South Auckland Bus Tender gets interesting

There have been a few bits of bus news recently

The first and most interesting is last week NZ Bus announced that that they hadn’t been short-listed for any of the routes as part of the new South Auckland bus network due to roll out in October.

NZ Bus advises that it has been informed by Auckland Transport that it has not been selected as a preferred tenderer for any of its South Auckland public transport services which were tendered for in late 2015. The NZ Bus services currently comprise 153 vehicles out of the total NZ Bus fleet of 1,070 buses.

NZ Bus Chief Executive Zane Fulljames said “Not being selected as a preferred tenderer in one of our incumbent locations is a disappointing outcome, particularly for our staff who work hard every day to deliver a high quality service and are part of the South Auckland community. However, as an incumbent we understand clearly the costs of operating in the South Auckland market and submitted a strong, high quality tender to reflect this.”

The tender outcome will have implications for NZ Bus staff operating in South Auckland. There is a 9 month transition period to the implementation of the new South Auckland contracts, and NZ Bus will be taking this time to work through options for minimising the impact on staff.

Mr Fulljames said it is important to keep this outcome in perspective. “While a number of contracts are being tendered across Auckland, other contracts are being renewed with incumbent bus operators through a direct negotiation process. NZ Bus has rights to negotiate a number of these contracts, representing in scale around 50 percent of its existing business in Auckland.”

A map of the south Auckland routes being tendered is below. They are split up into eight groups – called units – that were tendered for.

New Network - South Auckland

That NZ Bus didn’t make it to being one of the preferred tenderers from any of the eight is fascinating given they are the incumbent for the area. I’m told that AT are still negotiating with operators so there has been no decision yet on just who will run services so all we know for sure is that it isn’t NZ Bus.

There are a few thoughts I had upon hearing the news.

  • I think this is good news as it suggests there’s competition for services occurring and likely suggests we’ll be getting better value for tax/ratepayers out of the new PTOM contracts. This is some ways is expected because as I understand it, AT have been rolling over existing contracts for some time meaning bus companies are likely amortising their costs over a short time frame. As the PTOM contracts are longer term it will allow fixed costs to be spread out more easily.
  • It likely signals that companies will have to be more competitive for future tenders, NZ Bus have stated in the past that they want to about retain their overall market share so they’ll have to up their game to do so. Again this is good as it likely means we’ll get better value for money meaning either costs reduce or we can get more service for what we pay.
  • NZ Bus seemed to use their most clapped out buses for use in South Auckland. A new operator should mean newer buses – especially as we know AT had some fairly detailed requirements for bus quality under the new network. This will be good for people using buses in South Auckland.
  • It was interesting timing for NZ Bus to come out and say now that they hadn’t won the tender. I suspect part of that might be related to being owned by a publicly traded company while also them wanting to be able to tell their staff before they hear the news through other channels.

Stuff reports the Union claiming that Ritchies and Hamilton based Go Bus have won and that Howick & Eastern have also lost some routes but we’ll have to wait to see if that is actually the case.

The other piece of news is that Ritchies are now rolling out an additional 15 new Double Deckers to the Northern Express, adding around 15% more capacity – they may even be on the road already and join the 3 existing double deckers in service.

NEX Double Deckers

Other bus companies are getting in on the double decker act too. By the end of the year NZ Bus will have 23 of them and Howick & Eastern 15 of them.

 

Update: Auckland Transport have advised that due to a union meeting, there will be no NZ Bus services operating between 9 and 2:30 – although disruption will linger for longer than that (based on the last one there were still delays in the afternoon peak)

Auckland Anniversary PT Fail

I’ve had two pieces of feedback following PT for Auckland Anniversery events on over weekend. The first is from reader Jeff

My friend started out with “Meet me at mine, Mt Eden, it should be a $15 Uber from here”

To which I said “I was thinking of Biking to the Train station, leaving the bikes there then catching the train in, It feels silly to not use PT into the CBD”

And such was my argument to my friend Matt who kindly cycled to my place from Mt Eden, to catch the train into Britomart for Laneway Festival at 2pm on a Monday.

And it was a good experience, a short ride downhill followed by a “Feels longer than it should” train trip into the city. In no time at all we were in the usual gridlock of Te Whero Bridge. (of course Matt would have been here half an hour ago if he took an Uber)

Laneway PT experience

After the festival, come 10pm, we were done, ready to board a train at Britomart, destined for Onehunga to start the cycle home. Upon entering Britomart, it was desolate. The train signs on the board read Penrose, Newmarket & Waitakere. No Onehunga, and the last train on the board was a half hour away.

We were tired, grumpy, and had work the next day. as two slightly out of our comfort zone 30 year olds, professional jobs beckoned in the morning and enough was enough – Cue Uber. Surge pricing, equally long waits – One wonders if this could have been mitigated if trains were operating at a festival appropriate frequency.

We found a cab, and I uttered the most absurd phrase I have ever uttered. “can you take us from here to Onehunga Train station please?”

Laneway PT experience 2

Sometime later we were back in Onehunga, we grabbed the bikes, and commenced the ride uphill to our respective homes. (along the new & lovely Onehunga Mall cycle lanes)

There is no way I’ll ever talk my friend into trusting the trains again.

My questions to AT are;

  • Was there a PT plan for this festival?
  • Do you have a planning team responsible for PT during events?
  • Was there a train coming? if not, why wasn’t it on the board? There was no way to check, and ‘waiting to see’ was unacceptable.
  • Is this the experience a casual train user should be confronted with?
  • How can you expect to compete with Uber or generic Taxis on trust, when they often provide a better ‘turn up and go’ service?

I realise this is an anecdotal experience, but if this was my experience, what of the other 10,000+ Laneway, or other Auckland wide event attendees?

And the second is from reader who had a number of observations from Sunday

  • Standard anniversary weekend public transport troubles occurring again, with hopeless Sunday timetables failing to cope with CBD crowds.
  • Saw NEX at 4.30pm leave 10 plus people behind, and Mt Eden bus at same time was jammed.

Missing the bus - Luke

  • Were huge numbers of people in town for fireworks last night, though most had choice of one or 2 services to get home.
  • Same likely tonight with Laneway finishing at 10.30pm, and all trains gone, and only handful of buses.
  • Plus despite official AC programme saying all trains running, there was nothing past Penrose or Sylvia Park.
  • People have learnt to use event PT now, so expect it at major events.
  • ATEED and AT need to get their act together, as leaving new users stranded is a very bad look, and puts people off.
  • Saga will repeat itself again for Lantern festival in a few weeks time.
  • Another good fix would be upping Sunday timetables to meet Saturday frequencies, many 20 or 30 rather than 15 minute frequency

Getting these experience wrong has long term impacts on how people perceive PT. It’s well beyond time that that AT should have learnt this by now, as Luke pointed out, people have learnt to use PT for events now so it’s up to the authorities to respond to that and provide it to an acceptable standard.ev

Time for fares to come down?

Public transport fares are often a contentious issue. Too high and they can put people off, too low and it may increase the subsides needed or you may need to cut services. So it’s interesting to think about fares in the current climate we have in Auckland. We know from the last AT board meeting that the annual fare review was up for a decision/approval in the closed session. Given this is the time of the year they usually announce the outcome of that fare review I expect we’ll be hearing soon what they’re going to do.

Over the last few years we’ve seen fares for most people (HOP users) stabilise quite a bit and even fall while fares for cash payers to increase to help encourage people to move to HOP. Given some of the trends we’re seeing and what’s planned it seems that other than perhaps a few small tweaks any substantial changes can’t really be justified – in fact possibly the opposite, reducing fares might be justified.

We know that later this year Auckland Transport will be implementing integrated fares which will see us move to a zone based system. It’s quite likely they’ll use the fare review to move towards what’s planned for integrated fares and that could see some interesting changes, one of these could be around Orakei train station which sits outside the City zone in the proposed map below.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

 

The NZTA require that by mid-2018 public transport has a farebox recovery ratio of 50% – the percentage of costs that are covered by passenger fares. Auckland has traditionally hovered around 45% meaning that if we’re to meet the national goal then AT needs to do better – whether 50% is the right level to get the best economic outcome is for a different debate. Many of the current initiates such as electrification, the new bus network and PTOM contracts are all expected to improve Auckland’s performance through both reducing costs and increasing patronage and therefore revenue (AT’s farebox recovery policy is in the RPTP). For this year Auckland Transport and the Council set a formal target of 46-48% as part of their Statement of Intent.

The good news is that the surge in patronage that Auckland has been experiencing over the last year has had a noticeable impact on the farebox recovery ratio. The most recent data up to October last year show it sitting at top of the target range at 47.8%, that’s up from 45.9% the at the same time the year before. Does this suggest perhaps there’s some room to move on fares while still keeping the farebox recovery ratio within target?

2015-12 - Farebox Recovery Ratio

In the past when they’ve raised fares AT have said that one consideration in setting fares is the cost compared to driving for an individual. We know that in recent months fuel prices have fallen (shown below) which obviously makes it cheaper to drive. The decrease

Petrol Prices 2016-01-22

Diesel prices have fallen even more sharply and that will likely be having an impact on bus operational costs.

Diesel Prices to 2016-01-22 (2)

There are likely to be some other factors I’ve overlooked however it seems to me that given the broad factors we’re seeing that raising prices is about last thing we should be doing.

Inevitably when discussing fares many like to compare Auckland’s to those in other cities. In September I took a look at a number of Australian and Canadian cities. One thing that was clear from doing that activity is it’s incredibly difficult to say whether fares are too high in Auckland. Every city has very different fare structures and often who is cheapest depends on distance travelled and the mode used.

Lastly another topic people love to raise is fare evasion and suggest we should gate all stations immediately. To put some things in perspective the last I heard fare evasion – which I believe is based on how many passengers are found without a ticket by the ticket inspectors – sits at around 6-8%. The amount of lost revenue from those evading fares is the vicinity of $2.5 million. The reality is that if AT tried to eliminate fare evasion the amount of money they would need to spend on staff and infrastructure to enable it would dwarf the amount of money they end up collecting. The key is to get the right balance rather than an impossible attempt to stop all evasion (which still happens on systems fully gated)

Are we ready for PT madness season

Next week marks the start of annual madness season – the time of the year where use of public transport ramps up over February and culminates in what we call March Madness.

The spike in patronage seems to be the result of a combination of factors. Schools and universities kick back in to gear for the year (the school term officially starts again on Monday) which also more parents back to work. Those naturally make public transport busier and of course roads busier too. It also seems that a lot more people are willing to give public transport a go, perhaps a result of wanting an alternative after suddenly being exposed to the full mind numbing horror of driving on congested roads once again – especially after the easier driving over the summer period.

You can see the impact of March Madness in the chart below showing patronage in each month with March in Red. February is obviously lower due to fewer working days and PT use ramping up over the course of the month. Unsurprisingly the years where March wasn’t the busiest month of the year or where other months were very close (2008 and 2013) Easter was either partially or fully in month. Of course we have Easter falling fully within March this year – although due to the way the weekends fall it only represents one less working day than last year.

2015-12 Monthly Patronage

By the end of February the March Madness conditions will be in full effect so it’s important that Auckland Transport have the PT network working well to ensure that people can actually use it and encourage those new adopters to keep using it well into the future.

In the past they haven’t done well on this front. Both buses and trains are often packed to the point of turning people away. Last year I heard stories of some people on routes such as Mt Eden Rd waiting and watching as up to 12 buses went past too full to allow them to get on.

The numbers tend to die down after March due to a combination of factors such as school holidays and people giving up on the overcrowded PT services and going back to their car.

This all begs the question of whether AT are prepared for this year’s madness. In my view they aren’t.

Since this time last year the electric trains have been rolled out to the Southern and Western lines providing a little bit more capacity however even in January – normally a quitter time – trains have been very busy thanks to all of the patronage growth that’s occurred. The Western line is still stuck with trains at peak times only every 15 minutes despite AT and its predecessors promising 10 minute services would happen from as far back as 2010. Indications are we’ll finally see that increase happen this year but not till April/May, after the rush.

On the bus network it’s a similar story, not much capacity has been added but some is on the way. We learned last year that the various operators were buying 56 double decker buses to be used in Auckland. Some are already in use on the Northern Express and one is used by Howick & Eastern for trips between the city and Botany but it appears the bulk of these might be too late March. The expected roll out of them is below.

  • 18 buses on the NEX Northern Express (Albany to Britomart via the Northern busway) by April 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 500 route (Mission Heights to Downtown via Botany Town Centre, Pakuranga, Panmure, Ellerslie and Newmarket) by September 2016, with the first ones on the road now
  • 15 buses on the 274 (Three Kings to Downtown via Mt Eden Rd) and 277 routes (Waikowhai to Downtown via Three Kings and Mt Eden Rd) in May & June 2016
  • 8 buses on the 881 route (Albany to Newmarket along the Northern busway) in June 2016

What we have seen though is that AT have been advertising their arrival.

AT_DD_Ad

I think AT have actually done a good job on the advertising, both in the design and placement of the ads but I do wonder if they’re a bit premature. The majority of them won’t on the road till after May so will provide no relief for busy routes like Mt Eden Rd so advertising them now might be giving a bit of false hope.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the system copes.

December-15 Patronage

 

Auckland Transport normally releases their monthly patronage data at their board meetings but as the first one for 2016 isn’t till February they’ve kindly provided me the results for December.

Overall patronage growth has remained strong with trips in December up 7.4% on December 2014. The 12-month result has now topped 81.5 million trips which is up 7.6% on the same time last year.

2015-12 - Total Patronage

One concern though is that the growth is increasingly being driven increases in the rail network and on the ferries. This is due to a slowing on the rate of patronage growth on buses. My guess is this reflects there hasn’t been all that much in the way of service improvements on buses over last year or so and I suspect some of the growth that has occurred has been due to HOP making travel easier. The growth that is occurring on buses is mostly being driven by growth on the Northern Busway.

2015-12 - Bus Patronage

We will hopefully see the slowing growth reverse once we finally get the new network starting to be rolled out which is happening in South Auckland later this year. Integrated fares are also likely to help and we should hopefully know more about that soon.

I was expecting the rail results in particular to be very strong as the network was open for Christmas Day and Boxing day while the Western line and the inner part of the Eastern Line remained open all through the Christmas/New Year period. This has shown through in the numbers with rail ridership in December up a staggering 32.6% compared to December last year reaching 1.1 million trips. That leaves January as the only month that has now carries less than a million trips a month and given many of the same factors are at play I’d expect that to change once we get the January results next month. The chart below shows how patronage has changed for each month since 2002 and you see just how big the jump in 2015 was compared to previous years.

2015-12 - Rail results by month 2

The 12-month result is up 22.9% or 2.9 million trips to 15.4 million. Related I remember when the case for electrification was being made about a decade ago they touted it as delivering 15.6 million trips by June 2016. It looks like we’ll surpass that despite the actual roll out happening a few years later than predicted.

2015-12 - Rail Patronage

The last year has seen good growth on ferries on the back of service improvements on a number of routes. Patronage for the month was up 9.6% compared to December 2014 to around 580,000 trips and the 12-month result is up 10.7% or just over half a million to 5.7 million trips.

2015-12 - Ferry Patronage 2

All up December was a continuation of many of the trends we saw throughout 2015. It will be interesting to see if those same trends carry on through to 2016 or if things slow down. Rail likely has a bit of strong growth left yet, especially if AT improve frequencies and move the rail network towards a proper raid transit service with decent frequencies off peak too. The roll out of Integrated fares is likely to help patronage too and the big unknown will be the new network which rolls out in South Auckland in October.

 

Related, last week Patrick posted results of the latest rail station boardings. I thought it would be interesting to plot the change in rankings over time based on data I’ve collected over the years. In the end I’ve only done it from 2011 onwards as prior to that the movements were too erratic which will be in part due to the how station usage was counted. It might look like a mess of lines now but was worse with pre 2011 data included.

To be clear this only looks how the stations rank compared to other rail stations so isn’t looking at the size of growth but there are a couple of notable points.

  • The impact of Manukau is very clear and between mid-2014 and mid-2015 rose substantially and is currently the 13th busiest station.
  • Panmure is also seeing strong growth, moving from 14th to 5th busiest.
  • New Lynn shifted from 7th to 3rd.
  • Given the stations above along with Otahuhu and Henderson will also have bus interchanges in the New Network then I’d expect them to keep seeing them with an upward trend in coming years.
  • Sylvia Park shifted up 7 places to 8th.
  • Onehunga moved up 8 places to 21st.

Station Rankings Change to Dec 15

On the same topic we’ve long wanted to see station growth from the Northern Busway and many readers expressed the same thing too. AT have now provided us with some data on this and I’ll post this in the next day or two.

Station HOP Data 2015 v 2014

AT have kindly sent us the Train Station HOP data for for the last two calendar years. Note that these data are incomplete, not including those travelling on legacy paper tickets, transferring, or on special event services. See here for Matt’s mid year post where on these data were then.

BRITOMART JULY 15_3388

As expected these are great numbers; there’s spectacular growth across the network. Highlights include:

  • Manukau City takes off now MIT is open: 118% growth jumping in rank from 24th to 13th. Strong growth is likely to continue once the Bus Interchange there opens.
  • Panmure is the next big mover, leaping up 52%, from 12th to 5th. I guess we can expect a similar burst at Otahuhu too once the new Interchange is up and running.
  • Britomart adds a million new movements each way. The top 10 stations are now over 400k, last year only 3 were.
  • Next year should see Britomart over 5mil, Newmarket 1 mil, and most of the rest of the top 10 over 500k.
  • Grafton still the most asymmetrical station other than Britomart; 69k more alightings than boardings, showing that downhilling is still strong there. This is people heading to the city via Grafton but returning via another route, many likely using Britomart, which shows more some 169k more boardings than alightings.

AT HOP Station Data 2014-2015

Here’s the top 15 ranked by 2015 boardings. The positive movers are all on the Eastern Line, which has had the new trains the longest, and biggest upgrade in frequency. And the biggest two movers have shiny new stations: Manukau City with the new MIT above, and Panmure with a new bus interchange. The Eastern Line also has very good bones; it has no level crossings, is fast, straight and direct and now some good attractors to unlock those advantages. As well as the two stations mentioned above, the mall at Sylvia Park is clearly drawing customers by train, which adds to the long strong destinations of Papatoetoe, Middlemore, and GI. Even the minor stations on the line improve well over the year: Puhinui the 3rd highest proportionate change at 43.9%, Meadowbank; 5th, 33.0%, and Papatoetoe, by no means minor; 6th, 31.3%. Papatoetoe still the forth busiest station in 2015, but will it be overtaken by Panmure this year? Which would be impressive as Papatoetoe has twice the number of services. It is clearly time that businesses took advantage of all those people at Panmure station; it’s still sitting in a land-use desert.

STATION BOARDINGS 2015

 

It’s pretty clear what works; investment in stations and interchanges [Panmure], alignment with land use [Manukau City], and improved service. I think it is likely that the Eastern Line still has more growth in it, as the results of improvements to frequency and capacity on the Western Line planned for this year may not fully come through until next year. If we have learnt nothing else from the changes to places like Sylvia Part and Manukau City is that it can take a little while for these changes to be reflected in pax numbers. Although the lower growth percentages from Western Line stations does suggest they are being held back by capacity and frequency constraint [exception: Avondale; jumping 29.3% up one place to 16th busiest].

PANMURE_8614-2

What else can we learn from these data?

 

Is Penlink about to be approved?

Next week John Key is expected to announce the government’s support for starting the main works of the City Rail Link in 2018, at least two years ahead of what he said in 2013. He is expected to announce this at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and it’s expected the announcement will cover not just the CRL but likely a package of projects. Many have suggested that they think he’ll also announce details about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the East-West Link, both of which the NZTA and Auckland Transport are expected to progress getting consent for this year. In the NBR’s article on Key’s announcement they included some thoughts from Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Michael Barnett.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said Key’s address would cover the issue of infrastructure funding for the region, similar to the June 2013 speech to the chamber’s membership in which he confirmed joint funding for CRL.

“I’m expecting a significant funding package similar to what Key gave in June 2013 and that he will use this occasion to say ‘ok, we can give more certainty to some projects’. What we have at the moment is so conditional, it’s difficult for plans to be put in place,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the other projects he expected Key to comment on include the East/West Connections project which would improve connections between Onehunga and Mt Wellington which is heavily used by industry, the $380 million Penlink arterial route between Whangaparoa Road and State Highway 1 which is touted as a potential public-private partnership business model, and a second harbour crossing.

It’s the middle of those three projects in the last paragraph – Penlink – that raised my eyebrows. There are a few reasons for this.

Penlink Map - 2015 Presentation

Auckland Transport recently applied for and obtained approval to widen the existing designation to create a 4-lane divided expressway. Perhaps Auckland Transport have been looking longingly at the NZTA and really want a motorway they can call their own. We also know that the NZTA had been pushing for Auckland Transport to progress the project as a PPP tied in with the one they are planning for Puhoi to Warkworth – however they’ve already short-listed contractors for that project.

The council and government are deep in the middle of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which is meant to be reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland. Projects already underway or with funding confirmed for the near future are excluded, as are projects such as the City Rail Link but based on the timing as far as I’m aware that doesn’t include Penlink (I also believe AWHC is included within the ATAP scope). If Key was to come out and accelerate these projects or make funding announcements, it would undermine one of the key reasons for undertaking the alignment process in the first place.

Even putting aside ATAP, the councils recent Long Term Plan doesn’t have the project starting till the decade starting in 2025 (page 11). It did include the project in it’s everything including the kitchen sink funding package paid for by tolls or increased fuel costs but that wasn’t passed. Interestingly Auckland Transport’s website lists the project starting construction in 2021. What do they know that the council don’t.

The biggest reason for concern is the project itself and what AT claim it will achieve. They say the key objectives are:

  • Improve travel times and reliability.
  • Improve network performance and resilience.
  • Facilitate economic activity, planned growth and transport mode choice.

So let’s look at Penlink does based on information AT provide.

The project is about enabling more growth in the North however critically there is actually very little growth that is expected to occur on the Peninsula itself, most of the growth is around Silverdale or west of the motorway. A summary of the residential and business growth expected is below.

Penlink Map - Household Growth

There’s also almost no growth in employment on the peninsula

Penlink Map - Employment Growth

Developments in Orewa have access to the motorway at Grand Dr and at Millwater a new set of motorway ramps have been built at Wainui Rd so the main argument seems to be that Penlink is needed to get cars from the Peninsula off the Hibiscus Coast Highway where more business growth is expected. Given how much of a pet project Penlink was to the former Rodney District Council it makes me wonder how much the growth there was part of a deliberate strategy to help justify Penlink in the future.

Looking at the issue of travel time and reliability as well as network performance AT include a number of outputs from their modelling and they present some very odd results. The show the predicted travel times both with and without Penlink to three destinations, to Grand Dr, to Silverdale Township and to Beverly Dr which is where Penlink joins into Whangaparoa Rd. They’ve also broken down the journey into three parts. From Oteha Valley Rd to Redvale where the Penlink Interchange would be, from Redvale to Silverdale interchange and from Silverdale to the final locations.

Penlink Travel Time map locations

Here are the results for all three and they seem completely not believable or based on any kind of plausible reality. The first thing that strikes me about them are the claimed travel times in 2041 both with and without Penlink. At more than an hour just to get from Oteha Valley Rd they seem to be assuming that traffic is going to merrily just pile up and no one will attempt to change their travel time, mode or both. It’s worth noting that the base case for both options also assumes the NZTA will widen SH1 between Oteha Valley Rd and Silverdale to three lanes each way at around 2031.

Penlink Travel Time - Grand Dr

Penlink Travel Time - Silverdale Township

Penlink Travel Time - Beverley Rd

What I also find odd is that within none of the documents AT have published is there any mention of the impact of the traffic volumes on SH1 south of Oteha Valley Rd. If they’re this bad north of there it must require SH1 pumping a ton of traffic north or alternatively a lot joining at Oteha Valley Rd to head north. If traffic is this bad then as some readers like to frequently suggest, perhaps some road pricing to better manage demand is needed – and before we embark on spending $380 million on this motorway.

Speaking of road pricing the documents do talk a lot about Penlink being tolled. They say it would use the same system as used on the Northern Gateway motorway north of Orewa and the cost would match that toll road – at the time $2.20 for light vehicles and $4.40 for heavy vehicles. By 2041 the predicted 16,600 vehicles a day crossing the Weiti Bridge (where the toll gantry will be) will be paying about $13.5 million a year in toll revenue. Interestingly the modelling suggests that without a toll, traffic volumes would be 23k-24k per day across the bridge.

Penlink Toll Revenue Collectoin

Over 30 years they say the estimated toll revenue is $321 million which has a net present value of $112 million. Toll collection costs over that period are $77 million with a NPV of $28 million so at NPV that leaves around $84 million to go towards paying for the project. Of course the project is expected to cost around $380 million so the tolls won’t cover all that much.

Penlink Toll Revenue vs costs

Despite the cost of project roughly doubling over the last few years AT claim the project is positive economically. They actually list two Benefit Cost Ratio’s, a National BCR of 2.5 and a Government BCR of 3.1. Please correct me economists but as I understand it the Government BCR counts all benefits but only accounts for the net financial cost i.e. project costs minus toll revenue while the National BCR accounts for the full cost of the project.

Based on the language in the Business Case it seems almost certain that Penlink will be built as a Public Private Partnership where they finance, build and operate the road while AT pay for it to be open. This is the same as is happening with Transmission Gully in Wellington and will happen with Puhoi to Warkworth.

On the final objective facilitating transport mode choice. It seems to me there’s a very high chance that if built AT would leave buses to go the long way via Silverdale and Whangaparoa Rd which will only serve to further reinforce driving. The business case talking about buses seems boil down to a “buses can use roads too” argument and the only thing excluded from the project scope is:

Whilst facilitating and providing opportunities for improved public transport is part of the Project, the provision of public transport services and prioritised bus lanes on Whangaparaoa Road is not part of the Project.

Lastly it’s worth comparing the approach taken to the discussion back in 2010. 
alternatives-penlink

Back then widening Whangaparoa Rd was seen as a better option as the $20-26 million cost delayed the need for the hugely expensive Penlink. They now say that option isn’t viable as they’ll eventually need Penlink anyway.

So overall it seems like Penlink stacks up but that’s on the back of some very odd figures around travel times. The business case suggests that in the absence of funding constraints the project could have started in July this year – although that would be unlikely given the lead in time needed to procure it through a PPP. So perhaps John Key will kick that process off next week.

Bike Numbers Rise in Auckland

Auckland Transport and the NZTA are celebrating increases in number of people cycling across Auckland.

Kids using Nelson St

The number of cycle journeys through Kingsland on the Northwestern Cycleway has gone up by more than 16% in 2015 compared with 2014. This has contributed to a growth of 7.4% of cycle journeys throughout Auckland in the same period.

The number of people cycling on this route is expected to increase further with a major upgrade to be completed this year and a city centre cycle network which continues to expand.

The NZ Transport Agency is upgrading the Northwestern Cycleway from Westgate to Waterview as part of the Western Ring Route. The cycleway currently joins the Nelson Street Cycleway and the Grafton Gully Cycleway.

With the government, council and the NZTA all increasing how much they spend on cycle infrastructure there obviously needs to be some targets and monitoring to ensure that what gets built actually has an impact. As such the NZTA have set a target of a 30% increase in the number of cycling trips across New Zealand by 2019 based on 2015 levels.

To go with the increases in funding for cycle infrastructure that we’re now seeing the NZTA obviously want to ensure that it has an impact and as such they’ve set a goal for the number of cycling trips to increase by 30% increase in New Zealand by 2019.

To monitor cycling numbers, over the last five years or so Auckland Transport have installed automated cycle counters at a number of locations across the city and they’re installed in new projects too – such as the Lightpath. AT report some of this data on their website however it is only for nine of the original sites which are:

  • Upper Harbour Drive
  • Great South Road
  • Highbrook
  • Lake Road
  • North-Western cycleway – Kingsland
  • North-Western cycleway – Te Atatu
  • Orewa cycleway
  • Tamaki Drive (east bound)
  • Twin Streams path

As you’ll see below there are quite few more sites now.

Based on the results of those nine sites the charts below show the 12 month rolling total of cycle numbers for both across the total day and in the AM peak. As you can see there has been growth in cycle numbers and as the comments above note, the total is up 7.4% over the last year while the AM peak numbers are up stronger at 9.9%

Dec-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - Total

Dec-15 Auckland Cycling Numbers - AM Peak

The biggest problem with the data is that it is limited to just nine sites and there are a lot of trips by bike that take place nowhere near any of them. Over the coming few years some of the biggest changes for cycling in Auckland will be occurring in and around the city centre as highlighted below. AT have now installed cycle counters on streets all around the city centre, creating a cordon and the numbers from that will be used to judge the effectiveness of the cycle investment occurring.

Auckland City Centre Cycle Map - Dec 15

AT kindly provided me with a list of all the cycle counters and the data from them for December. As you can see by how many NAs are in the list quite a few are only new having been installed in the last year or two. Of the ones that were around last December all but two have shown some very good growth with Grafton Gully and Beach Rd showing the strongest percentage growth. Based on the percentages the largest increase in total numbers is on Tamaki Dr with over 7,000 more trips this December than December last year (I’m sure bike rave helped with this a little bit). Tamaki Dr is also Auckland’s busiest place for bikes. The counters in bold are the nine that contribute to the charts above.

      12m rolling % change from previous year % change from same month previous year
  Dec count Dec ADT
Beach Rd 9,192 297 NA 50.6%
Canada St 1,037 33 NA NA
Carlton Gore Rd 5,074 164 NA NA
Curran St 8,504 274 NA NA
Dominion Rd DISCONTINUED DISCONTINUED NA NA
East Coast Rd 4,190 135 -2.7% 17.8%
Grafton Bridge 13,995 451 7.6% 23.5%
Grafton Gully 10,161 328 NA 59.1%
Grafton Rd 1,975 64 NA NA
Gt Sth Road 2,666 86 -4.0% -7.0%
Highbrook 1,336 43 11.1% 22.8%
Hopetoun St 3,911 126 NA NA
K Rd 14,730 475 NA 14.3%
Lagoon Dr 4,670 151 -6.9% 3.0%
Lake Road 8,796 284 -4.1% 11.6%
Mangere Bridge 13,690 442 -4.5% 12.7%
Nelson St cycleway 12,101 390 NA NA
Nelson St Lightpath 29,176 941 NA NA
NW Cycleway (Kingsland) 16,295 526 16.3% 24.0%
NW Cycleway (Te Atatu) 13,545 437 7.0% 31.5%
Orewa 10,563 341 17.2% 30.1%
Quay St 32,689 1054 NA NA
SH20 Dom Rd 3,293 106 5.3% 21.0%
Symonds St 10,110 326 NA 10.9%
Tamaki Dr 39,044 1259 7.0% 22.2%
Te Wero Bridge 23,060 744 NA NA
Twin Streams 4,109 133 -3.1% 9.5%
Upper Harbour 4,795 155 -1.8% -0.8%
Upper Queen St 4,286 138 NA NA
Victoria St West 3,519 114 NA NA

At the very least this we should see the NW cycleway as far as Lincoln Rd complete along with the rest of Nelson St and Quay St

Te Atatu Rd Underpass

The fantastic new underpass through the Te Atatu Interchange which opened in December

There are still diversions at Western Springs and Patiki Rd at the Causeway which will be in place until late February. In early February the section from McCormack Green (just west of the Te Atatu underpass) to Henderson Creek will be open with the completion of the Te Atatu Interchange Project scheduled for March and the Causeway Project scheduled for August.

The Northwestern Cycleway is one of the busiest cycle routes in Auckland says Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking manager Kathryn King.

“We know that these routes are popular which is why they are being improved and soon other routes will connect with them to further develop the cycle network,” she says.

“Construction will begin early this year on the Quay St Cycleway and by the middle of the year the Nelson St Cycleway will be completed all the way to Quay St. This is only the start of the three year programme of cycle improvements in the city, so to see an increase like this already is very promising.”

“By mid-2018 we will have an inner city cycle network to be proud of with great connections to the inner east and west suburbs. We are already working on plans for projects beyond 2018 which will further develop the city’s growing network of cycleways,” she adds.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Regional Director, Ernst Zöllner says the agency has a target of increasing the annual number of cycling trips across New Zealand by 10 million, or 30 per cent by 2019 compared with 2015 levels.

“We’re thrilled to see these figures showing more people are choosing to get on their bikes in Auckland. There is strong customer demand for a cycling network that provides predictable, safe journeys for people wanting to cycle to work, study and for recreation.”

In some more good news cyclists (and bus users) Auckland Transport’s traffic operations team have informed us that they’ve examined the results for the first quarter of the trial to let taxi’s use Grafton Bridge. They say the impacts have been more than minor with the main areas of concern being the failure of them to adhere to the 30km/h speed limit and the number of recorded instances of taxis overtaking cyclists on the bridge. As such a recommendation is going to AT’s Traffic Control Committee late next week to terminate the trial and return it to bus and bike only.

We were critical of the trial when it was announced assuming these exact issues would arise but in hindsight perhaps the trial was useful to prove that exactly what everyone expected would happen did happen.

Light Rail to the Airport

The topic of rail to the airport has been getting an airing in the last few weeks after the Herald finally published some information we originally posted back in August – that AT are considering using light rail to connect the airport with the city rather than extending the heavy rail network. The need for a decision on what mode to eventually use is being hastened as the airport company need it by the middle of the year so they can finalise their future development plans. We’ve got an exclusive video showing what the heavy and light rail options.

Before diving into the details I want to make a couple of comments.

  • Unfortunately much of discussion I’ve seen in the wake of the articles has fallen into the trap of being too focused on the technology rather than the outcome and despite the focus there appears to be a general misunderstanding of the technology involved. By that I mean there seems to be an assumption that light rail is a low strength version of heavy rail, a bit like light beer vs normal beer. In reality it all depends on how each technology is implemented. There are light rail systems that are faster and have greater capacity than what our heavy rail system will have even with the CRL.
  • I’ll state upfront that my preference remains that the connection be by heavy rail. I think the time competitiveness it offers is probably being undervalued by AT compared to the other factors. I also see it as a nice balance to the operating patterns proposed post CRL. In effect I see it as completing the heavy rail network.
  • AT have already decided that the connection to the airport will be from Onehunga linking in Mangere Bridge and Mangere. Onehunga is also important is has been chosen by Panuku Development Auckland as one of the key areas they’ll be focusing on and so improving connections from their in either direction makes a lot of sense. The alternatives of connecting via Otahuhu have been ruled out due to the amount of property purchase that would be needed and the Puhinui option would require difficult (i.e. expensive) connections and would be a challenge operationally.

So why are AT even thinking about light rail. The simple answer is the cost. AT say that they now believe it would cost around $2 billion to build a heavy rail line to the Airport. Light rail is cheaper and easier to build with AT have estimating it at around $1 billion – but importantly that is from the end of the proposed line down Dominion Rd. AT seem pretty confident they’ll get that line signed off but whether that turns into a reality remains to be seen. However even if you take the $1 billion cost for a light rail line down Dominion Rd into account you’re still looking at a $2 billion heavy rail line serving just the southwest or a $2 billion light rail line that serves the southwest and the central isthmus. As such, on a cost/benefit comparison the latter is going to look stronger and why AT is interested.

To help show some of the differences between the two options AT have put together a fairly detailed video of them which is at the end of the post. I first saw this over a month ago and AT have now let me post show it. It was included as a part of the presentation that inspired this post. There is no narration to explain what is going on so I’ve explained it below. I understand AT are working on a narrated version for wider public use.

The video starts off showing the potential travel times between the city and the airport. Along with the time it takes is the potential variability and in that regard the rail options offer more reliable trip times than buses and much more reliability than driving. As I understand it the reason light rail is more reliable than buses is that it will have effectively an exclusive right of way down Dominion Rd combined with signal pre-emption meaning it will rarely need to stop at lights. That it might need to stop has been an issue raised against using light rail and is a case of perhaps AT not explaining clearly enough just how high the quality is that they’re proposing.

It’s also worth noting that the travel times suggested are more in line with what we’ve posted before and not as close as the herald has suggested, around 35 minutes for heavy rail and 47 minutes for light rail (herald suggested 39 and 44 respectively).

The video shows the heavy rail option. It involves double tracking the Onehunga Line and as I understand, grade separating many of the crossings. It then follow SH2o and 20A with stations at Mangere Bridge and Mangere and then crucially it would loop away from SH20 before getting to the airport itself. This is important later in the post.

Light rail would travel from Dominion Rd alongside SH20 to Onehunga and then on the same route to the airport with the exception of it staying with SH20 the entire way. In addition to what’s proposed above there would be stations at Hillsborough, Favona, Ascot and the Airport’s growing office park. From the end of Dominion Rd the 15km line to the airport would be almost completely grade separated and so would have similar performance to heavy rail. That makes the line roughly 1/3 on street and 2/3rds off street. I’m not quite sure why there couldn’t be heavy rail stations at Favona and Ascot but there definitely couldn’t be at the airport business park as the route avoids that area. The extra stations help increase the catchment in favour of light rail.

Heavy vs light rail options at Aiport

The video gets more interesting once it zooms in to show how the lines would look. Between Onehunga and the SH20/A motorway junction both heavy and light rail have virtually identical infrastructure. A bridge would span the proposed East-West Link that then passes under the motorway bridges to the western side of the motorway. From there it travels alongside the motorway rising over the Walmsley Rd/Corronation Dr interchange before rising again above SH2o. It’s from here that the differences really begin.

Mangere Inlet Rail Crossing

Heavy Rail

After crossing above the motorway the grades required for heavy rail mean there isn’t enough space to get back to ground level before reaching Bader Dr so the Heavy Rail option is elevated above it to the Mangere Station.

Mangere Heavy Rail Station

The same issue then occurs with Kirkbride Rd and the trench currently being built meaning the line then has to pass over Kirkbride Rd. I understand the trench is about two times too steep for heavy rail.

Kirkbride Elevated Rail option

South of Kirkbride Rd the line returns to ground level but has to divert away from the road before reaching the airport. As I understand it all transport options will need to drop below the second runway that is proposed and again the grades mean the rail line can’t follow the road.

Lastly for some reason it’s been decided that the heavy rail line and the station has to be underground at the Airport, this obviously pushes up the cost of building the line. I also understand it has been proposed to be located a little further away from the terminal than the light rail stop at street level and the extra walking time has even been factored into the travel time calculations. Given the airport is planning a fairly blank slate redo of the road network all around the airport and building an new terminal extension, it seems strange that a heavy rail route and station at ground level couldn’t be easily integrated into masterplan.

Light Rail

Light rail is able to handle steeper grades and sharper curves than heavy rail is and as such is able to get back to ground level and go under Bader Dr. This means a light rail station would be located within the median of the motorway – and hopefully with some good noise protection. You may notice the station planned is much less glamorous than its heavy rail counterpart – presumably making it much cheaper.

Mangere Light Rail Station

South of the line is able to stay within the motorway median and pass through the trench currently being built and for which AT have paid $29 million to make 3.5m wider so it can accommodate rail. I’m sure visually for locals and from a consenting perspective this will be an easier sell than the elevated heavy rail option. Light rail is then able to stay with road all the way to the terminal again helping to keep it cheaper. It seems the main benefit of LRT is it’s just that much easier to bend around existing infrastructure.

AT then give a comparison between the two modes showing what they think is best. This is similar but not exactly the same as one shown in the August post. For one thing it lists the benefit cost ratio of each option suggesting that some likely early economic evaluation has already taken place. As you can see the light rail option is quite a bit higher than the heavy rail option although it is only hovering around 1 – much like many of the RoNS.

Heavy vs light rail to airport comparison

 

Here is the video.

The two biggest arguments against light rail seem to be the speed and capacity. I think the speed one is warranted to a large degree as I suspect offering a rail option that was almost always faster than any road option would have a huge impact on what mode people choose to use.

As for capacity I suspect that one is a bit less valid – although not completely. AT are suggesting some very heavy duty light rail vehicles capable of carrying up to 450 people each and on a route like Dominion Rd they would be running fairly frequently, potentially every few minutes if places like Melbourne are anything to go by. That is a considerable step up the capacity of buses along there now, although looking at the comparison table above they seem to be underselling it as 1,630 passengers an hour works out to only four vehicles an hour each way. The question is whether the additional patronage generated by a southwest line would then result in issues along Dominion Rd which is busy enough as it is. It would be good for AT to cover that issue in more detail.

If the figures above are accurate it’s easy to see why AT are so interested in light rail. In the current political climate it would be impossible to every get a heavy rail option over the line, it’s just too expensive. Light rail appears to be far from completely terrible and actually has a chance. A case of don’t let perfect be the enemy of good? In saying that I do get the feeling that there’s a little bias going on. For example why aren’t there extra heavy rail stations at Favona and Ascot.

What do you think of the options?

Lastly regardless of the mode, if drivers are anything like the ones in the video I think rail will be a huge success – although perhaps that just represents reality.

Papakura Covered Walkway

Auckland Transport announced yesterday that they along with the Papakura Local Board will build a 250m covered walkway from the Papakura train station that will also double as shelter for the bus stops.

Papakura walkway

A modern and covered 250-metre walkway will link Papakura Train Station to the town centre.

The Papakura Local Board and Auckland Transport are working together to provide the walkway along Railway Street West and Averill Street (to the mid-block pedestrian crossing).

It is designed to provide residents and commuters with more shelter and improved access between the Papakura Library and Museum, the Papakura Art Gallery, the train station and businesses in the town centre.

The new public transport network for south Auckland will provide more connections between buses and trains in Papakura when introduced by the end of 2016.

Papakura Local Board Chair Bill McEntee says community feedback shows a need for a safer and more accessible connection from the train station to the town centre.

“Engaging with the local community has been an important part of developing Papakura as a metropolitan centre and making it easier and more comfortable for people to who use the train station to get to the town centre”.

Papakura Station is one of Auckland’s busiest stations, used by more than 1700 people every day. “With future growth and development in the Papakura area, it is important that we improve local access to the train station from the town centre,” says Mr McEntee.

Auckland Transport’s Delivery Manager South East, Clement Reeve says the project will see a new, taller and wider timber or glass finished covered walkway which will incorporate existing bus stops/shelters to create a softer and more welcoming enclosure.

“The design will allow for future custom build panels into the walkway structure that could include images, electronic displays and carved artwork.”

Construction of the walkway is expected to start in the first half of 2016 and will take about five months to complete.

The map below shows where the walkway will cover

Papakura walkway map

I’m not familiar with the area so feel free to correct me but it seems like the section on the western side of Railway St and on Averill St is trying to compensate for the wasteland of parking created by the Countdown carpark.