Auckland Train Ops Shortlist

Auckland Transport have announced the short list of companies to run Auckland’s trains from July next year onwards and none particularly fill me with confidence.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Auckland Transport has short-listed three companies that will be invited to tender to operate passenger rail services from 1 July 2016.

They are Serco NZ, Transdev Auckland and KiwiRail.

Mark Lambert, general manager AT Metro, says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies soon and the new rail contract will take effect from next year, when the existing contract expires.

Mr Lambert says there was a high level of interest internationally when Auckland Transport sought Expressions of Interest and the three shortlisted companies were selected after careful evaluation.

He says that the new contract will be performance-based and reflect the huge changes in the Auckland passenger rail system since the current contract was put in place in 2003.

Auckland’s Metro rail service has been electrified and modern electric trains will soon be operating on all lines, stations have been upgraded, new stations built and the Western Line double-tracked. The number of services has significantly increased from 40,000 to 140,000 per annum since 2003. Passenger boardings have passed a record 13 million a year and are climbing at record rates, with growth of 33% in March 2015 compared to the same month last year. Annual growth for the March year was 21%.

Shortlisted companies:

  • Serco NZ is the New Zealand arm of the British Serco PLC, an international service company working in a variety of sectors including transport, health and corrections. Internationally, Serco’s rail operations include the MerseyRail and Northern Rail operations in the UK and the Dubai Metro in the United Arab Emirates. Serco delivers services to central and local governments in New Zealand and Australia with over 9,000 staff across the region and 600 based in Auckland.
  • Transdev Auckland is part of the Transdev Group, one of the world’s largest private passenger transport companies. The Group, whose head office is based in France, operate light and heavy rail services in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia. Transdev has been operating the Auckland Metro rail services since 2003.
  • New Zealand Government-owned KiwiRail owns and manages the national railway network. It operates freight and passenger rail services throughout New Zealand, including the Tranz Metro commuter rail operation in Wellington, which provides 2,200 services each week.

With Transdev and its predecessors we’ve have more than a decade of poor performance – not all of which has been their fault. Perhaps most annoying to regular customers has been the frequent poor communication when things go wrong.

Serco also operates the Mt Eden prison and if they were to win the contract I’d certainly hope they ran the rail network better they were the prison a few years ago where the failed to meet half of their performance targets.

Lastly Kiwirail who own the tracks and currently run the trains in Wellington. In reality they are a freight company and to date have shown little regard for PT or its users in Auckland.

What’s also noticeable about this announcement is that the three companies shortlisted are the same as those shortlisted for the Wellington contract with one exception. In Wellington Kiwirail have bid in joint venture with Keolis Downer.

All the companies shortlisted will almost certainly be hoping to win both the Auckland and Wellington contracts which would allow them to leverage some economies of scale across both operations. That has the potential to be good if it means services can be delivered cheaper but might have negative consequences if it limits how easy it is for other companies to compete for future tenders.

AT April Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport board meeting is next week and as usual I’ve scoured the main report looking for the interesting bits of information. I also normally highlight the topics being discussed at the closed session of the board meeting however at the time of writing this the agenda is not available as doesn’t appear to have been uploaded correctly.

Project updates

Te Atatu Rd Rd – They now has all the consents needed to start construction and AT are targeting work to start in July. Also about Te Atatu, AT say that within the next three months they will lodge notices of requirement for the Te Atatu Bus Interchange.

AMETI – The Notices of Requirement are being prepared for the Panmure to Pakuranga busway and are expected to be lodged within the next three months.

Great North Road/Surrey Crescent – AT are looking to upgrade the intersection which will also require moving bus stops. It’s not in the report but I understand local retailers are very opposed to the bus stop even existing and want more car parking instead. I’ve even heard that local councillor and AT board member Mike Lee supported this view at a public meeting

Franklin Road – AT are still working through the Franklin Rd project however are finding resistance from residents who don’t want cycle lanes on the road and are using AT’s silly and outdate road classifications against them AT say that following an internal safety audit they are now having an independent safety audit commissioned to consider one of the four options before proceeding further.

  1. On-road cycle lanes on both sides
  2. On-road cycle lane on the downhill side and ‘shared path’ on the footpath (uphill side)
  3. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides and normal footpath
  4. No on-road cycle lanes on both sides but ‘shared path’ on the footpath (both sides)

That the last to in particular are even being considered is frankly insane.

Ōtāhuhu Bus-Train Interchange – AT are working towards the main construction works to happen in July. In preparation for that over Queens Birthday weekend the old signal box will be lifted off the platform and relocated and foundations for additional canopies will be installed.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level crossing) – The Notice of Requirement will now be lodged in May as final changes are made to the design. Separately AT say they are targeting this to be completed in 2017 but that relies on the process going smoothly and it’s almost certain some of the local residents on Cowie St will complain to the environment court.

Parnell Station – As many train users may have noticed, works have started to build the station with platform edging appearing. The works to enable the platforms to be built are planned to be completed by August and Kiwirail are expected to complete the refurbishment of the heritage Newmarket station by the end of the year. However the opening of the station is two years away as AT want to tie that in with the closing of Sarawia St which is likely due to the increased complexity in signalling it would cause. They say if that can be resolved then the station could open from early to mid-2016.

Westgate Transport Interchange – AT are still trying to work out how they are going to operate buses in the new Westgate town centre which wasn’t designed well with public transport in mind. The initial plan was to have bus interchange spread around the town centre which wouldn’t have been very good from an operational or customer focused perspective. This difficultly that AT seem to have having with getting this changed highlights how important it is that we design our PT networks and infrastructure into new greenfield development properly right from the start.

Half Moon Bay – Funding has been approved for improvements to the ferry terminal. It is hoped the project will be completed by September 2016

Proposed Northcote Cycleway – AT say the final design for the cycleway was presented to the Kaipatiki local board yesterday and will be made public in early May. The main issues they have been dealing with is the complaints about losing publicly provided space to store their personal possessions.

City Rail Link – Of the six appeals against the notice of requirement AT say they have resolved two of them and they’re making significant progress on another three following mediation over the last few months. Only one is outstanding and a hearing on it is due in late June.

PT

AT HOP – AT say that HOP car usage increased to its highest ever level in March with 74% of all trips being made using it. In addition with patronage also increasing, fare revenue has also been increasing which is good.

A separate paper – I assume to the closed session – will cover off AT’s roadmap for integrated fares including boundaries and indicative pricing

PTOM – AT are still waiting on the NZTA to finalise its review of the PTOM contracts so they can start tendering services for the new network

EMUs – There are now 50 out of 57 electric trains in Auckland, 42 have achieved provisional acceptance and 33 have achieved acceptance for normal service.

Mid May is the next significant step for the electric trains which is when they will be rolled out to all weekend services – except Pukekohe to Papakura (no mention of when Waitakere will close). They say additional services on the Southern Line are targeted for June

Bus Lane Rollout – At has an update on some of the bus lanes they’re rolling out and some of the time savings are impressive – such as two minutes faster for every bus that using the Symonds St improvements.

Onewa Road T3 Lane (city bound) – under construction.

  • Symonds Street Bus Lane improvements – construction completed; initial analysis shows 2 minute time savings for a number of peak services – schedule adherence has increased to 93%.
  • Fanshawe Street Bus Lane (inbound) improvements – construction completed.
  • Victoria street Bus Lane Extension – construction has commenced in March.
  • Wellesley Street Bus Pocket – construction to commence midApril.
  • Khyber Pass Road Bus Lane Extension – construction completed.
  • Dominion Road Bus Lane (Richardson Road to Denbigh Ave) – 21 March construction completed – initial analysis shows that a number of peak services are saving 4 minutes on travel times compared to the previous year.
  • Park Road Bus Lane – hospital to Carlton Gore Road – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Parnell Road Bus Lane – St Stephens to Sarawia Street (outbound) – consultation completed and ready for Traffic Control Committee approval.
  • Manukau Road/Pah Road Transit Lanes – designs near completion; Local Board workshops to be progressed in April.
  • Great North Road Bus Lanes – New Lynn to Ash Street – final concept plans completed – due for consultation 20th April.
  • Totara Avenue Signal Removal – improvements to New Lynn bus interchange –– construction complete targeted for 20th April

Customer Experience – AT say that this is improving which I find interesting considering the number of issues we heard about in March

2015-04 - Customer Satisfaction

AT’s proposed 3 year cycling programme

A report to Auckland Transport’s board next week highlights their proposed cycle programme for the next three years which if built fully will see $207 million invested in cycling over that time. That includes funding from AT, the NZTA and the Governments Urban Cycling Fund (UCF) – for which AT and the NZTA have put a joint bid in for $82m in funding. It also includes cycle infrastructure included as part of other projects such as the AMETI. The proposed programme consists of:

  • A total investment of $179m on dedicated cycle projects
  • Approximately $20m of cycle facilities delivered through other projects
  • Over $8m on marketing, training and behaviour change programmes to facilitate growth in cycle journeys.

In total AT say it would add 53km of new cycle routes and increase annual cycle journeys increasing from 900,000 to 2.5 million per year. I’m not too sure how they work those numbers out but it is a significant increase. Since 2010 the handful of automatic cycle counters AT have installed have recorded a 23.8% increase in people riding bikes. AT also say their research shows that one in four people own a bike and 60% per cent of Aucklanders would cycle if separated cycle facilities were installed. Positively they also say this

Internationally the correlation between high levels of cycling and cycle infrastructure separated from volume and speed motor traffic is strong. The organisations own research shows that single greatest barrier to cycling in Auckland is that its roads are perceived as unsafe to cycle.

And of course safety is a big factor. In the 2014 financial year there were 2 deaths and 40 serious injuries and that equates to social costs of $36.5 million and that doesn’t count the costs of people who might cycle living having increased health problems from living more sedentary lives.

The programme isn’t without its risks though and the biggest ones are likely to be financial as it depends on more funding from the council. Other risks include deliverability – as it would require AT/NZTA to significantly ramp up processes to adapt to the increased funding, other major projects such as the CRL/LRT/new bus network and the need to remove parking from some streets.

It’s important for Auckland that AT get as much funding as they can out of the Urban Cycle Funding and they say this about it and their proposals.

The panel assessing UCF proposals has set out clear parameters for the funding. Submissions must deliver:

– Connected networks
– Cycle facilities on primary corridors
– An increase in utility cycling journeys: to workplaces, schools and shops
– Innovative, high quality infrastructure

The UCF will invest in the projects that are most likely to deliver the highest levels of modal shift and therefore justify further investment in cycling. In response, AT and the Transport Agency have proposed a programme focussed on the City Centre. The neighbourhoods within 5-7km of the City Centre currently record the highest modal share for cycling in Auckland, with approximately 4 per cent of people cycling to work. In addition they have the highest numbers of people that AT research identifies are most likely to cycle.

The bid proposes four packages to develop a network of cycle routes within and leading to the City Centre

  • City Centre Package: This package includes segregated cycle routes across the City Centre as well as minor interventions that will make the whole City Centre more permeable for people on bicycles.
  • Eastern Connections: This package focuses on delivering a high quality off-road route along the rail line from Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive, and connections to this route.
  • Western Connections: This package delivers new routes through the Western Bays as well as connections to the North-Western Cycleway.
  • Connections to Public Transport Hubs: This package will focus on the busiest public transport stations in Auckland and will deliver ‘end of trip’ facilities as well as on-road improvements to support cycle trips.

I’m sure many will be concerned about having such a central city focus however I do think that’s the right strategy. In my opinion we need to have a couple of areas where there is a decent amount of cycle infrastructure so that the general public can start to see that things can be better than just a few bits of paint on the road. Using the past approach of spreading any investment around the entire region means we could be waiting decades for there to be a strong enough network to see significant changes in bike use.

The map below highlights AT’s proposed cycleways. Despite the city centre focus there are still some notable gaps such as Ponsonby Rd, Franklin Rd and many others however if this is delivered within three years it would be a significant improvement on what we have now.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18

The tables below summarise the investment over the next year and the three year period.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Accelerated investment

Of that $179.4 million for dedicated cycleways it is broken down as per below.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Dedicated Cycleways Accelerated investment

The NZTA’s $58.7 million is made up of the following projects

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 NZTA Accelerated investment

While AT’s $111.2 million is made up of the projects in the table below which also provides an idea of timing for each of them.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 AT Projects 2

The other AT CAPEX which comes as part of other AT projects.

AT proposed cycleways 2015-18 Other Projects Cycleways Accelerated investment

These projects will really help improve cycling in and around the city centre and as mentioned should help in showing Auckland in general what kind of cycling facilities are possible when we put our mind and some money towards it.

Western Line Padding Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote Auckland Transport padding out the Western Line timetable. Today the Herald picked up on the story. AT have sent me a response to the story which is in full below.

AT is committed to running reliable peak services and achieving this through the introduction of a world class all-electric fleet.

In order to address the recent decrease in reliability and performance, the decommissioning of the diesel fleet has been brought forward to July from a planned August / September date. This will remove one variable of on-time performance – aging diesel train breakdowns that have seen a spike in recent months.

As with any timetable change, the most recent being on 8 December with a +22% increase in services, tweaks are required following introduction. The 3 minute earlier departure times on the Western Line are needed to support the 8 December increased services while diesel and electric trains share the network, to ensure time slots at Newmarket junction and Britomart are met.

As part of the original electric train rollout plan and in accordance with that plan, run-times of the electric trains on the Western Line are being tested and optimised currently prior to introduction in July as part of the existing timetable. Continuous improvements in run times, signalling and track testing to optimise electric train run times are a priority and further run-time testing and optimisation will follow the bedding in of full electric train operations from July, leading to more timetable improvements later in 2015. This work involves looking at reducing dwell times and optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) safety feature on the electric trains.

AT is committed to providing the peak 10 minute frequency on the Western Line as early as possible and will be dependent on progress over coming months.

The historic run times relate to when run times were increased to accommodate the SA train sets. To place this in context, the improvements on the rail network since 2003:

Train Changes 2003-2015
I think it would be good for AT to actually specify exactly what the impediments are to faster and more frequent services and what steps they are taking i.e. how much do they need to reduce dwell times, what are the changes that need to occur for 10 minute frequencies etc.

As often happens when AT release data like above it manages to highlight a couple of other important points. In this case that a few things I noticed:

  • Patronage has increased well above the increase in the number of services per week. This is a good things and shows suggests we’re not only getting better services but also more utilisation out of them.
  • At 30 arrivals at Britomart over a two hour period it highlights just how much more capacity the CRL has the potential to contribute. Although first a quick count suggests the actual number of AM Peak (7am-9am) arrivals is 36 trains which would go to 40 if the western line moved to 10 minute frequencies. My understanding is the CRL allows for up to 48 trains an hour (24 trains per direction) so that’s up to 96 over a two hour window. In other words the CRL more than doubles the capacity of the rail network.
  • Back in early March AT said that on average weekdays in February there were 51,500 trips. For March that has increased to almost 60,000 per weekday

ANZAC Day Dawn Service PT options

AT are putting on a few PT services so that people can reach  the ANZAC day dawn ceremony. The good news is that for the first time that includes being able to catch a train there (plus a little bit of a walk). The details are on AT’s website. The dawn service starts at 6am.

Bus
  • A Saturday timetable will be in place for all bus services with additional Inner LINK and Northern Express services provided for the ANZAC Day Dawn service from 4:30am
  • Inner LINK buses will operate approximately every 15 minutes (clockwise and anti-clockwise) from 4.45am to 6.30am. From 6.30am the services will operate to the normal Saturday timetable. These services operate to Auckland Museum in the Domain, linking Newmarket with additional rail services and Britomart for Northern Express and rail.
  • Additional Northern Express services will operate from Albany to Britomart at 4.30am, 5.00, 5.30 and 6.00. The normal Saturday timetable resumes from 6.30am.
  • If you have a Veteran’s SuperGold card, SuperGold card or RSA membership you can travel free all day on any Metrolink, Waka Pacific, North Star, GO WEST or any LINK bus.
Train
  • One additional early morning train per line to Newmarket from:
    • Swanson departing 4:15
    • Papakura departing 4:07
    • Manukau departing 4:05 (travels direct to Newmarket)
    • Onehunga departing 4:15
    • Britomart departing 4:50
    • All timed to arrive at Newmarket before 5:00am.
  • Western Line train services travel to Grafton station on Park Rd, which is a 10-15 minute walk to the Auckland Domain. For Southern/Eastern Line services the closest station to the Auckland Domain is the Newmarket station, which is a 15-20 minute walk to the Domain but remember you can take an Inner LINK bus from Newmarket or Britomart to the Domain.
Ferry
  • A normal Saturday timetable will be in place for ferry services. Travel on all train and ferry services is free for SuperGold cardholders all day.

For full details of public transport on the day: https://at.govt.nz/about-us/campaigns/anzac-day/ and for more information about the Dawn Service: http://www.aucklandmuseum.com/whats-on/war-memorial/anzac-day-commemorations

There will however be disruptions to some services later in the day for the various parades around the region and the details of those are here.

Western Line Timetable padding

Regular users of the western line will know that in the services have been struggling in recent months and that’s even when trains aren’t breaking down. It’s especially noticeable in the morning peak when and while there’s been a little bit of relief during the school holidays, with schools back today I’m expecting services will have been chocka again (I say that having written this post on the weekend).

Over the last few years patronage has been growing strongly and in the last 12 months trips up over 16%. That’s increase is not quite as high as the lines which have been electrified but is still a very significant rise. This is even more so considering that there hasn’t been an increase in peak frequency since 2008 despite during that time double tracking has been completed. The timetable changes that have occurred over the years have extended the length of the peak and improved off peak frequencies which only a few years ago improved to half hourly.

2015-03 Western Line Patronage

The yearlong bump was due to the Rugby World Cup

 

One little side note is that based on a patronage per service measure the western line carries about 60% more passengers on each train than what is seen on the other lines. I suspect that this is in part due to the Western line having a higher number of trips to destinations along the line rather than just to Britomart. This is kind of shown in the great visualisations put together by Aaron Schiff

Aaron Schiff Visualisation - away from Britomart

 

While increasing patronage is a good thing, at peak times the lack of improvements in capacity – with the exception of a few extra carriages – has had some negative effects. Now trains are regularly crowded with some passengers sometimes standing from as far as Glen Eden or even Henderson. Those from even closer in such as Kingsland sometimes aren’t able to get on at all – and before anyone mentions it, the buses going past on New North Rd or Sandringham Rd are also full. This is obviously bad for customers but it’s also bad for operations. It means more time needs to be allowed at each station for people to push their way to the doors or find a space to squeeze on while they wait for people to reluctantly move away from the doors and down the aisles. This slows the trains down and therefore increases chance that the service will run late.

Poor punctuality frustrates people and in some cases will put them off using the service altogether. In recent months punctuality has declined and in February it was less than 80%. In other words more than 1 in every 5 trains will run late. The performance results for February are below

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

When delays are occurring due to busy services – or “heavy customer demand” as Transdev would say, there aren’t always that many solutions. The most obvious would be to increase capacity but that isn’t frequently something that can happen quickly. I’d also point out that it was promised that the western line would move to 10 minute services in the peaks in 2010 when double tracking was finished but numerous excuses have continued to be created as to why that can’t happen. The latest excuse is the Sarawia St level crossing and I suspect that once that’s sorted I’m sure they will find another one such as capacity constraints at Britomart or Newmarket or perhaps the CRL works.

A shorter term solution is to simply extend the timetable by padding it out further and it appears that’s exactly what AT have done. This poster started appearing on trains last week.

Western Line Timetable increase poster

The new timetable is here and as it says, travel times are extended by up to three minutes. Below is a quick comparison of travel times between the December 2014 and April 2015 timetables and as you can see a minute has been added between:

  • Sturges Rd and Henderson,
  • New Lynn and Avondale
  • Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave

Western Line Timetable increase num

 

I have a few issues with this approach. While the timetable might more accurately reflect the times that customers will see it does so by making the services slower and therefore less attractive to potential new customers. It also improves AT/Transev’s performance results by simply shifting out the measurement.

Of course this isn’t the first time the timetable has been padded out. The graph below shows the travel times from Swanson of a few of the different timetables that there have been on the Western Line since Britomart opened. In total the new timetable is up to 8 minutes slower than was achieved back in 2003.

Western Line Timetable time changes

Despite what’s been mentioned above the timing of the change suggests there’s possibly another reason for the timetable increase and it’s one I certainly hope I’m wrong about. AT have said recently that they now intend to have electric trains running on all services by August. From what we’ve seen on other lines that should mean we start seeing electric trains running off peak shortly and given that it would seem odd to increase the timetable now. That is unless the testing of the trains has revealed that they’ll be even slower than the old diesel units they’re replacing. It would be seriously disappointing if this were the case as times should be going the other way. As I said, I really hope I’m wrong (and that AT clarify this).

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
RTN + LRT
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
CFN
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Reeves Rd back down?

Auckland Transport appears to be backing down on one of their best and boldest decisions – to defer the Reeves Rd flyover and use the money to bring forward the construction of the AMETI busway. This is after what I’m aware has been intense lobbying directly to the government and minister from politicians like Dick Quax and the local MPs. I understand they’ve even been pushing to try and have it declared a State Highway so the NZTA can pay for it.

reeves-rd-flyover

Here’s AT’s press release:

Chairman, Dr Lester Levy, wishes to clarify the Auckland Transport Board’s position on the Reeves Road flyover, part of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI).

An AT media release dated 12 February 2015 implied that a Board decision had been made to accept a new delivery strategy, which included deferring the flyover and opening the full South Eastern Busway (to Botany) earlier. Dr Levy says the board of Auckland Transport has not made any decision to accept the proposed new delivery strategy including the deferral of the flyover. Rather the board simply noted a report presented to its December meeting which suggested a delay in the timing of the flyover, subject to further technical and funding feasibility work.

“That work to assess the feasibility of busway route options through Pakuranga town centre and how funding can be secured for Reeves Road flyover to be delivered earlier continues,” he says.

“The Board has not agreed to the proposed new delivery strategy at this point in time, as it still awaits the technical and funding feasibility. When that work has been completed the Board will be able to give this matter further consideration.

“It is regrettable that this AT media release resulted in stakeholders and the community receiving a mixed message, but I want to be very clear that no firm decisions have been made at this time” Dr Levy says.

As a comparison here is the press release they now say was wrong which clearly talks about using the money to bring forward the busway, the challenges of consenting the project and the extra cost to fix more bottlenecks created by the flyover. I’ve added some emphasis of these points but perhaps I too have read it wrong. What do you think?

Major new public transport improvements will arrive earlier for people in Auckland’s south east.

Auckland Transport is aiming to open the full Southeastern Busway to Botany sooner than the 2028 completion date earlier proposed, and AT is investigating extending bus lanes to Highland Park.

Recent work on the Auckland Manukau Transport Initiative (AMETI) has identified that the busway can operate through Pakuranga town centre without the need to build Reeves Road flyover first.

This allows funding to be used to deliver more public transport improvements sooner by deferring the $170 million flyover until next decade. Targeted traffic improvements will also be made to relieve congestion at the intersections of Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Road and Ti Rakau Drive/Pakuranga Highway.

Auckland Transport AMETI Programme Director Peter King says the change means better transport choices for people in the area sooner and supports the roll out of the new public transport network in 2016.

“The recent decision on the Basin Reserve flyover in Wellington shows the challenges of consenting a flyover that has impacts on an urban area and the potential for long delays. This decision allows us to extend the AMETI transport improvements made in Panmure to Pakuranga and Botany as soon as possible while continuing to build the case for the flyover.

“Large numbers of passengers are expected to be attracted by quicker, frequent and more reliable bus journeys on lanes separate to traffic. About 7.4 million trips a year are expected on the busway.

“There are time savings from opening the busway between Panmure and Pakuranga, however they are much greater when the full busway to Botany is open. For example catching the bus and train between Botany and Britomart will take 38 minutes, 17 minutes quicker.

“The change to timing reflects Auckland Transport’s prioritisation of rapid, high frequency public transport and will not require extra funding.”

Work to develop the flyover showed its congestion benefits would be limited until further significant investment along the South Eastern Highway. It also indicated a likely increase in costs with the need to create a quality urban environment beneath it.

Auckland Transport will update the community in early March on the new delivery plan for AMETI and a potential change to the busway route through Pakuranga town centre. Following further feasibility work there will be consultation on any change to the busway route.

Consultation will be carried out on the latest design for the next construction stage between Panmure and Pakuranga, before a Notice of Requirement is lodged in April.

The Panmure to Pakuranga projects include:

  • Replacing Panmure roundabout with an intersection with traffic lights and more direct pedestrian crossings.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga busway on lanes separate to traffic congestion.
  • Panmure to Pakuranga shared cycle/foot path separate to traffic.
  • Second Panmure Bridge for busway and shared path.

Mill Road economic evaluation

In this earlier post Matt discussed the proposed Mill Rd project in South Auckland.

I actually grew up in Franklin (Waiuku) and know the wider sub-region quite well. Mill Rd is, in my experience, an unsafe stretch of road within a somewhat disconnected/fragmented network. So there’s definitely some transport/land use issues in the area that deserve our attention.

Tick to AT on that front.

As a transport economist, however, one must always ask whether the benefits of a proposal are commensurate with the costs. In terms of Mill Rd, the economic benefits of the proposed project are shown below (NB: This is extracted from the scheme assessment report pg 79).

Project benefits

The benefit cost ratio of the project is stated to be 2.2. This means that the project receives a “medium” rating for economic efficiency under NZTA’s project evaluation policies. It’s worth nothing that in Peter’s post on the MoT’s analysis of capital spending on roads, local road projects were found to typically have BCRs in the range of 3-4. Mill Rd’s economic efficiency is, in comparison, somewhat underwhelming.

Digging a little deeper we can see that the largest 3 benefits attributed to the project are 1) travel time savings ($271m); 2) agglomeration benefits ($69m); and 3) vehicle operating costs ($27m). I thought the benefits ascribed to agglomeration were the most interesting (NB: For those who haven’t heard of “agglomeration” before, you might want to read some of our previous posts on the topic here and here).

In a nutshell the literature suggests the primary agglomeration economies typically arise from:

  • Regional economies of scale, i.e. larger markets for goods and services (especially more efficient labour markets). This can be achieved by either bringing more people/firms into the city and/or bringing existing people/firms closer together by reducing transport costs;
  • Local knowledge spillovers in dense urban environments that increase productivity; and
  • Efficiencies in the public provision of infrastructure/services.

When discussing agglomeration benefits the Mill Rd SAR notes (emphasis added):

“Agglomeration economies describe the productivity advantages that arise from the close spatial concentration of economic activity. There is a strong link between transport provision and the benefits that arise from the spatial concentration of economic activity. 

The contribution of the improved Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor to the upgrading of the Auckland transport system qualifies for the agglomeration benefits to be taken into consideration. Economic Evaluation Manual, Vol.1, Section A10 provides the methodology for estimation of these benefits. 

The corridor provides an access route to Auckland CBD and Manukau City Centre. Both are major employment and commercial centres, which justify an adoption of the agglomeration benefits for the project. The value of these benefits was assumed at 20% of the total benefits, which is conservative as similar projects in the Auckland region use values in excess of 25% to 30%.

Having observed that agglomeration economies arise from the close spatial concentration of economic activity, the SAR then proposes to estimate agglomeration economies by applying a blanket 20% factor to total benefits.

At this point I emitted audible “hmmm”, a bit like Homer Simpson day-dreaming about warm pie (NB: Source).

drooling-homer-simpson

 

The SAR is correct that agglomeration benefits can arise from spatial concentration of economic activity. Where the SAR seems to make a fairly large leap of faith, however, is by assuming that the Mill Rd project (and specifically the land use patterns it enables) will logically lead to sizable positive agglomeration benefits. It’s worth noting at this point that from a quick read the above extract is the only discussion of agglomeration economies in the entire (200 plus page) report, despite them supposedly representing the second largest source of benefits for the project.

Before discussing agglomeration economies in more detail let’s introduce an important concept” The “counter-factual”. This describes would happen without the Mill Rd project. In the case of agglomeration economies, we’re primarily interested in land use effects, i.e. what would those 10,000 households do in the absence of the Mill Rd project?

It seems plausible to suggest that some households would simply choose to locate in the area anyway, while enduring slightly longer travel-times. For these households the agglomeration effects are almost identical to the base case. Other households might instead choose to locate somewhere else, most likely in a more central location. This  would actually tend to generate larger agglomeration benefits than would have arisen had they located in the Mill Rd area, i.e. for these households the Mill Rd project can be considered to have a negative effect on agglomeration economies.

This discussion highlights two important points about agglomeration economies: 1) You can’t have a very informed discussion about them without first carefully defining the counter-factual (land use) scenario and 2) depending on this counter-factual scenario, it is possible that transport investment gives rise to negative benefits, because it encourages/enables development to spread out more (and create more congestion) than would have eventuated otherwise.

In this context, simply assuming a 20% agglomeration premium on total benefits strikes me as a tad presumptuous. Let’s now go back to the three micro-economic channels that contribute to agglomeration economies that we listed above and consider how they relate to the Mill Rd project.

First, it seems unlikely the Mill Rd corridor will, on its own, impact on regional economies of scale. It’s simply not a sufficiently large step change in accessibility that it would encourage more people/firm to migrate to Auckland than would have done otherwise. Indeed, with Auckland’s annual population growth running at approximately 50,000 people per annum, the total growth expected in this area over the next 30 odd years (25,000 people) is a veritable drop in the growth bucket. It’s primary effects seem to be bringing Papakura closer to Flat Bush and Botany Downs, and both of these centres slightly closer to Manukau. Unlike the SAR, I’m not sure how it provides a new access route to the city centre, at least to a degree that would have implications for regional productivity.

Second, it seems unlikely that the Mill Rd will contribute much to knowledge spillovers. In a geographic sense, the area is right on the periphery of the metropolitan area, and relatively remote from employment areas to the north. It is especially remote from the city centre, which is the source of most of the knowledge spillovers in Auckland. While secondary centres like Manukau do experience some agglomeration economies, these seem more likely to arise due to the two types of agglomeration discussed above and below.

Third, Mill Rd doesn’t seem to give rise to major efficiencies in the provision of public infrastructures and services. Indeed, the Mill Road transport project represents approximately $20,000 in CAPEX costs for every household that is expected to locate in the immediate vicinity. It seems plausible to suggest that these households could be accommodated for similar (if not lower costs) somewhere else in the region. To make the case for these agglomeration economies, we would expect to see evidence of surplus capacity existing in nearby health and education facilities.

So what’s the take-away message from all this econo-mumbo-jumbo-fiddle-faddle?

First, even taking the economic evaluation of Mill Rd project at face value, we find that it’s a fairly mediocre local road project. While there are transport issues in this area, addressing them in this way seems expensive compared to most local road schemes around the country.

Second, I’m not confident it is reasonable to assume the agglomeration benefits of the Mill Rd project equate to 20% of the total benefits. By extension, I question whether there is sufficient evidence to include them in the base economic evaluation. Instead, it seems more reasonable to treat them as a possible sensitivity, and even then 20% seems to be a very high premium given the location of the project. Removing these benefits from the evaluation causes the BCR for the project to drop from 2.2 to approximately 1.8. It’s important to note this is not necessarily a terminal issue for the project; the proposed scheme obviously still manages to address some importany problems in the wider area. It’s just probably not as urgent as it appears from the evaluation.

Finally, it highlights what I think is the most important and interesting policy issue: That is, the need for land use policies to be informed by transport outcomes, and possibly linked to financial incentives. In this case, it seems like the Mill Rd project will cost quite a lot. Perhaps, then, there is a need for AC to revisit the merits of enabling growth in this area. Indeed, AT can rightly say that they are to some degree simply responding to land use plans developed by AC. And the latter may want to consider whether development would even occur out this way in a hypothetical situation where the actual infrastructure costs were internalised into the costs of development and ultimately passed onto consumers?

What do you think is the best way to balance public/private interests when it comes to transport and land use outcomes?

 

 

 

 

Mill Rd Horror Show

Auckland Transport are about to publicly notify the Northern section of the massive Redoubt Rd-Mill Rd Corridor project. This section of the corridor was estimated two years ago to cost up to $374 million and the recent draft 2015-18 Long Term Plan documents suggest the entire project all the way to Drury will cost around $800 million over the next 30 years. That’s a lot of money but seems unsurprising once you realise that AT are basically planning a mini motorway along the route. The road is said to be needed to cater for all of the greenfield growth that is expected to occur in the area.

Future housing in the Redoubt Rd Mill Rd Area

AT are holding public open days tomorrow and Saturday about the project.

  • 17 April 2015 – Westfield Manukau (centre court), 11am to 2pm.
  • 8 April 2015 – Westfield Manukau (centre curt), 10am to 1pm.

They have however already published online the information they will be presenting to the public. Overall the main reason given for the project is to cater for up to 24,000 new dwellings and 6,000 jobs in and around the corridor as well as address the safety issues with the existing road that roads. They say that in the four years to 2013 there 293 crashes, four of which have sadly been fatal.

Mill Rd - Crashes

These are what AT say the features of the project are:

Project features

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

I haven’t had a chance to go through the documents yet however I have had a look at the images provided and what I see scares me. It scares me because while the road may already exist, this project is more like starting from scratch as involves significant property purchase and widening. Yet despite that widening AT still appears to be short changing some modes along the route – in particular cycling. The examples below show the cross sections of parts along the route and you can see in places cycle lanes as narrow as 1.5m and with what appears to be only a narrow painted median to separate them from the traffic.

Cross Sections

In my view, if we’re going to the trouble of buying houses to widen the road then we should be building worlds best practice right from the get go. And here are some impressions of what the completed roads will look like.

So what happens to the buses, they have to force their way back into traffic?

Mill Rd - Totara Park

Motorway to Totara Park

 

Murphys Road

Totara Park (Hilltop Road)

 

How many people are going to be brave enough to use that cycle lane sandwiched between lanes of traffic. Would you let your kids cycle on that?

Mill Rd - Murphys Rd Bush

Murphys Road

 

Mill Rd - Totara Park - Ranfurly Rd

Murphys Road/Murphys Bush

 

Without protection those cycle lanes will see vehicles veer into the lane to save precious fractions of seconds by not having to slow down a little bit – much like a truck did to me a few days ago almost knocking me off my bike.

Totara park to North of Ranfurly road

Totara Park to north of Ranfurly Road

 

That roundabout looks horrific for anyone not in a car. How is a child or someone who can’t run fast meant to cross the two lanes of traffic on either side of the road.

Mill Rd - Totara Park - Alfriston School Roundabout

North of Ranfurly Road to Alfriston School

Overall there are some improvements from what we traditionally see in at least there are some cycle lanes but in the end they seem so poor it’s more like they are to tick a box rather than being a serious part of the design. It’s clear even the designers don’t think their creation is safe as the length of the road they’ve also created a shared path on one side “for less confident cyclists”. If they were creating cycle lanes like have on Beach Rd (but on both sides of the road) then cyclists of all abilities would feel safe in them.

To make things worse it’s not just the road design that’s causing concern as locals are also worried about the proposed massive viaduct over bush

Mill Rd - Viaduct

I’ll try to have a look into the NoR documents in the next few days but so far this project is expensive and seems to repeat many of the mistakes of the past. Come on AT, you can do better and if you wouldn’t let your kids ride on it alone then you’re not doing your job properly