Why the “Pohutukawa 6″ has got people so passionate

Patrick’s post last week on the Western Springs Pohutukawas has easily been our most read post of the year so far and highlighted what seems to be a deeply held sense of outrage over Auckland Transport’s plans to remove these trees. Many people, including ourselves to an extent, who normally wouldn’t feel so passionate about the loss of six trees (after all there are a whole heap more of them a bit further along Great North Road) are up in arms over the plans. While Auckland Transport continue to argue the removal is necessary, it feels like only a matter of time before they change their mind and try to find a compromise.

So what gives here? What is it about this particular issue that has struck a nerve so deeply?Part of the issue of course, is that the trees are pretty amazing:


However, I think as much of the angst has come about because of the way in which Auckland Transport has gone about this project and some of the broader issues with the project itself.

Looking first at process, a few months back Public Address carried a post by Jolisa Gracewood that outlined the absolute clusterf*ck that had come about through the consenting process – with most people who made submissions being very unfairly denied the right to have those submissions taken into account. Here’s an extract:

It has come to the commissioners attention from the hearing today that your submission has been lodged on the wrong process (there were two for this hearing – A resource consent and a notice of requirement) and the Commissioners will be unable to take it into account when making their decisions.  This is addressed in the Council’s report on the applications which was included in the agenda circulated before the hearing.

The Commissioners think it’s fair to advise each of the submitters concerned in advance of their attendance so they can elect whether to attend or not given that they will have to travel into the city and pay for parking etc.  They are happy to hear from you, however it is not legally possible to switch a submission from one of the processes to the other.

The commissioners will be happy to explain this more tomorrow if it doesn’t quite make sense as this effects a number of submitters, they just feel it’s fair to let you know before showing up.

This didn’t make sense to me, so I asked for more information. I was told that the mistake had been mentioned in the Hearing Agenda. Sure enough, there on page 921:

It is also noted that a number of submissions have been incorrectly lodged against resource consent application ref R/VCC/2013/4724/1 (which is the s127 variation to conditions of the regional consent for Stormwater Management – Quality, pursuant to Rule H.4.14.3.1 of the PAUP). All submissions should have been lodged referencing the Notice of Requirement for Alternation to Designation Plan Modification PA371. In any case, all submissions have been reviewed and reported on the project jointly.

In other words, a number of submissions had mistakenly used the reference number for a stormwater issue (specifically, how to handle the stormwater issues from the extra 762m2 of impervious area created if the trees are removed), instead of the reference number notifying intent to remove the trees. Moreover, “Resource Consent” was the wrong phrase, “Notice of Requirement” the correct one.

The post outlines how it was completely clear which application submitters were intending to comment on, yet nothing was changed to fix the matter and therefore most people were not able to have their opinions heard on the application. Really really dodgy.

The second issue is that the project itself is a dog. Even if there weren’t any trees being removed, what Auckland Transport is proposing to do here it terrible, dangerous and belongs a 1960s traffic engineering handbook, rather than a redesigned intersection of the 21st century. If you are walking between the St Lukes overbridge and MOTAT/Western Springs Park, you will potentially have not one, not two but three “beg buttons” you’ll have to push to get across:

st-lukes-3begbuttons

Obviously the intersection needs another pedestrian leg across Great North Road on its city side. Why haven’t we got that in the design? Who knows – more lazy engineering from Auckland Transport seems like the only plausible answer here.

Lazy engineering comes to mind when Auckland Transport start to describe why the trees can’t be saved. Back to the recent press release:

Auckland Transport would not have supported the application to remove six Pohutukawa trees from Great North Road, if there had been any other viable option, but all engineering experts agreed that there was not.

No other viable option? As Patrick pointed out in his post, what about sending the walking/cycling path behind the trees? Speaking of cycling, AT still continue the absolute lie that this is all about providing cycle lanes to the St Lukes Rd bridge. Perhaps I’m going blind because I can’t see a single cycle lane being added on Gt North Rd – because in my book a shared path doesn’t count. In fact why go to all the bother to removal the trees and not install best practice separated cycle lanes.

Carrying on, what about only having two citybound lanes on Great North Road instead of three (after all, only two lanes will ever feed into it at one time)? What about having only a single left-turn lane from Great North Road into St Lukes Road? Of course there would be trade-offs with all these options, but none of this analysis has been made public – aside from a few seconds in the PM peak hour at some point in the future that apparently will be saved by having a squillion lanes through here. AT should be confident enough in their analysis that they should release it all to the public tomorrow so we can see exactly what they’ve considered and why it’s been ruled out.

So I actually think it’s these wider issues which sit behind much of the passion over this issue. And frustration with Auckland Transport’s absolute shoddiness. Running a shoddy consenting process, undertaking a shoddy assessment of alternatives, proposing a shoddy outcome for pedestrians in a very busy pedestrian area.

It’s just shoddy, and that pisses us off.

Light rail to fill the void

Trams – well modern light rail – could be making a comeback to Auckland after an absence of 60 years if Auckland Transport get their way. That’s the major surprise hidden in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan that has been released today. The RLTP is the document that outlines at a high level the what AT and other transport agencies such as the NZTA and Kiwirail plan to do over the next decade and with specific detail about the next three years.

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

Immediately there are a number of important questions many will be asking such as why Light Rail, why now and what about the City Rail Link. AT say everything stems back to the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The CCFAS was a response to the government questioning whether the CRL was the best way of solving access problems to the city centre. It found that the CRL plus a combination of street improvements to cope with buses would be needed.

In the outer parts of the region buses will feed into one of the planned Rapid Transit lines (Rail or busways) – and the CRL was key to making the RTN work – however crucially there is what AT call a large void in the central isthmus not covered by the RTN network. In that void are some of the busiest and most heavily used bus routes in the city – which is unsurprising as the suburbs were initially designed and built to support PT.

RTN Void

The central isthmus void in the RTN

 

It turns out that even with the CRL the sheer number of buses that will need to come from this area will overwhelm city streets. The image below from the last Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing study shows projected bus volumes in 2041 even with the CRL.

 

2041-buses-withcbdrl

And this is the outcome of too many buses on city streets, a veritable solid wall dividing the street.

Bus Congestion

So far from being in competition with the CRL AT are looking at light rail to complement it as a way of addressing bus congestion from areas the CRL can’t touch. It also allows AT to put a higher quality service to areas the rail network is close to but doesn’t pass through such as the Universities and Wynyard Quarter.

The future solution must provide additional capacity, without degrading the quality of the City centre or surrounding neighbourhoods. AT is evaluating a number of options to address this including double-deckers, bus lane expansion and bus interchanges. While many of these bus improvements still need to happen, they will not provide sufficient capacity to move the increase in Aucklanders wishing to travel into the city centre.

Following assessment of options, a light rail network serving the central isthmus has been identified, as the best option to overcome these issues. Similar issues and constraints in successful cities such as Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast have reached the same conclusion; that light rail has the ability to provide the necessary public transport capacity and support the city’s intended development. Recent projects in Australasia mean significant recent experience can be drawn on for analysis.

Modern light rail solutions avoid the visual pollution of overhead lines and generate significantly less carbon emissions than the equivalent movement of passengers by bus. Figure 19 below illustrates how different modes have different capacities and travel speeds.

Mode Capacity

The bus numbers are a bit lower than I suspected however this might be due to AT comparing bus priority on the isthmus streets they’re talking about. In effect one modern Light Rail vehicle every 1-2 minutes will hold more people than a double decker bus every 30 seconds.

So which streets are they considering installing light rail, they say that after investigation the most appropriate are

  • Queen Street
  • Symonds Street
  • Dominion Road
  • Sandringham Road
  • Manukau Road
  • Mount Eden Road

There is no maps to show just what routes they would take so I’ve taken a guess based on the streets and key locations near them (hence the extension of Sandringham Rd Along Stoddard Rd).

Draft RLTP LRT Routes

AT say the development of such a network would also open up the opportunity for light rail to the airport, on the North Shore or to other locations which I suspect could mean to the North West or out East.

Of course the biggest question of all is the cost which AT haven’t given any details on but say is potentially significant. They say they are currently evaluating funding options including looking at private sector investment i.e. PPPs. They also note that while the capital cost is high that the operational costs are lower than the equivalent bus fleet and the benefits of the initial investment extend over generations.

Completely coincidentally I wrote a post just a few days ago looking at what it might cost to restore the old tram network. This obviously isn’t the entire old tram network but at ~29km it is a decent chunk of it. There seems to be a wide range in costs from around $6 million per km of single track in Wynyard Quarter up to over $100 million per km (double track) in some Australian cities and averaging around $30 million per km in US cities. As we would be putting any light down existing roads that used to have trams I would expect costs to on the lower end of the scale so including vehicles to run on it we may be talking around $1 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money that could be spent on a lot of transport projects however the benefits to the city centre, the central isthmus and the city as a whole are also likely to be significant making it an exciting prospect.

We’ve only seen some basic details and much much more information is needed but until then I’m cautiously supportive.

Light Rail in Melbourne 2

Could this be gliding down Dominion Rd in the near future? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

Of Experts, Damned Lies, and Pohutukawa

I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.

The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].

Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.

But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’

Frozen silence.

Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.

St Lukes Masterplan

This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].

AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.

Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.

Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.

There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.

All AT Experts Agree.

And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.

Behind the trees Behind the trees II

They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.

Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.

Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….

So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.

But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?

‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’

Butter wouldn’t melt.

The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.

The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite?  Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?

But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?

By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?

The AT Metro Bus app

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had issues with or seen others complaining about Auckland Transport’s real time system for buses and trains. The most frequent issues include:

  • Buses saying they’re due then never showing up and disappearing from the display
  • Buses saying they’re only a few minutes away but being considerably more e.g. due in 2 minutes but turns up 15 minutes later.

These issues are incredibly frustrating when they happen, often leaving passengers frustrated and angry. They’re an example of where having more information can lead to a worse experience yet there’s often a quite logical explanation – not that you care when your bus is late. The key problem with it all though is that the system is having to make a prediction and with traffic there’s always a lot that can occur that will impact on that e.g. some localised congestion.

I also have an issue with how the current real time information is displayed. The boards at the stops themselves only show three services at a time and often you can wait for what seems like an eternity while it scrolls through a few hours worth of buses, most of which aren’t going where you want to go. The web version and phone app aren’t much better.

Bus Real Time board

Tomorrow Auckland Transport launch a new phone app that represents a paradigm shift in how AT delivers real time information. Instead of trying to predict when your bus will turn up it simply tells and shows you where you bus is. That shifts the prediction part to the user which might sound like a step backwards but the in reality is a huge step forward in usability. I was able to experience this for myself for a few months late last year as AT included me in their trial of the app. Prior to this trial I had never found a PT app that I liked and so generally never used one however with this app I quickly found it so useful I was using it daily.

When it launches the app will be known as ‘AT Metro Bus’ and launches first on Android tomorrow followed by iOS by the end of the month (sorry Windows Phone users, AT say they have no intention of a Windows Phone app). Here are the key feature AT say about the app:

  • Save multiple bus stops and bus routes to track
  • See in real-time where your bus is on your favourite routes
  • Track your bus progress from the ten preceding stops
  • See when a bus has arrived or already gone

Below are some screen shots from the trial I was involved in showing how the app works.

Upon launching the app you can choose a pre-saved bus stop you regularly use or add a new one.

AT Metro Bus App 1

One of the great things about the app is when you save a bus stop you can select only the services (route numbers) that use it that you want to see. As an example the bus stop in Takapuna for buses heading to the city is also used by buses that are going to Devonport and Akoranga but I have no interest in them.

The one downside to this that you need to know which services to use i.e. in my Takapuna example the services that go to the city are the 820, 839, 858, 875, 879 or 895 (there are a few other one off routes too depending on the time of the day or week). If you didn’t know you have all of those options then you might think the services on offer are worse than they are. The lack of a journey planner means the app is primarily going to be for people doing a regular commute rather than one that will help learn what PT options they have.

Once you’ve saved your favourite stop/s it’s simply a matter of selecting the one you want. When you do you’ll get a list of services that are due however with one key difference. That difference is that instead of saying how many minutes the bus is away, it says how many stops away it is (up to 9). Unfortunately I don’t have a screenshot of this and the app no longer works. The app also shows the previously departed bus which is useful to know that it has actually been.

Selecting the bus you want to track gives you the apps key feature, the location of the bus on the map in real time along with showing the route it takes. Leaving the app open and the location of the bus will update roughly every 30 seconds.

AT Metro Bus App 2

It might not sound like a it would make that much difference over the system telling you how many minutes away the bus was but I personally found it far more useful and intuitive. As I’ve mentioned before I regularly walk from Takapuna to the Akoranga busway station for more exercise. The app meant that while I was on my way I could see very easily whether it was worthwhile walking faster to get a quicker bus and more than once it resulted in me getting home quicker (as the earlier bus meant I connected to an earlier train).

Overall I think the app is fantastic and as a testament to its usefulness I have certainly missed being able to use it since the trial ended (app works but there’s no data for it). It’s a bit of a one trick pony but it does its trick very well. This doesn’t mean it’s perfect though, the major criticisms I have of the app are the lack of a journey planner function, the lack of any HOP integration and that it is for buses only as it would be great to have train information too.

Well done to AT for finally creating a useful app.

Update:

So it seems AT weren’t clear on their comms and the app has only had an internal soft launch. It won’t go live to the general public till February.

Will we see new train operators in Auckland and Wellington?

As many readers will know from the monthly board meeting updates we see, Auckland Transport are in the process of putting out a new tender to run all rail services in Auckland from Mid 2016 onwards. Wellington has also going through this same process and ATs reports say they’ve been working with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) on some aspects. The outcome of the tender process will be fascinating as in Wellington Kiwirail (and predecessors) have always run the regions trains. In Auckland they were contracted out over a decade ago – a time when very few people caught trains – to Connex which became Veolia and now Transdev. A few years ago the contract was extended to mid-2016 so AT weren’t changing operators in the middle of the roll out of electric trains. Since that time Transdev’s performance has improved significantly which is good – although it’s still not perfect.

One of the aspects that spurred the contracting situation a decade ago was that the existing operator didn’t want to run the services anymore. The growth in train use that Auckland has seen and will continue to see over the coming years has made operating the trains a much more attractive proposition. As such a number of companies are likely to be very interested in winning the tender and the Wellington tender gives us an idea of who some of the main contenders will be. Just before Christmas the GWRC announced the short list of companies who will be sent tender documents for the running and maintaining of trains.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has finalised a short-list for the tendering of its new rail contract.

Greg Campbell, the Regional Council’s Chief Executive, says that after careful evaluation of Expressions of Interest the following companies have been short-listed. They are:

  • Transdev Australasia Pty Ltd in a joint venture with South Korean-based company Hyundai Rotem. Transdev operates Auckland’s train service, Sydney’s light rail, ferries in Sydney and Brisbane, and bus services in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin. Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of Wellington’s electric Matangi trains and has extensive experience maintaining rolling stock around the world.
  • Keolis Downer in a joint venture with KiwiRail. Keolis Downer operates the Gold Coast light rail network in Queensland, Australia and Keolis operates Melbourne’s Yarra tram services. KiwiRail currently operates Wellington’s train services and maintains the region’s train fleet.
  • Serco – an international service company that currently operates a range of rail services in the UK, the Middle East and Australia.

Greg Campbell says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies early next year. “We plan to select a preferred tenderer around the middle of next year and have a contract signed by the end of 2015. The new rail contract will take effect from 1 July 2016.”

The Regional Council is developing and procuring new performance-based, partnering contracts for all public transport services in Wellington. “The new contracts will have a much greater emphasis on providing high quality, affordable services that encourage more people to take the train, bus or harbour ferry.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that two of the bidders are joint ventures, one of which includes Kiwirail which means that regardless of who wins the current situation in Wellington will definitely change. My understanding is in the Keolis/Kiwirail bid Keolis will actually run the trains on a day to day basis with Kiwirail doing the maintenance – that in itself is a big change for Kiwirail. I assume it will be the same thing on the Transdev/Hyundai Rotem bid, Transdev running the trains with Hyundai Rotem maintaining the trains.

Presumably all of these bidders are also hoping to pick up the Auckland contract too as there would be some improved economies of scale from doing so. The big difference in Auckland is the train manufacturer CAF already has a 10 year contract to maintain the trains.

Perhaps a disappointment from the list above is that all operators seem to be only about operating the service. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be an operator like MTR from Hong Kong who might also be interested in not just running the services but investing in developments around rail stations in a bid to improve patronage. I imagine others will also raise the question of why the operations aren’t being brought in-house by both AT and GWRC – even if operated by an independent entity – rather than the profits going overseas.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens in both cities but there’s certainly a possibility that both cities will see some major changes in the running of trains going forward and that has the potential to be quite disruptive for some time. There’s definitely some interesting times ahead.

Time for a different approach to the Long Bay problem

It seems that every year during the Christmas/New Year break thousands of Aucklander”s flock to Long Bay to enjoy the sun, sand and water. Every year we also hear about the congestion that ensues as thousands of vehicles try to get into a carpark that is quickly overwhelmed. The experience often leaves people frustrated, not to mention hot after sitting in a metal box in the sun for some time. Some like reader Aaron Schiff manage to get it lucky and have a local offer them a place to park but many don’t.

One solution as suggested by Stu last year is for the council to start charging for parking in a bid to manage demand.

Now back to the issue at hand: In my mind the delays incurred by people who drive to Long Bay are unacceptable because they seem easily avoided – if we are prepared to pay for parking.

I’d suggest Auckland Council and Auckland Transport start charging for parking at Long Bay during busy summer times. Charging for parking would encourage a few more people to car-pool, catch the bus (yes there are buses to Long Bay), or postpone their visit – and thereby reduce delays.

My instinct is that most people would be prepared to pay $5 to enter the park during very busy summer periods – not all week or all year. Not only would charging for parking help save people time when they visit (1-2 hours is a long time to spend sitting in a car on a hot day with screaming kids), but it would also generate revenue that could be used to improve facilities at the park.

That is indeed the silver lining from charging for parking: Not only does it help to manage the demand for parking within the limits of the available supply, but it also provides AC with additional revenue to spend on park facilities and/or access, such as more/better toilets, more car-parks, and more frequent bus services. These improvements would otherwise have to be funded from general rates, or not be funded at all.

So what about the alternative of using public transport to get to the beach. Two things really highlight the issue of using PT to get to Long Bay. The first is exemplified in this tweet from Auckland Transport during delays on Jan 2.

So not only have PT users had to endure a long and frustrating trip by bus (more on this soon) but due to everyone else driving they get dumped about 1km from the beach and have to find their own way there. It wasn’t until after 5pm – four hours later – that AT said buses had returned to their normal routes.

Perhaps instead of terminating the buses, AT should do the opposite and stop any extra cars from entering the area and put on a shuttle bus to and from the beach. Even better is they could make use of  the Albany Park n Ride – which is largely unused on weekends/public holidays – and divert vehicles to use that with a frequent shuttle from there to the beach which is a mere 10-15 minutes away.

The second issue is that the normal buses to the area are so rubbish I’d be surprised if anyone actually used them. The two main services that go to Long Bay are the 839 and 858 and both take well over an hour to get to Long Bay from the city compared with as little as 25 minutes in clear traffic. One look at the routes shows with them zig zagging all across the eastern bays before getting close to the beach.- not that the AT timetable map is any use in this regard, good luck working that mess out.

Long Bay PT Options

AT is going to need to seriously change their thinking about how they manage congestion in summer to long bay because right now it only seems to be getting worse. Why not at least try a few ideas out some weekends.

2014 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

In the third in my series of posts wrapping up the year I will look at what’s happened with roads this year.

Roads of National Significance

The RoNS have continued as they did last year with one notable exception.

Western Ring Route

The Western Ring Route works are in full flight now as will be evidenced to anyone who drives along SH16 with roadworks in place from east of Western Springs all the way through Northwest of Lincoln Rd from 5 separate projects.

  • St Lukes Interchange
  • Waterview Connection
  • Causeway upgrade
  • Te Atatu Interchange
  • Lincoln Rd Interchange

The TBM working on the Waterview connection has broken through with the first tunnel and in December made a start on the second one. At the same time the most visible part of the project has been the large yellow gantry has been building towering ramps that will connect the tunnels to SH16 in each direction.

Over the next year we should finally see the Lincoln Rd section completed and I imagine significant progress on the other projects – although they are still a few years from completion.

Puhoi to Wellsford

In 2014 the NZTA were issued with consent to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway – a road even the NZTA’s analysis says is only really busy during holiday periods. Amazingly we’re still yet to see any real economic analysis for the project which is likely because it’s terrible based on the work we saw before the government named it a priority. The government of course continue to claim it’s all about the economic development of Northland despite the existing toll road – which saved more time than this motorway will – not making any difference.

Confirmed route

Over 2015 we’re likely to see the NZTA working towards a PPP to get this project built however it’s not likely we’ll see any construction start.

Basin Reserve Flyover

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was the Board of Inquiry declining the NZTA’s application to build a flyover around the edge of the Basin Reserve. In the end the commissioners hearing the case concluded the impact on the local community from having a massive flyover was just too much after it was able to be shown that most of the benefits the NZTA claimed the road would provide were actually attributable to other projects.  The decision was embarrassing for the NZTA and the government seeing as it was using the governments new fast track process which means the decision can only be appealed on points of law – which the NZTA are doing.

Basin Bridge Image 1

I’m not aware if a date has yet been set for the appeal but it is likely to be later next year.

Transmission Gully

Also in Wellington, the first transport PPP was signed in July for the construction and operation of Transmission Gully, another project with a horrific business case. Initial works should have started by now however won’t really ramp up till next year. The PPP will see the NZTA paying $125 million a year for 25 years once the project has been completed. Unlike many PPPs that failed overseas, for the consortium building the road there is little risk as all the demand risk sits with the NZTA, in other words we pay providing the road is open – and if it is damaged from a something like an earthquake we have to pay at least some of the costs of that too.

Other RoNS

The other RoNS projects in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch have continued along. I’m not sure of the progress of all of them however the Tauranga Eastern Link is meant to be completed in 2015.

Auckland Motorway Projects

In 2013 the government announced a series of additional motorway projects for Auckland. The widening of the Northern Motorway between Upper Harbour and Greville Dr has just been completed and in November started consultation on ideas for further changes to that section including a motorway to motorway interchange between SH1 and SH18. Some of the ideas are absolutely massive in scale such as concept 3.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Of the other projects, works to grade separate Kirkbride Rd moved ahead and earlier this month the NZTA announced the contract had been signed with construction starting in January

We haven’t heard much about the other accelerated project which will see the southern motorway from Manukau to Papakura widened but I would expect we will do in 2015.

In addition to the accelerated projects the NZTA has now made a start on widening SH1 Northbound between Ellerslie-Panmure Highway and Greenlane – a project that’s been on the cards for a while and for which the Ellerslie Station platform was narrowed a few years ago to accommodate.

Accelerated Regional Roads

In addition to the RoNS, and to shore up their support from some rural communities, this year the government announced a spend up of over $200 million on a number of regional state highway projects that can’t get funding due to it being sucked up by the RoNS. The Funding for these projects is coming from the proceeds of asset sales the government has undertaken. Some of the projects appear to be of low value however not all are.

Govt Accelerated Rural Road Package

AMETI

Auckland Transport started the year with the opening of the new Panmure station and in November they opened Te Horeta Rd which is the new road running alongside the rail line and Panmure station from Mt Wellington Highway to Morrin Rd.

East West Link Connections

In October both AT and the NZTA launched consultation on ideas for the East West Link after calling off a proposal for a motorway through Mangere right at the beginning of the year. They haven’t announced the results yet but I’m fairly certain either option C or D has been picked as the option they are proceeding with.

EW Option - Option D

Mill Rd

In November AT announced they have come up with a route for the Mill Rd corridor and will be working towards securing a designation for it. The most disappointing aspect for me about the project – other than some of the case for it has likely been destroyed by the fast tracking of the SH1 widening – is that even with a brand new corridor, AT are still designing a crap outcome with features like unprotected cycle lanes or shared paths and pedestrian/cycle unfriendly roundabouts.

We’re still driving less

One positive trend I have started to notice is our transport institutions are starting to take notice of is that we’re driving less. In the last few months in particular it’s started to be mentioned in publications such as the Briefing to the Incoming Minister and in research papers.

ResizedImage600304-FutureDemand-Diagram1

What have I missed?

2014 – A Year in Review Part 2 – Walking and Cycling

In the second in my series of posts wrapping up the year I will look at Walking and Cycling

There have been a couple of major projects but in many ways not that much seems to have been done with most of progress being on proposed projects that have yet to start construction. Further perhaps the most disappointing aspect is there main focus continues to be on large feature projects – which are definitely needed – but little progress seems to be being made on the less glamorous but equally important need of connecting people to local amenities like shops and schools. Here’s what has been some of the biggest stories.

Grafton Gully and Beach Rd

The biggest advancement this year would have to be the opening of the NZTA’s Grafton Gully cycleway and the first stage of Auckland Transport’s Beach Rd cycleway providing a protected route all the way from Upper Queen St to Quay St. Just last week the latest link was added providing a connection to Whittaker Pl.

Grafton Gully Opening - Grafton Bridge

Beach Rd is only a short section so far but will be extended in 2015 to become more useful but is a great example of what can be achieved when Auckland Transport have the courage to remove parking. We need a lot more of this all around the city. In 2015 it will be extended from Mahuhu Cres to Britomart Pl.

Beach Rd Cycle Way

Government Cycling Budget

Perhaps one of the more important aspects this year wasn’t something physical but the increasing political realisation that cycling needs investment. The election saw all major parties pledge to put more money towards creating urban cycleways. While the government’s proposal of $100 million over four years was the lowest of suggestions, it is still a significant improvement compared to what we’ve been spending.

Skypath Resource Consent

Skypath is probably the single most important cycling project in Auckland. When completed finally adds the major missing mode the Harbour Bridge and gives residents of the North Shore a walk/cycle connection to the rest of  the region without having to go via Upper Harbour or catch a ferry. Earlier this month the project took a huge step forward when the resource consent for it was publicly notified and is open for submissions till 23 January.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

Northcote Cycleway

Connecting to Skypath and providing more connections to locals, this year Auckland Transport proposed a series of walking and cycling upgrades to roads in around Northcote.

Northcote Safecycle Overview

Unfortunately it seems to have met stiff resistance from locals fearful of losing carparks (despite most having off street parking) and the latest comments in the AT board papers suggest AT is scaling back the design. Some of that resistance and scaremongering has been driven by George Wood who put out this comical video.

Dominion Rd Parallel Routes

A big bone of contention in recent years has been plans to improve cycling around the Dominion Rd corridor. This was especially the case a few years ago when Auckland Transport decided not to put cycle lanes on Dominion Rd and instead focus on a series of back street connections. This year those local road upgrades got underway.

2357_Dominion Rd Cycle lane map_10.04.14 GF

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr shared path

This year we learned that the NZTA and AT were planning to push ahead with another major off road cycleway in the form of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr shared path which will follow the rail line between those two locations. The urgency of this route is partly being pushed by the NZTA who want use the existing designation originally intended for the eastern motorway before it expires. Work should start next year.

Sections of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive shared path 1

Nelson St Cycleway

Sometimes a project manages to catch on and move ahead much faster than normal and that is especially the case with the proposal to use the old Nelson St off ramp to provide a connection to an upgraded Nelson St. The NZTA and AT picked up the idea and seem to be moving ahead with construction due to start next year. The image below shows the proposal for Nelson St.

Nelson St cycleway

City Centre Priority Routes

Along with Nelson St we also learned about a number of other priority routes in the city centre that re being explored that when complete will provide a backbone of protected routes around and through the city centre. These include

  • North-South Cycle route (Nelson St)
  • Beaumont St/Westhaven Dr Cycleway
  • Quay St Cycleway
  • East West Route
  • K Rd Cycleway
  • Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway

CBD Cycling priority routes

O’Connell St

O’Connell St was completed this year and is undoubtedly the best shared space so far thanks to it’s narrower space and heritage buildings. It’s worth remembering that this outcome was far from certain a few years ago when AT said it was too narrow for a shared space and proposed to retain a defined road but without any parking that would have slowed vehicles down. While it is the best street more does need to be done to remind drivers what shared spaces are as a few treat it like a race track, especially courier drivers.

OC5

 

Federal St

This should have been an addition to Auckland’s shared space network however unfortunately it’s poor design and multiple vehicle access needs mean there are still far too many vehicles on the street, many of which travel too fast scaring most pedestrians to the edges.

What have I missed?

2014 – A Year in Review Part 1 – PT

With the year fast coming to a close this is the first in a series of posts wrapping up what happened this year. In this post I’m just going to look at the changes we’ve seen with Public Transport.

While 2013 was very much a lull year while many projects ticked on in the background, 2014 has arguably been one of the biggest years for PT in Auckland for some time. This has largely been thanks to two major projects seeing significant milestones.

Electrification

The first trains arrived in 2013 but this year saw them carrying paying passengers for the first time starting with the Onehunga line at the end of April. Electric trains then started running to Manukau in August before a full timetable upgrade earlier this month that saw improved frequencies – especially off peak. We don’t yet know the impact the most recent change have made however the earlier changes have shown the sparks effect in action in Auckland with those two lines seeing massive growth compared to last year – in the case of Manukau patronage is up 50% on the same time last year.

The fantastic news about the electrification story is that the biggest impact is yet to come which will happen the Southern and Western lines go electric by the middle of next year.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

Integrated Ticketing

After years of delays and issues, integrated ticketing was finally rolled out to all PT services meaning you can now use a single card to pay for any trip across Auckland, regardless of who operates it. That is especially useful for anyone who has multiple options for which service they catch or those who catch transfer between services. It’s hard to say for sure but integrated ticketing is likely to behind some of the spectacular growth we’ve seen this year as from memory, internationally it’s been credited with patronage increases of around 7%.

As with electrification the best is yet to come and in 2015 we will hear more about the real game changer of Integrated Fares. That should simplify the fare structure significantly and mean you pay a single fare for your trip regardless of how many services you catch to get to your destination. It makes transferring much much easier and is needed for the New Network to work. From what I understand Integrated Fares requires some significant changes the HOP system and as such is not likely to roll out till around this time next year so it won’t really start having an impact till 2016. In the meantime Auckland Transport have already started making some positive changes including increasing the HOP discount in July that meant if you were using a HOP card then for most trips (except ferries) fares actually got cheaper.

Hop Card

 

Other than the two key projects above there’s been a lot of improvement in the PT space. Here are some of the other things we’ve seen this year.

Patronage

Patronage has grown very strongly this year and has been one of the best years we’ve seen. We’re obviously still waiting for the results for December however for the 12 months to the end of November patronage has increased by 5.685 million (8.2%) to be over 75 million trips. Within that the star performers have been the Rapid Transit Network which is made up of the rail network and the Northern Express which combined have grown by 17% (2.166 million) compared to the same time last year. 2.166 million trips. On the rail network Auckland achieved two milestones at the same time with patronage surpassing Wellington for the first time and also passing the 12 million trips mark. That occurred only occurred in September however growth has been so strong it’s possible we will pass 12.5 million in December. However the regular bus network hasn’t been standing still either with that seeing a 7% increase (3.485 million). By mode the changes are:

  • Bus – 3.817 million (7.1%)
  • Train – 1.835 million (17.8%)
  • Ferry – 32,900 (0.6%)

AK Total Patronage Nov 14

Down in Wellington patronage has had a spurt of growth for the first time in a while with the total number of trips rising above 36 million for the first time.

WG Total Patronage Nov 14 Bus Lanes

This year for the first time in Auckland Transport’s four year history we saw them implement a new bus lane. It occurred on Fanshawe St after a great post from Luke highlighting why it was needed and while small has made a big difference to buses leaving the city towards the North Shore.

In November we learned of a lot more bus lanes that Auckland is planning over the next three years which should really help improve the customer experience for bus users and improve operational efficiency.

City Rail Link

It feels like news has been relatively quiet on the CRL this year although the project has definitely moved forward. Earlier this year the project received approval from the independent commissioners which means for the first time in the projects 90+ year history there is a designation in place. Some groups are challenging that aspects consent and they should be heard by the environment court in the first half of 2015 however that is unlikely to stop the whole project.

In the meantime Auckland Transport have been moving forward with the project and the first section – the enabling works which will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to Wyndham St – should kick off by the end of 2015. AT have already put out a tender for the works and that should be awarded in the next few months. Positively, while the council and government still debate over when to provide funding, it seems everyone is in agreement that the enabling works should kick off now as they are needed for Precinct Properties to build their redevelopment of the Downtown Mall site.

Perhaps the biggest news about the CRL was that AT have dropped the Newton station in favour of an upgraded Mt Eden station.

AT Metro

Just a few weeks ago AT launched a new brand for PT called AT Metro and to accompany it all buses will eventually have a unified livery rather than each operator having their own brand.

Double Decker

New Network

Three more consultations for the New Network occurred in 2014 following the South Auckland network in 2013. This year there were Hibiscus Coast/Warkworth, Pukekohe and Waiuku and West Auckland. One major issue that has emerged with the new network though is the lack of progress on interchanges with the West Auckland network suffering the most from this.

West Auckland With and Without Interchanges

AMETI

The first stage of AMETI which will eventually see a busway from Panmure all the way to Pakuranga and then Botany was completed at the beginning of the year with the opening of the new Panmure station and interchange. It is already having a significant impact with patronage at the station up as much as 100% in some months compared to 2013 and that is only likely to continue as more improvements are made.

Panmure Station 1

MIT/Manukau Station

The Manukau station opened back in 2012 however since then it has been a bit hidden away thanks to the construction of the MIT campus that sits above it – which was subject to delays thanks to the collapse of the construction company building it. Those issues are now over and in June the MIT campus opened providing a spectacular entrance to the station.

MIT dyptych

 

So what did I miss?

Accessing the City Centre

As Patrick so eloquently described in his Metro article – and post yesterday – Auckland is experiencing an unseen revolution in transport. While the pace of the change is becoming increasingly evident, what many people don’t realise is that this revolution isn’t new, instead it’s been slowly building up a head of steam for over a decade. Nowhere is this more evident than in the central city where the sure but steady change has now become so dramatic that it’s now challenging the stereotype of Auckland being a drive everywhere city. Despite the frustrations we see from time to time one shift is that public transport and active modes are increasingly becoming normalised and not solely for those not able to drive.

We can see this change quite clearly from the data collected annually since 1986 by Auckland Transport and prior to that the Auckland Regional Council. The data comes from a screenline survey which counts all vehicles and people crossing a certain location. In the case of the city centre that screenline survey takes place on all roads that cross the motorway moat that rings the city.

The backdrop to the change has been growth in employment and education coupled with vastly improved retail and hospitality offerings. It’s difficult to get figures for some of those areas however for employment Stats NZ figures show there are now over 100,000 jobs within the screenline boundary mentioned above. That’s up from around 80,000 in 2001 – an almost a 25% increase despite a few bumps along the way such as the Global Financial Crisis. In addition there were only around 10,000 people living in the central city whereas now there are over 31,0000 helping to bring energy and vitality to the urban environment – and all/most without needing to drive to get to work or play.

AKL CBD employment & population 2000-2014

For people who have to travel to the city for, not all are doing so during the morning peak but it’s certainly when the largest number are of 7am to 9am and this is what the Screenline Survey captures. What the data astonishingly shows is that increasingly the change in the transport use over the has exclusively come from modes other than driving more. This screenline data was presented to the AT board last week.

Back in 2001 some 39,000 people or 64% of everyone arriving in the city centre via motorised transport during the morning peak via did so by way of a private vehicle. That means either they were driving or were a passenger in a car. The remaining 21,100 came by bus (23%), train (5%) or ferry (8%).

In 2014 38,000 people entered by private vehicle representing a slight fall in numbers compared to 2001. That in itself is interesting as during that time we’ve made it easier to get to the city thanks to numerous road projects such as the Central Motorway Junction upgrade. However the big story is that the number of people arriving by public transport share has risen dramatically to over 34,400 (48%). The change is shown on the graph below.

CBD Transport Change

If we throw active modes in to the mix (not including those already in the city centre) then the number of people not driving to the city outweighs the number who do

The graph above is a great result but what’s powering it? Is it just lots more people using PT in general or some parts of the PT network doing much more work. The graph below shows the growth rate by mode. *It’s worth noting that it appears from some of the other data I was sent that the Northern busway refers to people and travelling from the North Shore, not just those on the busway.

AKL CBD mode growth

And the numbers compared to 2001.

CBD Transport Change #

Looking to the future we can only expect the current trends to continue, not least because there is nowhere else to squeeze in additional roads/lanes.