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Supply and demand and regional airfares

Back in June, Stuff published a report on regional airfares, focusing on the way that prices are affected by major events such as concerts and sports competitions. Now, I’m no airline economist, but I’ve got a general interest in transport pricing so I figured that it would be worth taking a look at the topic.

The point of the article seems to be that airplane tickets are higher during periods of high demand. That doesn’t seem too weird, but this guy in Nelson is absolutely ropeable at the thought:

Nelson man Steffan Eden is furious about Air NZ’s fares from Nelson to Auckland and return for the weekend of March  5 and 6 when Madonna will give her first New Zealand concert at the Vector Arena.

Fares that the previous weekend cost $79 are twice that at $159 on the weekend of the concert, an $89 fare rises to $169; and a $129 fare becomes $209…

“Look at the fares the weekends before and after the concert, they’re normal fares. Then on the concert weekend they’re virtually double.  It’s quite blatant.”

Eden said the same thing happened when he wanted to go to the Cricket World Cup match between New Zealand and England on February 20.  “I wanted to take my kids but didn’t in the end because of the cost,” he said.

The man quoted in the article seems to argue that these jumps up in fares are due to uncompetitive or discriminatory practices by Air NZ. By contrast, the airline says that the price increases are just due to cheaper tickets selling out faster:

An Air New Zealand statement said it has been experiencing high demand for flights into and out of Nelson that weekend due to both the New Zealand Masters Hockey Tournament which is being held in Nelson from February 28 to March 5 and the Madonna concert in Auckland.

“As you will appreciate, where there are major events on flights tend to sell out well in advance, with the cheaper fares selling out the fastest, so booking as early as possible is recommended.”

Now, as an economist I’m always wary of the potential for companies with few immediate competitors to exercise market power over their customers. But in this particular case, I don’t think that’s happening. What we are seeing is the normal, and in fact beneficial, working of supply and demand.

Let’s start with the supply side. Air NZ doesn’t have an infinite budget for airplanes and staff. It faces constraints. If it wanted to run more services between Nelson and Auckland on particular weekends of high demand, it would have to either:

  • Pull airplanes off other regional routes, which would potentially satisfy Nelson’s demand but would in turn lead to similar stories about how unfair Air NZ was being to Napier or Timaru or what-have-you, or
  • Buy extra airplanes and hire extra staff that would sit idle most of the time and fly only during a few periods of exceptionally high demand. This is superficially appealing, but it would mean an across-the-board increase in fares to pay for a bunch of empty planes.
mojave desert boneyard1

This isn’t really related, but it’s an interesting picture (Source)

So that’s the supply side. What about demand?

Air NZ has observed, correctly, that demand for flights is not constant over time. Simply put, more people want to fly at some time periods than during others. Airlines can respond to this in a few different ways. The first would be to keep prices constant, regardless of demand. This would turn air travel into a first-come-first served game, which is great if you always buy tickets months in advance but terrible if you have to take a last-minute trip for work or a medical emergency.

The second approach, which Air NZ may be using, is to charge higher prices during periods of higher demand. This may seem less fair, but it’s actually better for (almost) everyone. It means that airlines aren’t constantly booking out flights well in advance or misallocating resources in a futile attempt to give everyone a cheap flight. Travellers also benefit – they get a choice between paying more to travel at their preferred time or finding a cheaper fare at an off-peak time.

I fly for work on a semi-regular basis so I’ve noticed some of the patterns over time. Between 4-6pm, departure gates fill up with suit-wearing men and women headed home from their meetings in time for dinner. Not surprisingly, prices are highest at this time. Later on, prices drop, planes get a bit emptier, and the suits get replaced with casual clothes. By the end of the night, most of the people who want to get home have gotten there, and for a price that they’re willing to pay.

Occasionally, this means that somebody decides not to go to a Madonna concert. But that’s not a flaw with supply and demand – that’s how it’s supposed to work! If the man quoted in the Stuff article didn’t go, it’s only because someone who valued being there more bought the ticket instead.

Finally, I have to ask: Why are people outraged when the principles of supply and demand are applied to airfares? Perhaps it’s because we routinely ignore those principles everywhere else in our transport system.

As numerous economists have observed, we manage our roads like a Soviet supermarket. The price to use roads is set at a single, low value – i.e. NZ’s comparatively low petrol taxes – and thus people queue up for ages to drive on them every morning and evening. The same thing happens with parking, where we have regulated to make it abundant and free and ended up in a situation where people can never get enough parking.

In economic terms, there is no difference between this:

SH16 traffic

And this:

latvian-bread-line

They are both situations in which scarce resources, including people’s time, are misallocated due to poorly-functioning price signals. So rather than asking “why don’t we price air travel as inefficiently as roads?”, we should ask “why don’t we price roads as efficiently as we price airfares?”

A failure to price roads efficiently badly distorts our supply decisions. We are forever pouring more asphalt and concrete that accommodates a few more slowly-moving cars at peak times and sits idle much of the rest of the time. By contrast, congestion pricing would allow us to avoid many of these expenditures by giving people an incentive to travel differently.

What do you think about airfares – and transport pricing in general?

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange design

In my post about the AT board meeting last week I highlighted that construction of the Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange station is currently out for tender. This interchange is crucial to enabling the new network for South Auckland to be rolled out

The AT website contains a few new images of what’s proposed for the site and which are different to what we’ve seen before.

First up the overall layout

Otahuhu Interchange plan diagram

I agree with some of the comments from the AT Board Meeting post that said having a single entrance meaning buses travelling though the station have to loop around isn’t ideal. I guess the only counter to that is that having another entrance/exit adds an additional intersection which may not be idea.

Here’s what the interchange may actually look like. First up an aerial overview of interchange.

Otahuhu Interchange aerial overview

The main entrance

Otahuhu interchange plaza area in front of entrance

Walking along Walmsley Rd from the North

Otahuhu Interchange from Walmsely Road

Overall it looks like a very nice station and a great addition to the network. Currently the station is not highly used however once complete the bus interchange should see a lot of people flowing through every day.

Of course it also needs to be supported by improved walking and cycle connections. There are plans to improve the connections to the Otahuhu Town Centre but these don’t seem to include improvements such as along Walmsley Rd into the nearby residential areas.

Auckland a City of Opportunity?

A new report comparing Auckland with 30 other international cities by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) paints a grim picture in many of the categories we talk about. Titled “A City of Opportunity”, the report released last year compared 30 cities from around the world. Following the 2012 version of the report a separate study was done to see how Auckland compared and the same thing has happened again with the 2014 version. This gives Auckland a useful tool for comparison. The results were given at an Auckland Conversations event last week and you can watch the presentation here while the presentation itself is here.

 

 

While many of the other reports that rank cities do so as a metric for assessing what to pay staff posted overseas, the PWC report appears more focused on the economic opportunity from cities working together. However like other reports, it is based on how a city scores across a number of criteria. In this case there are 59 variables spread across 10 categories which themselves combined into three high level groups with the report taking both a quantitative and qualitative look at city life. One of the things they mention is that while not all variables are under a cities direct control e.g. education, that it doesn’t mean a local council should just ignore the impact they have and should be active in trying to get the government to continue to improve the system. The groups, categories and variables are

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Ranking Critera

 

The 30 comparator cities are shown below and were picked so there was a mix of cities from all regions of the world and with different attributes. The map below shows the cities along with their overall ranking (the higher the number the better).

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Cities

 

One of the interesting outcomes that was noted was when the result of the rankings was compared with GDP data.  As you can see there is a correlation between cities that score well and those that perform better economically. It was also mentioned that in some cases – such as a study of 15 Swedish cities using the same methodology – this relationship is even stronger.

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Economic Impact

Moving on to Auckland, the results below show how the city compared against the 30 other cities in 2012. As you can see we were doing ok in some areas but others we really lagged behind. It is noted that our main weaknesses are:

  • Transport and Infrastructure
  • Economic Clout
  • City Gateway

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - 2012 results

Some metrics aren’t expected to have changed much so not all measures have (yet?) been reviewed in 2015 but the results of four were given.

  • Technology Readiness
  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Economic clout
  • Demographics and livability

Here are some the comparisons for these areas. It’s important to remember that the rankings below are how Auckland compares to the other cites, not the scores that it achieved for each segment. PWC say Auckland has been improving but the issue is that in some cases other cities are improving at a faster rate meaning we’re falling down the rankings.

In technology and readiness the governments fibre roll-out initiative is paying off and Auckland is improving and so to is it’s ranking in Software development and multi-media design however other metrics are falling. In the case of Internet access in schools PWC said it wasn’t just about having access to the Internet but also how schools are adapting to it and making the most use of technology.

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Technology Readiness 2

 

For Demographics & livability Auckland continues to do well for quality of living but slips down the rankings on the other metrics. Of interest, we’re still ranked fairly well for traffic congestion as while many locals think things are bad, congestion is considered nowhere near as bad as many other cities. One aspect in the discussion on traffic congestion that I found interesting was that the example of prioritising walking and cycling in Amsterdam was highlighted. It was said how contrary to what many people and car drivers assumed, walkers and cyclists spent more in city shops than those who drove did and on that basis it was better for the economy to remove the cars.

The very low score for demographics relates to the large ageing population we have which presents both an opportunity (if people work longer) as well as a challenge for the future once they start leaving the workforce.

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Demographics & livability

The transport and infrastructure results are particularly interesting and concerning. As you can see Auckland ranks very poorly for its public transport system, especially the coverage and cost of it. This is something that electrification, the new bus network and integrated fares help improve but even with those it’s likely we’ll still be very far down the list. The housing result will probably raise a few eyebrows however it was described as being not just a cost to buy measure but also how easy/hard it is to get into a house (regardless of whether you’re buying it).

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Transport and Infrastructure

And lastly economic clout where we’re doing well in some areas but very poorly in others. This is in part because other cities have been much more affected by the economic conditions in recent years than Auckland/NZ has. The question is if Auckland can sustain the rate of growth it’s been achieving in the last few years because if it can’t, it would likely fall down the rankings.

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Economic Clout

These are summed up to the following strengths and weaknesses.

PWC - Cities of Opportunity - Strengths and Weaknesses

All up Auckland remains a city with a huge amount of potential, especially thanks to the natural environment we have and it’s clear we’ve been doing some things right. It’s also said that some of the plans we have are good too but one major issue is making sure we get the execution right.

Sunday reading 26 July 2015

Jarrett Walker, “Explainer: The Transit Ridership Recipe“, Human Transit. An epic post by Jarrett where he outlines the fundamentals to delivering high ridership public transit

The most successful transit, in terms of ridership achieved for a fixed operating budget, is called mass transit for a reason.    The busiest transit lines — a big city subway system, for example –succeed precisely because they are not designed around the details of anyone’s needs.  Riding them you will not get much assurance that planners of the system understand you in particular, or know what trip you’re making now, or care much about your unique point of view. Instead, you’re likely to notice how many different people are finding the same vehicle useful.

The end of minimum parking requirements?

Paul Young, “One dumb regulation is driving up the cost of your house and your flat white“, Gareth’s World.

By wasting valuable land and pushing up construction costs, MPRs make housing and basically everything more expensive. Now of course, there’s nothing wrong with building car parks so long as people are happy to pay for them. The problem is when they aren’t given any choice.

To what extent are MPRs actually causing an oversupply of parking? Estimating this can be difficult and will differ case by case. As an example, removal of MPRs in London resulted in a 40% decrease in the number of car parks provided with new developments. Clearly the regulation was forcing people to build significantly more parks than they wanted to.

Josh Cohen, “Minneapolis Chooses Affordable Housing Over Parking“, Next City.

Minneapolis previously had a one parking space per unit requirement for all development outside of downtown. The new ordinance does away with parking requirements for new developments with 50 or fewer units that are within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit. It reduces requirements for larger developments within a quarter mile of transit to .5 parking spaces per unit…

“There’s a lot of demand for smaller buildings in neighborhoods with underutilized or vacant parcels where you just couldn’t build a project with our previous parking requirements. Either you couldn’t make the numbers work or you literally couldn’t fit a parking garage on the site,” she explains.

Melanie Curry, “Bill to Reform Parking Minimums Passes CA Senate Transportation Committee“, StreetsBlog California. Recently the State of California reformed the counterproductive, sprawl-inducing, Level of Service (LOS) rules. Parking requirements are the next hand brake under the microscope.

The bill, A.B. 744, would reduce parking requirements for affordable housing developments, making it less expensive to build affordable housing and using federal tax credits to build housing rather than unnecessary parking.

The purpose of the bill is to fix existing unintended consequences of current parking requirements. Those consequences include unnecessarily high construction costs that make affordable housing infeasible to build, thus exacerbating an already dire shortage of housing for low-income people.

Julie Hill, “No space for parking?! New solutions for a new generation“, Auckland Design Manual Blog.

Cars, it seems, are becoming uncool. In the United States, Canada, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Japan and Australia, the coveted Y Generation demographic has propelled a downturn in car use. Gen Y likes to get from A to B by riding a bike or hopping on public transport, or just looking up a map online and walking. It marks its entry into adulthood not with a dangerous, polluting, expensive car, but with a fancy new phone.

And this trend may be catching on here. Transportblog challenges the government’s view that the drop in driving is a temporary blip caused by the after-effects of the global financial crisis, and that more roading capacity is necessary and crucial to our economic growth. It argues we are driving less and buying fewer cars due to concerns about health and the environment, high petrol costs, smartphone-assisted carpooling and cheaper flights.

The end of the office park?

office_space_lumbergh1

Dan Zak, “The old suburban office park is the new American ghost town“, The Washington Post.

The American ghost town has assumed different forms: the abandoned gold-rush towns out West, the silent Floridian subdivisions of underwater McMansions. Now, we have fiefdoms of mid-Atlantic office space, on streets named Research Boulevard and Professional Drive, thinning out in the sprawl. They are hobbled by changing work styles and government shrinkage. People telecommute. People move into the city or into faux-urban areas that are friendlier to pedestrians, that aren’t barnacled on a highway.

Most analyses of the market indicate that office parks simply aren’t as appealing or profitable as they were in the 20th century and that Americans just aren’t as keen to cloister themselves in workspaces that are reachable only by car.

Robert Steuteville, “Firms move downtown and change workforce geography“, Better Cities & Towns.

Last fall, the US commercial real estate association NAIOP reported that 83 percent of office tenants want to locate in walkable, mixed-use places.

By far the most prominent reason companies cited for their move downtown was to help recruit and retain talented workers, notes SGA. “As companies compete for new hires and the best talent, being located in a vibrant neighborhood is considered a crucial selling point. The businesses in our study report that current and potential employees want neighborhoods with restaurants, cafes, cultural institutions, entertainment, and nightlife as well as easy access by public transportation.” This motivation is particularly strong for businesses hiring millennnials—-now 18 to 34 years old.

lockwood

Artist/Traffic Engineer: Ian Lockwood

Henri De Groot, “What led to the revival of the world’s cities?“, Agenda: World Economic Forum.

What explains this unexpected reversal of fortunes? Why have cities emerged as hubs of economic activity in this era in which the internet seems to be the ‘cul-de-sac’ of physical distance? That is the question we ask in our new book ‘Cities and the Urban Land Premium’. ..

The growth of human capital has been key to the economic miracle of the 20th century, but the fruits of this capital could only be harvested when great minds and well educated people clustered together in cities. The rise of the city and the knowledge economy are therefore intimately related…

Knowledge spill-overs imply that cities are a focal point of location-driven externalities. Land rents are the expression of these externalities. A location’s rent is high not because of the characteristics of the location itself, but because of what happens at locations in their direct proximity.

Generation Rent?

Danny Dorling, “‘Generation rent’? We’ve been here before“, The Guardian.

We may never get back to the fantasy of a home-owning majority, where so many of us get up housing ladders to maintain our own property. We may not want to do so again. After all, when house prices finally stop rising, because a younger generation successfully demanded mild rent regulation, what would be the point of speculating and buying at today’s prices?

Hilary Osborne, “Generation rent: the housing ladder starts to collapse for the under-40s“, The Guardian.

House price rises of 5% a year and a shortage of affordable homes are set to swell the ranks of “generation rent” over the next decade, so that by 2025 more than half of those under 40 will be living in properties owned by private landlords.

Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”, Pedestrian at Best.

You said we should look out further, I guess it wouldn’t hurt us
We don’t have to be around all these coffee shops
Now we’ve got that percolator, never made a latte greater
I’m saving twenty three dollars a week

We drive to a house in Preston, we see police arrestin’
A man with his hand in a bag
How’s that for first impressions? This place seems depressing
It’s a Californian bungalow in a cul-de-sac

It’s got a lovely garden, a garage for two cars to park in
Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got one
And it’s going pretty cheap you say, well it’s a deceased estate
Aren’t the pressed metal ceilings great?

Then I see the handrail in the shower, a collection of those canisters for coffee tea and flour
And a photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam
And I can’t think of floorboards anymore, whether the front room faces south or north
And I wonder what she bought it for

If you’ve got a spare half a million
You could knock it down and start rebuildin’

Appeals against Skypath

There have been two appeals against the consent for Skypath. They are from the Northcote Residents Association (NRA) and the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society (NPHPS) – a group set up in December last year just to oppose Skypath. Both parties want the entire decision overturned with the NRA also seeking costs.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

The reasons for the appeal by the NRA are:

  • The Appellant is not opposed in principle to the concept of Skypath.
  • The Appellant’s principal concern with the Application relates to the effects on the environment and policy conflicts caused by the location of the northern landing structure at Northcote Point and its reasons for appeal are related principally to these issues.
  • The Respondent had no jurisdiction to approve the Application because it was for a wholly non-complying activity and failed to pass either of the threshold tests in s 104D(1)(a) and (b) to be considered for approval under ss 104 and 104B of the Act In particular, in relation to the proposed northern landing/portal area located at Princes Street, Northcote Point (and the surrounding environment), Skypath:
    • will have adverse effects on the environment, namely traffic, transportation and parking effects, privacy, safety and security effects, visual effects and amenity effects, arising both from the built form and location of the landing structure and from the movement of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians that would utilise it, that will be significantly more than minor;
    • is, as a consequence of those effects and the intensive, non-residential nature of the activity at this residentially zoned location that neither intends nor permits large scale commercial operations like Skypath, contrary to the objectives and policies of the relevant plan and proposed plan which explicitly protect the character, heritage and amenity values of this area.
  • Even if the Respondent had jurisdiction to consider the Application under ss 104 and 104B of the Act (which is denied), the decision fails to promote the sustainable management purpose of the Act. In particular:
    • At the proposed northern landing/portal area located at Princes Street, Northcote Point (and the surrounding environment), Skypath will have significant adverse effects on the environment (as noted above) that are unable to be avoided, remedied or mitigated (even if undertaken in accordance with the conditions of consent imposed by the Respondent);
    • These adverse effects cannot lawfully be ignored or diminished by offsetting or balancing them against the alleged positive effects of the Application; that is to disregard the environmental bottom-line enshrined in s 5(2)(c) of the Act;
    • The claimed positive benefit of Skypath — the enabling of pedestrian and cycle access (commuter and tourist) from Auckland City to the North Shore (and vice versa) — is technically unsubstantiated: the design of the Skypath corridor is inadequate in respect of width, gradient, height and access ramp curvature to permit dual (non-separated) usage;
    • The effects of Skypath at the proposed northern landing/portal area located at Princes Street, Northcote Point (and the surrounding environment), in particular, render it contrary to (as above), or, at least, wholly inconsistent with the relevant provisions of the plan and proposed plan applying at that location.
  • Accordingly, the Respondent, having wrongly concluded that it had jurisdiction to consider approving the Application under s 104D of the Act, failed lawfully and properly to exercise the discretion in s 104B so as to achieve the purpose of the Act.

And for the NPHPS they say

The reasons for the appeal are that the Commissioners were wrong in their decision. The resource consent should have been declined because:

  • it is likely to result in significant adverse effects on the environment, including:
    • adverse noise effects from the construction and ongoing use of the pathway and the Northcote Point area;
    • adverse traffic effects caused by an increase in traffic using the Northcote Point area;
    • adverse safety and security effects due to the large number of expected patrons using the pathway and accessing Northcote point;
    • adverse privacy effects on nearby residential properties from the large number of patrons expected to use the pathway and access Northcote Point;
    • adverse visual effects from the design and location of the pathway, including the northern landing and its associated facilities; and  adverse amenity and heritage effects due to a significant change to the character and amenity of the Northcote Point area and increased use and commercialisation of the area.
  • it does not adequately avoid, remedy or mitigate the potential adverse effects of the proposed activities on the environment;
  • the effects of the application on Northcote Point were not adequately assessed, including heritage effects;
  • it is contrary to and inconsistent with the objectives, policies and other provisions of the relevant planning instruments, including but not limited to the Auckland Council District Plan (North Shore City Section) and the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan;
  • it is inconsistent with the purpose and principles of the Resource Management Act 1991
  • it does not represent good resource management practice;  it is for a proposal, the nature and scale of which is inappropriate in the Northcote Point area; and
  • it is for a proposal that will create a precedent for commercial activities in the residential zones of the Northcote Point area near the northern landing

At this stage there is no word from the Skypath team about these appeals, as they were only received late on Friday I imagine it will take them a few days to go through the details and work out just how they will respond.

Lastly also as it was the council who approved the project, this appeal will end up costing ratepayers to defend – so much for being concerned about how much it costs ratepayers.

Common Acronyms page

We use a lot of acronyms here at TransportBlog. We try to write them out in full the first time we use them in a post, but we won’t always remember – sorry in advance! With that in mind we’ve created a page (under the About heading) to list them so readers can reference them if they’re not sure what something means. Here’s an initial list some of the ones we see regularly, plus some quick definitions to help get you up to speed:

  • AMETI – Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative. A large transport project that was born out of the failed Eastern Motorway project that has thankfully become more and more public transport oriented over time.
  • AT – Auckland Transport. Run by the council, and “responsible for all of the region’s transport services (excluding state highways), from roads and footpaths, to cycling, parking and public transport”. Not affiliated with us.
  • AWHC – Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Another crossing of the Waitemata Harbour. Current proposals suggest another road crossing which has a very poor business case
  • BRT – Bus Rapid Transit. What the Northern Busway is.
  • CCO – Council Controlled Organisation. These include Auckland Transport, Ports of Auckland, Waterfront Auckland,Auckland Council Property Ltd and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development.
  • CRL – City Rail Link. The missing link in Auckland’s train network.
  • DMUDiesel Multiple Unit. A self-contained diesel passenger train, was previously used in Auckland but no longer in service (except Pukekohe)
  • FTN – Frequent Transit Network. Regular public transport services, running at least every 10-15 minutes all day.
  • ECTS – European Train Control System. Part of the signalling system that controls Auckland’s trains.
  • EMU – Electric Multiple Unit. An electric train, as used in Wellington and (now) Auckland
  • GPS – Government Policy Statement. A high level document that specifies the governments transport priorities and sets a rough guide for how much money can be spent on each key activity
  • LRT – Light Rail Transit. Often considered modern trams but LRT also generally features a lot of segregated running i.e. via its own lanes
  • MOT – Ministry of Transport. The government department which provides policy advice on transport.
  • NEX – Northern Express. The service that runs only on the Northern Busway
  • NLTF – National Land Transport Fund. Money comes into this from petrol excise tax, road user charges and other sources. It then goes to pay for state highways, a pittance on public and active transport, and to help councils fund local projects.
  • NLTP – National Land Transport Plan. – A three year plan outlining just what projects projects will receive funding across the country
  • NZTA – NZ Transport Agency. The government agency responsible for state highways, the National Land Transport Fund and a number of other transport functions.
  • PAUP – Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. The proposed new planning rulebook for Auckland. It is currently going through a formal hearing process.
  • PT – Public transport. Bus, train, ferry.
  • PTOM – Public transport operating model. This will be a new way of awarding contracts for bus routes, and we’ll be shifting to it over the next few years.
  • RLTP – Regional Land Transport Plan. A three year plan outlining just what projects projects will receive funding across the region
  • RoNS Roads of National Significance. The government’s centrepiece transport policy – a series of large motorway projects, many of which have very poor business cases.
  • RPTP – Regional Public Transport Plan. This is a document created by Auckland Transport, outlining the public transport services they want to provide over the next ten years, and how they plan to deliver it.
  • RTN – Rapid Transit Network. Regular public transport services, running on their own right of way so they are not affected by road congestion. Auckland’s RTN includes the trains and (to some extent) the Northern Busway.
  • SA Set – Carriage trains that were pushed/pulled around the Auckland network by freight locomotives – no longer in service (except Pukekohe)
  • SHA – Special Housing Area.  An area the council and government have agreed to fast track housing consents in a bid to build houses faster
  • SMART – South Western Multimodal Airport Rapid Transit Project. Otherwise known as Rail to the Airport
  • WRR – Western Ring Route. – The name for the series of motorway projects creating a motorway from Manukau to Constellation via Waterview

There’s bound to be lots we’ve missed so please let us know and we can update the page.

AT July Board Meeting

On Monday the Auckland Transport board hold their next board meeting and as I normally do, I’ve gone through the reports to see what’s being discussed. Starting with the closed session we have a number of topics that could be quite interesting. These include:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Regional Passenger Transport Plan (RPTP) –  I assume discussing the changes based on the updated RPTP consultation they conducted recently
  • Media Advertising – Given it’s coming from the PT team it seems to be about how AT advertise PT in the media.
  • CRL Business Case Summary – This should be interesting. I wonder if it is something new that will soon be released to the public or is a rehash of the old business cases.

Items for Noting

  • Infringement Revenue – I assume this will be discussing what happens with infringement revenue
  • LRT Stakeholder Engagement Plans – AT are continuing to progress their LRT plans (and a tender closes today for a Technical Advisor for the project) and so engagement with stakeholders is bound to increase. This appears to be information on how they’ll do that engagement.

On to the main report and first up are the project updates.

Te Atatu Road Upgrade – It appears that since the report was written the contract for this $30 million project has been awarded to Higgens Contractors and work starts 4 August. The project effectively widened to provide a flush median and sporadic on road unprotected cycle lanes and shared paths as well as replaces the roundabout at the intersection with Edmonton and Flanshaw Roads with signals.

K Road Cycleway – Around a year after we last heard anything there’s finally a mention in the board paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t give us info on when it might actually start being built.

K Rd Cycleway

An artist impression from last year. I believe the design has evolved a lot since this

Eastern Rail Cycleway (Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive) – The report says the NZTA should be awarding the contract to construct the first stage from Glen Innes to St Johns Rd by the end of this month while design and consent works continue on the rest of the project.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape – Construction starts mid-August on an upgrade of Onehunga Mall. The first improvements will be to the footpaths.

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept

Onehunga Mall Streetscape Upgrade Concept impression

Mission Bay Street Upgrade – An upgrade of Tamaki Dr in front of the block of shops to the east of Patterson Ave in Mission Bay is also planned. The report just says they will be widening of a section of Mission Bay’s town centre and I can only assume they mean of the footpaths. Consultation will happen this year but construction won’t start till next year after the Christmas season. This is what a local board report says

The proposal is to widen the footpath, by removing the car parks along that stretch of Tamaki Drive. There will be a new mobility park installed in Patterson Ave, as a result of removing the existing mobility car park. Parking on Patterson Ave will remain as it is, with exception of the allocation of the mobility park. This will require the use of two existing car parks.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – The detailed design is complete. There is currently a tender out for construction which closes mid-August and be awarded in September. Completion is now not till June 2016 and the new network for South Auckland continues to be on hold till this project is finished.

Otahuhu interchange

AMETI – Movement appears to be happening with the extension of the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga along with discussions of how it travels through Pakuranga

Lodgement of the Stage 2A NoR for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga (Ti Rakau Drive) is pending resolution of the cultural mitigation process; this is expected by late July to permit on-going dialogue between lead iwi Ngati Paoa and other relevant iwi.

A joint review of the AMETI delivery strategy with regards to the timing of the Reeves Road flyover and Stage 2B (busway between Pakuranga and Botany) components has been carried out between AT, Council and the NZ Transport Agency, with final dialogue scheduled for July.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St Level Crossing) – AT say in August they will be seeking approval to lodge a notice of requirement for the project however that means it will still have to go through a considerable process before it is built. This is important as AT claim it’s the one thing that’s stopping them from being able to increase the frequency on the Western Line.

Newmarket Crossing May 2015

On to other areas

Some new ads for the benefits of bus lanes. This is an area I think AT have been doing very well in lately.

Bus Lane Ads 2015-07

Moving on to the projects and initiates that make up AT’s key strategic priorities.

Ticketing and Fares – AT have giving some a high level summary of the response to the integrated fares consultation a few months ago. All up 1556 submissions were received and the broad results are below.

  • Do you think the proposed zone boundaries are about right? Yes 60% No 20%
  • Do you think the proposed products are about right? Yes 51% No 37%

We won’t know the final outcome and any changes that would be made till later this year.

Electric trains – In total 54 trains are in the country and of those 47 have been accepted for carrying passengers. The last three sets arrive early August and all trains will be on the network by the end of the year

New Network – at the time of writing the report there were over 1000 submissions on the network for the North Shore. Consultation for the Isthmus and East Auckland is being targeted for September/October. The first area to go live will be Hibiscus Coas in October this year.

Capacity – The first two of Howick & Eastern’s 15 double deckers have come off the production line in Scotland. They will arrive for testing in October and then the remaining ones will be built in Tauranga. Ritchies have 18 double deckers on order and I’m aware one is already on the network.

Infrastructure – There are a number of bus priority improvements that are due to start or be completed this month

  • Onewa Road T3 lane (city bound) – construction progressing and due to be completed in July
  • Park Road bus lane (hospital to Carlton Gore Road) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Parnell Road bus lane (St Stephens to Sarawia Street – outbound) – consultation completed; construction due to commence in July
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road transit lanes – internal consultation completed – external consultation commenced
  • Great North Road bus lanes (New Lynn to Ash Street) – final concept plans completed – consultation underway
  • Totara Avenue signal removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange; construction due to be completed in July
  • Esmonde Road bus lane – construction to commence July

Customer Experience – Some more things for bus users not to look forward to

AT’s partner for bus shelters, Adshel, are launching 35 digital screens at prominent Auckland bus shelter locations, in a move that will offer advertisers unrivalled impact and targeting opportunities and in line with global leaders like London, San Francisco and Stockholm, where roadside digital advertising has seen large demand. Spanning sites across the Auckland CBD and key fringe suburbs such as Ponsonby and Mission Bay, the new format provide more opportunities for advertisers, and this will increase the revenue share available for AT.

Do it right the first time

Several months back, I took a look at the way we’re designing street networks and neighbourhoods in greenfield subdivisions. It’s not a pretty picture. The reigning assumption seems to be that places on the edge of the city are car-dependent now and will be car-dependent forever. As a result, developers and planners build places where it’s difficult to walk, cycle, or take a bus.

In my view, this ignores the reality that today’s fringe suburbs are tomorrow’s urban fabric. That’s nicely illustrated in this map from the Auckland Plan, which shows how the city has expanded since 1840. Suburbs built in the 1950s and 1960s are now firmly in the midst of the city.

Urban Settlement Patterns post-1840

In other words, urban growth wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that it is often pathological from a transport perspective – i.e. a developer goes to the edge of town and builds a bunch of cul-de-sacs, single use suburbs, and non-connective street networks, under the assumption that it will be a car-based place forever. Then somebody else comes along and develops the next paddock, and before long you’ve got this unworkable mess in the middle of an urban fabric.

In my previous post on the topic, I took a look at some research into how we can transform car-dependent suburbs into workable urban places. Here’s one such design from Galina Tachieva’s Sprawl Repair Manual. It’s a great idea, but it would require the purchase and demolition of 5-10% of the houses in the neighbourhood. The end result would be a net increase in dwellings as sites are redeveloped, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to implement.

Sprawl repair manual subdivision rebuild

Wouldn’t it be better to simply do it right the first time?

Now, I’m no urban designer, but it seems like there could be a role for strengthened structure planning in greenfield areas. This could entail, for example, local governments establishing (and rigorously enforcing) structure plans for street networks and street designs in new developments. The aim would be to ensure that streets functioned well for all modes of transport, rather than just cars, and that they didn’t create any “holes” in the urban fabric that would be difficult to travel through later on.

There are a number of great examples from the Netherlands, but I figured that it would be good to highlight some local examples where people are taking steps in the right direction. I haven’t comprehensively surveyed new developments, so I can’s say how representative these examples are.

First, here’s the development plan for Hobsonville Point. Hobsonville’s quite interesting as it’s conceived as a mixed-density, mixed-use place with a ferry connection. Here’s the plan for the street network at the Point itself:

Hobsonville Pt road hierarchy

The street cross-sections seem to be designed in emulation of the city’s most successful urban/suburban places – with street trees and relatively narrow lanes (by Auckland standards, at least). The two “boulevard” sections (red lines on the above map) are designed with 1.8 metre cycle lanes. It would obviously be better to have safe, separated cycleways, but hey, it’s a start:

Hobsonville Pt boulevard cross-section

A bit further west, at a Special Housing Area site in Whenuapai, they seem to be going one step further and installing separated cycle lanes on two major streets from the get-go. (All images are from the plan change released by Auckland Council the other week.) Although Whenuapai is following the classic “boxes in a paddock” model of suburban development in Auckland, it seems to be aspiring to something a bit different on the transport front. Here’s the map of the development:

Whenuapai SHA street network

It’s a bit difficult to understand how all of this will fit together without knowing more about proposed street networks for surrounding areas. The streets within the SHA seem like they may be quite wide, without consistent cycle provision. But take a look at the street cross-sections for the main arterials, Brigham Creek Rd and Totara Rd. They will have safe separated cycleways from the start:

Whenuapai SHA arterial cross-section

Of course, a few cycleways in new subdivisions will not compensate for the street design mistakes made in previous developments. If you start riding the Brigham Creek Rd cycleway, you’re probably going to be mixing it up with traffic on some pretty inhospitable roads before long. That will take time to fix. But I’m hopeful that these projects are an indicator that we are in the process of overcoming our pathological approach to street design in new subdivisions.

Lastly, I’m aware that I’ve mainly talked about cycle design here, and omitted public transport. That’s because safe cycle facilities are particularly easy to install in advance, and challenging to retrofit. (Once people have moved in, adding cycle lanes means taking away their essential human right to free on-street parking – cue uproar!) But we also need to ensure that the area is served with good rapid transit choices, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

Given the growth out near Hobsonville and Whenuapai, perhaps we should be talking about accelerating the installation of busways on state highways 16 and 18? I honestly can’t see those areas working, long-term, without congestion free transport options:

CFN 2030 + Light Metro

What do you think about street design in new subdivisions? How could we do things better?

Literature: W.G. Sebald on urban growth

A while back, I read the following passage in W.G. Sebald’s spectacular novel The Rings of Saturn. In the book, Sebald tours the coastline of East Anglia, along with his own memory and England’s history. In a book full of striking, thoughtful passages, I was particularly struck by the following one:

Over the centuries that followed, catastrophic incursions of the sea into the land of this kind happened time and again, and, even during the long years of apparent calm, coastal erosion continued to take its natural course. Little by little the people of Dunwich accepted the inevitability of the process. They abandoned their hopeless struggle, turned their backs on the sea, and whenever their declining means allowed it, built to the westward in a protracted flight that went on for generations; the slowly dying town thus followed – by reflex, one might say – one of the fundamental patterns of human behaviour. A strikingly large number of our settlements are oriented to the west and, where circumstances permit, relocate in a westward direction. The east stands for lost causes. Especially at the time when the continent of America was being colonized, it was noticeable that the townships spread to the west even as their eastern districts were falling apart. In Brazil, to this day, whole provinces die down like fires when the land is exhausted by overcropping and new areas to the west are opened up. In North America, too, countless settlements of various kinds, complete with gas stations, models and shopping malls, move west along the turnpikes, and along that axis affluence and squalor are unfailingly polarized.

Does this ring true to you?

NZTA OIA Response on Additional Harbour Crossing

Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.

I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:

1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.

The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:

  • Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
  • Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
  • Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008

Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

The Description of Service Need is this:

statementofserviceneed

What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.”  Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”.  This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.

There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained.  Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.

traffic volumes

However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2014

And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:

Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.

On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:

tunnel map

Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:

nominal costs

The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling.  Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting  that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland.  Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.

Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)

A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).

There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.

Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?

The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required.  This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:

options

The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.

summary

So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options.  Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:

Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.

And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.

optioncosts

A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.

In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work.  By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed.  (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)

I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either.  You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.

The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things.  I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.

This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.