Fort St

Fort St before

 

FORT ST_8012

 

Inner East cycle consultation

Auckland Transport recently consulted on cycle networks for the inner western suburbs of the isthmus. Now they’re doing the same thing but for the inner eastern suburbs.

Parnell newmarket cycle drawing

Aucklanders have an opportunity to shape the cycle network in the inner-east suburbs. Auckland Transport (AT) is seeking public feedback from today.

The public are being asked where they would like cycle routes in Meadowbank, Orakei, Remuera, Newmarket, Grafton and Parnell. They’re also being asked to identify specific locations that could be improved for cyclists, like busy intersections.

This is similar to a recent public engagement AT completed in the inner-west suburbs, which had a huge response. Auckland Transport’s cycling and walking manager, Kathryn King says there were almost 900 submissions and thousands of individual comments. “These will be fed into future cycling and walking projects in that area, this is AT’s new approach to developing the cycling network.”

She says once the network is confirmed the next step is to seek further community feedback as Auckland Transport develops designs for individual routes.

“Improving cycling connections to the city centre where thousands of people travel for work or study, is a key focus. We know that improving connections from these inner-east suburbs is how we get the biggest increase in cycling numbers for the money invested.”

 

Unlike the inner west where they marked out a proposed network, this time AT are starting from a completely blank map.

Parnell newmarket cycle network map

This consultation doesn’t mean that a complete cycle network in the area is about to be built tomorrow or even next year but AT say the aim is to complete most of it within the next ten years.

 

The consultation is open to 20 June.

Another Road Only Harbour Crossing on the Cards?

The absence of rail as well as walking and cycling options to the North Shore has been considered an oversight by many probably ever since the Harbour Bridge was first approved for construction over 60 years ago. While Skypath will finally rectify the walking and cycling situation, many have looked to the prospect of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) to rectify the rail one.

Some papers I received from the NZTA at the end of last week as part of an official information act request suggest that those hoping for rail to be part of AWHC are likely to be out of luck again. They confirm the NZTA only plan to designate a road based crossing. This is in sharp contrast to how the NZTA have presented the project to the public to date which includes saying that the tunnels include provision for Rapid Transit and have pictures showing tunnels with both cars and trains in them – such as the one below and this one which is described as their current concept. Their plan is to have the tunnels become SH1 with the existing bridge acting as a sort of giant off ramp to the CBD.

AWHC - Indstry Briefing

In addition to the likely absence of rail from the project, the documents also suggest that:

  • the NZTA could look to cut the connection to Onewa Rd
  • they are waiting till after the route is protected before doing a detailed business case
  • along with some other public information suggest that the NZTA deliberately ignoring any additional works needed on either side of the harbour

There are five documents in total and are dated between November 2014 and May 2015. They were the result of asking for ‘All advice to senior management, the board or the Minister on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’

In November 2014 a paper to the NZTAs Senior Leadership Team makes this comment

The additional crossing has been identified as providing for both road and rail. Whilst the road network is mature in this area, there is currently no rail network on the North Shore. As a result Auckland Transport’s support for protecting the route for rail now is unclear. A high level discussion with AT is required to understand their aspirations.

On 10 February 2015 there is a short briefing to the Minister about the route protection process.

On 20 February 2015 there is a much more extensive briefing to the Minister after the minister obviously asked for more info. As part of a series of questions and answers the NZTA say:

The business case, which will be completed in 2017, will consider rapid transit options. Work on rapid transit options will be led by Auckland Transport. The preferred option will be secured through the route protection process.

It’s also from this brief that a small point about Shoal Bay is raised and that there are options to mitigate it.

Impacts on Shoal Bay: The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing would generate significant impacts on Shoal Bay on the North Shore including those resulting from land reclamation. There are opportunities to mitigate these effects.

Just under a month later the Minister announced the NZTA would be moving ahead with the designation process and a few days later this memo was produced discussing the next steps. This is what they say about rail.

AWHC OIA - 2015-03-19 - Rail

They say a key decision is to ‘Agree with Auckland Transport the extent of rail involvement in the designation process.’

It is also from this document where they raise some of the other issues I mentioned including:

That they are considering holding off on the business case. Along with the rail comment above, deciding this is the other key decision that the memo says needs to be made.

AWHC OIA - 2015-03-19 - Route Protection and Business Case timing

That they are considering dropping the connection at Onewa.

AWHC OIA - 2015-03-19 - Esmonde Connection

Recently I’ve been hearing that extending the tunnel all the way to Esmonde to avoid reclamation in Shoal Bay is being progressed and that means anyone who accesses the motorway from Onewa Rd and wanting to go somewhere other than the CBD would have to drive north to Esmonde first then turn around and head down the tunnels. Alternatively they would have to go into the city and travel through city streets before re-joining the motorway.

The final document is a paper to the NZTA board in May 2015 discussing the route protection and other issues. In it they effectively confirm that the NZTA will not be including rail designations as part of its work and that instead it is up to Auckland Transport. They also note that the ‘lack of clarity’ around rail is the main risk to the route protection process.

AWHC OIA - 2015-05-08 - Rail

AWHC OIA - 2015-05-08 - Rail 3

Now obviously this doesn’t mean that rail isn’t going to happen as Auckland Transport could also look to protect a rail route at the same time but it seems fairly clear that the NZTA are fully prepared to designate for a road only crossing if AT don’t get on with a rapid transit option. That seems like a recipe for something going wrong due to miscommunication. We know AT have recently been conducting a study on the future of Rapid Transit to the North Shore but we haven’t even heard the outcome of that yet, let alone have the work needed for a notice of requirement completed to coincide with NZTA’s previously stated desire to start the NOR in the middle of this year.

All of the information also suggests that the NZTA intend on building road tunnels regardless with rail either at best happening concurrently or more likely never. There doesn’t appear to be any consideration a different staging of the project which could see a cheaper rail option built first and a road crossing considered if still needed in the future.

 

In addition this board paper notes the decision had been made to only do route protection at this time and leave the business case to later.

Next steps are tightly focused on route protection. The wider business case will be progressed as a subsequent piece of work, and subject to a separate funding application.

What is also worth noting from these documents is that appears the NZTA are treating business cases as only being used to inform when a project should start construction and what funding source it would have rather than whether it’s worth doing at all. That means the AWHC with a benefit cost ratio of 0.3 can (from an earlier study) is progressed because it passed the “do we like it” test.

There is also an interesting comment in the board minutes as a result of this paper. Included in the minutes it says ‘Board members discussed how to ensure the NoR process is contained tightly to matters relating to route protection only for the future crossing’. I’ve long understood that for the AWHC to function it will also need some significant widening of the motorway north of Esmonde Rd. It seems the NZTA want to keep discussion away from that.

One additional piece of information that was quite interesting from the 20-Feb paper was a little note on why the NZTA have picked the western alignment rather than going to the East of the city like the NZCID have suggested.

The eastern alignment was not progressed as it would have cost significantly more, including a $1 billion upgrade to Grafton Gully to accommodate additional traffic and improve connections into the central motorway junction. The eastern alignment would also have resulted in congestion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and underuse of the new crossing.

AWHC - east or west alignment

An extra $1 billion just for Grafton Gully alone which presumably doesn’t include the extra cost of an even longer tunnel.

As I’ve said before, lets get the missing modes completed first before seeing if we need another road crossing. It might just be that a cheaper rail crossing has sufficient impact to delay a more expensive road crossing.

Reeves Rd Flyover back on the books

Auckland Transport has had an on-again/off-again type relationship with the $170 million Reeves Rd flyover in Pakuranga. Yesterday they announced it was definitely back on again and sees them running back to the idea that before we can build any PT or cycling infrastructure, we must first build a massive road as compensation.

reeves-rd-flyover

Work will begin soon on the design and consenting for the Reeves Road flyover and Pakuranga to Botany busway in east Auckland.

The projects are part of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI), which is aimed at giving residents of the eastern suburbs better transport choices.

AMETI will deliver rapid, high frequency public transport between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany. Roading improvements at traffic bottlenecks in Panmure and Pakuranga allow the busway to operate reliably and help manage growing traffic volumes.

The start of design and consenting work follows a comprehensive review of the timing of future Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) projects by Auckland Transport, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Auckland Council. It included more accurately modelling the traffic impacts and bus travel times on the main roads in the area.

The review concluded the best order for future AMETI projects to be built is:

  • Panmure to Pakuranga – busway, Panmure roundabout replacement, walking and cycling paths. AT recently lodged an application for consents for this stage, it is expected to be publicly notified by Auckland Council within the next few months.
  • Reeves Road flyover, Pakuranga town centre busway and bus station.
  • Pakuranga to Botany busway.

It also concluded that improvements may be needed on Pakuranga Road between Pakuranga and Highland Park to further improve bus journey times between Panmure and Howick.

Auckland Transport Group Manager Andrew Scoggins says this timing for construction will ensure journey times for both public transport and general traffic improve while the various stages are delivered.

“The Reeves Road flyover will not solve traffic congestion in the area. However it is highly effective at offering significant local congestion relief on the roads outside Pakuranga town centre. Shifting traffic off those roads allows the busway and cycle lanes to be built on them.

“Although the full busway could be opened first, the final evaluation of options showed it would create increased congestion for general traffic until the flyover is complete,” Mr Scoggins says.

The review also showed that the full busway between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany, as well as the Reeves Road flyover, needs to be open by 2025 to minimise future increases in congestion. Current long term plan funding from Auckland Council would only allow for this full network by 2029.

It’s good to see them saying the busway needs to be completed all the way to Botany, and completed sooner than the current funding allows. As it is, AT have taken way too long just to lodge the consents for the busway from Panmure to Pakuranga – for which they currently don’t expect to start construction till 2021 going through to 2025. If they’re going to get the section from Pakuranga to Botany built within that timeframe too, then they’ll have to get cracking on designing the busway. Also welcome is the recognition that Pakuranga Rd needs to have bus lanes at least to Highand Park. I wonder if that’s a piece of work that could help congestion in the shorter term.

The same can’t be said for the flyover. The project has had quite an odd history. Back in February last year Auckland Transport surprised everyone by announcing that the $170 million flyover had been deferred, with the money they saved being used to advance the busway faster. One of the reasons they gave for this was that they realised, for the flyover to make any real difference, it would also require the grade separation of the intersections of the South Eastern Arterial with Waipuna Rd and Carbine Rd, effectively turning the route into a motorway. AT also cited the difficulties of consenting, which had only a few months prior seen the Basin Reserve flyover fail to get consent.

The deferring of the project led to politicians at both the national and local level, many of whom are not known for their support of PT projects, kicking off a frenzy of lobbying for the flyover to be built and built sooner. This included lobbying the government and NZTA to declare the road a State Highway, so it could get 100% NZTA funding.

Then a few months later in April, AT announced they’d made a mistake and that the board had never agreed to deferring the project and that deferring it was only one of a number of options. That meant the flyover was back on the table. This was definitely an odd turn of affairs. I will say that I later saw the board minutes from when the project was discussed, and that it’s correct that the board never approved deferring it but agreed to look into the options further.

That the project is now back on the agenda, and seemingly bring fast tracked, can most likely be put down as a win for political interference.

Reeves Rd Flyover

In an age where smart cities are rushing to tear down flyovers and replace them with better spaces for people, it’s absurd that we’re still trying to build one. At the very least they should be building the busway and seeing what actual impact it has before committing to this project.

AT confirm move to city

Auckland Transport have confirmed they’ll move into the current Vodafone building on Fanshawe St at a saving of $1 million per year

Auckland Transport to save money by being under one roof

Auckland Transport has signed a Heads of Agreement with the landlord for 20 Viaduct Harbour (Vodafone Building on Fanshawe Street).

This agreement, which is subject to further detail being agreed and documented in a lease, is expected to be completed by 31 May.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Morris says this location will give AT a cost effective solution for its accommodation requirements with expected savings of close to a million dollars in the first year alone.

Auckland Transport’s staff are currently spread across 19 buildings with multiple leases, some of which are about to expire.

Mr Morris says the Fanshawe St building has 14,000 square metre open plan floor space spread over six levels and that offers flexible and efficient work spaces. “It is not expensive compared to a new building or other existing offices in or around the CBD. The building is 12 years old.

“We will be reducing our overall space requirements by around 2500 square metres as well as making savings in areas such as cleaning, electricity, IT and maintenance.”

Mr Morris adds that leasing rather than purchasing space reduces the organisation’s financial risk.

In addition to the CBD location AT will have a presence in three smaller regional offices in the north, Manukau and Henderson. This will enable teams with operational requirements to work in their local area such as parking officers.

The move to Fanshawe St will be completed by November 2017.

I know a lot of their city based staff catch PT in to the city and due to the distance most would probably want to transfer to a bus to get to the office. As such I wonder if this will move will expedite improvements in transfers in and around Britomart as well as pedestrian facilities on Fanshawe St. And with their buddies at the NZTA in the HSBC building the move will make perhaps they could even have a fleet of bikes for staff moving between the two locations making use of their new Quay St cycleway.

It will also likely be a good llocation for them if they build light rail as planned

LRT - Fanshawe St

AT and Police Red Light blitz, on the North Shore

Auckland Transport and the Police are running a 2 week campaign against red light running, but only at four intersections.

Red light running is the focus of a major 2 week long road safety operation, launching in Auckland’s Waitemata District on Monday 16 May, coinciding with the start of Road Safety Week.

The operation is a joint initiative between Police, Auckland Transport and NZ Transport Agency.

Police will target those motorists who take risks at 4 key high-risk intersections in the District, during peak morning traffic.

Police and AT staff will work together to monitor and identify offending in real time, while Police and AT education and enforcement teams will stop those identified at the roadside.

Waitemata Road Policing Manager Inspector Trevor Beggs says the education and enforcement operation aims to reduce crashes at intersections and subsequent traffic congestion.

“In Auckland between 2010-2014, 55 people died and 737 people were seriously injured in intersection crashes. That is far too many families changed forever by the loss of a loved one, and literally hundreds of Kiwis who live with a disability for the rest of their lives,” says Mr Beggs.

“We need to educate motorists around intersection safety. If they’re patient and obey traffic signals we can prevent these totally avoidable deaths and serious injuries.”

Auckland Transport’s Community Transport Manager Claire Dixon says the intersections were selected because of their location, crash risk, traffic flow and ability to monitor by AT through its CCTV network.

Police and AT staff will respond appropriately to motorists caught running red or amber lights. Police staff will apply discretion when dealing with individual motorists, which may result in education or enforcement action.

Ms Dixon says crashes are just part of the problem. “We have to work on the attitude of drivers towards red light signals. Drivers need to get the message that by running red lights they are putting themselves, their passengers and others in danger.”

The 4 intersections involved are:

  • Onewa Rd/Highbury Bypass/Birkenhead Ave.
  • Albany Expressway/Dairy Flat Highway/Oteha Valley Rd/Albany Highway.
  • Glenfield Rd/Bentley Ave.
  • Taharoto Rd/Northcote Rd.

Red Light Enforcement - road safety week 2016

This raises a few questions for me:

  1. With only four intersections being targeted and all four on the North Shore just how effective will this campaign be?
  2. Are they effectively saying that drivers on the North Shore run red lights more than in other parts of the city? I know that when I ride to work I certainly see it happening a lot on the North Shore.
  3. Last year seven red light cameras were installed at various places around the city, most were in East Auckland. Why not expand that network and monitor these intersections all of the time?

 

Submit on Transport Networks for Auckland’s Future Urban Areas

Today is the last day to submit on the consultation by Auckland Transport and the NZTA on what the call Transport for Future Urban Growth. Around two Hamilton’s worth of people/homes are expected to be added to Auckland’s fringes in the North, Northwest and South over the next 30 years as part of the council’s Future Urban Land Supply Strategy. To accommodate that there will need to be significant public investment all forms of infrastructure and the two transport agencies say they are trying to work out what high level transport infrastructure will be needed now so it can be used as part of their planning and funding processes.

If you haven’t already I’d suggest putting a submission in. At a high level my views

  1. It’s good that the networks generally have strong PT components in the three main areas of North, Northwest and South. The place shaping role of rapid transit is critical in these areas and early investment must go on rapid transit. If we don’t we’ll be encouraging these areas to develop in ways that make it much harder to retrofit good quality PT later and this new growth will be very auto-centric as a result.
  2. The roading networks are over the top and unnecessarily excessive. Peripheral areas are never going to have perfect transport conditions but it seems like the networks are aiming for that.

One thing this process does is highlight just how expensive greenfield development can be. Suggestions are that just these high level projects could cost around $8 billion all up or about $70,000 per dwelling and that doesn’t take into account the cost of local roads or other infrastructure that is needed to support development.

 

Below is a copy of my earlier post on the consultation (although the videos are new)

The websites for each of the three main areas also gives a little bit of information as to how they’ve responded to the feedback received and for each of the key areas there is also a more detailed map which is on the AT website. In all of the maps below the mode/intervention uses the same colour scheme, Red = Rail, Green = Bus, Blue = Road, Gold = Safety improvements.

South

In the south it’s good to see AT specifically mention electrification to Pukekohe as that was something no mention was made of in the earlier consultation. It’s something we can only hope gets the go ahead soon as it seems fairly critical to some of the other parts of the plan for the South including a bunch of new stations and better services. On the roads the massive Mill Rd corridor is set to march on all the way to Pukekohe. The biggest omission from compared to the first consultation seems to be an east-west route from Pukekohe to SH1.

In this transport network, a key focus is increasing access to public transport, with more capacity and a well-connected rapid transit network at its heart. This would include electric trains to Pukekohe, express trains, new stations and rapid transit links, for example between the airport, Manukau, Flat Bush and Botany and a high frequency bus route between Drury and Manukau.

The plan focuses on great access to jobs, town centres and recreation within south Auckland and links to the wider region.

Another key focus for the south would be an extension of the Mill Road corridor from Manukau to Papakura and Drury. This would help improve safety, provide improved access to new growth areas and provide an additional north-south route. Connected to the Mill Road corridor is a new route to Pukekohe to improve safety or reduce congestion on SH22. An interchange with SH1 will also be further investigated at Drury South.

We’ve also identified further work is needed on how better connections between Waikato and Auckland can be provided.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - South

North

The North looks like a much bigger roads fest compared to the with almost all of the proposed roads from the earlier consultation included in this consultation. For PT the busway will be the heart of the system in the area and s being both physically extended by going to Grand Dr but also and with more stations too.

At the heart of the network is the extension of the rapid transit network (RTN) by linking Albany to Dairy Flat, Silverdale, Wainui and Grand Drive.

Additional stations along the RTN would become hubs for extended public transport services into the growth areas and Orewa, providing fast and efficient access to employment, town centres and residential areas.

Dedicated walking and cycling networks linking to public transport hubs would provide a range of options to get to work or for leisure. New and upgraded arterial roads running both eastwest and north-south would improve connections and safety through the area as well.

Capacity would also be increased on State Highway 1 (SH1). An interchange incorporating both Dairy Flat and Penlink will be investigated to see if it would alleviate access from bottlenecks at Silverdale further north.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - North

Northwest

Like the others it appears that almost all of projects from the earlier consultation have made it through to this round. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is AT say they’ll do some more to look at the costs and benefits of extending rail to Huapai – although the website also suggests it could be compared to electric rail.

A key focus of the draft network is on providing high capacity public transport networks to move people efficiently and reliably between the places they want to go. This includes a rapid transport network (RTN) adjacent to the SH16 and SH18 to and from Kumeu, Westgate through to the city and the North Shore. Park and ride facilities are also identified to provide access to these services.

Further investigations are proposed on the extension of electric trains to Huapai to assess benefits and costs. Initial work shows a RTN along SH16 will have faster journey times and serve a wider catchment.

Another key focus is improving the safety and capacity of SH16 north of Westgate and the major arterials that intersect it. To help address congestion as the area grows and keep the Kumeu and Huapai centres as safe, local community-focused environments, an alternative through-route to SH16 is proposed.

A direct motorway to motorway connection between SH16 and SH18, improvements to Brigham Creek Road, and upgrade to the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway and arterial road networks in Whenuapai and Red Hills are also identified. The feasibility of a range of different types of interchanges at Northside Drive and Squadron Drive will also be investigated. Dedicated walking and cycling paths connecting to public transport and existing cycle routes also feature.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - Northwest

Consultation closes at 4pm today.

Should Auckland Transport move to the city?

We’ve known since last year that Auckland Transport have looking at how they operate and their corporate accommodation. Both of these issues have been items on the closed session of the AT board meetings in the past, such as this one from December.

Corporate Accommodation – Long Term Strategy

Value for money review

I understand the value for money review was looking at how AT performed at a structural level and where, if any improvements could be made.

We know that AT are currently spread out in numerous locations around the region including having some staff in the city in the HSBC building, some in Henderson, some at Smales Farm on the North Shore and some in Manukau. We also know that AT have come under fire before for running private shuttles between the city and Henderson because they found the public transport options weren’t good enough – a practice that they’ve stopped.

Putting some of this together it comes as no surprise that AT want to consolidate their operations into a single building. After all the agglomeration benefits they talk about at a city scale from projects like the City Rail Link enabling more people to work close together also apply within organisations like AT.

We’ve also seen news recently that AT are looking at consolidating their operations and it appears they’re looking at the building Vodafone will be vacating near the Viaduct. Interestingly that move by Vodafone is partially into space AT currently occupy at Smales Farm.

Of course leasing a building and especially one in the city and in an election year is going to cause politicians from all stripes to jump up and down with Phil Goff the latest to do so.

AT seem to be fairly clear they’ll only move if there is a financial benefit from doing so

“The overriding factor for change is that it will be cheaper/less expensive than current disbursed arrangements. Quite simply, if it is not financially beneficial it will not happen.”

Auckland Transport has claimed the savings will be largely driven by reducing its overall office space requirements by about 2000sq m – from about 18,700sq m down to about 16,000sq m.

On top of the financial savings there are probably quite a lot of other benefits of them being in the city too. For one they seem to work a lot with the Council, NZTA and MoT who are all based in the city. In addition most of the consultancies they use are based in and around the city and you can bet they’ll be charging AT for every trip they have to make out to places like Henderson. And who knows, perhaps being closer to the city might even help some of their road focused engineers learn that the city is about people and not just a place for moving individual boxes of tin.

It seems to me that just rejecting the idea because an office looks flash without considering the benefits – of which there are probably way more than I’ve listed, is probably a good idea.

But one area I was a little surprised by was this statement

Today, general manager of communications and corporate relations Wally Thomas would not say if Auckland Transport planned to explain the benefits to council and ratepayers before proceeding with a lease on the Vodafone building.

If the benefits stack up then why wouldn’t they explain them? Given so many of their projects and the projects of the council are about enabling the city to perform better it seems like the perfect opportunity to live what they preach.

What do you think, should they move to the city?

Better Buses needed

Every year for many years now March has been mad for public transport use and every year that madness has been entirely predictable.  It’s happens due to a combination of many factors such as high numbers of people being at work, schools and universities all back in action and generally decent weather. But predictability doesn’t mean AT do anything all that much about it and this year, AT’s solution publicly was just to tough it out

Mark Hannan, Auckland Transport spokesman, said it was too early to say if complaints had increased this year as tertiary students had only just started back.

“The numbers travelling on buses and trains does increase but settles back again as students work out their schedules. The best advice is to plan ahead and try to travel outside peak times.”

Now we know they did a little more than that, for example getting bus operators like Party Bus to run services but that was far from enough. While I accept that some of the factors will change over the year, one that AT seem to not even consider is that people are so put off by the poor and crowded services that they simply go back to driving.

As well as the ‘tough it out’ stance of AT, I’ve noticed over the year’s people increasingly fed up with how AT handle complaints, often feeling that no one has even cared about the issues raised and that’s if they hear back from AT at all.

This year our friends at Generation Zero ran a campaign asking for people to provide on poor bus experiences they’ve had and they’ve now released the some of the results of their survey. Overall they say they had over 1,000 responses which is impressive as by comparison it appears AT had about 1,900 complaints. The complains came from primarily along the isthmus and Mt Eden Rd is very noticeable.

Generation Zero - Better Buses - Location of complaint

Unsurprisingly the big issues related to buses being late and full/overcrowded.

Generation Zero - Better Buses - Types of complaint

 

There’s a lot more in the report breaking down the results in various ways however the key takeaways for me are that AT need to do better to improve capacity through more frequent/bigger buses as well as get the bus lanes sorted so they’re more useful to buses and therefore the city.

After Generation Zero released the report, AT responded and continued continuing the line that people just need to tough it out.

Auckland Transport welcomes the Generation Zero: Better Bus Report but General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says it highlights some of the key initiatives already underway that will improve bus services in Auckland further.

“We would generally support the report and its findings and note we are already working on much of what it recommends.”

Mr Lambert says the Generation Zero report highlights the increased travel demand in March but doesn’t consider the fact that Auckland Transport has to plan for all 12 months of the year.

“March Madness is an annual phenomenon which isn’t unique to Auckland. During the month we carried 5.9 million bus passenger trips. March is the month each year with the highest demand on transport and other services. With the end of February it includes the start of the tertiary year, schools are back and more people are in the city following summer holidays.

“With significant public funding provided for public transport, it would be financially irresponsible to plan for the least possible wait time for a bus during the busiest period of the year, otherwise we would have empty buses on the network for the rest of the year. But we do need to ensure that average wait times for buses are acceptable and improved. On some corridors, especially Mt Eden Road, wait times were too long in March.”

In the 12 months to the end of March public transport use has increased by 4.1% and now exceeds 81.4 million passengers trips a year with record bus, rail and ferry passenger levels. In January, Auckland Transport recorded its best ever month for bus punctuality and in March punctuality was down slightly to 90% of bus services operating within 5 minutes of schedule.

In the past year Auckland Transport added 53,000 extra seats on public transport with 30,000 of those on buses. “We are also part way through a programme to roll-out more than 60 double decker buses to the Auckland network and in the year to the end of June we will add another 17 kilometres of bus lanes.”

He also says Auckland Transport is planning more services, more often with the public transport New Network which starts in the south later this year. The New Network reviews every bus route in Auckland and is implementing from October a hub-and-spoke system of feeding local bus services into a connected network of higher frequency services that will operate on key corridors, either rail or high frequency bus routes, operating 7 days a week between 7am and 7pm.

Mr Lambert says a simpler and more logical public transport fares structure is planned to be launched in the coming months to encourage further public transport use.

“With all these changes we are in a much better position to handle the growing demand for bus services in Auckland but we have to work within current budgets.“

The problem with the theory that it’s all just a one off month and that things will soon return to normal is that it hasn’t. Even in May we’re still hearing/seeing people commenting about full buses. One such example was yesterday by Journalist Kim Baker-Wilson but there have been plenty of others.

Perhaps we need a name for each month to describe the overcrowding. This month could be May Mayhem while next month could Jammed Up June.

AT also make mention of some of the projects they’re working on like integrated fares – which ironically could encourage more people to use PT, possibly making it worse. Double deckers on additional routes and the New Network are also mentioned. All of these changes are good of course but they’re taking an age to complete. AT need to get these changes rolled out faster.

Western line frequencies finally about to improve

Next week Auckland’s busiest rail line will finally have its frequencies improved to match the two other main lines in the region. The Western Line will change to services every 10 minutes at peak and every 20 minutes between the peaks which is an improvement from the 15/30 timetable we have at the moment. Early mornings, evenings and weekends remain at only 30 minute frequencies.

As a Western Line user I see first-hand how full the trains often get during both the peaks and off peaks, especially west of Grafton. In addition it’s also particularly noticeable how much more useful 10 minute peak services are when standing on a platform at Britomart having just missed a service and jealously watching multiple services arrive and depart on the Eastern and Southern lines.

May-16 Timetable poster

The improvement has been a long time coming after increases were originally promised to occur back in 2010 to coincide with the completion of double tracking of the western line. But that promise quietly disappeared – for what I understand are a variety of reasons such as there not being enough trains, signalling/junction limitations etc. In fact I understand there are still a number of people within AT/Transdev/Kiwirail who don’t want to see any improvement as they are concerned that Newmarket and the line between there and Britomart can’t cope.

I certainly hope that whatever issues there are but the best long term solution is of course the CRL which will mean that Western Line trains no longer need to clog up a platform at Newmarket while they clumsily turn around each trip.

It also appears AT are making a slight redesign to the timetable including just showing departures at peak as times past the hour rather than every individual service. This is something common in timetables in many cities.

May-16 Timetable western line

One thing that isn’t clear yet is just how much capacity this timetable change will add, if any. Currently most services at peak are 6-car trains however if they need to split some of those up to provide the frequency there won’t be any capacity gain.

There are a few disappointments with the timetable however.

  • There are a few positive/negative changes on trips between some stations but they largely balance themselves out, the one exception is between Britomart and Newmarket where an extra minute has been added. I understand one reason for this is to be consistent with the Southern and Onehunga line trains.
  • There is still no attempt to speed up services, especially at Newmarket where the driver end change is scheduled to take four minutes.
  • There is no change to the hours services run with the last service on weekdays still departing the city just after 10pm and still only terminating at Henderson

AT have been suggesting in the reports to their board that another new timetable is due next year for all lines which is when they’ll start making improvements to travel times. Presumably that’s also when they’ll make changes to improve interpeak frequencies which are required to be improved to match what AT have promised for the new network which goes live in South Auckland in October.