus rapid transit, when there is strong international evidence demonstrating this.
A recent meta-study by Peter Newman and colleagues  shows rail outperforming bus in attracting trips from 1995-2005 throughout Australia, the US, Canada, Europe, Singapore and Hong Kong. Another meta-analysis for North American cities found that from 1996-2003 public transport trips increased by an average of 16% in cities that built light rail versus just 1.7% in cities that built bus rapid transit.  For a range of reasons, people tend to find light rail more appealing.
The study concluded that light rail would only attract as many extra PT riders as an enhanced bus service – overall growth of just 1% by 2040 – and that bus rapid transit would attract a lot more riders. This is way out of line with international experience and warrants strong scrutiny. The low predicted patronage growth in general needs to be questioned in light of NZ evidence shown on this blog of annual growth on the order of 16-20% following the opening of Britomart and the Northern Busway, vastly exceeding projections.
Transfers and the wider network
The main reason given for light rail coming out so bad compared with BRT is transfers. The study says light rail requires a lot more of them because – in theory – the BRT buses can continue out the ends of the corridor.
The modelling used a “transfer penalty” of 5.5 minutes – which is added to the actual expected waiting time – to capture the “inconvenience of transferring and boarding another service”.  Apparently this is actually a lower value than often used overseas. But again, the results are strongly at odds with observed outcomes in New Zealand and overseas and need to be questioned. Another point to note is that feeder bus services were not optimised.
It seems questionable whether BRT buses will really be able to continue outside the main corridor – at least without considerable adjustments and cost. Remember these will be big, articulated “bendy buses” (I suspect double-deckers may be a hazard on the infamous windy days!). Will Wellington’s tight streets really be able to handle these big buses as is, and will local residents tolerate it? It appears the study assumed no extra infrastructure cost outside the main spine route(s) despite the suggestion that “BRT” buses will be doing this:
Note that the dedicated corridor only operates between the black dots.
Perhaps the bigger question this raises is about reliability. If you have a light rail or BRT system operating entirely in a dedicated corridor with priority at intersections, the service can be very reliable and maintain regular frequency. If BRT buses are venturing out of the corridor they are bound to get delayed in traffic causing variable trip times. This was not considered in the study.
And while we’re on the topic of buses mixing with traffic, will the BRT really have dedicated right of way through the proposed second Mount Victoria tunnels? If not, will the supposed 3 minute time saving of the split route to Kilbirnie simply be eaten up by buses getting stuck in car traffic?
The spine study suggests approximately equal overall land value uplift from light rail or BRT of about $240 million, but again this seems at odds with international evidence that light rail offers larger and more reliable increases in property value.
Calculations by Tom Pettit as part of his postgrad research on the PT spine gave an expected land value uplift for light rail of $2.5 billion based on an an international review of over 50 installations across the world – an order of magnitude higher than the study’s estimate. He also estimated the increase in rates and fare recovery over 30 years would be $712 million, nearly paying the capital cost back twice. 
So that’s some of the key points, leaving aside some of the more intangible things around benefits to the urban environment, benefits of electricity as a fuel source, and so forth.
I guess a good note to end on might be to return to another nugget from Peter Newman, reported by Tom Pettit: There are 170 cities around the world with less than 150,000 residents that have light rail that is working. Why can’t Wellington?
We encourage readers to make a submission by Monday either using our form or the one on the GWRC site.
 Wood, K. (2013). Submission on Wellington Public Transport Spine Study. See “BRT capacity” section, p15.
 Newman, P. et al. (2013). Peak Car Use and the Rise of Global Rail: Why this is happening and what it means for large and small cities, Journal of Transportation Technologies, Vol. 3, No.4.
 Henry, L. & Litman, T. (2011). Evaluating New Start Transit Program Performance: Comparing Rail And Bus. Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
 GWRC, PTSS Short List Evaluation – Modelling Report. See pp79-80.
 Pettit, T. (2013). Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail? Presentation at Exploring the Spine Study event, 23 September.
This is a cross post from Generation Zero whose Wellington team were perhaps felling a little left out our Congestion Free Network
By now you will hopefully have heard about the alternative transport vision for Auckland we’re pushing alongside the Auckland Transport Blog team; the Congestion Free Network. Quite a few people have asked, “when are you gonna do one for Wellington?”. Well guys, with the local government elections looming, the time has come.
Before I write any more words, allow me to drop the map.
It might sound clichéd, but Wellington is really at a transport crossroads. It’s on the cusp of a massive motorway expansion all the way from Levin to Wellington Airport, in the form of the Wellington Northern Corridor – one of the Government’s fabled “Roads of National Significance” (RoNS). The ramifications for the climate, our economy, and the special character of the “coolest little capital in the world” are pretty huge.
You might have heard John Key a few months ago announce that “Wellington is dying and we don’t know how to turn it around”. Apparently, the best answer is to spend well over $3 billion on some big new roads and tunnels through the heart of the city and region, to widen those state highway arteries. Surely this will get the blood pumping again!
The thing with a major roading operation like this, though, is it can have serious side-effects. In this case: “choking”, on all the extra cars it will bring into the city.
There is some alternative therapy being offered in the form of the Public Transport Spine Study. This was supposed to tell us the best option for a high quality public transport solution along the city’s “growth spine” (Johnsonville – CBD – Newtown – Kilbirnie), particularly addressing the major bus congestion in the CBD that makes the current service slow and unreliable.
But, unfortunately, the Spine Study has problems of its own. It seems to have made an unfair and simply incorrect assessment of the light rail option, rendering the cost huge ($904m) and the benefits low (we’ll have a lot more to say about that). Even in the study’s best case option, Bus Rapid Transit, it projects the number of public transport trips in 2030 will only just claw back the lost ground as a result of the motorway building binge. And now the official line is that we can’t deliver this for at least nine years – five years after the International Energy Agency says global emissions should peak to be on a path to keep warming below 2°C.
We think Wellington deserves better. We see more and more cities around the world forging ahead fast with smart transport systems that help free us from dependence on oil and cars. These cities will be the ones prospering in the 21st century.
Wellington can’t afford a lapse back into the past – it’s time for a fresh, forward-looking transport vision. That’s why we’ve worked with some independent experts to develop…
It’s a holistic plan that we think builds on Wellington’s strengths to deliver better transport, a better economy and a better city. And it would cost much less than the planned motorway spend.
Over the coming weeks we’ll unveil and discuss more about Fast Forward Wellington. For now, I’ll just say a bit about the main components, shown in the map above.
1. A high quality “congestion free” public transport network
This means giving people the choice of reliable, high frequency PT services physically separated from traffic congestion, just like we’re pushing for in Auckland.
The first step would be building light rail on our alternative spine route from the Railway Station to Newtown then on to Kilbirnie over Constable St. We project this would cost less than $400 million and could be completed by 2020 by moving fast. Over future years the network can then be extended outwards – to the airport, Miramar, Island Bay and Karori. In the meantime these lines could be bus-only lanes connecting to the rail spine for transfers and some through services. Some routes like Brooklyn would probably remain as peak-hour bus only lanes.
2. A comprehensive Copenhagen-style cycleway network
This means giving people the choice of a safe and pleasant trip by bike with protected bike-only corridors.
Our proposed network would see about 150 km of segregated cycleways built throughout Wellington, Porirua and the Hutt Cities. This would be in conjunction with more on-road cycleways and traffic-calming measures to make the streets safer. With adequate funding of around $20 per resident each year, matched by central government, this could all be completed within a decade.
3. A city- or region-wide car share system
This means giving people an option of not owning a car but still having the service available for those occasions when they need one.
How does car sharing work? People pay a subscription plus a per-use fee, and can rent a car for minutes, hours or days at a time with little notice required. Systems are in operation in many cities around the world withZipcar. A company called CityHop has a small network in Auckland plus a couple of cars in Wellington and Christchurch.
Our proposal would see upwards of 200 vehicles rolled out across greater Wellington, making it a world-leader in car sharing. And for a cherry on top, how about making half of these full electric vehicles, with the rest plug-in hybrids or other high fuel efficiency vehicles?
There are some other components to the vision too. You might have also noticed on the map some new pedestrian zones or low-speed “shared spaces” on Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place and in the Newtown and Kilbirnie shopping areas.
And of course, there’s one pretty big point – Wellington doesn’t stop at the Railway Station. In fact about half of the Greater Wellington population live north of it. So, what could be done for those people?
We’re lucky to have some really good rail infrastructure to the north already, but there are a range of ways we can make it better – further electrification and double-tracking, building new stations, more cycle lockers and park & ride facilities, and much more.
And here’s one vital aspect: by building light rail in Wellington City and physically integrating this with the Railway Station, we unlock the potential for tram-train services from the north running through the CBD – rather than terminating at the edge. That means if you live in Johnsonville and work at the hospital, say, you could get there in one continuous train trip. A full public transport spine for Wellington, rather than a broken one.
In addition to this the cycleway network and car-share system would extend out, and we’d have separated bus lanes for Porirua (all day) and Wainuiomata (peak-hour only) connecting to the rail network.
So that’s the overview, and that’s probably more than enough for one post. We’ll have more coming over the days and weeks ahead as we work to push this vision onto the table in Wellington’s local elections, as well as putting out a quick submission form for Public Transport Spine Study consultation closing on September 30th.
Stay tuned, and we’d love to hear your feedback and ideas on the Fast Forward Wellington vision.
A little video from the US showing that even in what is considered the most conservative state in the US, when you present a real vision for Public Transport that people will vote for it and even agree to higher taxes to enable it to happen sooner (not that we are suggesting that with the Congestion Free Network).
Here is a bit more background to what is happening in Salt Lake City.
I really like this line
There are perhaps some lessons both Auckland Transport and Auckland council could learn from the experience in Salt Lake City.
Yesterday we showed you our vision for the Congestion Free Network – and wow what an excellent response – so today I’m going to talk about the boring stuff like how much it will cost. Before I get into that though, one of our goals in designing the congestion free network has been to keep spending at the same level, or less, than is currently planned. The level of spending has been based off what is contained within the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP) which was also used to inform the debate around alternative funding.
The ITP doesn’t give specific dates for projects but does break down spending by decade. Over the 30 year period of the programme it is expected the city will spend approximately $34 billion on new or improved transport infrastructure, this is broken down as follows:
I have then broken down the funding to match each of the time frames we propose for building the Congestion Free Network, this gives us:
Many of you will also have seen the table below before however I have added some colours to it to show the decade that each of the major projects falls into.
So with the information above as well as a few other studies we can start to put together a picture of how much our Congestion Free Network might cost. Like with the maps yesterday, I’m going to break down the spending by into the groups of 2020, 2025 and 2030.
City Rail Link – The ITP lists this as $2.6 billion but we also know that the figure includes other items such as more electric trains – something also included in EMU line item. The most recent cost figures we have seen suggest that the actual cost is more like $2.2 billion including the extras and even that is likely to come down further, especially after the announcement earlier this week. For this we are going to use the figure of $2.2 billion.
Electrification to Pukekohe – Another project that seems to be over estimated in the ITP (there are quite a few of them). The recent business case suggests that this project will cost $102 million.
Mt Roskill Branch – This one is hard for us to say for certain as it isn’t on any plans and as far as we’re aware, not study has yet been done. The project does have a number of things in its favour however. The primary one is that the corridor is already designated and Kiwirail already own much of the land. Further as part of the motorway works in recent years the NZTA has already built many of the bridges with spans ready for the rail line to be placed under them. Perhaps the best example for us to use for estimating the cost is the new spur to Manukau. That was in a similar position as much of the work was done along with the associated motorway construction. It ended up costing approximately $50 million to do around 1.5km of track and a station in a trench. A spur from Avondale to Dominion Rd would be approximately 3.6km in length but wouldn’t need a trenched station. Accounting also for grade separation of New North Rd, we think that a total cost of ~$150 million would be about right.
Electric trains – The ITP lists the cost of trains and the depot at $980 million. We know that the current batch of trains is costing us around $540 million while the depot is another $100 million. The difference between these two figures and the $980 million quoted in the ITP would allow for around 37 more trains which is enough to run additional services needed for the CRL and proposed extensions so we will leave the cost as it is.
Northern Busway Extensions – This comes in two parts. At the Northern end we are proposing the busway be extended to Albany. A recent OIA request by one of our readers put the cost of that at $250 million (we will have a post on this in the next few days). At the city end there is definitely a need to improve bus access through the CBD and the ITP lists another $250 million for this.
North-Western Busway – Fairly extensive bus lanes already exist between the city and Waterview so little would be needed in this area. Between Waterview and Te Atatu much improved bus lanes are being added to SH16 as part of the motorway upgrade already underway. Between Te Atatu and Westgate we are suggesting a proper busway – like what exists on the North Shore. The ITP lists a busway from Constellation to Westgate to Waterview at $450 million. Like the Northern Busway extension, we will use a figure of $250 million for section from Te Atatu to Westgate
Upper Harbour Busway – As per above, the ITP lists a busway from Constellation to Westgate to Waterview at $450 million while we have estimated the Te Atatu to Westgate section at $250 million. That leaves us with the Westgate to Constellation section costing $200 million. Note this is most likely to be bus lanes, not a busway like on the shore.
AMETI/South Eastern Busway - This is a massive road and public transport project. All up it is expected to cost about $2.6 billion of which the busway from Panmure to Botany is estimated at $650 million. The section from Botany to Manukau, which would run down the massive available road reserve on Ti Irirangi Dr is estimated at just over $20 million. We have doubled that figure to give a total for this section of $700 million.
There are a number of roading projects that are needed to support some parts of this network, particularly AMETI and the works on the Western Ring Route.
Airport Rail from North – We feel that for the timeframe we have set only one rail connection to the airport will be possible and actually warranted. Of the two a connection from the north provides much greater due to it also passing by Mangere Bridge, Mangere as well as the employment areas to the north of the Airport. Interestingly the ITP lists it as the cheapest however we suspect the cost doesn’t include another crossing of the Manukau harbour. For that reason we are going to budget $700 million for this connection.
Manukau to Airport Bus from East – As per above, we feel that at this stage we feel that extending the bus route from the East down to the airport would provide the best option. The route from Manukau to the Airport is primarily along SH20B and the ITP suggests that widening that to four lanes would cost $235 million. We will use that as the basis for our bus connection.
Pakuranga to Howick – Much of the rest of this route will have been given priority in earlier stages however the section from Pakuranga to Howick will need priority. This is one of the hardest projects for us to put a cost on as it hasn’t been referenced in other plans or documents. To try and be conservative we will budget $150 million for this section.
North-Western extension to Kumeu – The ITP suggests it will cost $150 million widen SH16 to four lanes all the way from Brigham Creek to Waimauku. We have used this figure for the bus extension
Northern Busway extension to Silverdale – The figure for this project also comes from the report on the Northern Busway extensions mentioned in earlier. This suggests that the section will cost another $300 million.
Improved Ferries – The ferry routes will need additional investment in wharf infrastructure, we have budgeted $30 million for this. The boats themselves would be paid for through the service contracts with the operators in the same way we do for buses today.
Rail CBD to Albany – This would involve a rail only tunnel to the North Shore, conversion of the Northern Busway to rail as well as a spur to Takapuna. The most recent business case for an additional harbour crossing suggested a rail tunnel on its own would cost $1.6 billion however a report last year to the council suggested that rail to Albany from the city centre could be done for $2.5 billion. We have added the spur to Takapuna and want to be a bit safe so are using a figure of $3 billion for the whole thing.
Queen St/Dominion Rd Light Rail – Dominion Rd is one of our busiest bus corridors and so upgrading it for both capacity and place making reasons is likely to be necessary. The route from Britomart to Mt Roskill – where this would terminate – is approximately 8km and being a former tram route, would be very easy to install light rail on. We note that the 1.5km loop around the Wynyard Quarter cost about $8m to install which suggests a cost track km of just over $5 million. That means double tracked light rail from Britomart to Mt Roskill would be approximately $90m. Add in the cost of the vehicles themselves and maintenance and we are looking at a total of approx $140 million.
So where does this leave us? In total we expect that this plan could be built for less than $10 billion and that money would be spread over 17 years. That may sound expensive but is surprisingly cheap when you consider that another road based harbour crossing alone is expected to cost $5 billion.
By comparison, over the same time period as our plan we are currently expecting to spend over $24 billion on transport capital expenditure. The network we have shown in the Congestion Free Network represents just over 40% of the total predicted spending and does so by simply re-prioritising the current projects on the list. That means that some will happen later or some not at all. What is also worth mentioning is that the bill for the list of projects that the government announced support for last week totalled $12 billion.
While some of the projects announced include parts of what we are suggesting, many are further motorway upgrades that will just shift the problem further down the road. But the motorways are only part of the problem, a massive spend up on local roads is also being suggested. Projects like the Mill Rd corridor are hundreds of millions of dollars while the ITP lists the cost to upgrade Gt South Rd (I didn’t even know it needed upgrading) at over $800 million. So one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is if we want a few more upgraded motorways and local roads like our current plans push for?
Or do we want an Congestion Free Network that will transform the entire city?
I know what I’d rather choose.
As hinted at in these posts here and here the editorial team at ATB in collaboration with Generation Zero believe there is a much better way forward for Auckland than the expensive and ineffectual road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme identified in the Auckland Plan, and set out and analysed in the Integrated Transport Plan. This post describes how Auckland can build a world class public transport network that is both affordable and will be the envy of every comparable city worldwide. How in only 17 years Auckland can leapfrog its rivals and transform from a very inefficient mono-modal auto-dependent city to a much more dynamic, multidimensional, and effective and exciting place.
Our plans isolate the top layer of the Public Transport Network and show how these can be expanded and connected while remaining integrated with the other layers of the public transport system, especially the Frequent and Local Bus Networks, to form a complete system to compliment the existing and mature road network. It is important to note that this should also be developed in parallel to a region wide cycling network which both ATB and Generation Zero are extremely supportive of but is outside of the scope of this project [but complimentary to it]. Perhaps Cycle Action Auckland will take up this challenge?
In order to show how we think we should do this we have developed a staged process at five year intervals from 2015-2030 illustrated in four maps below [big thanks to Niko Elsen from GenZero for the graphics and to the great Henry 'Harry' Beck for the inspiration of his genius London Underground map; a project also produced without official sanction but eventually adopted to great success].
Over the coming days we will analyse the costs and benefits associated with our plans and show that they will not only lead to a higher quality and better functioning city but are also more affordable than the ineffective current plans as described in the ITP [Link here]. In fact investing in the ‘missing modes’ in Auckland’s transport mix before further expanding the road network so expensively will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper and more efficient for the city and the nation as well as actually being more in sync with the times. Especially as many of the most expensive and invasive road projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder to calculate but vital areas such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form, and public health outcomes.
Before we get to the maps it’s important to clarify that the networks we are showing are built on what we already have in Auckland and what is proposed in varying senarios by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, and other professional bodies, and are all predicated on maximising value from existing infrastructure. In other words these are all possible and realistic projects. They are both buildable and fit into efficient operating models as well as being focused on unlocking hidden capacity and other benefits latent in our existing networks. They are in sync with the proposed directions of Auckland’s future growth [both up and out] and have been selected with quality of place outcomes in mind as well as likely changes in movement demand.
The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors, what are known as Class A routes, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes, Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case process. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At once taking pressure off the increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.
The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether for many more people at many more times and for many more journeys.
Definitions and Qualifications
To qualify for the Congestion Free Network a Transit service needs to fulfil two conditions:
1. It should have its own separate Class A Right of Way.
2. And offer a high frequency service, the ‘turn-up-and-go’ rate of a ride at least every ten minutes or better.
In other words these are the top of the line services from Auckland Transport and their partners. As we will explain we have taken some liberties with these two definitions out of necessity, with some services for various reasons not quite fulfilling one of the criteria above. But where we have opted to bend the definitions a little there is good reason to believe that the deficiency can be fixed on the route in question, and in fact its inclusion on the CFN map is part of the process for showing why that should be the case.
There is a third condition that we are confident will be maintained on this network and that is the quality of the vehicles themselves along with important attractors such as free WIFI on board and at stations:
OK, to the maps. On all maps Rail Lines are solid, Bus Lines are striped, and Ferry routes dashed, but all should be considered as approaching as much as possible those two main criteria above in order to qualify as Congestion Free.
This is all on the way: The the newly electrified rail network with its higher frequency brand new electric trains plus the Northern Busway, and the Devonport Ferry. These are as close to the only Class A and high frequency dedicated transit routes that we will have in Auckland at this time. We have taken some liberties with our definition of some services above. The trains on the Onehunga Line cannot be frequent enough to qualify until the track is improved, and the Devonport Ferry does not run at ten minute cycles all day, but it is frequent enough at the peaks to just qualify. And the Busway, although running at very high frequencies, suffers from an inconsistent degree of separation from traffic, once it gets to the Bridge and through the city, but we are confident that by 2015 or soon after the level of bus priority will have improved especially through Fanshaw and Customs Sts.
We are also confident that these improvements plus the others already underway now and rolling out through 2013-2016, such as integrated fares and the New Bus Network at the next layer down, will mean that more and more people will be choosing to use our nascent core network and it will justify rapid extension.
So how could we extend this next, and which projects are the most urgent? Here’s what we think: Filling in the Gaps:
This is in many ways is the biggest jump; but then it’s really seven and a half years from now so is the longest time period covered and shows the completion of a whole lot of projects that are already at least in the planning stage right now: Unlocking the Core and Accessing the Suburbs:
1. The CRL; the ‘Killer App’ for unlocking capacity and value in the rail network, and all the improvements we have invested in on the whole rail network this century.
3. Extensions to each end of the Northern Busway; from the new bus lanes on Customs St up the Central Connector through the University, the Hospital, Grafton Station and the adjacent new Uni Campus, and on to Newmarket. And in the north; extension from Constellation Station to Albany and three new stations to serve the expanding suburbs there.
4. Forms of high quality bus priority on Great North Rd through Grey Lynn, up the North Western motorway all the way to Westgate. Not completely grade separate all the way but proper new stations to connect with new bus services on the Frequent Network and;
5. The Upper Harbour Bus Line, running from Henderson Station up Lincoln Rd, Westgate, and across to connect with the Northern Busway at Constellation on SH18 with new stations.
6. Further south the extension of the AMETI project both past Panmure along the Mt Wellington Highway on dedicated lanes to link with Ellerslie Station and looping the other way down to Botany and on to Manukau City and the Southern Line at Puhinui.
The next phase is all about consolidation and extension, most notably though the neglected Southwest: Mangere and the Airport:
1.The Airport is connected by both the extension of the Onehunga Line through Mangere with important local stations and the extension of the South Eastern Bus Line from Puhinui.
2. The south east also gets proper bus priority up the Pakuranga Highway to Howick, linked through a Pakuranga interchange all the way to Panmure and Ellerslie.
3. The North Western gets extended to the growing hub of Kumeu/Huapai
4. The Northern Line now reaches Silverdale.
5. More frequency is presumed to be required by this time on the ferries heading up the harbour to complete a useful circuit on the Waitemata.
One project dominates the next period: The Shore Line:
1. The Shore Line. There are various versions of this important project, but it is clear that no version should add any more road lanes. The one illustrated here is a rail only crossing and the track doesn’t join directly with the existing rail lines so can be a completely separate technology like the system used in Vancouver’s extremely cost effective SkyTrain [as well as elsewhere], commonly known as Light Metro. This line could be staged by first building the Aotea-Wynyard-Onewa-Akoranga-Takapuna section and keeping the best part of the busway going with a transfer station at Akoranga, but one of the great advantages of the Light Metro train technology is that it can fit on the existing alignments of the busway with very little alterartion and therefore can be extended all the way to Constellation, Albany, or beyond at much lower cost than the Standard Rail used elsewhere on the Network.
2. Also included here is the suggestion of Light Rail for the important Dominion Rd/Queen St bus route.
Notes and Queries.
There are a number of differing options in many parts of these schemes all with various advantages and disadvantages and many have been debated sometimes fairly vigorously amongst those of us working on the maps. These conversations are still ongoing so the maps as they are now should not be considered some kind of final position by the members of either ATB or Generation Zero, but certainly do represent the areas of focus with top contenders for the best solutions. For example here is an alternative city extension of the North Shore Line:
There also is much to be discussed around the detail and the timing of these projects, and we look forward to your views on all of that. To finish it’s probably worth reminding everyone that what is shown here in all these maps are only the best of the best Class A, fast and frequent Transit services that sit at the very top of the public transport pecking order. Below them sit other much more widespread and also improved more widespread services that will still also be running and linking up with these new flash routes. Here is the official AT map of the bus system for 2016, that includes services on our Congestion Free Network but that also shows the wider Frequent Network, and of course there even more local services beneath these:
Mode Selection and the Conceptual Foundation of the Network.
We know there is a lot of attachment to various transport modes by experts and laypeople alike, we experience this everyday in the comment section on this site. There is a tendency for people to focus on the advantages of their favoured mode in a way that expresses their general priorities; some feel spending less on capital works is always the most important issue and others value the quality of the ROW and the permanence of the investment above all else so take a longer view on the costs. We have sought to balance all these considerations when deciding on the most appropriate technology for each corridor. We know that train fans will be disappointed by the amount of bus routes above and that the budget obsessed will be appalled by what they will see as lavish spending on ‘expensive’ rail. And of course the road lobby will see no need for any of this especially as we wish to downscale, delay, or delete many of their pet motorway projects in order to fast track it all and to reduce the disbenefits of reinforcing auto-domination and auto-dependency on Auckland that their projects also bring.
We also have ignored the current government’s particular obsession with only using the National Land Transport Fund for road investments, for, as we have just seen, governments are capable of changing their policies, but also because the public are more than capable of changing governments, and will have at least five such opportunities to do so throughout this period.
The 2016 FTN map directly above clearly shows that a number of the new routes on our maps are current or planned bus routes that we are picking to deserve a greater level of quality as time goes by, maybe not as early as we have by demand alone, but when seen in the context of this new conceptual reading of the city that is The Congestion Free Network, we believe there is additional value in completing parts of this network occasionally ahead of demand [especially where it is more cost effective to do so]. The CFN is a city-shaping tool as well as a movement programme. As of course are all transport networks. This is, in many ways, the most critical point about the changes required in Auckland now. Transport funding decisions must not remain siloed in the transport sector, or worse be captured by institutionalised mode bias as has been the case for most of the last 60 years. Urban transport is, after all, simply a means to an end. And that end is the quality of life for all those in the city and beyond. These involve much wider issues than we have been considering in Auckland in the recent past. It’s time we got more sophisticated.
So in many cases, especially towards the edges of the city, the best way to achieve completion of the network is simply to upgrade the quality of existing bus routes by improving the physical separation of the route and the efficiency and frequency of their running patterns as well as the provision of interchange stations. These routes tend to be further into the suburbs usually where there is freer available roadspace [eg SH18] or closer in where because of new routes older roads have space that can be repurposed for transit [and cycleways] like Great North Rd through Grey Lynn.
However in a few high profile cases the demands and conditions are different, on these routes it could be there is demand for a very high capacity system and just no spare roadspace [the CRL] or where there is already a rail RTN that is worth extending or improving [The CRL, Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, the Mangere and Airport Line], or a combination of the two plus a unique physical barrier [The Shore Line]. In these cases we have, on balance, agreed that the particular characteristics of rail provide solutions that justify the higher capital cost.
It is also worth noting that the three major rail investments, one in each of the three time periods, are the ones that Mayor Len Brown campaigned on to become the first leader of a unified Auckland. So we know they are popular, but their inclusion here is not just because of that. They are here because they are also the rational choice when all issues are considered. The same cannot be said for the congestion promoting motorway projects that Len Brown has subsequently signed up for in some kind of Faustian trade off as expressed in the ITP. So part of this campaign is to get the Mayor, as he faces re-election, to get his transport thinking ‘back on track’.
So lets leave the last word to Len Brown from his inauguration speech in 2010:
Note: the maps can be accessed in PDF form by clicking on the titles above each one- feel free to download, print, distribute, draw on, set alight, decorate your room, or re-blog….
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:What 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.