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Goff’s Busway Tunnel

Yesterday Stuff published what is frankly an odd opinion from Mayor Phil Goff regarding public transport and a future harbour crossing.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff would prefer the city’s second harbour crossing to be built with a busway instead of a rail line.

Goff said the $4 billion tunnel under Auckland Harbour, planned for about 2030, should be built with a busway to begin with.

“Busways are easily translatable to light railways, so the two are quite compatible. You may sequence it in that order. That’s my preference,” Goff said.

Goff said he was keen for a rail line to Auckland’s North Shore, eventually, but a rail line to the airport was a higher priority.

There are quite a few things that spring to my mind from just these few lines.

The busway is an outstanding success and use of it has grown dramatically in the nine years since it opened. It now carries over 4.6 million trips annually which is not all too different to what our rail lines do.

One of the big transport issues facing Auckland and especially the city centre is how we cope with growth in public transport. As it is now many streets in the city centre have too many buses on them and are struggling to cope, let alone what would be needed if public transport use keeps growing like it has been. This is of course the main reason AT were looking at Light Rail in the Isthmus. On top of this is the city’s desire to become more walking and cycling friendly.

The NEX is popular and there can already be too many in the city with not enough space for them all

The northern busway itself still has capacity left for a while, at current rates probably till some time in the 2030’s, but even that means we’re likely to need to look for further ways of improving capacity within the next 20 years which is exactly the timeframe we’re going to be discussing the next harbour crossing. If we’re going to the trouble of spending possibly billions on another harbour crossing it makes no sense to build it as a busway if we’re only going to have to upgrade it again in few years time.

This is becoming an increasing sight on the busway

Goff campaigned on light rail down Dominion Rd and he’s quoted as saying that rail to the airport is a higher priority. I agree with him on that but it doesn’t mean we don’t discuss it for the North Shore. In fact, the two could even link up together to deliver a light rail rapid transit line from Albany to the Airport. That’s a vision I bet a lot of the city would get behind.

I also suspect Goff is underestimating the impact of converting a busway to light rail, especially the disruption it will cause. This won’t be a quick few weeks job but would likely take months or even over a year depending on how it was done and during that time the busway will be out of action. While I’m sure some of the smart people in our transport industry will find ways to minimise that, it will still be incredibly disruptive and we wouldn’t want to have to do both the existing busway and a busway harbour tunnel, even if it was possible.

It’s important to remember though that the timeframe listed, of a harbour crossing “planned for about 2030” is actually incorrect anymore. The recent ATAP work pushed the project back to completion in the 3rd decade (2038-2048), in part due to the work showing it as having a very high cost while having little impact on congestion. The current plans for the next crossing envisage a combined tunnel with road and rail combined. I can’t imagine that would be too save with buses though it and certainly not double deckers.

We believe there’s a strong case to separate out the PT and road crossings and build them separately, starting with the mode that doesn’t currently exist. This is also because a PT crossing would have considerably more capacity than any road crossing would. We also think it’s time we reconsidered the option of that new crossing being a bridge. Like the new Tilikum Crossing in Portland it could be for PT and active modes only, and would considerably cheaper than tunnel options.

 

 

Let’s hope someone tells Goff that a busway tunnel is a bad idea

Improving EMU Travel Times – LGOIMA

Back in January I made a request to Auckland Transport asking what had been done/planned to improve travel times on the rail network, the response I received was very positive and if able to be implemented fantastic for rail users. You can view the entire response here.

The highlight is the section on dwell times, which remarked that CAF have been hard at work testing different options to reduce the dwell times with one option possibly allowing 20 second dwells. Whether this option is feasible outside the depot however is to be seen.

CAF have recently undertaken timed tests in the depot for different opening and closing options – for the time from wheel stop till power is back onto the traction motors. It can be achieved in 20 seconds, plus the actual door open time depending on the open and close method. A modification has been implemented that has further reduced the time required to make the traction loop by 2 seconds – which is a good improvement to bank.

AT also asked KiwiRail and Siemens (signalling company) to look at improving network travel times by optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) signalling to allow increased line speed. The sections reviewed looked to be centred around the Westfield – Newmarket – Britomart section of network. As someone who uses the Southern Line I can understand this with line speeds feeling very slow considering the track alignment, zero level crossings & geometry. In a section where next the southern motorway you feel you should be putting the pedal down leaving traffic in the dust, instead you find yourself limping along.

Full Speed Ahead

The areas AT believe line speed can be increased are (up – towards north, down – towards south)

  • #3a: Line Speed Increase NAL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 10 sec Up, 15sec Down)
  • #3b: Line Speed Increase OBL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 15 sec Both)
  • #3c: Line Speed Increase NBL (Newmarket to Britomart) – (saves 20sec Both. But addition of Parnell station will negate.)
  • #8: Sarawia St in-fill balise (Reduction in delays approaching 203 signal) – (saves 10 sec per train crossing to Platform 1)
  • #9a: 304 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminates risk of Up EMUs stalling at Neutral section).
  • #9b: 204 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminate the need for trains to slow to 20/km).

Overall the time savings of this could result in travel time savings for

Southern Line – Up Main Services of 70sec & Down Main Services of 35sec
Onehunga Line – Up Main Services of 65sec & Onehunga Down Main Services of 35sec
Western Line – Up Main Services of 30sec & Western Down Main Services of 20sec

However some of travel times may be negated by the opening of Parnell station, however Southern Services will of course have that offset by the closing of Westfield.

They are also looking at adjusting the level crossings to allow higher line speeds, this will be very useful if implemented for Western Line users.

Modifying the level crossings to support higher speed operation will result in the level crossing alarms operating for longer until the trains start running at the higher speed.

It mentions the potential reports to be done in the future for other sections of the rail network, hopefully we will see further optimisation in the future.

Agreeing with Joyce

Last week Finance Minister Steven Joyce gave a speech to Massey University and Auckland Chamber of Commerce about the economy and this year’s budget. There were some notable elements related to transport in it worth highlighting, especially those in relation to demand management.

The demand management part of the speech came after a decent amount of chest puffing and back slapping over all the major transport projects underway in Auckland including motorway projects, local road projects and the CRL.

However as this work comes to fruition over the next five years, Auckland as a city is going to come up against a hard constraint, and that’s one of geography.

There is no getting away from the fact that central Auckland is built on a narrow isthmus which makes it hard to get around – and the available land transport corridors are rapidly being used.

So beyond the current building programme we are going to have to look at demand management to reduce the reliance on the road corridors, in favour of buses, trains and ferries.

That was one of the conclusions of the joint Government/Auckland Council ATAP process last year.

To have this being acknowledged by Joyce is hugely positive given many of the comments he’s delivered over the years about transport issues in Auckland, especially during his time as Transport Minister. Quite how he’ll act on it could be another thing entirely though and so we’ll need to wait to see if as Finance Minister he delivers any money for PT projects.

If in the future we were to look back on what ATAP achieved, getting the government to finally acknowledge that we can’t just rely on more roads in Auckland will surely be near the top of the list.

Another big outcome from ATAP was the general acknowledgement between government and the council on the need for demand management, including the use of road pricing to achieve that. One positive of ATAP was that it assessed the need for road pricing outside the need to raise additional revenue to pay for infrastructure but even so, it found that just in the next decade alone an additional $400 million per year is needed.

The Government is developing a work programme to look at demand management tools including electronic road tolling in the medium to long term.

But to be clear, we see this primarily as a way to make the roading system work better – and not as a revenue raising exercise.

And today, I can confirm the Government’s position is:

First, we would expect that any road pricing initiative on existing motorways and highways would predominantly be a replacement for petrol taxes and road user charges not in addition to them.

We’ve suggested for many years that if introduced, road pricing should initially done so in a revenue neutral manner by replacing existing rates and/or taxes. While some would pay more and some less than they do today, the idea is that overall revenue gathered remains about the same which would help improve acceptance of any road pricing scheme. So in this case too it feels we’re roughly aligned with Joyce. This isn’t to say there still shouldn’t fuel taxes though, we still want to encourage moves to more fuel efficient vehicles after all.

The next part to note relates to his response to Mayor Phil Goff who had been pushing for a regional fuel tax.

And second, I stress that we are not interested in introducing a regional fuel tax. I have reiterated to Mayor Goff this morning that we do not see regional fuel taxes as part of the Government’s mix for transport in Auckland because they are administratively difficult, prone to leakage and cost-spreading, and blur the accountabilities between central and local government.

However we are keen to have a more detailed discussion about demand management tools, and explore further options for longer term funding for new infrastructure, including the use of private finance for certain projects, such as Penlink for example. Mayor Goff and I have agreed to work together on those.

Finally something to disagree on, I honestly can’t see how regional fuel taxes would be administratively difficult. I’m sure fuel companies know how much they sell at each of their stations and how many people are realistically going to drive outside the Auckland to get fuel. With the exception of a few people, most would probably spend more on the fuel to get out of the Auckland region than they’d save on petrol prices. Fuel taxes certainly may be a raising additional revenue in the short term till other solutions are put in place – and remember ATAP suggests we need to raise $400 million extra each and every year on top of what we’re already spending.

This announcement disappointed Mayor Phil Goff who claimed that without a new funding source, rates would need to rise by 16% – although that also includes covering for the special transport levy which we (and the AA) feel should be retained.

The last comment quoted above is concerning though, Penlink has long been proposed as a toll road but the problem with it has always been that tolls would only cover a small fraction of the costs. Waiving the PPP phrase around doesn’t suddenly make it more viable, in fact it is likely less so as PPPs require significant contracting work by agencies and are ultimately just a private loan which ratepaters would be paying back.

Waterview reckoning

On Friday afternoon, Newstalk ZB reported, and followed up by the Herald yesterday that the Waterview Tunnels will have lights to control traffic both accessing the tunnels and on the connection out of the tunnels onto SH16 eastbound.

Auckland’s new Waterview Tunnel will speed up travel times, but motorists will have to wait in queues at traffic lights to enter it.

The tunnel connecting the North Western and South Western motorways will open in April, creating the Western Ring Route around the city.

Ramp signals will operate on both of the ramps into the tunnel, and on the longer east-bound tramps out of the tunnel.

But motorists turning west out of the tunnel won’t have to wait at signal lights, so queues of traffic are unlikely to build up inside it.

Signals will also operate on the other side of the tunnel, like at the on-ramp at Maioro Street.

New Zealand Transport Agency Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon said the signals will be able to control traffic through the tunnel in both directions.

Delays caused by traffic signals will be offset by major improvements to travel times and traffic flows.

While this is the first time this has appeared in the media, it isn’t new entirely new as in September last year we revealed that the NZTA had underestimated traffic demand for the Waterview Connection and were undertaking a series measures to try and mitigate the traffic volumes they now expect will occur after opening. These mitigation works included ramp signals as well as emergency widening of some sections of motorway.

What’s interested me the most has been some of the comments from the NZTA in relation to all of this. First up:

Mr Gliddon said completing the connection will allow more cars to travel on motorways, and reduce the number of cars on local roads

If the intention is to reduce the number of cars on local roads then it’s important that the NZTA and Auckland Transport capitalise on that by refocusing them on supporting local movements. That means prioritising walking, cycling, public transport and local access instead of a focus on pumping as many cars along them as possible. Given Waterview has been under construction since 2011, there’s been plenty of time to prepare for this, so surely AT and the NZTA have plans to do this?

Unfortunately, it seems that other than bus lanes on Great North Rd, there are no other changes in this direction planned for local roads, and in fact some of their proposed emergency mitigation was in direct conflict with this, for example AT wanted to put bus lanes citybound on Blockhouse Bay Rd but the NZTA want it kept car focused as an “incident diversion route”.

Next we have:

“It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world.”

In many ways this is a very significant statement, like an addict admitting they have a problem, the NZTA have taken the first step by admitting that roads will still be congested, especially at peak times. This is of course a positive first step towards getting a more balanced transport system but it doesn’t do anything to make up for the fact that the NZTA let a golden opportunity to provide people with a genuine option to opt out of congestion, in the form of full busway along SH16. While they have built some bus lanes, they are inadequate, stopping at interchanges and already suffering from being clogged up with vehicles in places. Not building a full busway is a massive failure from all of our transport institutions, especially as ATAP recently recognised that the first parts of it will be needed within a decade, meaning the diggers will need to back in just a few years.

It’s also worth pointing out old project documents like this one that claims Waterview will “relieve congestion“. It also notes that it will reduce traffic on Maioro Rd by 20%, yet as part of the emergency mitigation one of the actions was to ask AT to make changes to increase “off ramp discharge capacity” – in other words to pump more traffic down there.

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to realise that if SH16 is already clogged every morning towards the city that adding two lanes of traffic from tunnels isn’t going to work well.

These claims of relieving congestion come from a long line of similar type comments from the agency and politicians, including Steven Joyce and others claiming numerous times that Waterview was the “last link” in the Western Ring Route, only to announce the Northern Corridor project just a few years later.

Following on from the initial articles, including the herald’s somewhat alarmist title of “Warning: Waterview tunnel will open to gridlock“, the NZTA issued a press release about it yesterday. It’s quite unusual to get press releases on a Sunday which makes me think some senior managers and/or politicians were not happy. In it, they defended the project and called some of the reporting “misleading”.

Ramp signals at Waterview one way of optimising traffic flows across motorway network

The NZ Transport Agency says ramp signals are just one tool to optimise traffic flow and ensure the safe and smooth running of the entire Auckland motorway network.

Ramp signals similar to those already operating where State Highway 20 joins State Highway 1 will help to regulate traffic flow on both ramps leading in the Waterview Tunnel and the east-bound ramp out of the tunnel.

“Like all the other ramp signals on the motorway network, they will only operate when there’s a need to optimise traffic flow, that could in reality mean they are used very infrequently,” says Brett Gliddon the Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager.

“We don’t expect this to lead to significant queues and headlines suggesting the ramp signals will create gridlock are misleading.”

I found it particularly odd that of all ramp lights around the motorway network they chose to highlight the SH20 to SH1 ramp signals. If you recall that too was promised to be a free flowing connection but the NZTA had to put signals on it after it caused massive congestion on SH1 when it opened.

A new $220 million Auckland link road designed to take the pressure off State Highway 1 is having the opposite effect, forcing transport bosses to install traffic lights to ease congestion.

Ramp signals will be erected to give traffic travelling south along SH1 a chance against motorists muscling their way on to the road from the Southwestern Motorway at Manukau.

The signals are expected to be running within three months, at a point that was originally intended to be a seamless connection.

A recent post implementation review found that some of this issue came from not properly assessing the impacts the project would have which is notable because the emergency mitigation being undertaken only came about due to a new traffic assessment as these issues or other works weren’t identified in the reports used to obtain consent.

Ultimately the issue isn’t about whether the project has ramp signals or not but how these mega road projects are sold and communicated to the public. If our institutions were more honest about the what the real impacts of these mega projects were, it would likely change how many of these projects are viewed.

Now NZTA, when are you getting started on that busway?

Sunday reading 19 February 2017

Welcome back to Sunday Reading. This week I want to start off with three articles about inclusion. The Project for Public Spaces argues that equity and inclusion lie at “the heart of placemaking”:

Placemaking, a collaborative process by which we (residents, architects, activists, community leaders and planners alike) shape our public realm together, is fundamentally about inclusion and shared community ownership.

Rather than watching passively as private developers or public agencies determine the use and value of a neighborhood’s public spaces, placemaking enables citizens to create and maintain their own places, while highlighting unique strengths and addressing specific challenges. While some developments are built around and profit from the idea of exclusivity, placemaking is about increasing “quality of life” and economic opportunity for everyone, not just a privileged few. We believe that cities and regions can facilitate growth while also maintaining their authentic character and preserving the people, as well as the socio-cultural values, that are already in place.

Nonetheless, the physical, social and cultural landscapes of many local places remains caught between danger, disinvestment and a lack of opportunity, on the one hand, and the Pyrrhic victory of “neighborhood improvement” through gentrification, on the other. Within communities, accessibility remains a tremendous obstacle for many. Women and children in communities across the globe still struggle to find safe places in which to play, socialize, and participate. Many citizens in lower-income neighborhoods still lack access to green space in close proximity to their homes.

There’s a balance to be struck with this kind of argument. Often, communities have the knowledge and motivation to improve their places, but lack the resources to fix the big problems. So the question is how to bring together outside resources – which could come from government or private investment – and local knowledge and passion.

But what do you do when communities change? How about welcoming the newcomers and learning to live alongside them? That can happen even in unexpected places, as Robert Samuels writes in the Washington Post: “How to become an American: Syrian refugees find a home in Trump country“:

A few blocks away from Aljasem, John Dutcher, a 61-year-old house cleaner, lives in a complex of low-rise apartments in a neighborhood where American flags flapped on porches. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Dutcher said he was “one of those guys who would want to put a pig’s head on a mosque. I never acted on it, but I played it in my head.”

“I hated Muslims,” he said.

For years, Dutcher’s neighbors were meth addicts and rowdy alcoholics. Slobs. In June, a Syrian family who spoke no English moved in. Another family moved in after that, then another. Now there are six.

Soon enough, Dutcher said, empty bottles in the hallway were replaced with children’s bicycles. The loud arguments of a ­drug-addicted couple were replaced by the sounds of children’s laughter.

“The Muslims here were all about family and they just loved everyone,” Dutcher said. “I remember the people who lived here before; they took for granted everything this country gave them. These people, they really changed my heart.”

Through interpreters, he learned about the families’ stories of loss and fleeing war. It softened his stance on Islam and led him to question some of what Trump was saying. Around refugees, he never felt safer.

“I used to be afraid when the meth addicts were here,” he said. “Now I don’t even look to see who’s knocking on my door. I know it will be someone with a plate of food or a kid asking me to fix his bike.”

In related news, several recent studies have found that people who live in more diverse areas are more tolerant, even if they don’t interact much with their neighbours of different race or religion. My takeaway is that if you want a hateful city, first build a segregated city.

View post on imgur.com

Inclusion also matters in political participation. In the NZ Herald, Lizzie Marvelly comments on the makeup of Parliament: “Younger MPs add buzz to the Beehive“:

In an election year, it’s almost guaranteed that young people will be dragged through the mud for one reason or another.

We’ll be smeared as the unworthy recipients of a “bribe” that won the election (years after the fact); the useless, lazy cohort that couldn’t be bothered voting; the self-centred, me-me-me generation that could easily own houses if we simply stopped eating smashed avocados and watching Sky TV; or the idealistic, radical children who should listen to people who know better.

There are a number of similarly unflattering accusations that we could fling at our elders, but we’re generally either silenced in absentia or too polite to offer a harsh dose of reality.

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs.

For example, recently, political commentator Bryce Edwards (44) stepped up to the plate to give his opinion on youth representation in politics on TVNZ’s Breakfast.

“I just don’t know if we want a Parliament just full of 20 and 30-year-olds,” he said, ignoring the fact that Parliament is far from full of 20 and 30-year-olds.

“It’s a good thing to have diversity,” Edwards remarked, without a trace of irony. “It would be a mistake if we just have the young people coming in.”

Immediately after the 2014 election, according to pollster David Farrar, there were 23 MPs in their 20s and 30s, with only two 20-somethings in the entire Parliament.

A significant number of those 23 have now entered their 40s, and only one (Todd Barclay) is still in his 20s.

How having 23 MPs under 40 in a Parliament of 121 – a Parliament with a median age of 50 – would make it “full” of young people, I’ll never know.

A bit of further data from Green MP Julie Anne Genter:

Anyway, enough of that. The best article I’ve read in the last few weeks was on the causes and consequences of high home prices. In the New York Times, Conor Dougherty explains “Why falling home prices could be a good thing“:

We would still see homes of different sizes and styles — condos in some places, single-family homes in others — depending on the market in each city. A New York home would be smaller than one in, say, Houston.

And prices would still vary from place to place, based on demand and geography. It’s easier to build in Phoenix (plenty of flat land), and harder in San Francisco (lots of hills and nearby water). But while building in the San Francisco metro area is more expensive than in other places, it’s not that expensive. By the paper’s calculations, a home in the San Francisco area should cost around $281,000.

The actual price for a standard home in the area is more like $800,000 (using 2013 data). The paper argues that most of that difference is caused by regulatory hurdles like design and environmental reviews that can add years to a project’s timeline and suppress the overall housing supply. The result is overpayment on a grand scale for the few homes that do get built.

High home prices in prosperous parts of the US appear to contribute to lower rates of within-country migration, and hence worse outcomes for people exposed to asymmetric shocks such as trade liberalisation. In Forbes, Adam Millsap writes that “people are giving up rather than moving to opportunity – and that’s not good“:

The papers by Autor et al. paint a pretty bleak picture of life in areas more exposed to Chinese imports. More economic hardship—fewer jobs and lower wages—seems to be harming people’s health, especially that of less educated people. In light of all this, it’s reasonable to think that people must be leaving these areas for greener pastures.

But they’re not. Despite the economic decline, Autor et al. find little evidence that people are moving out. Other researchers have also found that people rarely move to areas with more economic opportunity after a negative economic shock. In one recent study, economists Ryan Greenaway-McGrevy and Kyle Hood examine data from 1990 to 2012 and find that local job creation, not out-migration, is the main driver of local economic recovery in the U.S., but that even partial recovery can take up to 20 years, or approximately an entire generation.

So what has happened to the people living in these areas? If employment opportunities and wages declined but hardly anyone left, many of them must be relying on private charity and/or government assistance for subsistence, and Autor et al. do find evidence of this. Exposure to Chinese imports had a negative effect on labor force participation and a positive effect on the use of government assistance such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), federal income assistance and food stamps.

We should expect more of this sort of thing as the global economy evolves (or disintegrates). Falling trade barriers and increased ease of long-distance travel and communication have put some industries (and some cities) underwater while invigorating others. But distance isn’t dead: paradoxically, the ability to communicate vast reams of data at the touch of a button has strengthened the importance of physical proximity in knowledge-intensive service sectors.

In a classic paper, Michael Storper and Anthony Venables investigate the reasons why this is the case: “Buzz: face-to-face contact and the urban economy“. From the abstract:

This paper argues that existing models of urban concentrations are incomplete unless grounded in the most fundamental aspect of proximity: face-to-face contact. Face-to-face contact has four main features: it is an efficient communication technology; it can help solve incentive problems; it can facilitate socialization and learning; and it provides psychological motivation. We discuss each of these features in turn, and develop formal economic models of two of them. Face-to-face is particularly important in environments where information is imperfect, rapidly changing, and not easily codified, key features of many creative activities.

I’ll close with a troubling article from Canterbury. Charlie Mitchell reports (in Stuff) about dairy farmers’ illegal encroachment into public river margins. This is a disgrace and should be addressed sternly by the regulators:

The fringes of some Canterbury rivers have been absorbed into expanding farms, resulting in the loss of thousands of hectares of public land to private development.

The issue – known as “agricultural encroachment” – has happened incrementally over several decades, and is adding to the many pressures facing the region’s internationally significant braided rivers and the rare ecosystems they host.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) research found that nearly 12,000 hectares of Canterbury’s river margins had been taken over by intensive farming between 1990 and 2012.

Waiau river encroachment (LINZ, via Stuff)

About 60 per cent of that land was developed through private land sales, but nearly one-quarter was public reserve land effectively privatised and developed.

Authorities in charge of public land all acknowledged that land had been taken and developed without permission.

None of them were able to quantify how much, and in some cases, the encroacher was allowed to keep the land after meeting certain conditions.

That’s it for this Sunday – see you next time!

The tyranny of the peak

Recently Thomas Lumley, a Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland and author of statschat and Biased and Inefficient, created a bot that follows Auckland Transport’s real time feed between 6am and 10pm and tweets every 15 minutes how many buses it can see active in the system and how many of them are on time.

I thought it might be interesting to track the results for a week to see if there were any trends with on time performance, such as during the peaks. The data I collected for on-time performance was interesting but what turned out to be more fascinating was the overall bus numbers. The graph below shows how many buses are active in Auckland throughout the day based and you can see that weekdays have a very similar and distinctive pattern to them.

I’m not sure the peaks could be any more visible if AT tired.

As you can see, the AM peak is by far the strongest with over 800 buses on the road at the highest point which occurs around 8am as people go to work, school or other activities. There are more than double the number of buses on the road during the peak than throughout the interpeak period. The evening peak is more spread out though reflecting that schools finish at around 3pm and that workers finish at a range of different times and/or have other activities after work.

But being so peaky, especially in the AM, is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one side, it’s a positive as it reflects a lot of people finding PT the best way for them to get around to work, school or their other activities and of course we want to encourage as many people as possible to use PT. On the other side of the sword, being so peaky means AT and its operators need to commit a lot more resource to the system than they might want or otherwise need, just to serve the customers they already have. That pushes up costs to run the network.

A queue of buses at Akoranga Busway station (and more were out of shot) – plus an airport shuttle van in the mix

To get an idea of the impact, let’s consider what would happen if could knock the top off AM peak during the weekdays and spread it out more. During the AM peak, bus numbers top out at about 830 buses while the busiest period in the PM peak is about 710 buses, a difference of 120 buses. From what I understand, an average bus can cost around $400,000 (even more for double deckers), that’s potentially $48 million of capital operators have tied up in bus that might only get used once or twice a day. On top of the capital costs of the buses there is also costs for larger depots, maintenance facilities – 120 buses take up a lot of space. On top of the capital costs are of course the operational ones and they can be substantial.

Trying to spread out the peak could have a lot of positive impacts for the overall PT network. Here are a few suggestions we could implement.

1. Add more bus lanes and bus priority
Adding more bus lanes and other bus priority measures is vital as they are able serve a number of purposes. Faster and more reliable buses help to make buses more attractive to users, growing ridership, but they also improve bus operations because they can mean a single bus might be able to run more services in the same amount of time. This means fewer buses are needed to provide the same capacity/frequency or alternatively more capacity/frequency can be added to the network for no additional cost. In effect this isn’t likely to reduce the peakiness but it can help reduce some of the additional cost associated with it. As we reported the other day, it appears AT are looking at more bus priority across the region.

2. Extend bus lane hours
This is kind of related to above but is worth highlighting on its own. Many bus lanes have very narrow windows during which they operate, often 7-9am and 4-6pm (although there are some other times). Outside the bus lane hours the road space is often handed over to the driving public for carparking. It’s common for drivers to target these hours in order to get a good space but given the roads are often still quite busy, it can cause havoc on buses driving around the city, making them less reliable. As such means passengers often try to catch earlier buses than they otherwise would just to ensure they get to their destination on time. Extending bus lane operating hours would help address this and make travelling on later buses more viable, spreading the demand.

3. Off-Peak discounts
Along with extending bus lane hours, it’s common for cities overseas to offer discounts for travelling off peak. The purpose is to use pricing to encourage people who can to travel at times when it’s not so busy and there’s spare capacity available. There are a couple of different ways it could be implemented, such as having it automatically apply when you tag on/off or having people buy a pass that is loaded onto their HOP card and entitles them to the discount. AT staff have told me in the past they want tools like this so we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever happens.

4. Improve Frequencies off peak
Along with improving bus priority and offering financial incentives to travel off peak, we also need to ensure that our transport network has the services needed to encourage use. In other words, not having half the buses disappear back to the depot at 9am. This is one of the key reasons the New Network is so important, as it creates a lot of strong all day network that people can use to get around.

5. Change school hours
As mentioned, everyone rushing to work and school at the same time of the day is why the morning peak has so many more buses at any one time. One option could be to shift the start times of some schools to later in the morning in a bid to spread out the demand. High Schools would make a perfect candidate for this, giving teenagers a chance to get more sleep and perform better. This is obviously outside of AT’s control but is a discussion we should be having as a society.

For those also interested, this is what the punctuality data looked like, you can see the peaks in some of the days but it’s not as defined as the bus numbers above.

Warkworth to Wellsford boondoggle route announced

Since 2009 when the Roads of National Significance were first announced we’ve talked a lot about the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway the NZTA has now started building. We’ve long had issues with the project, mainly due to its high cost for comparatively little demand outside of a few holiday periods. But the project was only ever the stage one of a larger scheme to extend the new road further north to also bypass Wellsford.

Not long after originally announced, the section from Warkworth to Welllsford appeared to have been relegated into a vault somewhere at the NZTA. That’s in part because the last we had heard, it was that they were struggling to even find a route to use thanks to the tricky geology in the area. Here’s what they said in 2011 about it.

“Every time you put a spade in the ground up there you’ve got to put in retaining structures, or tunnels or something.

“The level of ground movement is more than we had anticipated, which makes huge problems and huge costs.”

In fact we thought it had been put so far to the back of the vault by the NZTA that it might not surface again, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Despite the challenging ground conditions, on Tuesday, the NZTA announced that they now have an indicative route for the project

The NZ Transport Agency says the proposed route for a new road between Warkworth and Wellsford announced today will make traveling between Northland and Auckland safer, faster and easier.

It has shared an Indicative Route for the Warkworth to Wellsford section of the Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.

“Building an off-line motorway, completely separate from the existing State Highway 1 will improve safety, reduce congestion and support Northland’s economic growth,” says Ernst Zollner the Transport Agency’s Northland Director.

“Removing sharp bends, providing better passing opportunities and a dual carriageway to separate north and southbound traffic will improve safety and is predicted to reduce the fatal and serious injury crash rate by 80% through this area.”

Due to the natural environment through the Dome Valley, State Highway 1 is susceptible to flooding, slips and ongoing repairs. The location of the new motorway, to the west of the Dome Forest, will provide a reliable alternate route between Northland and Auckland.

The Indicative Route ties into the local road network helping to connect local communities.

It joins the Pūhoi to Warkworth section of motorway near Kaipara Flats Road. It will then travel on the western side of the Dome Valley until it reaches the Hoteo River where it will cross eastwards over the existing SH1 to an interchange proposed at Wayby Valley Road in Wellsford. Another motorway interchange is proposed near Mangawhai Road, with the motorway then meeting the existing State Highway 1 north of Vipond Road.

“Once the motorway is built travel will also be safer for local road users because 90% of regional traffic, especially heavy traffic, can avoid townships making their main streets safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.”

The Indicative Route will be shared with the public for their feedback which will help further refine the route. If the route is confirmed it will be taken forward for consenting and route protection by 2018.

While the NZTA don’t plan to officially release the route till this weekend when they hold the first of their public open days (see here for them), Local Matters which covers the North Auckland area has published this map showing the route which even suggests a potential tunnel along the route.

Like with the Puhoi to Warkworth section, our major problem with this project is the share cost of it compared to how much it will be used. The Puhoi to Warkworth section is around 18km and costing, though a PPP, about $710 million. Currently just over 21,000 vehicles travel the road south of Warkworth daily. It had a benefit cost ration of about 0.9 so in other words we get about 90c of benefits for every dollar we spend on it.

By comparison this new section is about 24km in length, though what sounds like even more challenging terrain with potentially a tunnel meaning the cost will almost certainly be much higher than the Warkworth leg. Earlier estimates put this section at about $1 billion but I suspect it could now easily top that. What’s more the current segment of road this is intended to replace carries only about half the traffic of SH1 at just over 10k vehicles per day.

Here’s a comparison of the vehicle volumes for the 20 years showing this section sees just over 10k vehicles per day with possibly slightly more. To put that in perspective, some of our urban roads in Auckland carry more traffic than each sections of roads

Here are a few other quick thoughts that have run though my head about this project.

It’s not about Northland – The government, and those who have pushed the project the hardest, love to claim that the point of the project is to improve the economy of Northland. Spending this money this project in Northland itself would provide better outcomes. As Peter suggested the other day.

Why Now? – It’s been almost nine years since the Government launched the RoNS and I can’t help but wonder if the NZTAs latest push on this project is related to the election later this year. The government will of course be keen to reclaim the Northland seat off Winston Peters.

Where’s the business case – surely self explanatory

Operation Lifesaver – Based on other projects and even if the NZTA push on at this time, it’s likely to be a decade or more before complete. This once again raises the issue of Operation Livesaver, the purpose of which is to implement a range of safety and other enhancements to the existing route which could be done now. Given it would also be much cheaper it could see improvements extended further closer to Whangarei.

Any bets on the cost of this and the BCR?

Exports, prosperity, and cities

What does New Zealand do to pay its way, in the global context? And what could it do differently?

These are an important questions because New Zealand is a small, trade-exposed country. We produce some of the things that we need locally, but many other things must be imported, which means that we need to export something in return. For instance, I’m writing this post in a flat built from bricks that were (probably) fired in New Lynn and timber that was sawn locally, sitting on a chair that was made in Auckland. But the computer I’m writing it on was assembled in China using parts and patents from all over the world.

I’ve previously taken a look at what Auckland exports, both internationally and to the rest of New Zealand. This time, I want to look at the picture for NZ as a whole, and see how we compare with a number of similar countries using data from the World Bank’s excellent World Development Indicators dataset.

The following table summarises some economic and population data on New Zealand and nine other small OECD countries. New Zealand is one of the smallest (4.6 million people, equal to Ireland), with the second-lowest GDP per capita ($37,800 USD, just ahead of Israel). In terms of urban development, we have a mid-pack urbanisation rate (86% of us live in towns or cities) and quite a lot of land per person (second only to Australia and Norway, which have much more hostile climates).

Country 2015 population 2015 GDP per capita (current US$) 2014 exports as a percent of GDP 2015 urbanisation rate 2015 and per capita (ha/person)
Australia 23.8m $56,311 20% 89% 32.3
Denmark 5.7m $51,989 53% 88% 0.7
Finland 5.5m $42,311 38% 84% 5.5
Ireland 4.6m $61,134 100% 63% 1.5
Israel 8.4m $35,728 34% 92% 0.3
Netherlands 16.9m $44,300 94% 90% 0.2
New Zealand 4.6m $37,808 28% 86% 5.7
Norway 5.2m $74,400 39% 80% 7.0
Sweden 9.8m $50,580 42% 86% 4.2
Switzerland 8.3m $80,945 61% 74% 0.5

As this data shows, New Zealand also exports a comparatively low share of its GDP – only 28% in 2014, second only to Australia (20%). Other small OECD countries tend to export a considerably higher share of their GDP, indicating that they are more engaged with global trade patterns and potentially more successful in carving out economic niches for themselves.

The composition of exports can teach us something about how countries’ economies work. I’ve broken down exports into nine broad categories – five types of goods exports, and four types of services exports – to understand what these ten countries trade. That’s shown in the following chart.

We can immediately see that New Zealand doesn’t export much, on a per capita basis – around US$12,000 per person. (I’m ahead of my quota for the year!) Interestingly, we’re on par with Australia, which has a considerably higher GDP per capita.

As you can (hopefully) see, New Zealand’s exports are very heavily weighted towards food – almost half of our exports fall into this category, reflecting our specialisation in agriculture. But we’re not the biggest food exporter. The Netherlands actually exports more food per capita than New Zealand, in spite of the fact that it’s much more densely developed, with an average of 0.2 hectares of land per person compared with 5.7 hectares per person in New Zealand.

Clearly, density is not destiny: an increasing population doesn’t have to crowd out agricultural exports, provided that farmers and food processors are willing to specialise in higher-value products rather than just extruding tonnes of cheap commodity cheddar, and cities are allowed to go up in order to minimise demands to develop farmland.

However, the big difference between New Zealand and most other small OECD countries isn’t agricultural exports: it’s manufacturing and knowledge-intensive service exports. Notice the size of manufacturing exports (the blue bars) and computer, information, and communications services (the dark grey bars) in many of the other countries. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland all outperform us by a large margin in both areas.

What this data shows is that if we want to raise our standards of living, we will have to do different things than we’ve done in the past. We can undoubtedly get more value out of our agricultural exports – but, as the example of the Netherlands shows, the best way to do that is to invest in higher-value products, rather than increasing the dairy herd at great cost to water quality.

Ultimately, a transformative increase in New Zealand’s exports will require us to develop new products and services. For that, we need well-functioning cities. Manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services tend to be exported from cities, rather than rural areas. Increasingly, both industries benefit from agglomeration economies, such as the increased ease of sharing and generating knowledge in cities. They don’t necessarily occupy much land, but they do depend upon having a critical mass of skilled people and the right international connections.

What do you think of New Zealand’s export performance?

Third Main Business Case OIA

In November I made a request under the Official Information Act regarding any potential Third Main business case, as it was one of my ATAP ASAP’s and I wanted to know if any movement had been made, especially as it was mentioned in ATAP & the agencies had gone quiet on the issue.

The response I received back confirms one exists, it is in draft form pending approval from KiwiRail & the Minister.

You can see the full response from the NZTA here

What is the Third Main?

Third Main Slide

 

Proximity as a transport solution

55 Symonds Street

This school year Auckland University will be opening up housing for 600+ students at the City Centre Campus, including the 55 Symonds Street building pictured above. This is a welcome addition to the meager (though increasing) supply of student housing of about 3,100 units.

For reference 600+ people is close to the number of cars on one traffic lane running along Symonds Street through the campus during a peak AM hour. Of course, very few students travel by car, so the new residents are more likely to be releasing valuable seats on packed public transport services during the already oversubscribed peak period.

Students living in these new facilities will travel much shorter distances overall then their counterparts scattered across the city. People located in central locations travel shorter distance since they are located close to their primary place of “work” and have a concentration of services and destinations close by. As students they are not captured in conventional journey to work surveys and their daily walking trips aren’t even considered.

Here is a map of the average travel distance of commuters from the 2013 census.

Average commute distance, 2013 Census (Data: Stats NZ)

Here is an interesting article by California planning guru William Fulton in Governing Magazine, “A Low Cost Solution to Traffic” where he poses one obvious solution to the 21st century transport challenge as described in Austin Texas.

A couple of generations ago, we would have solved this problem pretty simply, by foolishly spending a lot of money to plow new freeways through existing communities. But attitudes have changed…

Which brings us to proximity. One of the few ways around this problem is to build more housing close to the urban cores — or, at least, close to the dense suburban job centers. Urban planners often argue for locating more housing along high-frequency transit lines, which makes sense because many people can commute by transit.

What’s not well understood, however, is that well-located housing can cut down on the amount of driving — and hence the need for additional road space — even if people are still tethered to their cars. One famous study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that people living in Berkeley and Oakland drive only half as far as people in the outer suburbs — not because they take transit more, but because the places they have to go are closer together.

As we develop transport solutions for the wicked challenges of regional transport and city centre access, this is one area where it seems we could do much better. Every new housing unit comes with a built-in transport requirement.

What if centrally located or rapid transit proximate housing  was funded/supported as a transport investment? As the housing cycle inevitably slows, is there a role of government to step in to support housing options that will also help to solve the city’s transport problems instead of exacerbating the problem by focusing on far flung, car-dependent development?