AT Beating Patronage Targets

Auckland’s public transport patronage has been on a tear as of late and patronage is not only at its highest point in over 50 years but is currently up 7% on the same time last year. Included in that figure is the Rapid Transit Network (RTN) – which comprised of the rail network and the Northern Express – is up a massive 17%. The fact that patronage is growing so strongly got me thinking about how it compared to the targets that have been set. This is also important as the council will today be debating PT targets as part of their long term plan discussions.

Targets for public transport come from a number of places and don’t always line up with each other. We have:

  • The Auckland Plan (AP) agreed to in 2012 set an aspirational target of doubling patronage to 140 million by 2022.
  • The Long Term Plan (LTP) which sets targets over a 10 year period (updated 3-yearly). The current LTP was set in 2012 and the council will soon be consulting on the 2015 LTP
  • The Annual Plan set targets for a single year based factors such as recent performance and funding available (which is often different to what was originally predicted in the LTP).
  • Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent (SOI) which is an annual document outlining the councils expectations of AT and lists three year’s worth of targets.

The SOI targets are arguably the most important as the SOI “sets out Auckland Transport’s strategic approach and priorities for the next three-years and how they contribute to the longer-term outcomes Auckland Council seeks to achieve“. In other words the SOI targets the ones that AT care about achieving (although generally they will match the council’s targets anyway although oddly not for this financial year). The targets are initially suggested by AT based on that they think is achievable based on current trends, projects and funding that is available. Council have a chance to change them before signing them off but generally what is suggested is what goes ahead.

Earlier this year we were quite critical of AT for suggesting, and at the Councillors for signing off the targets in this year’s SOI. The reason for this is AT wanted to reduce their PT targets compared to what had been set for this financial year in the 2013 SOI. The justification for doing so seemed to be that AT didn’t think it would meet its 2013/14 targets and extrapolated that forward to this financial year. This was despite the fact that patronage results had already started turning positive again and there are major changes that were about to flow through the PT system that would drive patronage such as electrification.

One example is rail patronage which had flat lined in 2012/13 (it looks like a decline due to impacts of the RWC and the HOP rollout) had it’s target for this year slashed from 13 million to 12.1 million despite the imminent arrival of electric trains. The predictions which fed those lowered targets had been created a few months prior to year end when it appeared we would miss the 2013/14 target by a wide margin however the surge in patronage meant AT was just 5,000 (0.04%) trips short. The fact that rail targets had been dropped the year before was also used by the Ministry of Transport as part of their justification for delaying the start of the CRL till 2020, suggesting that if AT don’t think rail use will grow as strongly as previously predicted then the CRL isn’t needed as soon either.

Fast forward to now and we’ve seen both bus and train numbers rising rapidly so how do they compare with the targets that have been set. With the exception of ferries all of the patronage targets for this financial year have already been met and are even on track to meet the 2013 SOI targets. On top of this every few months AT update their predictions for where patronage will end up for the year. The last predictions were in September so that doesn’t take into account Octobers strong growth and I’ll highlight those predictions below too.

Total

Total patronage has already passed this year’s target thanks to the patronage growth that we’re experiencing. I’ve also included the draft 2015 LTP targets as from now on they only apply to the total patronage. More on the LTP targets at the end of the post.

Oct - 14 - Total Patronage vs target

Rail

Has continued to increase strongly. The current SOI target of 12.1 million trips was passed in October with patronage reaching 12.124 million. The last projection suggested that by the end of June patronage would reach over 12.9 million trips however it will now potentially be over 13 million which happened to be the figure from the 2013 SOI.

Oct - 14 - Rail Patronage vs target

Busway (Northern Express)

Based on its performance against its target the NEX is doing the best having not only already beaten the 2014/15 target of but is only 8,000 trips off passing the 2013/14 target too. Further at it’s current rate it will hit the 2012 target as well and it has even surpassed it’ end of year forecast made just last month.

Oct - 14 - NEX Patronage vs target

Other Bus

Like the busway, the rest of the bus services have showing decent growth with patronage likely to hit (or get very close to hitting) the target set for 2012

Oct - 14 - Other Bus Patronage vs target

Ferry

While buses and trains are doing well, as mentioned Ferries aren’t. Here’s the ferry graph.

Oct - 14 - Ferry Patronage vs target

So overall we’ve met almost all of the patronage targets already and for some modes it looks like they may hit the 2013 or even 2012 versions of their targets which is fantastic news. However it also highlights that the council need to do a better job of setting targets rather than being dictated to on them by AT.

Auckland Transport November Board Meeting

Every month I comb through the reports to the AT board looking at what the organisation is up to (that they’ll say in public). I’ve already covered the separate reports on additional bus priority and the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast so this post covers the rest of the reports for the meeting held yesterday. As such this post is a combination of a lot of little items

Once again all of the most interesting papers appear to be in the closed session which means we only have the agenda items to go off. The items being discussed are:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Budget Realignment
  • Development Proposals
  • CRL Update
  • Parnell Station Update
  • Wynyard Quarter Roading
  • PT Security & Fare Evasion
  • Ferry Downtown Access
  • Ferry Services Strategy
  • Off Street Parking

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Wharves
  • Heavy Rail Strategy Update
  • Customer First Strategy

Most seem fairly self-explanatory however two items draw a bit more attention for me. They are the vaguely titled Development Proposals – what are AT thinking of developing? – and the Heavy Rail Strategy update. The latter is interesting as it’s the first time I’ve seen AT refer to heavy rail as opposed to just rail and comes just after the herald suggested AT were looking at light rail to the airport.

On to the board report and there are number of brief updates on a range of projects. Many we’ve talked about separately or there hasn’t been much change in the report from last month but the ones that stand out are:

Onewa Rd – AT say they are going to be creating an additional westbound general traffic lane after the intersection with Lake Rd. It’s not clear why they are creating a general traffic lane and not a bus or transit lane seeing as westbound bus priority has been needed (and promised) on the road for a long time.

Electric Trains – As of the time of writing the report there were 31 of the 57 on order now in the country with 28 given provisional acceptance. From December four trains a month start arriving which means they should all be in the country by the middle of the year. They also say they have successfully tested modified software to control traction on the EMUs fixing issues from the overhead feed which was presumably the issue behind the problems earlier in the year.  The report also talks about six car EMUs being in operation from mid-November however I suspect that’s been held off till the new timetable.

City Rail Link – There are a number of comments related to the recent briefings to the incoming minister about the CRL however perhaps most significantly they say:

The City Rail Link has recently been subject to an intense period of public scrutiny due to the Council’s deliberations on the Long Term Plan (LTP). Extensive media coverage on the project led to a significant amount of feedback, including positive endorsement of the CRL by a variety of proponents. This was a timely reminder of the need to continue to “tell the story” of the CRL and its benefits, especially across the entire region. For example rail-users (and potential new rail users) will see their journey times substantially reduced as well as a much more frequent service. More effort will go into promoting these and other benefits of the CRL story from now on, particularly in the lead-up to the beginning of the enabling works in the second half of 2015

AT telling the story of the projects benefits across the region has been something we’ve talked about numerous times. It will be interesting to see what they come up with this time.

Northcote Cycle Route – AT say that as a result of the consultation they are making changes to what they initially proposed, particularly in Queen St. I suspect this will mean AT are watering down the proposal to retain more car parking

Newmarket Crossing (aka Sarawia St) – was approved last month after an in dependant review looked at the options again. I’m sure some of the Cowie St residents will continue to fight the proposal though.

Pukekohe Bus Rail Interchange – AT say they have $1.5m in funding for this financial year to upgrade the station which I’m sure is something that will get the locals will be pleased about. AT will also be moving the facilities to refill diesel trains from Papakura to Pukekohe

Puhinui Station – The station will be getting an upgrade to the standard Auckland design to improve customer experience. It is expected to be finished by June 2015.

Grafton Bridge – From early next year AT will be allowing taxi’s to use Grafton Bridge as part of a one year trial. While they say they will review the impacts in 3 months. Overall this seems like it could be quite a bad outcome for those on bikes but we’ll have to wait and see.

Integrated Fares – The AT board signed off the business case for integrated fares last month although we’re still waiting to hear just what that will entail. What we do know from the report to the board is that integrated fares won’t go live till the end of next year. This is due to AT needing to re-program much of the system to handle proper integrated fares. As for HOP as it is now, once again the board report¹ says that the percentage of trips on the PT network using HOP has remained the same as last month, AT say they think the ” Get onboard with Jerome” campaign will improve results over the coming months.

HOP ticketing usage October 2014

 

Hibiscus Coast New Network confirmed

Back in July and August, Auckland Transport consulted on changes to the bus network on the Hibiscus Coast as part of the region wide new network. The main driver for consulting on the changes now is that AT want to extend some Northern Express services to the future Hibiscus Coast busway station before the middle of next year and so it makes sense to reorganise the rest of the network in the area at the same time to take advantage of it.

The results of that consultation are now available and the final proposed network is going to the AT board today for approval. All up AT received 874 responses with 71% supporting or strongly supporting what was proposed. That’s quite a bit better than the 56% combined support for the changes to the network in South Auckland. One interesting aspect I noticed from the demographic information of submitters that stated their gender was that 59% were female. I think this is good as often transport discussions tend to be far too male dominated. The feedback has resulted in a number of changes with 10 of the original 11 routes being modified. The key issues raised and the changes as a response to them are below

Hibiscus Coast Final - Issues

I personally thought extending the NEX to Orewa itself would have been a useful anchor point rather than having it terminate at the Hibiscus Coast Station which is only accessible by car or local bus however AT say that to take the NEX through congested local roads would affect its reliability and therefore the quality of the service. In addition AT say some people wanted the new NEX services to bypass Albany busway station or in some cases all busway stations to ensure there was capacity for those going to the Hibiscus Coast. In response AT say they believe that there are greater benefits of access, simplicity, and legibility to be gained from keeping all NEX services running the same route at all times of day and serving all the busway stations. Further the buses to the Hibiscus Coast will be in addition to the existing NEX buses providing additional capacity and will be timed to leave at the same time as buses going just to Albany to help spread the load out. The proposed frequency for the NEX hasn’t changed from the consultation and will be every 15 minutes at peak (6am-9:30am city bound & 3pm-6:30pm outbound) and 30 minutes off peak.

Hibiscus Coast Final - NEX Serivces

One other aspect that AT will pulse buses at the busway station. That means for connecting buses there will only be around a 5 minute wait between services. The same thing will happen with the Gulf Harbour ferry.

Hibiscus Coast Final - Pulsed services

I won’t go through all the details in this post however the consultation report goes all of the issues as well as the investigations and considerations AT undertook before coming to their final decision. One change I will cover though is that buses won’t use the Hibiscus Coast Highway like proposed and will instead use Centreway Rd. In addition all services except the express will loop around the town centre.

Hibiscus Coast Final - Orewa Loop

So here is what the proposed map looked like for the consultation.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Map Combined

And here it is with the changes that have been made (click to enlarge however unfortunately it isn’t super high quality).

Hibiscus Coast Final - Map

While the AT board are expected to approve the changes today, staff note there are a number of risks associated with the changes that will need to be addressed.

  • Hibiscus Coast Station won’t be built by the time the New Network is implemented, due to ongoing legal disputes (refer Attachment 1), which will mean the customers’ experience when making connections will be sub-optimal. It is important that high quality temporary facilities are in place. Four new shelters have recently been installed adjacent to the current park and ride facility for this purpose. Temporary toilets will also be provided.
  • Because the full park and ride facility will not be built by the time the NEX is extended to Hibiscus Coast Station, there is likely to be dissatisfaction with the amount of carparking, although this will maximise the potential market for the feeder bus services.
  • The cost of providing these recommended services is to be negotiated with the incumbent operators for implementation in mid-2015. Should the cost of providing the new services exceed expectations we may have to reduce the level of service from what is recommended in the consultation summary and decisions report.
  • These service changes are proposed to be implemented before integrated fares are in place across the network. While customers with a monthly pass or a SuperGold Card will not be affected, all other passengers who make a connection under the New Network, will pay more than they do currently if required to transfer. This is likely to generate some negative publicity. An interim solution may be possible, however, service improvements are considered to outweigh this interim disbenefit.
  • Feedback suggests that some people have a poor understanding of how connections will work or are concerned that they will be reliable. We will need to work with operators to ensure connections are reliable, and to clearly communicate how connections will work under the New Network.

On the busway station itself AT have given some more details about the environment court challenge it is facing.

Resource consent for the Busway Station (Silverdale Park and Ride), which was granted on 10 July, has been appealed against by two submitters who own adjacent parcels of land. Their principal area of contention is the traffic capacity on Hibiscus Coast Highway for future developments in the Plan Change 123 (Silverdale South) area. The appellants are arguing that the Busway Station affects the amount of traffic that can be generated in the Plan Change area, thereby placing potential restrictions on their developments.

So the argument is over how much traffic the park and ride may generate and who should be able to clog up the roads more. This is perhaps a good example of one of the main issues with park and ride in general that people often don’t think think about. The other being the cost of it at around $10,000 per space for an at grade carpark. As part of the consultation AT received a number of comments wanting to see the proposed 500 spaces expanded including buying some of the neighbouring land for it. They say there is no plans to do that.

Do you live on the Hibiscus Coast, what do you think of the changes?

New Bus Priority coming

Auckland Transport want to roll out 40km of new bus priority measures over the next 3 years to speed up buses, make them more efficient and support the new bus network being rolled out across the region. This is fantastic news as the lack of progress AT have made to date on rolling out bus lanes has been a regular cause for concern for us and since AT was formed in late 2010 only bus lane added across the region has was on Fanshawe St earlier this year – something we campaigned on.

FANSHAWE ST red and green

AT say they are targeting for 15km to be added this financial year and the remaining 25km over the following two years adding to the 88km of existing bus and transit lanes around the region. The works won’t all be bus lanes, in some cases they will be improvements to stops, kerb realignments or pocket lanes at intersections. Many of the improvements are also about making the existing bus lanes work better by addressing the missing gaps in them. The focus so far has been on the routes that make up the Frequent Transit Network which are the routes that will have buses running at a minimum of every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week (below). As part of the new network AT are also rolling out a new contracting model (PTOM) for which stringent KPIs have been set in the areas of punctuality and reliability and these new priority measures play a critical role in operators being able to meet those KPIs.

New Network

And here are the list of the key projects bus priority projects over the next three years. AT say a road on the list doesn’t mean there will be a bus lane along the entire corridor but that these are the corridors that have high levels of congestion for buses and have priority measures identified that will increase the operational efficiency and customer experience.

Bus Priority works

The cost to roll out these bus priority measures is $12-15 million over the next 3 years which seems like fantastic value when compared to many other transport projects. That cost is made up of $2.2 million of capital expenditure (CAPEX) in this financial year and $5-6 million in the following two years as well an additional $500,000 in operational spending in those years for investigation and review. The big issue though is that currently following two years projects are not included in the base transport programme and so will need funding to be made available.

One thing that does help is they say recent stakeholder engagement internally and with NZTA, Local Board, business associations, emergency services and local residents has been positive. These are also not the end of bus priority measures and AT are conducting a systematic investigation of all future RTN routes.

It’s great to see AT finally getting on to this. I don’t know if any economic evaluation has been done but the benefits from freeing up trips for thousands of bus users per day must be huge, especially when you consider it will cost just 10% of some motorway interchange projects. It’s also about the same cost as the NZTA are about to spend on adding one lane to the motorway northbound at Ellerslie.

More details on the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr path

Auckland Transport have released more details about the route for the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr shared path that they and the NZTA are going to build over the next few years. The $30 million path will be built between 2015 and 2018 in four stages (down from five initially). The stages are shown below and previously section 2 was two separate stages.

Sections of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive shared path 1

AT say the project features are

  • The path will be around four metres wide and constructed mostly in concrete. Timber boardwalks will be used for short water crossings such as Orakei Basin and concrete for longer structures such as the proposed Hobson Bay crossing.
  • The path will be safe and convenient for use by people on foot or on bike.
  • Good lighting will extend hours of access, particularly during winter months.
  • The route’s geography is hilly in places, but the design of the path will keep gradients as low as possible.
  • The path design will link into local communities and the project will identify future links that could be built at a later date.
  • The path will connect communities with public transport along the route.

 

AT have put out this video showing the route.

And here are the

I think the thing that surprised me the most was that the path will travel down the northern side of the railway line till around Purewa Cemetery before crossing over to the southern side. I had previously thought they would squeeze it in on the southern side. Being on the northern side might in future open up the opportunity for some of the areas on the northern side of the tracks to have access to Meadowbank station which would be useful, although it might also increase calls from the local board to have another station in the vicinity.

I also wonder what the longer term plans are for the section of land between the path and the railway line south of St Johns Rd. We know it’s now not going to be used for an Eastern Motorway.

And here are a couple of images of what the path may look like.

Eastern Path Section 1

Eastern Path Section 2 - 2

Eastern Path Section 2 - 1

Eastern Path Section 4

My biggest concern with the path is that there won’t be enough done to build cycle facilities on roads that lead to/from the path. That includes both in the eastern suburbs and of course Tamaki Dr. Overall though I think the path will be very popular and busy with people walking and on bikes, especially across Hobson bay on a nice day.

Mill Rd update

While it emerged the other day that AT are looking to cut back on rail to the airport due to it’s cost, a day later they announce they are seeking a designation for a $300 million mini highway through currently rural south Auckland. The need for the road is claimed to be the huge amount of greenfield development expected to occur in the area in the next few decades.

A route has been identified for the upgrade of the Redoubt and Mill Road corridor, which is needed to support large housing growth in the area.

Traffic is predicted to double on the route in 10 to 15 years due to the growth. More than 22,000 new homes are proposed for the area, about 10,000 are in special housing areas that are likely to be fast-tracked.

Auckland Transport has identified the route for the upgrade of the Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor and applied to Auckland Council to designate land (Notices of Requirement) for the project.

The council is expected to publicly notify the Notices of Requirement (NoR) for the designation in early 2015, with a hearing before independent commissioners to follow.

Auckland Transport Project Director Theunis van Schalkwyk says the project is driven by significant growth planned for the area and to improve the roads’ poor safety record.

“Congestion is already affecting Redoubt Road and Mill Road. The large number of new houses leads to traffic doubling in 10 to 15 years, meaning the road won’t cope without a major upgrade.

“Between 2009 and 2013 there were 283 crashes, including four deaths, with a number of accident hotspots on curves and junctions. The upgrade will improve the alignment to the safety standard required on an arterial route.

“With growth happening quickly in the area we need to give certainty to both existing and future property owners what land is needed for the upgrade. New housing areas can then be built knowing where the transport infrastructure to support it will be.

Mr van Schalkwyk says a number of route options have been investigated, consulted upon and evaluated before the final route was confirmed, with an independent environmental assessment a key factor.

The assessment recommended a number of mitigation measures to minimise impacts.

The route includes 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and a 17m high viaduct at South Mill Road gully above native bush to minimise impacts. The project also includes about 30,000 sqm of native planting, stream restoration, wetlands created, pest eradication and environmental monitoring during and after construction.

Auckland Transport has contacted affected property owners directly about the project and is meeting with them to discuss their land owner rights and the planning process. The upgrade will need future purchase of 54 full properties and 257 partial properties, for example part of a driveway or frontages.

Project features

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

Here’s a video of the route.

This is a massive project that has an almost mini motorway feel to it and it highlights just how much greenfield growth is possibly going to occur in the area. We regularly get told by those pushing for more greenfield growth that developers cover the cost of new infrastructure however this project is a great example that this is simply incorrect. In reality they only pay for some localised infrastructure and it’s left to tax/ratepayers have to pick up the tab for mega projects like this.

On to the project itself and the designs they’ve come up with are hugely disappointing and show either AT, the designers or both are still stuck in a time warp. Despite the fact that they’re basically building a brand new road, facilities for those not in a car are extremely substandard. For example to cater for walking and cycling it is proposed to build both on road cycle lanes that vary in width between 1.5 and 2m, and a shared path. Instead AT should be moving straight to proper protected cycle lanes with the footpaths left to those walking. Of course the biggest problem with that is it would mean they might have to cut into the 3m of space being set aside for a median and hell would have to freeze over before they even considered such a change. Making the cycle lanes sage is going to be really important as this mini motorway looks like it’s only going to encourage people to speed.

Here’s a few examples of what they’re proposing for the road (click to enlarge).

Redoubt Rd/Murphys Rd Intersection

Mill Rd - Murpheys Rd intersection

As you can see massive 4 lane road proposed which splays out to even more lanes at the intersection of Murphys Rd.

Mill Rd/Alfriston Rd

Mill Rd - Mill Rd, Alfriston

A big multi-lane roundabout, ugh. That won’t be fun for people in a car or on a bike.

And some of the cross sections

Mill Rd - Cross sections

Overall this project seems like it’s straight out of the bad old days and was previously said to be needed to help ease pressure on the motorway. However now we know the government are about to widen the southern motorway in the area increasing its capacity which likely reduces the need for such a massive upgrade.

New Auckland Rail Timetables

Auckland Transport have announced new train timetables that will come in to effect on 8 December and in my view they represent what could be a significant change in focus for how rail is run in Auckland. Many of the changes have hinted at over the last few months in the AT board meetings and have been talked about for years so aren’t a major surprise however it’s great to finally see them start to be implemented. The new timetables are here

Here are the key changes.

Eastern Line

  • Increased capacity including double electric trains (six cars) at peak times.
  • A quicker journey time between Manukau and Britomart.
  • All services heading south terminate at Manukau, customers will need to transfer to the Southern Line if they want to travel to stations south of Puhinui.
  • More frequent services for Manukau: six trains an hour during peak, three trains each hour during the day and a half-hourly service at night and on the weekend.

Onehunga Line

  • Half-hourly service all day/every day including extended Friday night and weekend hours.

Southern Line

  • All services will go through Newmarket so passengers south of Puhinui will need to transfer to the Eastern Line if they want to go to Sylvia Park, Panmure, Glen Innes, Meadowbank or Orakei.
  • The Southern Line is next to get electric trains in early 2015.

Pukekohe

  • There will be an additional evening service leaving Britomart at 8.58pm and arriving in Pukekohe at 10.07pm.
  • New hourly weekend services to Papakura to connect to trains to Britomart.

Western Line

  • Extra half-hourly services on Friday night between 10pm and 12.30am.
  • All weekend services will now run half-hourly but will terminate at Swanson, a new hourly scheduled bus service will operate between Swanson station and Waitakere.

To me what makes these timetables changes so important is that they seem to take a new approach to how the timetable is put together. Up to now the timetables put together by AT and its predecessor have had a very kludgy feel to them. By that I mean it seems as though the foundation of the timetable was the same from when rail was hardly used and AT then just kept piling on services wherever they could fit them – including having to fit them around freight trains. An example of this is below with services on the eastern and southern line heading to the same destination leaving 5 minutes apart then having a 14 minute gap.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - old southern line

While the old timetable was a kludge, it feels like with this change AT have taken the opportunity to rebuild the timetable from scratch and in doing so it will result in a far superior customer experience. That can only be good for ongoing patronage growth. There are a few significant changes worth highlighting – note: these primarily only apply to the Southern and Eastern lines.

Firstly as had been mentioned in the board reports AT have really simplified the service patterns on the network. No longer will someone going from Britomart to Middlemore have the option of a service to

  • Manukau via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Glen Innes
  • Pukekohe via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Newmarket
  • Pukekohe via Newmarket

Now it’s just an Eastern Line or Southern line train. That’s much simpler and in my opinion considerably better from a customer perspective.

Secondly it seems that now AT have built the timetable around the idea of having 10 minute frequencies all day and then dropped services when they’ve wanted to reduce frequency off peak or in the evenings. You can see this most clearly below where on the eastern line timetable (highlighted in red below) between 9am and 4pm every second service has been dropped – the same thing can be seen on the southern line.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - New Manukau

There are a couple of reasons why this change is so important. Firstly the clock face times make it so much simpler and easier for customers to know when a train will be at their station. Secondly the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) that AT adopted last year says that the intention is for the three main lines to run at 10 minute frequencies during the day and 15 minute frequencies during the evening. For the Southern and Eastern lines to get from this new timetable to that level is simply a case of adding in the missing services without AT needing to rejig everything else.

RPTP rail frequencies

RPTP rail services

 

The third major change is that AT have moved to a minimum frequency across the electrified network (Swanson to Papakura) and across the week of a train every 30 minutes. While most services across the network were already at that level this change primarily impacts evening and weekend services making them much more usable. The current situation is absurd with trains only hourly in the weekend evenings making it all but impossible to use PT, say if going to meet up with friends in town on a Saturday night. It also fixes one of the odd little quirks in the timetable that saw a few trains on the Western line terminate at Henderson which saw me on more than one occasion with a longer walk home.

Lastly we’re finally seeing some time savings from the electric trains. Services from Manukau currently take 42 minutes to reach Britomart however with this new timetable will see EMUs exclusively on the eastern line, travel times are now 4-6 minutes quicker. That’s might not sound like much but it’s a 10-14% saving. Presumably other lines will be able to see savings once they too are all (or mostly) served by electric trains.

I guess for me the only real disappointment with this change is that the western line is still stuck at the same 15 minute peak frequency it’s had since at least 2008. While the trains servicing the line are now larger, those too are at capacity. It’s especially annoying as it was promised 10 minute frequencies would be delivered once double tracking was complete in 2010.

Still putting that one point the side, overall I think this is perhaps the most significant change to the timetable in many many years. It seems the first stage of what will eventually be a mature and high frequency timetable.  As part of its press release, AT say patronage is currently at 12.1 million trips (an increase on Septembers 11.9 million trips to the end of September. Rail is growing at 17% and with the electric trains plus these changes I expect that kind of growth will continue for some time yet.

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

As the Herald reported yesterday, it looks as if Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball in getting a designation in place for rail to Mangere and Auckland Airport – what should be called the “South Western Line”. It is worth emphasizing that the main point of any rapid transit project in the south west is not so much to provide air travellers with a rail link, but to provide the more than 20,000 workers at the airport with a decent alternative, and also benefit the residents of Mangere and South Auckland who probably have the worst public transportation services in the entire region.

Some years back, a cross-stakeholder South-Western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART) study was commissioned to look at the rapid transit options. It was supposed to be making progress towards a designation, and for some time we have been wondering how the study was progressing.

This week, through a LGOIMA request, we finally got our hands on a copy of what has turned out to be an interim, and final report. Unfortunately, Auckland Transport instructed consultants GHD to cut the three phase study short in September of last year.

Phase Three of the study was supposed to “focus on developing documentation to support route protection. This would have entailed developing a draft Notice of Requirement and/or easement documentation for future-proofing of the preferred route. Within the airport designation, it was anticipated that an easement would be agreed and included in the current Auckland Airport Masterplan.”

However, the study was cut short with the following reasons given:

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

There is no explanation as to why the plans listed have a higher priority than designating rail to the airport. Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have to be the party responsible for driving the rapid transit designation process through, but instead they’ve more or less said “Ugh – too hard!” and sat on their hands.

Fast forward a year later, and things have now come to a head as the NZTA are wanting to push through the Kirkbride Road grade separation project, which will turn SH20A and SH20 into a continuous motorway. There is currently no provision for a rail corridor in any of the draft plans, and it is my understanding that the NZTA are waiting on a clear direction from Auckland Transport on where the rapid transit corridor will run.

The interim SMART report supported an earlier study from 2011 which concluded that a rail loop through South Auckland remains the technically preferred strategic option (I’ll have the detail on a later post) yet no progress has been made in designating the rail corridor.

Most worryingly of all, it looks as if Auckland Transport is now re-litigating the decision for heavy rail and is considering light rail instead for the corridor between Onehunga and the Airport. There are currently no public details on any of the following factors:

  • How much would the light rail rolling stock cost, what would the capacity be and where would the rolling stock be housed?
  • How much slower would light rail be, compared to a heavy rail solution?
  • How much cheaper could a light rail route be, bearing in mind that Sydney’s light rail is now likely to cost $2.2bn – about the same per kilometre as heavy rail between Onehunga and the airport?

So many questions. So few answers.

AT Earlybird parking to go

Yesterday Auckland Transport quietly announced that they were finally ending the silly tradition of incentivising people to drive at the time of the day when the roads are at their busiest. Even better is they’re being quite blunt about the reasons.

From 1 December 2014, early bird parking is being discontinued in Auckland Transport’s Downtown, Civic and Victoria Street car park buildings. Our daily rate of $17 will apply to all day parkers.

  • Historically AT has subsidised people to drive into the city at peak times, which is adding to congestion.
  • Our prices are increasing to dis-incentivise people to drive during one of the busiest times of the day (am peak).
  • Moving forward that money will be used to put into public transport, which is our number one priority.
  • View public transport options.
  • See what AT is proposing with the new public transport network.

This is a good move from AT who have been cheaper than the rest of the market for many many years, something they confirmed in their recent Parking Discussion Document which also hinted that these changes were on the way.

AT is currently charging less than commercial operators for long stay parking – $13 early bird versus $14 on average. Early bird parking encourages commuter trips and generally applies prior to 8:30am in AT car parks and 9:30am in commercial operated car parks. AT can influence a shift commuter demand away from the morning peak by reducing the amount of long stay parking, increasing prices to achieve parity with commercial operators, changing the conditions for early bird parking and moving toward more short stay parking.

They mention they want to focus on short stay parking and the discussion document highlighted the mismatch that exists between long and short stay parking availability. It also highlights how little of the cities off street parking is provided by AT with their parking being dwarfed by the private sector.

CBD Parking Supply

Not even all of AT’s carparks are part of this change and in total only around 2,500 carparks in the city.

One of the issues that AT’s carparks have had due to their low prices is that they’ve been too popular and I’ve heard they average over 95% occupancy during the day. The carparks fill up in the mornings with commuters and later in the day when people try to use them – say for a meeting in town or to visit town for shopping – they are often unable to find a space. It’s partly for this reason I suspect that Heart of the City have come out in strong support of the changes.

Of course not everyone will be happy. I expect the Herald and many other outlets give the changes plenty of coverage and there’ll be a steady stream of people ready to complain. Unsurprisingly one of those is the AA (who have been much better of late).

The AA says that if Auckland Transport (AT) wants to reduce the number of private cars commuting to Auckland’s CBD, the focus needs to go on making public transport a more realistic option, not raising parking charges.

AT today announced that Early Bird parking (priced at $13) would be removed from Auckland Council-owned parking buildings from 1 December 2014, and replaced by an all-day rate of $17. Prices for leased parking spaces would also be raised.

“For a lot of people, this change will be a kick in the teeth,” says AA spokesman Barney Irvine.

“Most Auckland AA Members who drive to work in the CBD do so out of necessity. Nearly half use their cars for work during the day, and many others live a long way from the public transport network or have household responsibilities that just don’t fit with taking the bus or the train.”

Public transport in Auckland had come a long way but was still not a viable alternative for many people, said Mr Irvine.

A recent AA survey showed that more than two-thirds of Auckland AA Members opposed an increase to parking charges to encourage greater public transport use.

Changing commuter behaviour would require positive incentives rather than punishing motorists.

“That means delivering real improvements in terms of frequency and quality of public transport, and doing more to find out what factors other than price might encourage people to change how they travel to work,” Mr Irvine said.

In any case, the proposed changes would do little to ease congestion.

“AT only controls about 16% of the off-street parking market, and only around half of that is long-stay,” he said. “So all this is going to do is hurt a small group of motorists financially, and open the door to private providers jacking up their prices.”

I wonder how many of those AA members are parking in AT parking buildings compared to other parking options in the city, probably not all that many.

So how does our parking rates compare with other cities. This graph shows the number of spaces per worker compared to their cost between NZ and the major Australian cities.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012)  Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

Sources: Transport Planning Solutions Ltd, Houghton Consulting Ltd and Urbanismplus Ltd (2012) Number of Parking and Loading Spaces Required for the City Centre. Colliers International (2011) Global CBD Parking Rate Survey. Colliers International (2012) Australian CBD Car Parking – The Next Decade.

While Colliers International conduct a parking survey every few years of a huge range of international cities and Auckland doesn’t even rank in the top 50, again well below many of our comparator cities. Auckland is listed with a daily average of $22 (USD $17) which I assume hasn’t taken early bird rates or daily caps into account.

Top 50 cities parking rates

Lastly we also know that improved public transport is working. Over the last 14 years the number of people arriving in the CBD during the morning peak (7am – 9am) via PT has risen from 20k to 35k and combined with active modes have seen the number of people driving to the city falling. Now during the morning peak fewer than 50% arrive in the CBD by car. In fact my biggest concern with these changes is that many of our PT routes are already very full and need extra capacity

I support AT on these changes however it will be interesting to see how they react to the inevitable backlash from those who feel entitled to cheap/free parking.

What happened to the promised bus lanes?

It has now been nearly 6 months since Auckland Transport opened their first bus lane. This was one Fanshawe Street, and followed a suggestion from this blog back in February. We were very impressed with Auckland Transport’s initiative in moving quickly on this, and it took less than 4 months from blog to bus lane. No doubt this was due to board chair Lester Levy following things up.

When the Fanshawe bus lane was announced Lester Levy promised that this was the sign of a new way of doing things.

Dr Levy says increasingly Auckland Transport needs to have pragmatic, interim solutions in place while working towards the more time consuming, ideal and more complete solutions – this response is a good example of this type of approach.

Fanshawe Day1

Fanshawe Street bus lane on day 1 of operation, April 28

However since April it seems to be business as usual for Auckland Transport with no progress being made on any new bus lanes, and nothing even seeming to have made it to consultation phase. A few months ago there were some promising lines in the AT Board reports. This from July:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being developed.

This similar statement was in the August 26 and October 2 meetings:

Improvements for implementation this financial year to bus lane / prioritising for the proposed high frequency bus network are being finalised.

However in the October 28 report nothing was mentioned at all.

This is somewhat worrying. The period around Christmas and January seems like a good time to get any work done due to low traffic volumes. It would be great to have any new bus lanes in place for the annual March madness when tertiary institutions start their semesters. Therefore any consultation would need to get done quickly.

There is no shortage of obvious candidates for bus lanes on busy routes around the city, so here are a few to get AT started:

Onewa Road Transit Lane:

First there is the Onewa Road westbound Transit Lane. This project was even consulted earlier this year (following a failed consultation several years prior). The design is done, and this even has a full project page on the Auckland Transport website. However there are no hints of any progress.

onewa_road_new_500x699

Auckland Transport plan for Onewa Road Transit Lanes

The blog has also already outlined in detail a few priority streets in previous posts.

Upper Symonds Street:

I described the desperate need for improvements on Upper Symonds St in March. There is no city-bound bus lane between Mt Eden and Karangahape Roads despite there being 182 buses in the 2 hour morning peak, or one every 40 seconds. This leads to severe delays, on a bad day I hear it is quicker to walk 40 minutes from Mt Eden to the University rather than catch the bus, largely caused by congestion of buses around Upper Symonds.

Mt Eden Road:

I described the need for a bus lane along Mt Eden Road in detail in May. Despite perceptions, Mt Eden Road only has bus lanes along 30% of the total 10km (5km each way) route length from Mount Albert Road to Upper Symonds Street. In peak hours there is a bus at least every 3 minutes along this section, and the lack of bus lanes cause severe delays. Another simple issue is that parts of the bus lane only operate from 4.30pm to 5.30pm. This means that if you catch the very busy 5.05pm from Britomart, the bus lanes won’t be operating when you get to Mt Eden village!

There are plenty more obvious areas, however here are a few quick ones I know from around the city.

Park Road and Khyber Pass Road:

The Central Connector was the flagship project for bus transport in Auckland City in the mid 2000’s, and was supposed to provide a very high quality public transport link from Britomart to Newmarket via the University and Hospital. The Symonds Street section is generally good, however as soon as you get across Grafton Brdige is is back to usual with a few stop start lanes, especially heading towards Newmarket. On Park Road by the Domain, 15 carparks are seen to be much more important than thousands of bus passengers. The same issue is seen on Khyber Pass, where the buslanes only go part way along, and then parking is seen as more important for the last 300 metres towards Newmarket.

Park Road buslanes

5pm bus jam outside the hospital. Congestion caused by a handful of carparks immediately south of here.

New North Road:

The bus lanes along New North Road do no begin until west of the Dominion Road flyover, before this is just a peak time clearway. Then they only run for 500 metres until just before the Sandringham Road intersection before they become a clearway again. Very simple to change these clearways to give consistent bus lanes from Newton to Morningside.

Sandringham Road:

Similar issues as to Mt Eden Road. Listed as having bus lanes, however there are still plenty of gaps which cause significant bus congestion.

Constellation Drive interchange:

While Northern Express buses can fly up to from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes, it can take almost as much time to travel the last 5 kilometres to Albany station. This is largely caused by the need to exit the station, travel along Constellation Drive, under the motorway and enter the northbound on-ramp. While the obvious solution is extending the busway to Albany, in the short term things could be improved with a combination of bus lanes and smart traffic signaling helping the buses get through.

Constellation Drive buslanes

Constellation Drive. 2 buses can be seen stuck in traffic, having just left Constellation Station bound for Albany.

I would also be keen to hear a few more readers suggestions about places where buses get severely congested at peak times, and bus lanes could be built to help sort the issues quickly and easily.

Bus lanes are the best value investments that Auckland Transport can make that help people get around our city. Sorting out these 7 heavily used bus corridors would help tens of thousands of commuters each day. Not only would this reduce journey times, but also improve service reliability and reduce costs for bus operators and Auckland Transport.

So why not get on to it Auckland Transport, would be great to see progress over summer, and we look forward to congratulating you on more implementation of bus lanes.