This is a Guest Post by Geoff Houtman
In the dying days of the ARC, with the “People’s Paradise” of Wynyard Wharf about to flower it was decided that a Tram Loop would be built, with future plans to extend it to Quay St and beyond. Mission Bay? Dom Rd? Ponsonby? Unitec? Wherever the people demanded it.
The loop was built, money was sourced to extend it to Quay St, linking the Ferries, Britomart Trains and Wynyard like an “innovative” city would. Inexplicably Waterfront Auckland delayed the extension of the line, the extension that would give it real utility, and now their unelected Board want to remove the Trams so as not to offend their bosses. No, not the Residents of Auckland, not even the Council- the corporates who lease the land and want everything their way.
Here are 23 reasons we need trams/light rail and now!
1- Improved Air Quality. Reducing air pollutant emissions by 50% by 2016 is the Council’s stated goal. Diesel buses drive and wait idling all day every day, adding cancerous diesel particulates to the air from early in the morning until late at night. Electric trams not only take cars off the road more successfully than buses, they doubly reduce air pollution because they are zero emission themselves. Exhaust fumes are estimated to prematurely kill 400 Aucklanders per year.
2- Safer For Cyclists. It is physically impossible for a tram to swerve out of it’s lane and hit a cyclist. Cities with high cycle usage and high tram usage are the same cities precisely because of this reason. Riders must take care to cross the tram rails correctly but it’s not any more care needed than crossing a painted road marking or pothole. Trams are the cyclist’s best friend.
3- No Conflict with City Rail Link. Mike Lee’s desire to get “Trams now” and the Mayor’s wish to Tram Queen St up to Karangahape Rd (from 05.00) mean that trams are not a competitor for funding or patronage, more a complement to the existing plan.
4- Higher Quality Urban Results. The densest parts of Melbourne (and generally the most desirable and livable) are largely congruent with the extent of the tram network. Ribbons of lesser density extend out along the train lines. The areas served only by buses in Melbourne are low density. Causality cannot be proven but, in the case of Melbourne, trams go hand in hand with medium density and desirable areas.
5- Safer For Pedestrians. Trams calm traffic. The speed limit (even Ponsonby Rd’s 40 km/h) is being ignored constantly and is not being enforced. Trams calm traffic in a way no other vehicle can, many cities, like Melbourne, have passengers boarding from the centre of roads at pedestrian safety zones. Safer for pedestrians, safer for drivers.
6- Heritage and History. Many inner-city shopping centres formerly had tram lines along their entire length. When the trams and historic trolley poles were removed in the mid 1950′s the area lost much valuable heritage. Auckland developed along the Tram lines. Some could go as far to say that Trams built Auckland. Could they do so again?
7- Increasing Tourist Stay Days. (Western Bays Line example). Rightly so, the Council wants to increase Tourist Days spent in Auckland. A tram from Quay St though Wynyard, Victoria Park and Ponsonby Rd could connect to Great North Rd and from there to the existing tram lines in Western Springs- effectively linking 6 retail areas (CBD, Viaduct, Wynyard, Victoria Park Market, Ponsonby Rd and the Grey Lynn shops), 3 parks (Victoria, Western and Western Springs) and 4 tourist attractions (Springs Stadium, MOTAT 1, Auckland Zoo and MOTAT 2) with Britomart trains, Queens Wharf cruise liners and Ferries. Independent of destination, some cities use the Trams themselves as attractions. Melbourne even has fine dining trams!
8- Easy To Install. Many streets are wide enough and suitable for trams as they were all former tram routes. Reinstalling the rails is fairly straight forward and will have no incompatibilities with current services (buried pipes etc). In “Olde Aucklande” 27 miles of track was laid in just 14 months. These days we may not have the superior technology of the 1920′s but I’m sure we could find a way to lay 715 metres of track per week as they did 90 years ago…
9- Mass Local Support. The former Western Bays and Hobson Community Boards both supported the reintroduction of the Trams, as does the Ponsonby Business Association. A petition presented to Parliament last year was signed by nearly 1100 locals, including almost all Ponsonby Rd and K Rd businesses, asking “the House to consider whether legislation will be required to facilitate the extension of Auckland’s tram system as part of an integrated system that complements the proposed City Rail Link with the aim of reducing congestion in Auckland.”
10- Shush- quiet now. Tram technology has advanced considerably since 1902. The only downside to Trams- the noisy rails, have been taken out of the equation. The Wynyard Wharf loop makes great use of current dampening techniques. This makes trams quieter than buses and cars, although not as quiet as cycles!
11- Less Oil Imports. New Zealand’s economy will also benefit at a macro level. Domestic electricity beats Imported oil every way it can be measured. If oil prices continue to skyrocket the price of fuelling all our diesel buses will also go up, driving fares up to compensate. A tram network will help us avoid the effects of the oil spike, and public transport will have a cost-advantage over private vehicles.
12- Better Ride Quality. Trams have a smoother ride and less vibrations, due to the guided tracks, more ability for commuters to work enroute, more comfort overall. Railed vehicles are far less likely to induce motion sickness than road vehicles.
13- Permanency and Certainty. By their very nature the immovability of Trams encourages intensification along the tram corridor. The caryards on Great North Rd ridge in Grey Lynn, slated to become city fringe apartments, are a prime example of this. This has been shown on many occasions overseas (Portland, Oregon being a classic example). This can have significant economic benefits bringing more people and businesses within an easy tram ride of each other.
14- Higher Capacity than buses. Trams (both single carriage and articulated multiple units) have up to twice the capacity of buses.
15- Remove more cars. Trams have much greater appeal to the general public as they are generally more attractive than buses (cleaner, quieter, superior ride quality), and because they only follow the tram lines, there isn’t the fear that some people have with buses where they may get on the wrong one, so more people are more likely to use them than buses. Tramways are proven worldwide to attract up to 50% of their patronage from former drivers.
16- Faster Loading / Disabled Access. Newer trams with 100% flat floors, wide aisles and three or more double doors per side lead to very short “dwell times” making faster “headways” possible. Mobility is also improved for the disabled.
17- Increasing Existing Road Capacity. Following the Melbourne example of trams sharing the two lanes closest to the centre-line increases road usability without adding extra lanes. Both tracks share trolley poles, reducing the visual clutter as well as halving the cost of accessories.
18- Successful Public-Private Partnerships. Trams in Auckland were installed and run by the Auckland Tramways Company (as an aside- the bus driver’s union is still called Auckland Tramways Union). In July 1919 the Tramways were purchased by the Auckland City Council and ten years later taken over by the newly constituted Auckland Transport Board.
19- Trams Are Fun. People love Trams! Is it nostalgia? Perceived “coolness”? Exoticism? Higher desirability due to a “better” quality of ride? Greener? Nobody knows. The specific reason is ultimately not the point. People actively wanting to try Public Transport as a regular thing is the real win.
20- Names! A generation has grown up with Thomas the Tank Engine and know instinctively that all Trams (and trains) should have names. A Streetcar named Mike. Named Christine. Named Sene. Named Len. Named Bob. If we anthropomorphosise each car, people with think of them as “folks they know” rather than number 109. Kids love trams, this system is not just for us, it’s for them, and their kids.
21- Previous Council Support. The ARC under Mike Lee pushed hard for Trams, succeeding with the Wynyard Loop. The ACC had plans to investigate a 4km $16M Tram route. The ACC Transport Committee decreed that it “supports an electric tram proposal in principle and recommends to Auckland Transport that it gives consideration to the proposal as soon as practicable”. In September 2010…
22- Innovative Cities Have Trams. Auckland’s future is about being a “City Of Innovation”. Innovation is about being “ahead of the curve”. One part of being ahead of the curve is Trams. After all these cities are all doing it…
23- “Trams” is a palindrome of “Smart”. ‘Nuff said.
Giants building a tram
My previous post, which commented on an NZ Herald article relating to operating costs of Auckland’s rail system, noted the somewhat bizarre emergence of a $30 million funding gap. While my previous post asked the question of “where the heck did this funding gap come from?” it is fair to say that Joyce has mentioned it a few times now – most recently in his interview on the TV3 programme “The Nation” a few weeks back.
But a bit of digging through the archives of my blog indicates that this matter has been brewing for a while now – as I noted in a post back in May entitled “The electrification battle is not over“. In that particular post I noted how the government’s final funding arrangement for Auckland’s electric trains – which was effectively a loan to KiwiRail – could mean that Auckland’s ratepayers end up funding those trains after all as KiwiRail is now looking to recoup that money from Auckland Transport (and NZTA). Now this is quite confusing, so I’ll run through a bit of history on the rail electrification project to show how we’ve ended up where we are now:
- Back in the 2007 budget the then Labour government set aside $500 million to be spent on paying for the infrastructure side of the rail electrification project. However, they felt they couldn’t afford to also stump up with another $500 million for the electric trains themselves.
- Auckland’s local government agencies confirmed that there was not really a hope in hell that they’d be able to stump up with $500 million for the new electric trains either.
- In this situation, the parties looked at other options for raising the funding – and eventually settled upon applying a 10c a litre Regional Fuel Tax. The money raised from this fuel tax would effectively pay back the $500 million loan for the electric trains and also pay for a pile of other important transport projects.
- In March 2009 the current National government decided they didn’t like the Regional Fuel Tax, so they got rid of it. However, at the same time they confirmed that rail electrification would still proceed and took on the financial responsibility for making that happen.
- In November 2009 Cabinet gave its approval of a $500 million loan to KiwiRail to purchase the electric trains. How exactly KiwiRail would pay back that loan was left somewhat undecided.
A very interesting ARC report from May this year outlines that the financial implications of KiwiRail passing on the responsibility for paying back the $500 million loan for electric trains would be significant:
Further insight into the Government’s expectations in respect of the recovery of costs from metropolitan passenger rail is provided in the Minister of Transport’s paper to Cabinet in November 2009 seeking approval for funding for the purchase of the EMUs.2 The paper, released to the ARC in April 2010 following a request under the Official Information Act, contains estimates of the cost of repayment of a loan of $500 million over 30 years. At an interest rate of 6%, the annual cost of repaying the loan would be $35.973 million.
The Cabinet paper notes that such repayments “could not be recovered from current funding sources based on farebox revenue maximisation and NZTA and ARC subsidy assumptions.” It also raises the option of “a transparent Crown subsidy to the region on the understanding that the region increases its contribution to annual operating costs and that a funding glide path is agreed that eliminates or significantly reduces the Crown’s annual operating subsidy over time.” The Minister states that he favours this option.
Taken together, an increase in track access charges and a requirement for the region to repay the costs associated with the purchase of EMUs by KiwiRail could result in a very significant increase in the requirement for rail operating subsidy. The ARC and ARTA have paid track access fees since 2003 at an average rate of $5 million per annum, 60% of which is paid from NZTA subsidy. While it is not yet clear to what extent fees might increase, a threefold increase for example would increase the net cost to the region from approximately $2 million to $6 million per annum. If the region were also to be expected to pick up 40% of the cost of repaying the loan to purchase the EMUs, the annual cost would be approximately $14.4 million. The ARC has allocated $25.364 million in operating funding to ARTA for passenger rail services in the 2009/10 financial year. Adding potential increases in track access and EMU loan repayment costs could add a further $20 million per annum to this amount.
No provision has been made within the ARC’s 2009-19 LTCCP for such an increase, nor does NZTA have additional funding to meet its 60% share of any additional costs.
While KiwiRail’s proposed increase in the track-access fee from $5 million to $16 million shows us where $11 million of this “funding gap” is, it seems to me that the bulk of the rest of the gap arises from the costs of the new electric trains being passed on to Auckland Transport and NZTA. To make matters worse, because NZTA doesn’t have any money for rail (because it’s all dedicated to uneconomic motorways) it seems that the expectation is that Auckland will simply pick up the tab if it has any hopes of advancing its rail aspirations like the CBD Rail Tunnel.
So in effect we have three reasons for the funding gap existing:
- KiwiRail’s increased track access fee. This is probably justified to an extent given the improvements made to the tracks over the past few years. However, I do note that if a track access fee is meant to cover maintenance issues then there should be far less need for maintenance of the rail network over the next few years, especially once electrification is completed, as basically most things will be brand spanking new.
- The shifting of funding of the electric trains from central government back on to Auckland. I find this element particularly disgraceful as the deal was Auckland didn’t apply the regional fuel tax because central government was willing to fund the trains themselves. For the government to now go back on that deal is pretty dodgy I think.
- Finally, because NZTA is required to spend pretty much all its money on uneconomic motorways, it apparently won’t be able to contribute the 60% funding to rail operating costs that it would normally do (even though road users benefit hugely from the rail system – I don’t think I need to post the table with the $17 per trip benefit for the 372950327590th time). This means that Auckland is once again seemingly left to pick up the tab.
What’s interesting is that none of these three matters leading to the funding gap emerging are the fault of any ARTA, the ARC or any other Auckland-based agency. All three matters have arisen from central government decisions. It seems pretty rich to now lump the problem on Auckland and say “no more projects until you fix this problem we made for you”.
A month or so ago I helped present, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport, what we considered to be a more cost-effective and safety conscious option for upgrading State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford than the offline four-lane highway – often called the “holiday highway” – that is NZTA and the government’s current preferred option. The full document is available within the September 2010 agenda of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting.
At the August meeting of the T&UD committee, the following resolution was passed:
An item in the September committee agenda responds to this request.
The most interesting part of the agenda item is included below:
The letters sent to the Minister of Transport and NZTA are quite clear: that cost-effective staged improvements, along the lines of what is suggested by Operation Lifesaver, should be preferred. Both letters also state that around 45-50 deaths may be prevented by more immediate safety upgrades. It will be very interesting to see what the responses of NZTA and the Minister are.
In response to this particular item in September’s agenda, the ARC made the following resolutions:
It will be particularly interesting to see where Auckland Council and Auckland Transport sit with relation to this project. I have heard John Banks openly support the project “because the government wants it done” at the CBT’s annual meeting. Len Brown hasn’t said much about the project at all – either in support or opposition. If Auckland Council and Auckland Transport end up opposing the project, then it might be quite a challenge for the government to get it built in such a hostile environment.
In the meanwhile, I will be keeping an eye out for the responses to the ARC’s letter, from both NZTA and the Minister. It will also be interesting to see the results of NZTA’s more detailed analysis of the cost-effectiveness of the project – which is due to be released later this year. One hopes that they are undertaking a more robust analysis than what SKM did last year.
The ARC’s most recent Transport and Urban Development Committee meeting looked at the options for extending some services on the Western Line to Huapai. After the unfortunate (but not altogether unforeseeable thanks to the slowness of our trains) failure of the Helensville rail service, it seems as though some more realistic options are being looked at to extend some rail services from Waitakere township out to Huapai – a growing settlement to the northwest of Auckland.
The ARC report outlines a number of different options as well as their cost, for running trains to Huapai:
First things first, I think it’s very promising to see that we’re not likely to go with the failed Helensville model of only one train a day each way. That unfortunate experiment gave people only one option, and only catered for one type of passenger (someone working in the CBD). Having a number of different services should give people more confidence to use the service, as they know they have a range of options to get home.
As shown in the table below, adding more services vastly increases the number of people likely to use the train – because of the greater flexibility offered. It would be pointless to go to all the trouble to just attract 26 passengers, as estimated by Option 1:
As you can see, all the options require a fairly hefty subsidy (the costs are net of income from fares). But remember at the same time these are likely to be pretty long trips – so the benefits through reduced congestion are likely to be at the higher end of the $17 peak hour benefit to road users that typical rail trips provide. Taking that into account, the proposal might well have a positive benefit-cost ratio – and it would be interesting to see such an analysis undertaken.
The ARC report discusses the merits of the different options, and comes to a conclusion that I find myself agreeing with:
However, one thing that requires careful consideration is the fact that the Western Line has now lost its express train – which used to be non-stop between Newmarket/Grafton and New Lynn. This express train was the Helensville service, when that service operated. The lack of such a train means that rail trips from Huapai to Britomart are likely to be well over an hour in length – potentially reducing its attractiveness to commuters. It makes me wonder whether the decision to remove the Western Line express train was somewhat premature.
Looking through the minutes of the meeting, there is an interesting addition that I think deserves comment.
Resolution (c) adds an interesting new idea into the mix, the idea of a rail service that enables west-to-south trips and doesn’t add to the growing problem of a maxed-out Britomart in terms of its train capacity. As I have noted previously, by early next year (once Western Line trains are bumped up to 10 minute peak frequencies) Britomart will be at capacity, so it will not be possible to add any further capacity to any of the rail lines (in terms of more trains, we can of course still make the train longer) until we build the CBD rail tunnel. However, a Huapai to Tuakau (or wherever) service that doesn’t enter Britomart doesn’t add to this problem, so could be in addition to the 10 minute frequencies on the existing lines that we will be having by early next year.
It would be interesting to see how many people do change between the Western and Southern lines at Newmarket at the moment, to get some sort of gauge on the attractiveness of such a service. With a lot of workers in the west and a lot of jobs in the south (and vice versa to a lesser extent) I imagine there is the potential for such a service to be useful. But, as I noted above, the real benefit is that such a service can add capacity to the Western and Southern lines even when Britomart has been maxed out. With a train every 4-5 minutes between Newmarket and Britomart (western line plus southern line plus Onehunga line services) and an integrated ticketing system that doesn’t require extra fares to be paid, perhaps the thought of changing lines at Newmarket won’t be so horrible either.
It’s good to see some thought going into the long-term future of Auckland’s rail services, and a bit of creative thinking into how we might get around the Britomart capacity problem in the medium term while we build the CBD rail tunnel. It will be interesting to see whether this proposal advances.
Today I helped present to the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee an alternative to the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” that I have been working on, in conjunction with the Campaign for Better Transport. As regular readers of this blog would well know, I do not think that the current proposal – a 38 kilometre “off-line” motorway between Puhoi and Wellsford is a good use of $1.7 billion that it is likely to cost. A number of people have quite rightly asked “but the current road isn’t up to scratch, surely we must do something!” and basically the presentation that we made to the ARC today address those valid questions and provides what I think are far superior solutions. Furthermore, they are solutions that could be implemented much quicker and therefore save lives – hence the “Operation Lifesaver” tag-line.
The whole report by the Campaign for Better Transport to the ARC can be read here.
Essentially, what the “Operation Lifesaver” report does is analyse the problems faced by State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford. It then makes a critical analysis of NZTA’s current proposal – with particular emphasis on how poor value-for-money the full off-line motorway would be (I must admit I’m still confused about whether the business case analysis done suggests that cost-benefit ratio should be 0.31 rather than 0.8) and also on how long the current proposal would take to implement. Two alternatives are then suggested: one with a price tag of approximately $160 million (just under 10% of the cost of the full proposal) and one with a price of around $320 million.
We put together a powerpoint presentation, so perhaps the easiest way to present a brief overview of the document (although I do suggest reading the whole thing) is to post the slides, with some comment.
As I noted above, the existing road does suffer from some serious deficiencies at the moment. The biggest problem is its safety record, with a horrific 41 fatalities along SH1 between Puhoi and Wellsford from 2000 to 2009. There is also a severe congestion problem around Warkworth, mainly during holiday periods and at weekends, but certainly not only at those times.
The next slide talks more about the current NZTA proposal, which is the 38 kilometre motorway/expressway from Puhoi to Wellsford. The high cost of the project, its low cost-benefit ratio and the very long timeframes for actually implementing and constructing the project are key problems with it in my opinion. In particular, as I have noted previously, the fact that the Puhoi-Warkworth section won’t be finished until 2019 and the Warkworth-Wellsford section until 2022 means that, on current safety records, potentially another 50 people would die on the road before the upgrade was finally completed. So what would be a better solution for this problem than what NZTA have come up with? Well there seem to be two key problems that need resolving: the safety problems first and foremost, and then the congestion problems.
As I noted above, we came up with two possible alternatives: for around 10% and 20% of the cost of NZTA’s proposal. These are outlined in the two slides below: We also undertook a bit of an economic analysis of the two alternatives and compared them with the NZTA proposal. The amount of benefit each of the alternatives were given was based on what I think is a conservative comparison to the amount of benefit the 2009 Business Case estimated. For example, with time savings benefits it was estimated that Option 1 would generate 30% of the benefits of the NZTA proposal, with Option 2 providing 40% of the time savings benefits. For safety, Option 1 was considered to provide 70% of the benefits, and Option 2 90%.
The results of the comparison between costs and benefits of the two suggested alternatives and the NZTA proposal are outlined in the table below: An interesting matter which caught my eye is the question of “what actually is the cost-benefit ratio of the NZTA proposal?” In all the documentation they have released it is supposedly 0.8, but in the business case I could only find $530 million of total conventional benefits – which would mean a BCR of 0.31 if we take the construction cost to be $1.69 billion. Of course I might be confusing 2009 dollars with outturn costs, but perhaps that’s not the most important point here. What does seem to be the most important point is to note, on whatever measure, how much more cost effective either of the CBT’s suggested alternatives are compared to what NZTA is currently proposing.
The ARC was highly receptive of our presentation, which I think confirmed in the minds of the councillors the previous suspicions they’ve had about the Puhoi-Wellsford project. The council provided support for further investigating the alternatives and also to discussing the whole issue with both NZTA and the Minister of Transport. It will be interesting to see where things go to from here.
Somewhat as the result of my pleading, the Regional Transport Committee back in April resolved to take a further look at the best way to provide public transport along the Northwestern Motorway in the medium and long-term future. As I have outlined before, SH16 is to be upgraded by NZTA over the next few years – at a cost of over $800 million. This upgrade will involve a huge widening of the motorway: from 4 to 6 lanes west of Te Atatu, from six to eight lanes on most of the stretch between Te Atatu and St Lukes, except for a stretch along the causeway where it will be nine lanes wide.
Yup, nine lanes of motorway. Five lanes westbound and four eastbound. This is shown in the picture below:
As I have also noted before, history (and the well known to all but transport engineers theory of induced demand) tells us that within a few years the widened motorway will be just as full of cars as it is now. The northwest motorway has been widened on many occasions in the past, and the result has been a year or so of congestion relief, before various factor lead to more cars using the motorway and the same congested outcome. To me, that seems pretty dumb: $800 million pretty much completely wasted (even a herald editorial on Saturday recognised that most Auckland motorway projects result in the road being just as congested as it was at the end of the project as it was at the start).
So while the idea of putting a busway down the northern side of State Highway 16 would definitely not be my first transport priority in Auckland, it seemed to me not entirely unreasonable to hope that we might actually end up with some lasting benefit out of this $800 million – and a busway would provide that. The extra lanes on the motorway would, in the longer term, make very little difference to the level of congestion on that road, but actually building a busway would create a lasting public transport benefit for west Auckland, serving an area that is a long long way from the western railway line.
It would appear as though the Regional Transport Committee thought long and hard about this issue back in April, and resolved to seek some further information from officers. This is what their resolutions were:
This month’s regional transport committee meeting agenda includes an item which reports back on these matters – which itself is largely based on some additional work that ARTA have undertaken on this issue (which is included as an attachment). The item is from pages 23-30 in this file.
The agenda item itself reports back the main matters outlined in the ARTA letter, which details what public transport upgrades are being proposed for SH16. This is outlined below:
There are some promising signs here. For a start, it is good to see that the bus priority lanes between Westgate and Waterview sound like they will be half-decent: with a 3.5 m width, and also somewhat continuous. It is also excellent to hear that interchanges will be future-proofed for bus priority and bus interchange measures (whatever that actually means). Achieving something close to an RTN standard would be good. Obviously, service patterns will change over time.
However, there are also some rather strange aspects to the improvements, like why the Lincoln to Westgate section of SH16 is an RTN while the rest of SH16 is just a QTN. I certainly recognise the efforts to improve connections between Waitakere and North Shore cities along the SH18 alignment, but this route struggles to maintain even a standard bus route at the moment, so even the consideration that it might be suitable for rail in the future seems somewhat premature – to put it mildly!
The ARTA report contains a bit of further information around why SH16 is seen as a QTN (which would mean bus lanes) rather than an RTN (which would mean a full busway). It’s quite interesting:
We are probably close here to finally getting an answer about why officials aren’t too keen on the NW Busway idea. It is true that the catchment served by an SH16 is not particularly huge, with Te Atatu and Westgate being the main additional areas (I would add Massey and West Harbour to that list though). It is also true, to some extent, that we would want to be wary of the busway and the railway line competing with each other and thereby not being the most efficient use of resources.
However, I also do take some issue with the arguments put forward in the above paragraphs. While the catchments served by the busway might not be particularly large, once you add in feeder buses for areas like Te Atatu, Massey, Westgate, West Harbour and Hobsonville, you are probably looking at a fairly large population being served. Secondly, in terms of the busway ‘competing’ against the railway line, one would think that ARTA would be more worried about a brand new nine-lane wide motorway competing against the pathetically slow western line. If some passengers shift from using the train to using the busway, then surely that is better than the inevitable alternative of passengers shifting from using the train to using the newly widened motorway?
Nevertheless, perhaps ARTA’s most genuine concern is not so much about the practicalities of whether the projects would compete with each other, but the perception that politicians (particularly those who hold the purse strings in Wellington and don’t seem to like public transport very much) could use a Northwest Busway as an excuse to not build the CBD rail tunnel: which certainly is a much more needed project. The CBD rail tunnel will offer significant travel time benefits to rail users on the western line, and in order to push for that project to have the best possible “return on investment” (which seems to matter for public transport projects, unlike motorway projects) it seems necessary to ensure the ‘problem’ is as bad as possible. Somewhat bizarre, but true.
So where does this leave the dreams for a Northwest Busway? Well I think that it will come down the “the devil in the detail” about the quality of the bus-lanes proposed along SH16. While we know that there will be 3.5 m wide shoulder lanes, and that there will be ‘some’ future-proofing for interchanges, the details of that remain pretty unclear. It seems as though we will still have the stupid outcome of bus lanes ending just before each on and off-ramp, and potentially ending before each over-bridge. To be honest, if that is the result then it’s not much of an improvement on the current situation (and would stink of “PT-washing”).
However, if somehow the lanes can duck behind/underneath the motorway ramps, and that genuine provision is made for interchanges where people can get off feeder buses and onto express buses operating between the CBD and Westgate, we may well end up with something of a de-facto busway – even if it’s one lane on each side of the motorway rather than the whole thing on one-side. This would be a pretty reasonable outcome, particularly if sufficient land is set aside for a future upgrade to a proper busway. Here’s a map of what seems to be proposed:
Ironically though, one of the main advantages of a busway would have been to negate the need for all these extra lanes along State Highway 16 – if it were proposed as an alternative to the additional lanes rather than ending up with all the additional lanes plus some bus priority plus the potential ability to create a busway in the future. Which leads me back to the start of this point, and the point that the $800 million proposed to be spent on widening SH16 is an enormous waste of money – with perhaps the only legitimate part of it being a couple of auxiliary lanes to handle traffic exiting from the Waterview tunnel and the raising of the causeway. The rest of it is a huge amount of money wasted in the vain hope that perhaps this time adding a lane onto a motorway might ‘fix’ congestion – even though it didn’t work last time, or the time before that.
If the motorway widening proceeds, then it is likely that people will be ‘induced’ away from public transport through the momentary congestion-relief that will be offered by the widened road. Perhaps over time, as the widened motorway starts clogging up again, they will drift back to public transport – but if ARTA are really concerned about the effect on railway patronage of a NW Busway, I think they should be even more worried about the effects on railway patronage of a hugely widened SH16.
At yesterday’s meeting of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee there was a lengthy discussion of the merits of the Puhoi to Wellsford “holiday highway”. This was reported in the NZ Herald today, in an article that includes the following:
The Government was accused yesterday of “picking winners” by promoting a new highway north of Auckland for up to $2 billion while KiwiRail is considering closing its line to Northland.
Auckland Regional Council transport chairwoman Christine Rose said more investment in rail was needed to carry some of the freight load for which the Government is earmarking the proposed dual-carriageway road between Puhoi and Wellsford.
“We have a real concern there is a clear picking of winners in [transport] modes,” she told Transport Agency regional director Wayne McDonald at a meeting of her committee…
…councillors passed a resolution of concern about the cost implications of “state highway duplication, especially in the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and cost of capital considerations compared with other modes”.
Mr McDonald said the project was still in its initial consultation stage for selecting a route, and a cost-benefit analysis would follow as part of a full scheme assessment.
Council strategy and planning chairman Paul Walbran said although Auckland should consider ways by which it could support Northland, given that region’s large areas of economic deprivation, is was unclear whether the new road was the answer.
“I note that Mr McDonald has got the order to do it and work out the costs and benefits later,” he said.
It is true that NZTA can’t be blamed too much for the stupidity that is the holiday highway. They have their orders from the Minister of Transport to get the thing done. However, as I have noted in the past (and will elaborate upon in posts in the not too distant future) I think that NZTA’s work on this project so far has been pretty shoddy. They must know, in their heart of hearts, that the project simply does not stack up financially as good value for money. Perhaps that explains to some extent why they seem to be inviting people to come up with reasons to make the project difficult, but in general I think they need to be doing a better job at fully analysing what the real issues are along this stretch of State Highway 1 and proposing what would be far more sensible alternatives to the Minister’s grandiose monument to himself.
Anyway, back to the ARC’s position on the matter. This is outlined in more detail in the agenda of yesterday’s meeting (pages 22-33 of this document), as it seems as though the councillors pretty much agreed with the recommendations in the agenda item, which were:
I also found this part quite interesting:
It would seem as though the ARC has come to the realisation that upgrading the existing road, with perhaps a few minor realignments, is by far the more cost-effective option than a full 38 kilometre new motorway.
What will be really fascinating is if the new Auckland Council takes a position opposing this project, and directs the Auckland Transport CCO to also oppose it. While obviously it’s a completely NZTA funded project, things could get rather interesting if it is being imposed on a council and a transport agency that have stated positions against it. On a related note, it’s probably worth noting that at Tuesday’s CBT meeting, John Banks said that he fully supported the Puhoi-Wellsford holiday highway (though of course he didn’t called it a holiday highway).
Some exciting news hidden in the agenda of next week’s ARC Transport and Urban Development committee meeting, that the next step is being taken towards making a railway line to the airport a reality. The full item can be read from pages 8-21 of this document. Some previous work has been undertaken into the airport line, but this MOU between all involved parties is a critical step forwards to making the line a reality. It was an MOU between the various parties that led to the current progress being made on the CBD rail tunnel.
Here’s a brief outline of the item:
Regardless of the timeframes for actually constructing the line, I think that we need to protect its route alignment as soon as possible – and this is an excellent first step towards that.
An interesting, if rather worrying, little piece of information has emerged from the dark depths of the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee agenda – the meeting on which happened today. And that relates to some discussion that is being undertaken by the Northern Corridor Steering Group (a meeting of various transport organisations that relate to the northern part of Auckland) about whether High Occupancy Vehicles (HOVs) should be allowed on the Northern Busway.
Apparently, as part of the funding justification for the Busway, it was proposed that at some point it would be available for use of High-Occupancy Vehicles: one would imagine that being defined as cars/vans/etc. with three or more occupants. Here’s the little bit from the most recent meeting of this Northern Corridor Steering Group which relates to the issue:
I must say I didn’t know about this whole “once the Victoria Park Tunnel project is completed, we will need to allow HOVs on the busway” issue. I have certainly heard talk about the HOV matter before, but I thought that the idea was rejected because of safety concerns – and also because at peak hours those vehicles would clog up the busway, which is used by a pretty significant number of buses at those times.
And this shows the real problem with the idea – that the very same time when the busway would be in most demand for HOVs it needs all the capacity it can get for use by buses. Now I know that the busway is currently not at capacity – even at peak times – and it may be quite some time until it does reach capacity. So perhaps it wouldn’t be a complete and utter disaster (from a pure capacity perspective) at the moment if HOVs were allowed on the route. The problem is that once they are allowed, it will be damn difficult to then “take the busway back” exclusively for buses once we really are running a number of buses that couldn’t handle sharing the road with HOVs.
I see the busway as effectively being a “railway on rubber tyres”, and its designation as being part of the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) supports that. The whole entire point of the RTN is that you give public transport an exclusive right-of-way that does not have to mingle with general traffic in any sense, nor have to deal with intersections at the like. Most of the RTN consists of the railway system, but the busway is a pretty good ‘cut-price’ alternative to having to construct a railway line under the harbour and up the North Shore (although I imagine we’ll have to do that eventually). If we allow private vehicles on the busway, then in my mind that would no longer be part of the RTN. Vehicles could break down, there could end up being too many of them and therefore the busway would get clogged and put off public transport users – and the whole point of running the busway next to a congested motorway: to get people out of their cars, would effectively be lost.
Let’s hope sanity prevails and the busway remains just that: a busway.
When NZTA released its final farebox recovery policy a week or so back, I explained quite carefully why I thought it was an utterly stupid policy. It’s quite nice to see that the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) has made similar criticisms of the policy in their latest Transport committee meeting agenda, just as they made fairly similar points to me in their submission. The ARC document highlights much of what I think about the policy: that NZTA are going to a lot of work to ‘soften’ the impact of the policy, and in some respects to even pretend that their 50% average across the whole country isn’t really what the policy is all about – but just as I saw through that rubbish, the ARC has done the same: Like the ARC, I’m glad that there seems to be more flexibility in the initial setting of farebox recovery ratios. I do think that more work needs to be done on working out where the different benefits of public transport investment are felt: what proportion is for road-users, what proportion is for the city in general and what proportion is for the individual using public transport. An interesting example is the soon to be reopened Onehunga Line, where the cost-benefit analysis showed that 85% of the benefits from that project were to road users. To me that seems like a pretty good argument that road-users, through NZTA, should be picking up 85% of the bill for that project. Somewhat unsurprisingly, when I raised that issue with NZTA they didn’t get back to me!
However, all this new flexibility and sweet-talking from NZTA avoids the matter that they’ve still come up with this random 50% number without any international justification or any further research having gone into why that’s the right number. Most of the talk from NZTA in response to that issue goes along the lines of “but over the past eight years the recovery ratio has dropped from 58% to 46% across the country, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to get it back up a bit”. Now that may be a fair point, but where’s the research showing that, as a whole, our urban areas are not better off with a recovery ratio of 46%? What if a bit more investment in public transport enables the removal of a few more thousand cars off the roads at peak time, leading to significant benefits for road users?
I know for a fact that many Australian and US cities have farebox recovery ratios far lower than Auckland’s – but they aren’t particularly worried about that issue, because they recognise the huge wider benefits of increasing public transport use has. They realise that if fares were to go up significantly, or services levels cut – to meet an arbitrary recovery ratio – the negative consequences (people shifting back to driving) would far outweigh the few dollars in subsidy saved.
Of course this is all not to say that we shouldn’t strive to get better value for money from our investment in public transport. We absolutely should eliminate the wasteful and stupid duplication of bus and train routes (like the 135 bus route duplicating the Western Line train), we absolutely should operate more buses as feeders rather than running all of them into the CBD (why can’t most Howick/Eastern buses terminate at Panmure and transfer their passengers onto the train there rather than running all the way into town after literally driving past the Panmure train station) and we absolutely should utilise the provisions of the PTMA to stop commercial operators “cherry-picking” the best routes so it’s possible to cross-subsidise less profitable routes from the more profitable routes – and therefore reduce the overall level of subsidy required. So there are clearly steps that we can take to get better value for money from public transport, but the money saved really needs to go back into the system: so we can run better frequencies on key routes and so that we can make the system faster, better value for money, and more convenient.
Putting in an arbitrary farebox recovery ratio could very well lead to a “death-cycle” for public transport, where in order to meet the ratio, we need to cut services or hike fares, which will further put people off using PT, meaning that fares need to be hiked further and services cut further to meet that arbitrary ratio. Meanwhile as people abandon public transport in their droves they jump back into their cars and start clogging up the roads again, not a particularly sensible outcome in my books – and all because someone plucked an arbitrary 50% figure out of thin-air without doing some proper research into what the actual ideal level should be.
Great job NZTA, thanks for confirming that you hate public transport.