Airport Anarchy

For years, we and many others have been saying that better options are needed for accessing the airport and for even longer, politicians, officials and experts have either wilfully ignored the need to serve one of Auckland’s major destinations with public transport or have actively opposed and sabotaged it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with roads reportedly clogged so bad that many are missing flights or commenting that it took longer to drive home from the airport than fly to Auckland from Sydney. It seems even Mayor Phil Goff got caught in the mayhem. And things could get worse with the airports busiest days of the year coming up.

The transport planners from the NZTA have pinned their hopes on upgrading the motorway to the airport by grade separating Kirkbride Rd – due to be completed next year some time – but one of the major problems with it is that while it removes an intersection, it doesn’t really add any extra capacity to the road network so going to do bugger all to solve congestion within the airport itself. There are of course some bus options but they suffer from the same congestion as cars.

To really have a chance of making a difference in getting to the airport, we need good alternatives. Perhaps one of the issues we’ve had is that almost all of the discussion is focused on long term solutions, currently expected to be light rail (we don’t need another debate about rail mode in this post thanks). Yet despite this route being a major issue for Aucklanders, in the six years since Auckland was amalgamated, almost nothing has been done to protect the route and ATAP doesn’t suggest anything will be build (from the north) till after 2026. That’s simply too far away.

 

One of the reasons things have come to a head so rapidly has been due to a surge in airport usage. In the 12 months to the end of October, 17.3 million people passed through the airport (domestic and international), an impressive increase of 11% over October 2015.

Essentially it appears that a tipping point has been reached where growth at the airport, along with the heavily auto-dependent development around it, have combined to cause chaos. It now appears to have caused enough embarrassment that authorities are pretending to do something about it.

Transport authorities and Auckland Airport have set up a taskforce to tackle traffic chaos that has led to some passengers missing flights.

The NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and the airport company have established a group to find immediate ways to improve travel times and congestion on the roads and state highways to, from and around Auckland Airport.

Of course, what’s proposed is mostly nothing more that tinkering around the edges.

The taskforce had agreed to accelerate a number of planned initiatives, including:

  • changes to lane configurations at the State Highway 20B (Puhinui Rd) / State Highway 20 interchange before Christmas to increase traffic flows through the intersection;
  • the Auckland Transport Operations Centre will optimise traffic signals to increase traffic flows at peak times on the state highways and airport roads, and publish additional airport-specific travel time information;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Tom Pearce Drive to improve traffic flows to both airport terminals;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Laurence Stevens Drive roundabout to improve traffic flows to the domestic terminal; and
  • deploying special temporary traffic management plans on Auckland Airport’s roads to increase the network’s resilience.

The immediate solutions are in addition to the major improvements already underway to deliver additional network capacity and improve travel times, including:

  • the $140 million upgrade of State Highway 20A and improvements to the State Highway 20A / Kirkbride Road interchange which will create significant extra capacity;
  • the upgrade of the George Bolt Memorial Drive / The Landing Drive / Verissimo Drive intersection; and
  • new bus lanes heading towards the airport on State Highway 20A.

So here are my views on solutions that need to take place.

Long Term – and that needs to happen within the next decade, not remain over a decade away like ATAP suggests, a dedicated Rapid Transit line is needed. As mentioned earlier that is currently planned to be light rail but the government and their agencies are trying to get that downgraded to just a bus connection.

Medium Term – As Patrick pointed out in this post, a quick first stem to getting an RTN style connection to the airport would be to build a busway connecting the Puhinui Train Stations with the airport. This would require a busway alongside Puhinui Rd (SH20B).

Short Term – Here are a few thoughts on some short-term options.

  • Skybus – Skybus operate services to the city with fares of $18. Unfortunately, like cars these buses also gets caught in congestion on the motorway. Further I’ve seen a number of comments in months that the quality of the service has been decreasing. Perhaps Skybus could be encouraged to run more services and with AT/NZTA covering some of the costs.
  • The 380 option – The 380 bus runs from Manukau to the airport via the Papatoetoe Train station which can have trains stopping in each direction to/from Britomart every 5-minutes. This could be a great option but it currently suffers from a few issues.
    • AT don’t market this option very much so many people don’t know it even exists – this could be easily fixed.
    • Last I heard, transferring between the train and bus wasn’t well advertised or signposted – this could be easily fixed
    • Unfortunately the congestion referred to above affects both SH20A and SH20B. With no bus lanes on the latter it means the bus gets caught in the same congestion as the cars.
    • The service is nowhere near frequent enough, only running every half hour during the day and this is an issue that we shouldn’t even have. Back when AT announced the result of consultation on the new bus network that has just rolled out in South Auckland, the ’30’ bus (a new name for the 380) was listed as one of the frequent services that would see a bus running at a minimum of every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7-days a week (as shown below). Yet after AT finished tendering for services this was dropped back to a secondary route running only every 30 minutes, despite AT crowing about saving money. As such, as a first step they should implement the new network as they told the community it would be and improve the frequency of this service back to frequent status.
      • The article says this: “Auckland Transport’s chief executive, David Warburton said AT would continue to focus on how it can increase public transport services to and from the airport “. So I’m sure David will be announcing improved services soon?

 

 

 

  • Interim priority lanes – If the NZTA were really serious about improving options, perhaps they could dedicate one of the motorway lanes to high capacity vehicles. This would obviously include buses but could also include other vehicles with a lot of occupants, perhaps T4 and above.
  • Park n Ride – Even if the NTZA got underway now with their plans to widen SH20B, it would be years before that work was finished. We don’t normally advocate for Park n Ride but perhaps in this situation, one along Puhinui Rd, near the whereas it could be justified along with a shuttle – or ideally a much more frequent 380 bus.

Those are just a few thoughts, what do you think should be done to make some quick wins?

Airbus Express becomes SkyBus

Auckland’s city to airport bus has new owners bringing with them a new name, a new livery and promising a higher quality service. The Airbus Express service has been bought by SkyBus who operate Melbourne’s airport bus service.

Free on-board Wi-Fi and ground hosts to welcome intrepid travellers to Auckland are just the beginning of big plans by new owners to expand – and smarten – the 24-hour airport bus service.

The former Airbus fleet has already had its name changed to that of Melbourne’s 38-year-old SkyBus, which is taking it under its wing.

It will be repainted from light blue to red as more buses are added between the fast-growing airport precinct and downtown Auckland to widen the span of departures, which already run every 10 minutes during week days.

That follows a change of ownership from Johnston’s Coachlines to a consortium majority-owned by Canada’s Ontario Pension Trust, in a deal worth about $20 million.

Melbourne-based directors Michael Sewards and Adam Begg have hit the ground running in Auckland, adding two buses in their first couple of weeks here and installing free Wi-Fi across what is now a 15-strong shuttle fleet – with seven more due by May.

The service has long been popular, running 24/7 and with great frequency. On weekdays they run every  10 minutes between 7:30am and 8:10pm and on weekends they run every 15 minutes during the day. In the middle of the route the frequency splits in two with services alternating between Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd. The addition of more buses suggests frequency will improve even further making the service even more useful.

 

AirBus Timetable

One aspect that is interesting is the move to a red livery like is used on their buses in Melbourne. Queen St already has the red City Link buses so users will have to pay more attention if catching either one. Once they change I wonder how long it will be till someone accidentally gets on a red SkyBus to a short distance up Queen St only to be charged $16 (the one way fare).

SkyBus and CityLink

The old livery with the new name. Photo by Luke C

One of the reasons the cost for SkyBus is $16 is that the service is and has always been fully commercial meaning it isn’t subsided by Auckland Transport, siting to the side of the normal public transport system. As such the company can charge whatever they like. As such there is also no discount for using HOP and there is no indication that would change with the new operators and it seems they will continue to retain a separate ticketing system

Telecommunications company Spark is meanwhile developing a sophisticated ticket-buying app which it hopes to roll out in Auckland before Christmas and then back-load to Melbourne.

Mr Sewards said during a tag-team visit by the pair to Auckland this week that technological solutions encountered here had been “incredible.”

He is similarly impressed by Auckland Transport’s $100 million integrated Hop ticketing system, into which his fleet was plugged by its former owners, although SkyBus will remain fully commercial with none of the subsidies received by most other city bus operators.

The owners also talk about improving journey times. I imagine the biggest improvements would likely come from having more bus lanes and with better operating hours however the new owners also single out Waterview as helping. Unless they’re planning on running buses all the way to the city via the motorway then I can’t see how that will make a lot of difference.

Mr Sewards acknowledged room for improvement in journey times, now varying from about 45 minutes to an hour for the 12km trip between downtown Auckland and the airport.

That compares with about 20 minutes over the 23km between Melbourne’s CBD and its airport.

But he said Melbourne’s route was far more direct, along a single motorway, and is looking forward to faster bus trips in Auckland once the Waterview tunnels open in early 2017.

Lastly it’s an interesting time for the change in ownership as there are a number of interesting developments on the horizon.

From a PT perspective the competition to SkyBus is a combination of a train and what is currently the 380 bus (will be called the 30 in the new network). Next year Auckland Transport will roll out integrated fares which will make transferring between bus and train services cheaper and easier for most journeys. From the city it would be only three zones for which AT have indicated the cost would be $4.80-$5.00. The trade-off though is likely a longer journey time. Trains between Britomart and Papatoetoe every 5 minutes during the day and from there the 30 bus runs fairly direct to the airport however it only runs half hourly during the day and based on the current timetable even with an almost perfect connection it would take around an hour.

 

Longer term there is also the prospect of rail the airport. If Auckland Transport build it as an extension of the existing rail system like they should (either between Onehunga or from Otahuhu like suggested here) then travel times could be slashed quite substantially. If instead they go for the option of extending one of the proposed light rail routes travel times aren’t likely to be significantly different to what exists today.

Rail to Airport - July 15 - LRT vs HRT Travel times

Either rail implementation would have significant impacts on the SkyBus service who I can’t see just lying down and letting it happen. Given SkyBus is already successful and not subsidised they are able to put forward a strong case not to build rail – especially in the current political climate. Yet the service is only really successful on a commercial basis which may not be the best outcome for the city/country due to the higher cost meaning many will still prefer to drive. Based on the current airport arrivals and departures of around 15.5 million people annually the reported SkyBus figures of around 650,000 trips represents just over 4% of travellers. I can’t help but wonder just how much higher patronage would be if you combined both the much faster journeys of heavy rail with the proposed HOP pricing and that’s before you add in making PT more viable for many airport workers.

Kirkbride Interchange and Rail Future Proofing

Rail to the airport is in the news again – and not in a good way – this time related to the Kirkbride interchange the NZTA are currently building and whether it’s future proofed for rail. The answers by Auckland Transport and the NZTA also hint at some of the dysfunction, lack of critical thinking and potentially deliberate sabotage that’s long plagued this project – one which is constantly one of the most popular publicly.

Auckland Transport is having to stump of $21 million to “future-proof” a motorway project for trains or trams to the airport.

The council body is paying the money to the Government’s Transport Agency, towards extra costs of designing a motorway interchange for trams to run through a trench beneath Kirkbride Road, Mangere, or trains on an elevated line.

That is additional to $140m the agency is spending on the 580-metre trench and a motorway extension to the airport in an accelerated Government-funded project.

Preparations are well-advanced for the trench to be dug west of George Bolt Drive.

 

Considering that airport rail has been talked about for decades and has been on regional plans for probably just as long it’s absolutely absurd that AT are having to pay $21 million to widen the trench to be able to accommodate rail. Long-time readers may remember the excuse given by the NZTA for not building a busway along SH16 at the same time as all the motorway widening going on was that the old Auckland Regional Council didn’t list the route as a rapid transit one (rail or busway). That isn’t the case here because as mentioned rail has long been on the plans and been subject to many studies, some of which they themselves have been involved in. The NZTA should also remember the public desire the project in the form of the 10,000 signature petition the CBT organised back in 2007.

So why are AT now paying the NZTA future proof the interchange?

As I understand it when the government announced they were accelerating the project back in 2013 the Highway Network Operations (HNO) team within the NZTA quickly went to work on designing the interchange. They didn’t look at the work their planning teams had been working on with AT and designed the interchange to take up the entire space of the motorway designation. They claimed their design future proofed the interchange for rail but what they really meant is there was space beside it for rail to go but it would effectively require starting from fresh including needing to purchase and designate all the land. In other words the NZTA’s work didn’t preclude a future rail line but didn’t do anything to help it either.

When AT realised and challenged HNO they claimed it was a done deal and they were on too tight a schedule to make any changes. They also tried to use Watercare – who need to build a new pipe through the area – as an excuse for not being able to accommodate any changes however it turns out Watercare were only bringing their project forward after being told to by HNO. After working out they only needed a few extra metres and some high level talks HNO backed down and agreed include the project but with a new catch – AT would have to pay. They then tried to claim the extra work would add something like $60 million to the $140 million project. The price of $21 million has come about after AT sat down and worked out what the actual extra cost would be.

That it even got to that this point is absurd and puts into question both organisations claims of working together well in partnership. Putting this aside, so what are we now getting?

Auckland Transport project director Theunis van Schalkwyk has since, in a joint statement with the Transport Agency to the Herald, confirmed that his organisation has allocated $21m to make the trench 3.5m wider than planned.

Its new width of 29m would provide an 8m rail corridor, which the statement said would be enough for trams to run through the trench or for elevated trains above it.

So the NZTA almost severely hampered rail to the airport all for the sake of 3.5m – that’s less than a single motorway lane. Here’s what the current plan is for the project

Kirkdbride Layout

And a closer look at the interchange itself

Kirkdbride Layout - interchange

The answer and these images also raises new questions.

  • How will Light Rail run through the trench, presumably it would have to be down the centre and would have to be protected from cars by barriers. Is 8m enough space for both the tracks and barriers?
  • By designing so that heavy rail has to be overhead is that a strategy to ensure local opposition?
  • After either light rail or heavy rail pass the interchange then what? How does light rail get to or from the centre of the motorway, if elevated how does long is the line elevated for?
  • If an elevated line is built I’m assuming that it would have to stay elevated for some distance to get past Bader Dr and the SH20/SH20a motorway interchange. How will that impact on Mangere Town Centre. Alternatively it would be interesting to hear the local communities thoughts if as a result Mangere town centre was served by a station like this from Vancouver (Brentwood Town Centre).

Brentwood Skytrain Station

Of course Kirkbride is just one of what seem like many mountains in front of getting rail to the airport. Earlier promises by the NZTA’s predecessor to future proof the recently duplicated Manukau Harbour Crossing for rail turned out to be completely pointless – only allowing enough space for a single low speed track. At the other end it seems that rail will required to be in a tunnel though the airport property as it will have to get under a longer runway.

In addition to all of this I think that AT’s current fascination with Light Rail is distracting them. Light rail is appropriate for the isthmus routes they’re suggesting but in my view is completely inappropriate for rail to the airport as it simply won’t be fast enough. LRT would likely take around 50 minutes to get to the city vs 30-35 for heavy rail hooking into the existing network – either at Onehunga or perhaps as Patrick suggested the other day.

All up it feels like rail to the airport will go the same way as so many other transport projects in Auckland’s history. So much opportunity to easily get a great result hampered by short term thinking and expediency. So much hassle could have been avoided if AT and predecessors had applied just a little bit more urgency in obtaining a designation for the project.

A look at the SMART Approach Trial

This is a guest post from Tony Cooper

There’s going to be a new jet thrill ride in Queenstown – flying through tight mountainous terrain at night to the airport. Using new award-winning technology introduced by Airways New Zealand pilots will be able to dodge and weave among the mountains in the dark and even in cloud.

The technology is called Required Navigation Performance Authorisation Required (RNP AR) and allows computers to use satellite GPS technology to steer jets along very precise paths in a range of weather conditions without a human hand. When implemented in 2016 it will allow the airport to operate jets at night – current jet flights are limited to daylight hours.

Airways New Zealand, who provides air traffic control for our airports, won an international award for the Queenstown project in February 2013 – taking out the prestigious Jane’s ATC Award for Operational Efficiency ahead of 70 entries from aviation companies around the world.

Now the same technology is being rolled out nationwide. Even without mountains the precision of the flight paths brings many advantages. In particular, for Auckland it is expected that RNP AR will reduce distances flown over the city, fuel consumption, carbon emissions and noise for people living close to the airport.

This has worked well in other countries. For example, Brisbane Airport has implemented RNP AR – the precision of the flight paths has allowed jets to follow the curve of the river to minimise the noise footprint. In their first trial in 2008 they reported that over 1612 flights a total of 200,000kg of fuel was saved, 4200 minutes flight time saved, noise was reduced, and flight delays for non RNP AR flights reduced.

Hoping for similar success Auckland Airport trialled the technology during 2012 and 2013 calling the new approach the “SMART approach.” We are awaiting the results of that trial – the report will be released this week.

The purpose of this article is to provide background understanding for the trial and to show the issues involved. We will compare the new SMART approach with the standard approach. We will look at fuel savings and noise differences. We will only look at relative differences between the two approaches and not absolute noise levels over the city.

Also we hope to clear up some misconceptions that have appeared in the media. For example, the Herald reported on May 6 that a new regime was keeping aircraft in holding patterns above residential areas. This isn’t true because Auckland airport does not use holding patterns.

Aircraft Approaches

In fact, Auckland approaches are pretty efficient and that’s one of the problems with the SMART trial – it’s difficult to improve on the existing standard approach.

The quietest possible approach would involve a jet switching off its engines over the Tasman Sea and gliding in to the airport. Perhaps surprisingly, jets make good gliders and can easily glide the last 150km of the flight. Naturally, flying with the engines off isn’t safe so pilots do the next best thing – they descend with the engines at idle. This is as quiet as it is possible to get but is still noisy because the engines still make some noise and also the airframe makes as much noise as the engines.

When the plane gets down to about 2000ft both noises increase as wheels and flaps are lowered which creates more airframe noise and the pilot puts on more power to compensate for extra drag. This occurs in Auckland for Tasman flights around about Ormiston so it is Manukau City residents who bear this noise.

The gliding descent (also called continuous descent) or something close to it has been used since 2007 for most approaches into Auckland. And much of the portion of the flight between 5000ft and 2000ft is over the sea or farmland. So we are lucky compared to other cities where descents have powered level flight stages or holding patterns and are fully over residential areas. That’s what we mean when we say that Auckland approaches are pretty efficient.

Most busy airports around the world still use stepped approaches. This is the blue line in the chart below. The continuous approach is the red line. Since the blue line spends more time at lower altitudes where jet engines don’t work efficiently the blue approach uses more fuel and exposes the ground to more noise. In particular, during the level portions of the flight the aircraft produces considerable noise compared to idle gliding.

SMART Trial - Approach Graph

Continuous descents are tricky to instigate. The engines have to be idled at the right time. Too soon and extra power will have to be applied to reach the airport. Too late and the aircraft will overshoot the airport. Overshooting is a serious problem because it is difficult to slow down a plane that is already running on idle engines. Speed-brakes don’t work very well at approach speeds and when deployed add extra noise. An overshooting aircraft has to fly extra distance so messes up the careful spacing required by Air Traffic Control.

All these problems are exacerbated by the wind. To time the descent the wind speed has to be predicted at all levels of the descent and all locations on the flight path. This is impossible. So to compensate for the variability pilots like to fly the flight path a little low. Then closer to the airport they apply extra power to get back to the right height. Both flying low and extra power add to the noise effects on residents.

This is where the precision of the RNP AR approach can help. The computer controlling the flight can react to wind changes faster than a human and keep the aircraft at a precise height. This precision also allows Air Traffic Control to better space out arriving flights to further reduce noise and fuel.

SMART Approach

Although we are lucky that current approaches are mostly on idle power we could be luckier if flights didn’t overfly the city at all. With two harbours why can’t jets fly over one of them? But Auckland airspace is busy – there are Whenuapai and Dairy Flat airfields to the north and Ardmore airport to the south to be avoided. Auckland airport itself occupies Manukau Harbour so the only reliable gap for Tasman arrivals is over the city.

The idea of the SMART approaches which were trialled from November 2012 to the end of October 2013 is to move the flight path west so that aircraft from the Tasman don’t have to fly out to Beachlands. This is shown in the chart below. The red line shows the standard approach and the gold line shows the SMART approach.

SMART Trial - Traditional vs SMART

The distance saved by the shorter approach is 27km. An Airbus A380 would save about 400 litres of fuel with the shorter flight path. Smaller jets would save upwards of 100 litres so the savings can add up over thousands of flights. The savings could be higher because we didn’t take into account the extra time spent flying at lower altitudes and efficiency changes to air traffic control procedures.

The SMART approach has been described in the media as a “shortcut” and it looks like that in the chart but this is misleading. At the point in the upper left where the two paths diverge there is a height difference of about 2000ft – the SMART approach is the lower one. This is an important point to bear in mind when comparing the two flight paths.

The above chart is an idealised plot. The actual flight paths taken by jets over Auckland for a week during the trial are shown in the next chart. Red lines are arrivals and green departures. The precision of the SMART approach compared to the standard is evident. What also is evident is that almost the whole of the city has flights over it with the only exception being, ironically, the Mangere area adjacent and to the north of the airport.

SMART Trial - Paths

What these charts don’t show is the altitudes of the flights over the city. Because the SMART approach is shorter than the standard approach and because the glide slope angle into the airport is the same for both then the height of the SMART approach is lower over the city.

The trade-off with the SMART approach is that the flight path is shorter so less fuel (and so less noise) is burnt over the city but the average height is lower (so more noise). We need to examine this trade-off very carefully to see the effect on residents.

The next chart shows for each approach the portions below 2000ft (cyan), the portion between 2000ft and 4000ft (yellow), and part of the portion above 4000ft (purple).

SMART Trial - Traditional vs SMART Heights

These heights of 2000 and 4000 feet are somewhat arbitrary and we chose round numbers. We chose 2000ft because this is about the height at which wheels and flaps are lowered and power increased. It also gives the boundary at which Manukau City houses need to have a note added to their LIM records that show they are affected by airport noise. However, it is above the height where houses qualify for free sound insulation which occurs closer to the airport.

The two flight paths converge at about the SH1 motorway. So to compare them we only had to look at houses to the east of the motorway.

Above 2000ft the next important height is 3000ft. This number (sometimes extended to 4000ft at night) seems to be used frequently worldwide as the height above which noise abatement procedures no longer apply. Presumably noise is not an issue for departures once the jet is above 3000ft. We also included 4000ft to include more of the flight path.

For this study we counted houses below each flight path within a 1 km ground distance of the path. We then used population density estimates provided by Critchlow Ltd to estimate the number of people resident in each house and this gave us the number of people living under each flight path. The 1km distance from the path is fairly arbitrary but if you think the distance should be doubled you can roughly double the people counts that we found.

This methodology of counting people for each altitude level is quite crude – presumably the SMART report will use decibel sound readings and report the number of people affected at each decibel level. Also different people have different sensitivities to sound (this can be measured on the Weinstein Noise Sensitivity Scale) so different suburbs will have different sensitivity to noise. The precision of the RNP AR approach allows precise noise contours to be calculated which we cannot do. But we believe that this crude approach will still give an idea of the differences between the approaches.

We only counted residential houses – the precision of the SMART flight path allows it to be placed over industrial areas where possible. The industrial areas show up as grey in the charts above. Farmland is green.

Residential Counts

Our counts are:

SMART Trial - Residential Counts

Because the two flight paths are so close together below 2000ft the people counts are the same for both. Because the standard approach is over farmland when between 2000ft and 4000ft the counts are zero (apart from 3,400 people living in Beachlands at the 4000ft mark).

We didn’t count houses for parts of the flight paths above 4000ft but measured the lengths of the paths and used density estimates to get rough numbers.

We note the following points

  1. the shift of the flight path to the west has shifted the noise to the west
  2. under 2000ft equal numbers of people are affected
  3. from 2000 to 4000 feet about 20,000 more people are affected by the SMART approach
  4. above 4000ft about 60,000 more people are exposed to noise on the standard flight path than the SMART (due to the extra distance flown over the eastern suburbs)
  5. west of Royal Oak above 4000ft and all the way to west Auckland the SMART flight path averages about 2000ft lower than the standard flight path (this isn’t shown on any of the maps)
  6. although we mark the power settings for both approaches as “close to idle” the noise of the descent may be less in the SMART descent because of the precision of the computer control

Points (1), (4) and (5) illustrate the process called “noise sharing.” The total amount of noise hasn’t changed (assuming efficient gliding is used), it has just moved west. Not all flights in the future will be SMART flights so not all noise has shifted. People in eastern suburbs have less noise (SMART doesn’t go there) and people in the west have more noise (lower SMART flights) so it is said that the noise is being shared between suburbs. This is what is meant by the phrase “SMART allows us to equitably distribute flight paths across Auckland.”

Another example of this is that at Beachlands the standard flight path is at 4000ft which is the same height as the SMART path at Royal Oak. So when standard flights switch to SMART flights Beachlands will “share” some of its noise with Royal Oak.

People at 2000ft to 4000ft on the SMART path will be sharing their noise with cows at Whitford. So the cows win on that one.

Some noise has gone west out of the city boundaries and into the Waitakeres but the benefits to residents of that move is small because it is mainly high altitude flying out there.

Summary
  1. The SMART flight path does not produce any more noise but moves it west
  2. No extra people will experience noise below 2000ft
  3. Some extra people will experience noise in the 3000ft to 4000ft range
  4. The precision of the SMART approaches may actually reduce some noise but standard approaches are pretty quiet already
  5. Fuel savings will range from 100 to 400 litres, possibly more
  6. Our analysis ignores many factors such as the improved efficiency of Air Traffic Control
Misconceptions in the Media

There have been a number of disingenuous or misleading statements made in the media and the Internet in the context of the SMART trials and we elucidate them here. We are concerned that SMART noise is being confused with the standard noise.

  • “Airways creates more noise by keeping aircraft in holding patterns above residential areas” – not true. Holding patterns generally aren’t used at Auckland
  • “During the trials … so low … you could read Emirates on the side of the planes” – may be true but misleading because Emirates weren’t part of the SMART trial.
  • “With this new flight path we are now woken every night” – may be true but misleading because the trials were not conducted after 10 pm.
  • “Every airline is now using this shortcut route” – not true, only Air NZ, Qantas, and Jetstar were part of the trial.
  • “Emirates EK435, aircraft type A380, recorded a horrendous 83.2 decibels during the Smart approaches trial” – loud but, again, not part of the trial.
  • “continuous ascents and descents. This means they are travelling at slower speeds in near-level flight” – incorrect – continuous means that it is not level or even near-level. Continuous is the opposite of level. Continuous descents are the quietest descents possible – they are good. This comment misleadingly makes them look bad. Ascents were not part of the SMART trial.
  • “terrible continuous ascents” – ascents were not part of the SMART trial. Complaining about non-SMART noise and including it in the same breath as complaints about SMART noise seems a little disingenuous to the SMART trial.
  • “a low curved shortcut to the airport” – this is misleading. It’s not a shortcut and SMART approaches are no lower than standard approaches and may be higher.
  • “mandatory 3000ft above Royal Oak” – The operating procedures for the RNP AR approach mandate 4000ft over Royal Oak. So this statement is not true.

This report was completed with the help of people from Airways New Zealand, Air New Zealand, Critchlow Ltd, and The Plane Truth and we thank those people. We solicited data from Auckland Airport but it was not forthcoming. All calculations, errors, and over-simplifications are ours.

Airport taxis expensive

In a completely unsurprising revelation, it’s really expensive to get a taxi from the airport.

Catching a cab downtown from Auckland Airport has been labelled one of the most expensive taxi fares in the world by an international travel company.

According to a CheapFlights comparison of prices in 24 cities, New Zealand has the third most expensive per-kilometre taxi fares.

And a Herald investigation has found some Auckland taxi companies quoting price tags up to $86 for a trip — more than the price of some domestic flights — that other companies can deliver for just $35.

The report, released last month but based on data from March 2013, found the average price of travelling the 21.4km route from Auckland Airport to the city’s CBD was $77.41 — or $3.50/km.

The New Zealand price was surpassed only by fares in Berlin that were $4.06/km, and San Jose in Costa Rica that were $3.59/km.

Auckland cabs were 10 times more expensive than in the cheapest city, Buenos Aires, and twice the $1.75/km people using Australian taxis were paying.

Consumer NZ chief executive Suzanne Chetwin said the survey results confirmed anecdotes about the ever-increasing cost of Auckland’s airport journey. “[The survey] just confirms that it is very expensive to get to or from Auckland Airport and it just seems to have got dramatically more expensive over the last few years.”

The herald then goes on to do its own brief survey finding prices varying from between $35 to $86 followed by quotes from the companies involved each trying to throw dirt at each other.

The Herald did check out the cost of the Airbus though which compares extremely well at $16 compared to the taxis. What isn’t mentioned (but that’s important) is that in peak times those buses also get to use the bus lanes where  they exist which has the potential to make the journey not just cheaper but faster too.

For getting to the CBD what the Herald didn’t mention is that there’s an even cheaper option than this though. The CBD can be reached through a combination of the 380 Airporter bus and a train from Papatoetoe for a total of $7.60 if HOP is used – $3.06 for the 380 to Papatoetoe followed by $5.04 for the trip to town on the train along minus a 50c transfer discount. Oddly this option while advertised on this page, doesn’t show up as an option on AT’s journey planner (which is probably why they didn’t look at it). The big problem with the 380 Airporter service though is its frequency which is a lousy 30 minutes at peak times and hourly off peak or on weekends.

In the next few years the bus and train option is likely to become more attractive with the new network delivering higher bus frequencies between the Airport and Papatoetoe along with electric trains providing and faster and better quality trains from Papatoetoe to the CBD. Integrated fares *should* also bring down the price by removing the penalty for taking multiple trips.

Of course longer term the ultimate goal is to have rail directly to the airport which would give a quick one seat ride all the way from the heart of the CBD (via the CRL) to the airport. Once that’s in place the trip will faster than a taxi at any time of the day and considerably cheaper too (assuming it’s priced the same as normal PT and not with added terminal fees on top). Add in features like WiFi and I think even business travellers would consider using it over taxis. It would require the Airport to stop pretending it likes the idea of a rail connection though.

CFN Airport connection

Airport only pretends to want a rail connection

On Saturday of all days, Auckland Airport (AIA) released their new 30 year vision including a website called Airport of the Future. In many ways this doesn’t appear all that different from their previous long term vision documents, with the key change seeming to be that they eventually want the future Northern runway to be longer than currently planned and consented for. Here’s the video that they have put together to show the long term vision.

There are a couple of key things that AIA are predicting to happen over the next 30 or so years.

  • Annual passenger movements will increase from 14 million to 40 million
  • The number of flights in and out of the airport will double to 260,000
  • The number of jobs in the airport area will increase from roughly 20,000 to around 40k (airport say it will create extra 27k jobs but that’s across entire economy). To put things in perspective, the entire Highbrook/East Tamaki industrial area and the Manukau City Centre and surrounding industrial areas combined contain about 40k jobs.
  • Daily trips to and from the airport predicted to increase from 63,000 per day to 140,000 per day.

That’s going to put a lot of pressure on the transport networks and the airport has been stressing that it’s leaving land aside for a future rail connection. However the more I look at what’s proposed the more it seems just like PT wash as they know it’s what the public want to hear. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually want a rail connection ever, and here are five reasons why.

1. Difficult route

If you look closely at the route above plus the staging plans you can see the route goes straight through about 9 different buildings to the south of Tom Pearce Dr. Even though the airport own the land it is going to be extremely difficult to kick out all of the businesses at or around the same time, especially if they have well established operations. My guess is we can expect increased construction costs as a result to compensate for this issue.

2014 Airport Vision Plan

This could be reduced by shifting the corridor slightly north to Tom Pearce Dr.

2. Fully underground route and station.

It’s not 100% clear from the documents but from what I understand, the AIA have basically told Auckland Transport that the entire line has to be underground through their property – although that’s partly a practicality thing too. Starting from the north the line will now obviously have to go under the proposed longer northern runway. By the time it surfaced from that it wouldn’t have long to go before having to dive underground again for an underground station that AIA want. I also can’t see them wanting an at grade line through their airport services area as that would hinder necessary movements. That’s potentially up to 3km of underground tunnelling. The outcome of this is to significantly increase the cost of the project making it harder to justify.

Along with shifting the route slightly north to Tom Pearce Dr, once it’s clear of the runway there’s no reason why it couldn’t raise to the ground level and be elevated through to the terminal.

3. Distance from the terminal.

The main reason for building a rail connection to the airport is to make it easier for passengers and staff to access the area. The plan is to combine the international and domestic terminals into a single building with the domestic one in the south end with the international terminal in the northern end. Now I assume there would be underground links under the multiple roads accessing the terminals however even so the location of the station is potentially up to 500m away from the international terminal. Airports are obviously good at moving people long distances through the likes of travellators however that is quite some distance. The station would also be further way from the terminals than the parking buildings proposed. Perhaps there’s a legitimate reason for it, but it seems this is just another way to reduce demand for any rail service.

Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to extend the route a few hundred metres closer to the terminals.

4. Second Airport area station

As mentioned a bit part of the AIA’s plans is to turn the area into not just a better airport but a massive employment hub too. They are already working on developing a CBD type area with hotels, office parks and retail on their land. It may look close on the image below but those offices are about 1km away from the proposed station. This may be part of the reason for the airport station being short of the terminal but if that’s the case, the reality is most people working in the office areas aren’t going to want to cross a the mega roads needed to serve the terminals and carparking buildings to access it on a daily basis. With a station more directly connected to the terminals, another station about 1km east to serve the office and retail precincts might be better. It might add a little bit to the journey time of trains but help the line be far more useful to more people which should more than make up for it.

2014 Airport Vision Precincts

5. Carparking

It’s no secret that AIA makes a lot of money from carparking and that revenue has been growing strongly. In the year to June 2013 the revenue from their parking business was just over $40 million, about 9% of their total income. Currently the airport has about 7,000 carparks and as part of their vision they want to expand that to about 20,000 carparks (although it isn’t clear if this is extra or total – the herald article suggests it’s extra). The intention is to focus the new parking in two mega buildings that are both directly linked to the terminal and they would be built in the first phase of the master plan which means before 2022. They are the two massive buildings in the image below. To give a sense of scale, the recently build Novotel Hotel right next to the international terminal can be seen right next to the curve in the terminal building. In terms of carparking buildings, the AT’s massive downtown carpark holds less than 2,000 cars.

2014 Airport Vision aerial

All up there doesn’t seem like that much commitment and definitely not any real push by AIA to get a rail line to the airport built. At a recent IPENZ discussion I understand they basically said they thought the only people who would use a rail line/PT to the airport were the time rich. This is almost hilarious though as a train would be able to get people to the airport from the heart of the CBD in about 35 minutes, even with stopping at stations along the way. That’s a kind of time that simply won’t be possible to achieve on the roads most times of the day. They apparently also said expected buses to be able to cope with demand for the next 30 years yet seemed to think the roads around the airport would be able to handle a doubling of traffic.

Things definitely aren’t looking good for rail to the airport.

Airport looks to have strong future growth

Last week Auckland Airport held an investor day which among other things provided some very useful information about what we can expect from the airport in the future. The presentation gives quite a lot of details around where some of the future growth will come from but for me the most interesting slide in the whole presentation is the image below which is in the section talking about the airports 30 year vision. It really helps to show just how important it is going to be to get some good transport options into the area.

Projected Growth

That is an absolutely massive increase in passenger numbers and so it’s no surprise when they say:

Growth means more pressure on land transport system

What’s more is that those passenger numbers don’t include the number of people who would be working in the terminal or in the surrounding commercial areas that will all need to get to and from work somehow. That is currently at around 20,000 people but will invariably increase as the airport continues to develop. To put things another way, 40 million passengers a year equates to an average of about 110,000 per day. Adding in the people working and the total travel demand in the area could be similar in total size to what the central city is today. That in itself is interesting as one of the slides talks about how the entire CBD could easily fit inside the Airport’s land holding.

Airport Land Holding vs CBD

With that sort of growth and the resulting travel demand it really does highlight how important it will be to get rail to the airport eventually. The Airport says that they have made an allowance for a station at the terminal however they are also saying that they won’t pay anything towards it and that it will have to be built by local and/or central government. To me there are some positives and negatives to that. Positives include that the airport shouldn’t be able to impose an extra terminal surcharge just for using the station – like what happens in Sydney. In addition timing is not likely to be tied to when the airport can afford its share. However negatively it means that all costs go to tax/ratepayers even though the Airport company will benefit greatly from the construction of it.

One other reason we can guess don’t want to help pay for a rail connection is that they are unlikely to want to damage their increasingly successful parking business. The presentation shows that in the last financial year revenues from parking increased strongly to $40.4m with it increasing not just because of more carparks but also improved revenue per space.

Airport parking revenue per space

They also say they are looking to add more than 1,100 carparks over the next year which will primarily be at their park n ride site although they are also changing some staff parking near the terminal to public parking

Airport parking capacity

The image below shows the current plan that is a part of their 30 year vision including the second runway to the north which they say will likely be needed in roughly 2025. It shows the intention to develop much of the land to the north of the airport and also to join the domestic and international terminals together into a single building.

Airport precint plan

On the single terminal they have released this image of what the terminal might eventually look like.

Airport terminal concept

I’m aware that they are current working on a master plan which will provide a lot more detail as to how the airport will develop and that it is due early next year. We will follow that development closely.

Costs and Benefits of the Governments Auckland Transport Package

A couple of months ago the government finally announced that they would support the City Rail Link, albeit with a later start date than the council are pushing for. A few days later they then went on to announce a massive road building binge including upgrades/additions to the areas around the interchange of SH1 and SH18, the Southern motorway south of Manukau and SH20A to the airport. Along with this they also agreed on major support for the AMETI project and the East West Link while pushing ahead with designation for an additional harbour crossing.

In each of the roading projects – perhaps with the exception of another harbour crossing – we feel that there are probably some key parts that are worthwhile while other bits that seem over the top. What we definitely don’t agree on is the suggestion that these projects will be moved ahead of the CRL which gives the package the definite feel of an asphaltaholic statement of “just one more road project then we can quit and build the PT”. Of course for these asphalt junkies there is always just one more road that needs to be built first.

Govt Transport Projects

One area where the government have been light on details is what the actual costs and benefits of each project are. Well looking through the parliaments questions for written answer section I found the questions from Julie Anne Genter asking about the costs and benefits of the various projects. The answers from Gerry Brownlee are help to shed a bit more light, and concern on the projects.

First the costs.

I have been advised that the most recent cost estimates for the named projects are as follows.

  • Auckland City Rail Link – $2.86 billion. This figure is the revised number Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are now using for the project, and includes the additional rolling stock and track upgrades on the wider rail network needed to implement the project.
  • Second Waitemata Harbour crossing – $4.7 billion for a tunnel crossing.
  • Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) – $1.5 billion.
  • East-West Link – indicative cost of $1 billion.
  • Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive – $400 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
    • Upgrading State Highway 18 (Upper Harbour Highway) to motorway standard
    • Motorway-to-motorway connections between State Highway 1 and State Highway 18 (both directions)
    • South-facing ramps between State Highway 1 and State Highway 17 (Albany Expressway/Greville Road)
  • Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura – the estimated cost of widening State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura, including a new interchange at Takanini, is $250 million.
  • Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard – $110 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
    • Upgrading and widening of State Highway 20A
    • Grade separation of Kirkbride Road.

There are a couple of interesting points in here.

  • Auckland City Rail Link – It’s good to see them finally acknowledging that this isn’t just about a tunnel in the CBD but that the costs include a wider network upgrade
  • East-West Link – This is much more than what was budget for in the Auckland Plan and the Integrated Transport Programme which suggested $600m. Does this suggest the thinking is for a more expensive motorway type solution like has been pushed by groups like the NZCID?
  • Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive – No mention of extending the busway through this section like we thought may have been included making this piece of work appear to just be a roadfest
  • Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura – The ITP projected this as $500m so this is half the price, still expensive though and I imagine most of it is in the Takanini interchange.
  • Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard – Again this is cheaper than in the ITP which suggests $235m. I can understand the desire to grade separate Kirkbride Rd but not sure what the point of widening the road is.

Another key point is we don’t know if there are any particular details about the costs, for example we know that the CRL has had its costs inflated to the predicted year of spend but we don’t know if that has happened with the other projects. We also don’t know if the other projects have been though much more detailed costing’s like the CRL has, we know they certainly haven’t had the same level of scrutiny.

Moving on to the benefits the point above becomes even more relevant as the benefits are all listed in Net Present Value terms and that will have happened after taking into account issues like the assessment period and discount rate. This means we can’t do a straight calculation to work out the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). It’s worth noting that Julie Anne did ask for the BCR for the projects but was just referred to this table.

Auckland Transport Pakage Benefits

The thing that is really striking on here is the East-West link has been effectively been given a green light when its benefits have yet to be assessed. Even just last month Gerry Brownlee was suggesting a funding package for the project will being signed off soon. The whole thing has the stench of the RoNS approach all over it – agree to a project before actually working out if it is worthwhile.

Lastly regardless of what way you look at the numbers, the additional Waitemata harbour crossing project really does look like a dog. If it wasn’t being pushed by politicians (of almost all colours and ideology) then I suspect we wouldn’t even be hearing about it as the economic assessment would have buried it long ago.

Onehunga buses improved

The focus for improvements to public transport around Onehunga in recent years has been in the form of trains with services reinstated to the town centre back in 2010 after being stopped 37 years previously. The station has since been wired up and is now ready and waiting for our new electric trains to arrive. Positively patronage at the station has also been steadily improving and combined with the station at Te Papapa, is likely to exceed 2016 level of patronage that was predicted when the station was built.

But while the trains have been added, not a lot of effort had gone into the local bus infrastructure until now. Not far from the train station is the Onehunga Transport centre which is a bus interchange. It was previously not very inviting and I would say actively worked to put people off using buses. It had very little seating or shelter, the footpaths were quite narrow. Further while the bricks probably looked good when they were first installed, they come across as tatty and dull in the streetview image below.

Onehunga TC Before

On Sunday the transport centre officially reopened after a makeover and it looks much better. These images are courtesy of Auckland Transport.

Onehunga TC After 1

Onehunga TC After 2

The upgrade fixed the issues mentioned above as well as a few others. One thing I’m not that impressed with however is the amount of clutter on the footpath. on this short stretch of road I count at least 5 poles with what I assume are no parking or bus stop signs on them, there is a rubbish bin, at least one real time sign and a light pole. I do however really like the look of the bus shelters and also added another feature that doesn’t appear obvious at first, Kassel kerbs.

These special kerbs we invented in the German city of Kassel back in the mid-90s as a way to improve the customer experience of people using modern low floor buses, especially for those who are disabled. It is actually quite a simple concept as it is just a concaved kerb. The driver moves into the kerb which helps to keep the bus the right distance from the footpath. The kerb is also slightly higher than normal so combined with being closer to the footpath, means that the gap between it and the bus is much smaller than it would otherwise be. It is therefore much easier for people to board which can speed up dwell times. In many ways it is similar to having a level boarding of trains like we will have with the low floor carriage in our new EMUs. I believe that they have also been used at a few other locations and that there is now a local manufacturer of them so hopefully they can eventually be rolled out to all bus stops. Here is a little video about them

Starting this Sunday a new service will be calling at the upgraded transport centre. The current 380 Airporter service which goes between Manukau and the Airport is being extended to Onehunga although oddly not all services. The route is actually identified in the RPTP as a frequent route meaning it will eventually operate with at least 15 minute frequencies but I guess that will come later as the new bus network starts to be properly rolled out. Here is the route.

Airporter Route

The buses running this route have received the AT branding similar to the Northern Express (although the logo is smaller). The bright orange is certainly eye catching and perhaps suggests that buses on each of the frequent network buses will get route specific colouring.

Airporter Bus