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A century of changing transport spending

Via Donal Curtin, I got wind of a fantastic Statistics NZ visualisation of changes to the Consumer Price Index over the last century. The Consumer Price Index, or CPI, is a tool that statistics agencies use to track inflation over time. It tracks changes in prices in the goods and services that households purchase.

This is not as simple as it seems at first, because people’s consumption habits and choices change over time. For example, one hundred years ago New Zealanders weren’t eating many avocados (not cultivated here until the 1920s), buying many laptops (not invented yet), or getting their legs waxed (not even considered at that time). So Statistics NZ has to periodically update the CPI by introducing new products to the “basket” and removing others.

As a result, CPI basket changes are a good way of looking at our changing consumption habits over time. Some of the changes are amusingly bizarre – for example, what was happening during the five year period from 1988 to 1993 when waterbeds and wine coolers were briefly a part of the CPI basket? (Younger readers might not want to think too hard about that one.)

Here’s are the transport goods and services that have been added and removed over the last century. They tell us quite a bit about how our travel behaviours have changed:

CPI basket changes transport

A few things strike me as notable:

  • Compared with other CPI areas such as leisure, home, and food, which can be seen on Statistics NZ’s website, transport has experienced relatively little change over the last century. The number of products introduced and removed is relatively small. The technologies that were available a century ago – trains, buses, cars, bicycles – are still useful today.
  • Tram fares were introduced to the CPI in 1924, as cities grew rapidly around tramlines, and removed in 1965 following the ripping-out of the tram lines.
  • However, other public transport technologies have stayed relevant – train fares were added 1924 and bus fares in 1949. Urban ferry fares are the newest addition in 2014, reflecting rising patronage in the largest cities.
  • The 1950s were a big decade of change, with motor vehicles and associated goods (petrol, driver licences) added to the CPI. Bicycles were also added!
  • Kiwis took to the air in large numbers in the 1970s, with domestic and international air fares added in 1974 and 1980, respectively.
  • The 1970s oil shocks led to a few changes to the CPI. 1974 saw the introduction of motorcycles, a fuel efficient option for many young New Zealanders. It also led to some short-lived changes in the fuel consumption of the car fleet – in 1988, diesel, LPG and CNG were added. But LPG and CNG were removed before too long, as lower petrol prices in the 1990s reduced the need for alternative fuels.
  • Technological changes and a return of high oil prices resulted in the introduction of hybrid vehicles in 2011.

Who said statistics is boring? There’s an awful lot of social history compacted into a dry figure like the CPI!

MoT acknowledge changing trends and future funding issues

Last week the Briefings to government ministers (BIM) were published. I’ve already looked at what the Ministry of Transport (MoT) and NZTA have said about transport in Auckland and so in this post I’m going to look at some of the other points mentioned in the documents. In particular what they say about long term trends and funding issues.

Perhaps the most significant aspect in the BIM from the MoT is that they are finally starting to acknowledge the transport world is changing. That demographics are shifting and people are starting to think and use transport differently to the trends that have persisted for around 60 years. Of course these are the same issues we regularly talk about and previously the ministry seem to have taken “it’s a blip” approach the the real world results. As such it was a pleasant surprise to finally see such an acknowledgement from them.

The MoT have split the changes into three areas:

  • A growing and ageing population
  • Uncertain demand for personal travel
  • New technologies driving improvements in safety, efficiency, and environmental outcomes

A growing and ageing population

Along with the talking about the huge population growth expected in Auckland the briefing notes this important point about the biggest demographic group in most western countries.

By 2036, the number of people in New Zealand aged 65 and over is forecast to double to 1.2 million. The ageing population is more pronounced outside of the major urban areas and international data suggests that individuals halve their vehicle kilometres travelled when they retire. This is likely to radically change transport demands in the regions and reduce the revenue base available to maintain the transport network and meet social expectations for levels of service.

Our large older generations halving their car travel would have a massive impact on the demand for new roads in particular. As that happens the demand for Super Gold cards is going to soar. The next section almost had me falling of my seat when I first read it.

 Uncertain demand for personal travel

Around 96 percent of personal travel in New Zealand occurs in private vehicles. Historically, the total distance travelled by private vehicles has increased consistently over time. This consistent growth has been driven by an increase in population and the number of vehicles in the fleet, and an increase in the distance travelled on a per capita basis. However, as shown in figure 2 below, this growth has stalled in recent years.

The average distance travelled per-person in light passenger vehicles has fallen by around 8 percent, from a peak of about 7,600km in 2004, to around 7,000km in 2013. The total distance travelled over the same period has increased marginally (from 39.3 billion kilometres in 2004 to 40.4 billion kilometres in 2013) as a result of population growth. This trend is not unique to New Zealand – it has been observed in a number of developed countries.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - Travel Demand

There is some debate as to whether this trend is the result of economic factors or a more structural shift in attitudes towards personal transportation. The fact that this trend emerged before the onset of the global financial crisis gives cause to believe that social, behavioural and lifestyle factors (such as the proliferation of smart phones, social media, online shopping and video conferencing) may also be having an influence. A related trend is a reduction in the number of driver licences being issued. In particular, fewer young people are choosing to drive. This suggests that in some groups, the perceived merit of car ownership and use may be declining.

Strong population growth means that overall demand for transport across all modes will continue to increase. Motor vehicles are and will continue to be the predominant mode of transportation in New Zealand for the foreseeable future. However, the rate of growth in motor vehicle travel seen in the twentieth century is unlikely to continue. An ageing population, rising fuel prices, increasing urbanisation, improved mobility and accessibility options, growing health and environmental concerns, and changing consumer preferences all appear to be contributing to reduced per-capita travel in motor vehicles and an increase in demand for alternative transport options

To me this is a huge admission from the MoT and I guess they could only go on so long ignoring the data that was in front of them. I really hope this means we can start to have a more rational discussion about our transport future along with an acknowledgement that we can also shape that future, especially in our urban areas. The last section touches on this future a little however it once again shows the ministry (and we’ve seen it repeated by the Minister) seem to think driverless cars are going to magically change everything.

New technologies driving improvements in safety, efficiency, and environmental outcomes

Technology is everywhere, and it is changing the way we live our lives. It is changing how and when we communicate with each other, whether we travel to purchase goods or have the goods come to us, and where we work. It is changing the demands that we, as a society, place on the transport system and our need for it.

Modern transport systems are becoming increasingly reliant on technology, with increasing levels of automation delivering improvements in safety and efficiency. In the long-term, the use of fully autonomous or driverless vehicles has the potential to revolutionise the transport system. In the more immediate term, the increased availability and reducing cost of information technology will offer improvements in efficiency, safety, and social experience. Technology will play an increasingly important role in helping to improve service levels while managing costs.

Moving on, the long term future of the current funding model is raised and it’s clear the MoT is concerned about the future funding stream for transport. Here are some high level predictions for what the MoT say we may see.

In the next ten years:

  • The historic link between the rate of economic growth and the level of demand for transport will continue to weaken. We will achieve economic growth without an equivalent increase in transport demand.
  • As our population becomes more concentrated in urban areas, local councils with stagnating or declining populations and low growth prospects will find it increasingly difficult to meet the cost of maintaining their existing networks.

In 20-30 years:

  • Gradual improvements in the fuel efficiency of cars will slowly erode the effectiveness and fairness of Fuel Excise Duty as a means of collecting revenue from transport users.
  • Solutions to congestion in cities are likely to become increasingly expensive. This could increase the tension between cities’ and regions under a national funding system.
  • Greater demand for public transport and active modes could put pressure on the National Land Transport Fund, which is collected from motorists.

The first point about the weakening link economic growth and transport demand is something we’ve highlighted a long time ago. This is quite important as the Roads of National Significance are largely based on the idea they will improve the economy. The last point is also an odd one as we know that investing in PT infrastructure can really help bring down operating costs while also boosting revenue due to more customers using the services.

The briefing says impacts of changing trends could have these impacts on the government.

  • We will need to answer difficult questions around the amount that should be collected from transport users, what it can (or can’t) be used for, and how it should be distributed around the country.
  • As expenditure rises and the amount collected from motorists at the pump decreases, regular increases in fuel taxes will be required. This could prompt changes to the way we collect revenue from transport users.
  • Measures to contain costs and transition towards a more sustainable expenditure path will be challenging, particularly for transport providers that are accustomed to continuous improvements to network standards.
  • The government should expect increasing pressure for more funding from both larger cities (especially Auckland), which are struggling to pay for the investments required as a result of population growth; and smaller regional centres, which are facing rising costs with fewer rate-payers to fund them.

There are some serious issues in there and it seems the third one could be aimed at large infrastructure builders hoping for continuous large projects like currently seems to be happening. The current set of projects are already putting large pressure on the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and this is highlighted in this graphic below where expenditure is greater than the revenue being generated.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - NLTF

Lastly it’s interesting to see the current transport spend in the context of New Zealand’s history. It’s currently at 1.3% of GDP which is the highest level it’s been for decades and well above the OECD average of around 1%.

2014 Briefing to the Incoming Minister - Historical Spend

Overall it’s good to finally see some sense starting to come through from the Ministry but the question is, will the government listen?

Stuart’s 100 #56: More Dignity for Daily Users

56 More Dignity for Daily Users

Day_56

What if there was a moment of civic dignity outside the Auckland District Court?

The Auckland District Court on the corner of Albert and Kingston Streets is I think at last count the busiest courthouse in New Zealand. At a guess people coming and going through the doors on an average day would likely number in the thousands.

Busyness aside it must be one of the most disappointing public buildings in Auckland.

The space around the building is so cramped. As a consequence the building has a very poor street presence, as well as a lack of basic dignity for people coming and going. This is particularly so for those who need to wait around before or after court appearances. In this respect the contrast with the Auckland High Court sitting supremely up on Waterloo Quadrant couldn’t be more different.

That said the original design of the court building itself did make a few gestures towards being an important public building, such as the coat of arms and the distinctive stained glass artwork that forms the corner entrance canopy, designed by American-New Zealand artist Holly Sanford.  This must be one of the earlier attempts at weaving a bi-cultural story into a public building in New Zealand. I imagine it is rarely appreciated given it is best appreciated from a moving vehicle or standing across the street on the narrow footpath against the edge of the retaining wall.

These things could be easily addressed through redesigning not only the streets (particularly Kingston Street which is crying out for shared space as part of the Federal Street laneway circuit), but also through altering the way the building relates to the street edge to make for a more hospitable and welcoming environment. These things might seem modest, but they lift the daily dignity of how we use and move about the city.

This is how public buildings with important civic functions were designed in the past. Wouldn’t Auckland be better off if our government departments and institutions gave a little more back to the city?

District Court 1

The cramped and cluttered entrance outside the Auckland District Court

Kingston St

Daily comings and goings at the courthouse support a row of cafes and food outlets across Kingston Street, which is crying out for shared space as part of the Federal Street laneway circuit

District Court 2

The Albert Street building edge could be turned into a more hospitable stepped seating edge that utilises the space of the upper podium behind the column line

 

Stuart Houghton 2014

Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

Mill Rd update

While it emerged the other day that AT are looking to cut back on rail to the airport due to it’s cost, a day later they announce they are seeking a designation for a $300 million mini highway through currently rural south Auckland. The need for the road is claimed to be the huge amount of greenfield development expected to occur in the area in the next few decades.

A route has been identified for the upgrade of the Redoubt and Mill Road corridor, which is needed to support large housing growth in the area.

Traffic is predicted to double on the route in 10 to 15 years due to the growth. More than 22,000 new homes are proposed for the area, about 10,000 are in special housing areas that are likely to be fast-tracked.

Auckland Transport has identified the route for the upgrade of the Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor and applied to Auckland Council to designate land (Notices of Requirement) for the project.

The council is expected to publicly notify the Notices of Requirement (NoR) for the designation in early 2015, with a hearing before independent commissioners to follow.

Auckland Transport Project Director Theunis van Schalkwyk says the project is driven by significant growth planned for the area and to improve the roads’ poor safety record.

“Congestion is already affecting Redoubt Road and Mill Road. The large number of new houses leads to traffic doubling in 10 to 15 years, meaning the road won’t cope without a major upgrade.

“Between 2009 and 2013 there were 283 crashes, including four deaths, with a number of accident hotspots on curves and junctions. The upgrade will improve the alignment to the safety standard required on an arterial route.

“With growth happening quickly in the area we need to give certainty to both existing and future property owners what land is needed for the upgrade. New housing areas can then be built knowing where the transport infrastructure to support it will be.

Mr van Schalkwyk says a number of route options have been investigated, consulted upon and evaluated before the final route was confirmed, with an independent environmental assessment a key factor.

The assessment recommended a number of mitigation measures to minimise impacts.

The route includes 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and a 17m high viaduct at South Mill Road gully above native bush to minimise impacts. The project also includes about 30,000 sqm of native planting, stream restoration, wetlands created, pest eradication and environmental monitoring during and after construction.

Auckland Transport has contacted affected property owners directly about the project and is meeting with them to discuss their land owner rights and the planning process. The upgrade will need future purchase of 54 full properties and 257 partial properties, for example part of a driveway or frontages.

Project features

  • Redoubt Road widened to two lanes in each direction between State Highway One and Murphys Road
  • Westbound bus lane along Hollyford Drive and Redoubt Road towards Manukau.
  • On road cycle lanes on both sides and an off road cycle and foot path for the length of the upgrade.
  • Replacement of the existing Mill Road with a new arterial with two lanes in each direction between Murphys Road and Popes Road.
  • Murphys Road widened to two lanes in each direction between Flat Bush School Road and Redoubt Road.
  • Murphys/Redoubt Road intersection realigned and traffic lights added to improve safety.
  • 17m and 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and South Mill Road gully above native bush.
  • Widened footpaths on both sides of Redoubt, Mill and Murphys roads with pedestrian crossings at key intersections.
  • Replacement planting and stream restoration.
  • Improved stormwater facilities, including wetlands areas.
  • Landscaping of the new road corridor.

Here’s a video of the route.

This is a massive project that has an almost mini motorway feel to it and it highlights just how much greenfield growth is possibly going to occur in the area. We regularly get told by those pushing for more greenfield growth that developers cover the cost of new infrastructure however this project is a great example that this is simply incorrect. In reality they only pay for some localised infrastructure and it’s left to tax/ratepayers have to pick up the tab for mega projects like this.

On to the project itself and the designs they’ve come up with are hugely disappointing and show either AT, the designers or both are still stuck in a time warp. Despite the fact that they’re basically building a brand new road, facilities for those not in a car are extremely substandard. For example to cater for walking and cycling it is proposed to build both on road cycle lanes that vary in width between 1.5 and 2m, and a shared path. Instead AT should be moving straight to proper protected cycle lanes with the footpaths left to those walking. Of course the biggest problem with that is it would mean they might have to cut into the 3m of space being set aside for a median and hell would have to freeze over before they even considered such a change. Making the cycle lanes sage is going to be really important as this mini motorway looks like it’s only going to encourage people to speed.

Here’s a few examples of what they’re proposing for the road (click to enlarge).

Redoubt Rd/Murphys Rd Intersection

Mill Rd - Murpheys Rd intersection

As you can see massive 4 lane road proposed which splays out to even more lanes at the intersection of Murphys Rd.

Mill Rd/Alfriston Rd

Mill Rd - Mill Rd, Alfriston

A big multi-lane roundabout, ugh. That won’t be fun for people in a car or on a bike.

And some of the cross sections

Mill Rd - Cross sections

Overall this project seems like it’s straight out of the bad old days and was previously said to be needed to help ease pressure on the motorway. However now we know the government are about to widen the southern motorway in the area increasing its capacity which likely reduces the need for such a massive upgrade.

Citi Bike Rides visualisation

Citi Bike in New York has been spectacularly successful and incredibly popular since it launched in May last year.

Just a few months later tens of thousands of trips per day were already being taken on the bikes. Below is a fascinating visualisation covering trips users made over two days.

At long last, we have documented trips on Citi Bike. Rides are displayed as point-to-point journeys (not routed in the street grid – yet) and are rendered in color based on whether the rider was an annual or casual user.
This visualization was produced using journey data from Tuesday, September 17th at 12 midnight and Wednesday, September 18th at midnight. Approximately 75,000 rides were taken in these two days.
The weather was mild, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 50s. No rain at all was recorded.

More buses needed on weekends and evenings

Crowding on peak public transport is a well known occurrence in Auckland. This is a rather complex issue to fix due to bus congestion in the city, and high cost of adding extra buses and drivers to run one service a day. Working on bus lanes to improve efficiency and addition of double deckers is the best way to fix this issue.

However we are now seeing regular reports come in of crowding on off-peak services, notably on evenings and weekends. Even on popular inner isthmus routes, evening and weekend services are still stuck in a bygone era, not recognising that the city centre is now far from an 8am to 5pm destination. Weekend services also haven’t been updated to reflect the popularity of the CBD on the weekends and the regular special events that draw people in, especially over summer. Sunday services are usually a lower frequency than Saturday services, which may have been fine when the shops were all closed on Sundays, however it is not appropriate in 2014.

Services at off-peak times should also be able to be added relatively cheaply, as they just involve using existing buses and drivers more often, rather than pushing the need for extra buses and drivers. In some cases the issues may be able to be helped by running larger buses, instead of leaving these sitting in the depot at weekends.

They key services than seem to suffer the most from overcrowding issues are Dominion Road, Mount Eden Road, Tamaki Drive and the Northern Express.

Mount Eden Road

The issues on Mount Eden Road seem to largely come from the sparse evening services. Services drop from 15 minute frequency to 30 minutes after 9pm, which is much too early.

Mt Eden evening timetable

Mt Eden Road weekday evening timetable

 

This tweet from last Monday night shows the high demand for evening Mt Eden Road buses.

Andrew W 277 Monday

And from Julie Anne Genter last month, this time on a Tuesday night.

JAG Mt Eden Road

A few extra 274 services to give at 15 minute frequency until 11pm or so would probably sort the issues. An extra service at 12.10am would probably be popular as well.

Dominion Road

The issues on Dominion Road come from both evening and weekend day time services. Buses are often so full that they are leaving people behind, which is unacceptable.

On Saturdays buses run the 258 and 267 run at a 20 minute frequency, giving a 10 minute frequency along Dominion Road from Mount Roskill. However this doesn’t seem to be enough to meet demand.

Geogoose Saturday

However on Sunday the timetable is totally archaic, and belongs in the 1970’s. The 258 and 267 both run every 40 minutes, only giving a 20 minute service all day.

Dom Rd Sunday timetable

This is certainly not nearly enough to meet demand. This tweet from last Sunday shows this results in packed buses leaving people behind.

Kate Dom Rd Sunday

This tweet from a couple of weekends ago shows this is a regular occurrence.

Geogoose DomRd Sunday

Evening services are also an issue. I heard that Dominion Road buses were leaving people behind at the Symonds Street bridge last Friday night, and am told this is common.

Some of the issues seem to arise from the use by NZ Bus of small ADL Enviro 200 buses, which have much lower seating capacity than the bigger buses available. This is very poor customer service from NZ Bus, as they are sure to have plenty of empty large buses sitting at the depot on weekends, however choose to run small buses to save on operating costs. This is unacceptable.

Tamaki Drive

On nice days in summer the 15 mintue frequency and small ADL buses used on the service cannot handle the demand for trips to Mission Bay. Last Sunday afternoon I saw a bus packed full of people leaving town, and this meant it could not stop at the first stop on Quay Street near Countdown to pick up more beachgoers. I have heard this is a common occurrence on summer weekends.

James Pole MIssion Bay

Again NZ Bus is causing issues by running small ADL 200 buses on these services when larger buses are available.

Northern Express

Northern Express services running on weekends and evenings are often seen to be at capacity. The timetable for weekends and evenings has not been updated since May 2011, despite major patronage growth since this time. Buses leave Britomart every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight, however demand seems to outstrip this. The NEX needs to run at 10 minute frequency for another hour or 2 to cope with the patronage.

As an example this was the queue for the NEX at 7.40pm last Thursday, nearly 50 people long.

B2TU_bPCcAAE7B4.jpg-large

And this is the bus leaving at 7.45pm. These 10 people were left behind as the bus was full of standing passengers.

B2TWrv9CUAAaKhr.jpg-large

 

Weekend frequency is also an issue. All day weekend frequency is every 15 minutes. However I have regularly seen buses leaving the city full of standing passengers. At a 15 minute frequency the Northern Express cannot handle special events. This is a scene from the Auckland marathon just over a 2 weeks ago where a surge in patronage left the NEX unable to cope.

Nick R NEX wknd

This suggests the Northern Express needs its frequency upgraded to 10 minutes on weekends, at least for the busiest parts of the day.

I am keen to hear more reports from readers about issues with public transport overcrowding, including stories that both confirm the above reports, as well as issues on other services that they have come across.

Fixing these issues would help raise public confidence in the bus system, and ensure people catching a bus have a good experience. It would also provide a great boost to public transport patronage.

New Auckland Rail Timetables

Auckland Transport have announced new train timetables that will come in to effect on 8 December and in my view they represent what could be a significant change in focus for how rail is run in Auckland. Many of the changes have hinted at over the last few months in the AT board meetings and have been talked about for years so aren’t a major surprise however it’s great to finally see them start to be implemented. The new timetables are here

Here are the key changes.

Eastern Line

  • Increased capacity including double electric trains (six cars) at peak times.
  • A quicker journey time between Manukau and Britomart.
  • All services heading south terminate at Manukau, customers will need to transfer to the Southern Line if they want to travel to stations south of Puhinui.
  • More frequent services for Manukau: six trains an hour during peak, three trains each hour during the day and a half-hourly service at night and on the weekend.

Onehunga Line

  • Half-hourly service all day/every day including extended Friday night and weekend hours.

Southern Line

  • All services will go through Newmarket so passengers south of Puhinui will need to transfer to the Eastern Line if they want to go to Sylvia Park, Panmure, Glen Innes, Meadowbank or Orakei.
  • The Southern Line is next to get electric trains in early 2015.

Pukekohe

  • There will be an additional evening service leaving Britomart at 8.58pm and arriving in Pukekohe at 10.07pm.
  • New hourly weekend services to Papakura to connect to trains to Britomart.

Western Line

  • Extra half-hourly services on Friday night between 10pm and 12.30am.
  • All weekend services will now run half-hourly but will terminate at Swanson, a new hourly scheduled bus service will operate between Swanson station and Waitakere.

To me what makes these timetables changes so important is that they seem to take a new approach to how the timetable is put together. Up to now the timetables put together by AT and its predecessor have had a very kludgy feel to them. By that I mean it seems as though the foundation of the timetable was the same from when rail was hardly used and AT then just kept piling on services wherever they could fit them – including having to fit them around freight trains. An example of this is below with services on the eastern and southern line heading to the same destination leaving 5 minutes apart then having a 14 minute gap.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - old southern line

While the old timetable was a kludge, it feels like with this change AT have taken the opportunity to rebuild the timetable from scratch and in doing so it will result in a far superior customer experience. That can only be good for ongoing patronage growth. There are a few significant changes worth highlighting – note: these primarily only apply to the Southern and Eastern lines.

Firstly as had been mentioned in the board reports AT have really simplified the service patterns on the network. No longer will someone going from Britomart to Middlemore have the option of a service to

  • Manukau via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Glen Innes
  • Pukekohe via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Newmarket
  • Pukekohe via Newmarket

Now it’s just an Eastern Line or Southern line train. That’s much simpler and in my opinion considerably better from a customer perspective.

Secondly it seems that now AT have built the timetable around the idea of having 10 minute frequencies all day and then dropped services when they’ve wanted to reduce frequency off peak or in the evenings. You can see this most clearly below where on the eastern line timetable (highlighted in red below) between 9am and 4pm every second service has been dropped – the same thing can be seen on the southern line.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - New Manukau

There are a couple of reasons why this change is so important. Firstly the clock face times make it so much simpler and easier for customers to know when a train will be at their station. Secondly the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) that AT adopted last year says that the intention is for the three main lines to run at 10 minute frequencies during the day and 15 minute frequencies during the evening. For the Southern and Eastern lines to get from this new timetable to that level is simply a case of adding in the missing services without AT needing to rejig everything else.

RPTP rail frequencies

RPTP rail services

 

The third major change is that AT have moved to a minimum frequency across the electrified network (Swanson to Papakura) and across the week of a train every 30 minutes. While most services across the network were already at that level this change primarily impacts evening and weekend services making them much more usable. The current situation is absurd with trains only hourly in the weekend evenings making it all but impossible to use PT, say if going to meet up with friends in town on a Saturday night. It also fixes one of the odd little quirks in the timetable that saw a few trains on the Western line terminate at Henderson which saw me on more than one occasion with a longer walk home.

Lastly we’re finally seeing some time savings from the electric trains. Services from Manukau currently take 42 minutes to reach Britomart however with this new timetable will see EMUs exclusively on the eastern line, travel times are now 4-6 minutes quicker. That’s might not sound like much but it’s a 10-14% saving. Presumably other lines will be able to see savings once they too are all (or mostly) served by electric trains.

I guess for me the only real disappointment with this change is that the western line is still stuck at the same 15 minute peak frequency it’s had since at least 2008. While the trains servicing the line are now larger, those too are at capacity. It’s especially annoying as it was promised 10 minute frequencies would be delivered once double tracking was complete in 2010.

Still putting that one point the side, overall I think this is perhaps the most significant change to the timetable in many many years. It seems the first stage of what will eventually be a mature and high frequency timetable.  As part of its press release, AT say patronage is currently at 12.1 million trips (an increase on Septembers 11.9 million trips to the end of September. Rail is growing at 17% and with the electric trains plus these changes I expect that kind of growth will continue for some time yet.

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.

AT Earlybird parking to go

Yesterday Auckland Transport quietly announced that they were finally ending the silly tradition of incentivising people to drive at the time of the day when the roads are at their busiest. Even better is they’re being quite blunt about the reasons.

From 1 December 2014, early bird parking is being discontinued in Auckland Transport’s Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car park buildings. Our daily rate of $17 will apply to all day parkers.

  • Historically AT has subsidised people to drive into the city at peak times, which is adding to congestion.
  • Our prices are increasing to dis-incentivise people to drive during one of the busiest times of the day (am peak).
  • Moving forward that money will be used to put into public transport, which is our number one priority.
  • View public transport options.
  • See what AT is proposing with the new public transport network.

This is a good move from AT who have been cheaper than the rest of the market for many many years, something they confirmed in their recent Parking Discussion Document which also hinted that these changes were on the way.

AT is currently charging less than commercial operators for long stay parking – $13 early bird versus $14 on average. Early bird parking encourages commuter trips and generally applies prior to 8:30am in AT car parks and 9:30am in commercial operated car parks. AT can influence a shift commuter demand away from the morning peak by reducing the amount of long stay parking, increasing prices to achieve parity with commercial operators, changing the conditions for early bird parking and moving toward more short stay parking.

They mention they want to focus on short stay parking and the discussion document highlighted the mismatch that exists between long and short stay parking availability. It also highlights how little of the cities off street parking is provided by AT with their parking being dwarfed by the private sector.

CBD Parking Supply

Not even all of AT’s carparks are part of this change and in total only around 2,500 carparks in the city.

One of the issues that AT’s carparks have had due to their low prices is that they’ve been too popular and I’ve heard they average over 95% occupancy during the day. The carparks fill up in the mornings with commuters and later in the day when people try to use them – say for a meeting in town or to visit town for shopping – they are often unable to find a space. It’s partly for this reason I suspect that Heart of the City have come out in strong support of the changes.

Of course not everyone will be happy. I expect the Herald and many other outlets give the changes plenty of coverage and there’ll be a steady stream of people ready to complain. Unsurprisingly one of those is the AA (who have been much better of late).

The AA says that if Auckland Transport (AT) wants to reduce the number of private cars commuting to Auckland’s CBD, the focus needs to go on making public transport a more realistic option, not raising parking charges.

AT today announced that Early Bird parking (priced at $13) would be removed from Auckland Council-owned parking buildings from 1 December 2014, and replaced by an all-day rate of $17. Prices for leased parking spaces would also be raised.

“For a lot of people, this change will be a kick in the teeth,” says AA spokesman Barney Irvine.

“Most Auckland AA Members who drive to work in the CBD do so out of necessity. Nearly half use their cars for work during the day, and many others live a long way from the public transport network or have household responsibilities that just don’t fit with taking the bus or the train.”

Public transport in Auckland had come a long way but was still not a viable alternative for many people, said Mr Irvine.

A recent AA survey showed that more than two-thirds of Auckland AA Members opposed an increase to parking charges to encourage greater public transport use.

Changing commuter behaviour would require positive incentives rather than punishing motorists.

“That means delivering real improvements in terms of frequency and quality of public transport, and doing more to find out what factors other than price might encourage people to change how they travel to work,” Mr Irvine said.

In any case, the proposed changes would do little to ease congestion.

“AT only controls about 16% of the off-street parking market, and only around half of that is long-stay,” he said. “So all this is going to do is hurt a small group of motorists financially, and open the door to private providers jacking up their prices.”

I wonder how many of those AA members are parking in AT parking buildings compared to other parking options in the city, probably not all that many.

So how does our parking rates compare with other cities. This graph shows the number of spaces per worker compared to their cost between NZ and the major Australian cities.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012)  Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012) Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

While Colliers International conduct a parking survey every few years of a huge range of international cities and Auckland doesn’t even rank in the top 50, again well below many of our comparator cities. Auckland is listed with a daily average of $22 (USD $17) which I assume hasn’t taken early bird rates or daily caps into account.

Top 50 cities parking rates

Lastly we also know that improved public transport is working. Over the last 14 years the number of people arriving in the CBD during the morning peak (7am – 9am) via PT has risen from 20k to 35k and combined with active modes have seen the number of people driving to the city falling. Now during the morning peak fewer than 50% arrive in the CBD by car. In fact my biggest concern with these changes is that many of our PT routes are already very full and need extra capacity

I support AT on these changes however it will be interesting to see how they react to the inevitable backlash from those who feel entitled to cheap/free parking.