‘Thanks, but no I really don’t need a lift’

The Public Transport offer in Auckland has a long way to go, but on some routes, especially in the inner city, it can be not only the quicker but also more pleasant option than driving, particularly once the hassle and costs of parking are considered. We look forward to this advantage being spread out to more areas and for more people as the Electric Trains, the New Bus Network, Proper Buslanes, and Integrated Fares roll out over the next couple of years.

Yet there is still the issue of people’s mindset. I understand this well as it wasn’t until I returned from living in Europe that I just didn’t unthinkingly reach for my car keys to undertake even the shortest or most ill-suited of journeys in Auckland. But also over that time PT services have improved from almost completely useless to on many occasions pretty handy. The Rapid Transit system is at last reaching utility as can be clearly seen by consistent rise in uptake, but there are also bus services like the Inner Link that I now use regularly because, once armed with a HOP card, it is often the best option for many journeys. Frequent enough, and a great place to check my messages between commitments, or just stare out into the city sailing by, perhaps even thoughtfully. It can also be pretty social:

BUSES ETC_8274

Ride Social: On the Inner Link

My partner and I have recently had two instances that are deeply illustrative of how far many Aucklanders have to go with their car addiction. An addiction born of the environment; as for so long only one means of movement was well supported.

Both times we were happily bussing it, only to be dragged off into relatively unpleasant and time wasting car experiences by people determined to do us a favour and generously save us from perfectly efficient and enjoyable Transit trips.
The first, after a dinner out we were dragged, past our bus stop, into the limitless helllhole that is the SkyCity car dungeon, our hosts struggling to find their car on the bizarre sloping and labyrinthine parking floors, paying an absolute fortune to release it once found, seriously taking way longer and much less pleasantly than hanging on Albert St on a clear evening, even for the relatively roundabout 020. 
It was very kind of our friends but I really really would have rather had the bus trip home. The conversation, thereafter, became all about how vile SkyCity is as an experience and how expensive the parking was; which was an order of magnitude higher than our combined busfares.
The second, Maria was on Ponsonby Rd buying flowers en route to the hospital (Bhana Bros; what will we do without you?), only to bump into a mutual friend who insisted on driving her to Grafton. What ensued was a longwinded driving/parking hopeless nightmare. Compared to taking the Link, as she’d intended [directly point to point; unlike the drive], or riding, as I usually do to get to the hosp. and there’s been a lot of that over last few years, what a stupid way to cover that route! Yet this person wouldn’t have a bar of it, absolutely full of how she’d saved Maria from some kind of malady and done her a great favour…. But it actually made her late for her next appointment and robbed her of a contemplative moment on the bus.
Nick adds:

I had a similar experience not too long ago. Drinking near Britomart late at night, group decides to go to a bar in Ponsonby. They start the inevitable horse trading of who is driving what and where and whose car I have to go in the boot of.  I say bugger that and announce I’m catching a bus, the rest look at me like I’m insane. Basically begging me to cram into their car which is parked in some building like they are saving me from some huge hardship. Me and one other get the Link up no worries, and are well onto our second drink before the rest arrive complaining about nowhere to park etc. All absolutely flabbergasted we got there faster on a bus. One person didn’t believe us and said we must have run straight to a taxi. Anyway, who wants to be driving when bar-hopping?
I get this totally because if you don’t use PT at all you sort of don’t see it, except as that thing blocking your way when driving, also you don’t know how it works, where to catch a service or how long it might take, or what the hell a HOP card is. And it also means you pretty much always have your car with you piling up parking charges or nagging you about the wisdom of having that drink. I really do feel much freer in the city without my car, free to change plans, free to socialise. In the city the car is a burden.
And continued improvements to services are baked into the pie, especially now the the Transport Levy is in place. Although it is extension to the Rapid Transit Network that would be truly transformative. Here is the coming spread of the Frequent Network:
RPTP Current Network
RPTP Proposed 2018 Network
RPTP Proposed 2025 Network
Those that still only ever think of driving are clearly the majority in Auckland but there is a considerable upside to this observation because as the kinds of improvements that are available in only some places become more widespread it means that there are many more Aucklanders who will discover this advantage and add using these services to their options for movement. When and where it makes sense to.
The data supports the idea that this is already happening as the transit trips per capita figure keeps steadily advancing despite the rising poulation. It is now at 50.5 PT trips per capita from 44 in 2011, still very low compared to similar cities, and reason enough to expect ridership to keep climbing. As long as Auckland Transport keep improving services measurable.
But also thinks of new ways of getting HOP cards into more new hands. Events where PT journeys are part of the ticket price are currently the main way that AT are doing this. But with Fare Integration I think its time they started approaching major employers near good services to include HOP cards in renumeration packages. And for the government to revisit Fringe Benefit Tax rules for both PT and car parks.

Auckland Transport May Board Meeting

The AT board meet today and as I do every month, I’ve gone through the papers to pull out anything I’ve found new or interesting.

First up the closed session which normally contains the most interesting papers and for which we only see the agenda. In the items for Approval/Decision we have

  • AIFS Contract – I assume this will be the contract to develop integrated fares.
  • Draft SOI – This is AT’s Statement of Intent which is basically what they say they will achieve for the next year and it needs to be signed off by the council. It will be interesting to see just what targets are set for areas like Public Transport as last year they lowered them but have now significantly exceeded most of them.
  • AMETI NoR – I guess this means we’ll soon see the Notice of Requirement for the Panmure to Pakuranga busway.
  • Rail Operators Contract Commercial Framework
  • Light Rail – timing implications 
  • Advertising Media Services Agreement

In the regular business report we have

Walking and Cycling

  • The hearing for the Notice of Requirement for the Waterview shared path has taken place and AT have provided additional information to the commissioners hearing it. Presumably they should have approval fairly soon.
  • They expect to award the contract for the construction of first stage of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr cycleway between Merton Rd and St John Rd in June.
  • The contract to construct the Nelson St cycleway is expected to be announced by the end of this month with construction starting in July.
  • At Carlton Gore Rd they say the majority of works will be completed by late June with lighting being finished in July.

Devonport Marine Square – The improvements should be finished by June and they say AT and Council are currently planning opening events tentatively scheduled for 5 and 7 June.

Otahuhu Bus-Train Interchange – AT say the detailed design is nearly finished however they say the delay in confirming funding (was reliant on the council providing more in the Long Term Plan) has pushed out completion to May/June next year and that will impact on the roll out of the new network in the South.

Electric Trains – At the time of writing the report there were 51 in Auckland with 46 having provisional acceptance and 36 in operational service. They say the final three vehicles are due to be shipped from Spain in Mid-June. Additional weekday services from Papakura will begin 8 June. They are still targeting the end of July for full introduction of EMUs which is a few months earlier than earlier plans. They are also looking at adding onboard digital information and advertising screens to add to the EMUs.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St) – AT say they are progressing the project and will be seeking approval to lodge a notice of requirement in early July.

Parnell Station – Works are continuing on the station platforms as can regular train users along this section may have noticed. AT say it is likely the old Newmarket Station Building will be brought to Parnell and refurbished by the end of this year.

Bus – Negotiations have been completed with Ritchies to buy 18 double decker buses to use on the Northern Express. NZ Bus will also buy 23 double deckers to use on the 881 and Mt Eden Rd services subject to formal signoff and NZTA agreement. They say the single deck buses freed up will be used to respond to capacity limitations elsewhere on the network.

Parking – AT say they’ve started a communication programme to a variety of stakeholders to outline the details of the new Parking Strategy that they were seeking feedback on last year. They also say occupancy at off-street parking facilities is over target occupancy levels so they are reviewing pricing and they expect to implement any changes in July.

Lastly a separate paper covers off Auckland Transport’s presentation to the Council’s Finance and Performance Committee. Much of it isn’t going to be new to regular readers however there are a couple of slides that address the issue of where money is being spent. They include a series to bust some of the common myths that have come up over transport spending and one in particular addresses the question of whether the plans are too City Centric. I think it’s good that AT are actively trying to ensure the right information is out there and suggest they probably need to do it to the wider public too.

2015 LTP City Centre vs rest

Auckland’s New Bus Shelter Design

Around a year ago Auckland Transport launched a trial and consultation of three potential new bus shelters that they intend to eventually roll out across the region. The trial was held on Symonds St where the three different designs could be trialled next to each other.

The desire for AT to have a new unified shelter design is understandable. There are currently around 32 different shelter designs across the region and each have different materials and therefore maintenance costs. There are also benefits showing PT as a single unified network and benefits to customers from having a consistent experience no matter where they travel. AT say the customer experience will be improved through

a) Enhanced wet weather and wind protection

b) Improved safety features

c) An overall more consistent and legible user experience

d) Sensor activated solar powered lighting

e) The ability to incorporate local identity via art

f) Integration of an enhanced real-time system and (trial of) enhanced customer interface into the shelters

g) Incorporation of other facilities (eg retail, cycle racks etc)

h) The smart shelter concept

i) Way-finding and information

For each design there were variations for small, intermediate and major stops along with a design for large neighbourhood interchanges. The major stops were the ones trialled and are below.

Design A – Design Brand 

Bus Shelter Design A

Design B – Jasmax

Bus Shelter Design B

Design C – Opus

Bus Shelter Design c

A paper to the AT Board for Tomorrow has finally recommended a preferred design. The shelters were assessed on 5 key criteria each with a 20% weighting and under which there were additional criteria. This is shown below

Bus Shelter Criteria

And here are how each design rated for the 5 high level criteria

Bus Shelter Criteria Results

As you can see design A by Design Brand is preferred and scores the highest in most categories. It would be interesting to know the more detailed results to see what would need to be improved to get the score up even higher. I’m surprised the Jasmax design scored so low in areas like Look and Feel as I certainly felt it was at least better than the Opus one. Of the Design Brand shelter AT say

The overall design is characterised by timber, extruded recycled aluminium, glass, and solar powered lighting. There is also the ability for a mains power connection. There is provision for an advertising or digital panel but this can be swapped out for glass and/or timber/ steel/ aluminium and the ability to integrate real time signage. The roof can be glass, solid, or a combination depending on the locational needs. Locations that are more prone to vandalism can have materials changed. This shelter design received the least vandalism during the trial.

Here are the three standard versions of Design A.

Bus Shelter Design A Range

AT say the neighbourhood interchanges will be bespoke designs using elements and parts of the design however they will have individual public and stakeholder engagement. Up to 20 neighbourhood interchanges will be needed and AT want to ensure that they “are impressive from both a form and functionality perspective”. Some concept designs for one are below

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter A - Neighbourhood

Bus Shelter Design A Neighbourhood Concept

AT do note that there are some risks with the new design and one of those is advertising and that a number of shelters are currently owned and maintained by Adshel. They say they’re examining the agreements they have and the impacts the new design will have and that over time those may change but they suggest long term (8-10 years) it will likely result in AT owning and managing any advertising on their own. This suggests that we’re not likely to see advertising disappear from bus stops in the future.

The normal shelters will be rolled out as budgets allow and will be replacing existing shelters that are approaching their end of life as well as targeted around supporting the roll out of the new network. They will also be installed on road upgrade projects such as Te Atatu Rd. Funding for the shelters comes from three areas, budgets for bus stop improvements, bus stop renewals and as part of larger corridor projects such as Te Atatu Rd. The improvements and renewals budgets over the next three years equate to $10.6 million and are broken down below

Bus Shelter Budgets

The new shelter design including assembly, hardwood seat, carved front portal and a lock-up box comes in at approximately $13,977 +GST which is ~$1,200 more than the existing shelter design being rolled out today. Install costs vary considerably dependant on the site and whether the installation is at a new or existing site but there is unlikely to be any real difference to current install costs (which range between $5,000 – $10,000 per shelter). At time of writing the final cost for the shelter is yet to be finalised as it is dependent on order numbers (bulk orders will produce further discount) but is expected to reduce further from the price above.

It is the intention to bulk order these shelters through tender, once budget certainty is gained.

I’m looking forward to seeing these new shelters starting to appear around the city.

Submit on Mill Rd

Julie-Anne Genter, the Transport spokesperson of the Green Party has put out the following press release on the Mill Rd project that we have written about here, and here:

Take 5 minutes and make a submission on Mill Road

Auckland Transport is proceeding with the application for the ridiculously expensive behemoth highway solution at Mill and Redoubt Roads. Submissions to the Notice of Requirement (NOR) close this Tuesday 26 May.

The project is not only another expensive 1950’s-esque solution that will do nothing to reduce car-dependence in Auckland, it also will destroy an ecologically significant and rare piece of old stand bush that should be protected by the Council.

A local group of concerned and affected residents have been fighting the proposal for several years now, and yet somehow the roading engineers are keeping it alive. Even if there is not money in the LTP for the full project, getting the NOR approved now will mean there’s still momentum to complete the project in the near future.

This could be a repeat of the Great North Road Pohutakawas and a community win for sensible transport solutions. If we get enough people expressing concern, Auckland Council may decline the NOR and force Auckland Council to take a more logical, multi-modal approach.

Michael Tavares (of the Save Our Kauri – fame) and I have written a simple submission here. You can add your name, or better yet, make your own submission online

She has also made a few quick Twitter vids here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparing Capacity

It seems Auckland Transport is slowing getting better with simple advertising. First we saw the nice, simple and effective Bus Lane poster. Now it’s the rail network and City Rail Link’s turn. On AT’s Facebook Page for the CRL this image has appeared highlighting the capacity of our new trains.

AT Rail Capacity Image

I think AT are on the right track with this by highlighting the capacity however a couple of quick thoughts it would be good for them to consider.

  • Why not just talk about 375 people per EMU being moved free of congestion.
  • Using the car comparison a car occupancy rate of 1.3 seems a little high, a rate of 1.2 is probably more realistic and would mean ~312 cars off the road.
  • There’s no mention that at peak times many (not all) trains will consist of two EMUs. Based on ATs figures that means 576 cars off the road.
  • Why not highlight what that means at peak times. We know that if AT run the network to the full capacity they plan which is a train every 10 minutes on the Eastern, Southern and Western line plus half hourly on the Onehunga line that would equate to 20 trains per hour at Britomart. Most of those at the height of the peak will be 6-car trains. Based on ATs figures that works out to around 10k-15k vehicles of the roads over the 2-hour morning peak.
  • Taking the line of thinking above further, the CRL is said to allow for up to 24 trains per hour per direction or a total of 48 trains an hour. Assuming by then all trains would be 6-cars in length that’s a total capacity of almost 28,000 people who could be moved free of congestion and with much better frequency than we have today.

Overall a good effort from AT though it also opens up a lot of opportunity for expansion.

Why is Auckland’s rail system so expensive to operate?

On Monday the NZ Herald ran an article about the cost comparisons between operating Auckland and Wellington’s rail services. Based on the numbers in the article, it doesn’t tell a particularly pretty story:

Aucklanders facing a new transport rate are paying far too much to subsidise the city’s trains, says councillor Mike Lee, a long-time champion of rail.

Mr Lee, the council’s infrastructure chairman, has calculated that Auckland trains are costing ratepayers and the Government four times more to run than those in Wellington for each kilometre travelled by passengers.

He has worked out from figures published for each rail operation that the subsidy paid for every “passenger kilometre” travelled on Auckland trains last financial year was 65c, compared with just 16c in the capital…

…He said subsidies covered $107.2 million of Auckland’s total rail operating costs of $139.3 million last year, when 11.4 million passenger trips were made on trains.

That compared with just $42.7 million of subsidies towards the $85.09 million cost of providing 11.6 million passenger trips in Wellington.

Although the Government covered $63.92 million of Auckland’s bill, ratepayers forked out $43.3 million.

Auckland rail passengers also paid more for each kilometre they travelled, 18.5c against 16c in Wellington.

An Auckland Transport spokesman queried Mr Lee’s finding that fares covered only 22 per cent of rail operating costs, and sent the Herald a report prepared for the council by the organisation’s chief financial officer, Richard Morris.

But the report, despite pointing to difficulties in comparing the Auckland and Wellington rail operations, did not directly challenge Mr Lee’s figures.

A year ago Auckland Transport staff wrote a report breaking down the costs for each system which is the one referenced above. It split out the costs for the 2011/12 and 2012/13 years for each system. I haven’t seen 2013/14 figures and we are still in the 2014/15 year.

Overall it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact differences and while not definitive AT have identified some of reasons why they think Auckland’s system is more expensive to operate. This includes:

  • Auckland is running a mixed fleet with expensive to fuel and maintain diesel trains. The locomotives that haul the SA sets are also leased from Kiwirail. I’ve been told in the past that fuel and maintenance costs will roughly halve once all services are electric.
  • The mixed fleet reduces driver roster flexibility (more overtime to cover issues) and increases training costs. This should improve once all fleet electric
  • Auckland’s trains are slower for a variety of reasons. This increases the time it takes for each trip and therefore staffing costs for similar length journeys. We’re yet to see if electrification will improve this.
  • Auckland costs include all of Transdev’s wages and salary’s while in Wellington it’s believed some of Kiwirail’s overheads are likely shared or covered by the fact those roles exist for the rest of the business – both Auckland and Wellington are currently tendering for rail services as they moving to the same contract model this should hopefully see costs move closer together.
  • Auckland has a number of stations which are more expensive to run – e.g. it appears that Britomart alone costs more to operate than all the Wellington stations combined. Auckland also supposedly has more security monitoring. Auckland’s costs will remain higher in this area.
  • I believe that overall Auckland now runs more services than Wellington does – and this will have increased even further since December.

AKL vs WLG rail costs

Since the data that report patronage has gone crazy and is up about 3.5 million trips. We’ve also started to see electric trains on parts of the network and the remaining lines are due to go electric soon. We’ll have to wait to find the final costs for this year however this chart from AT’s monthly indicators in March shows the subsidy per passenger km and it does appear that things are starting to head in the right direction.

AKL Subsidy per PAX km

The minutes for last week’s Budget Committee meeting aren’t yet online, but it seems like the Committee passed a resolution to request an investigation into the issue and report back on options for cost savings in the next round of annual planning. This seems like a pretty sensible approach as we wouldn’t want savings to be achieved by cutting (or not increasing) service levels, but rather through a better rail contract and continued patronage (and therefore revenue) growth.

A closer look at Simplified Fares

On Monday Auckland Transport launched consultation for an amended Regional Public Transport Plan and that included a large section on integrated fares – or Simplified Fares as AT call them. Since writing the post AT have released a lot more information about their Simplified fares proposal so I thought I was worth while addressing the topic in more detail.

A key point on simplified fares is that you are charged based on your journey, not what services you use – with the exception of ferries. They define a journey as

  • up to 3 trips on buses or trains,
  • up to two transfers, as long as you tag on within 30 minutes of tagging off your previous service,
  • complete your travel within 2 hours.

Simplifed Fares Journey description

And example they give is someone who might travel from Albany to Newmarket taking a bus and a train. Currently it would be treated as two trips and be charged two sets of fares – albeit with a 50c transfer discount. Under Simplified Fares it would be a single journey and only charged a single fare.

Following the introduction of Simplified Fares it will be interesting to see is how they report on patronage and if they change to reporting journeys or if they just keep reporting boardings – preferably they’ll report both.

The zones AT are proposed are as I showed the other day.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

As mentioned at the time I think a little more work is needed on the zone boundaries, perhaps having all of them them overlap by 1-1.5km on all boundary lines to help address the issue of short journeys across a boundary being penalised heavily. As an example (below) the 195 and 209 services currently travel down Godley Rd in Green bay and then on and through Blockhouse Bay. If someone was to get on the bus on Godley Rd and travel to Blockhouse Bay they would have to pay a two zone fare.

Simplifed Fares Isthmus-West boundary

Another alternative would be for AT to introduce a short journey fare which is how the issue is dealt with in some other cities – such as Perth.

There’s one other feature on the map that’s bound to cause some concern and complaint and that is the boundary of the city zone compared to the current stage one zone. This appears to affect just south of Mt Eden and Orakei train station and is indicated on the map below with a black dotted circle. It means trips from those locations to the city will now pay a two zone fare whereas they current pay just a single stage fare. Depending on the fare levels AT set that could see costs for those users almost double.

Simplifed Fares Isthmus - Mt Eden&Orakei

One aspect of the information that has surprised me is that AT have given an indication as to the prices they’ll charge for the zones. The indicative fare table is below.

Simplifed Fares Prices

It seems most passengers will be better off with the changes – or at least pay roughly the same as they do now which is a good result from AT. They describe the main impact of the changes as:

  • Commuters to and from the city to pay similar fares
  • Longer distance trips to be cheaper
  • Trips across zones to be substantially cheaper
  • A small increase for short trips

For me a trip to town using HOP would drop from 5-stages for $6 to 3-zones for $5. Many other journeys I randomly checked – other than those mentioned above – seem to be in similar situation of becoming cheaper than they are today providing the person is using HOP. Those savings also get much larger compared to today if your trip involves a transfer. AT have a couple of example journeys here including the Albany to Newmarket one mentioned earlier.

It’s a different story if cash is being used and so as I’ve mentioned before, it will be critical that AT look for more ways to get HOP into peoples hands. One suggestion I’ve made in the past would be having bus drivers keep a stash of cards pre-loaded with regular the regular note denominations. If a note is presented they quickly hand over the pre-loaded card and tell the person to tag on and their change will be on the card.

AT have given some more detail about their plans for other fare products such as daily/monthly passes. There will be a single daily and monthly pass priced at $18 and $200 respectively. By comparison currently those passes have a zone based element to them which means there are some lower priced monthly pass options if you aren’t travelling as far. It would be a shame to see those lower priced monthly passes disappear so perhaps AT should look at something like a two-zone pass which as the name suggests is restricted to travelling through two zones.

The issues with ferry fares sitting outside of the rest of the fare system are not new however as happens now AT say ferry travel will be included in the future daily pass. That’s good but it seems that at the at the very least AT should also include ferry travel in the monthly passes. AT have also said they want to introduce ferry monthly passes and family passes.

Overall I think the changes are positive and for most will be cheaper and easier than what exists today. That should be useful for further growing patronage. It’s just a shame they we won’t see them implemented till mid-2016.

Electrics out west

It seems we’ve hit a tipping point with the roll out of electric trains in which they are now sometimes being used to cover for services that have broken down. Presumably this means the pendulum is starting to swing positively for the number of drivers who have been trained to drive them. So far I’ve heard of a few isolated services on the Western line having been run by EMUs and last Friday morning my regular morning service to Britomart was replaced by a 6-car one. I believe it was the first time one has been run out west in the morning peak and I made a number observations I thought would be worth sharing.

Passengers

I’ve been on the EMUs plenty of times before and know they are far superior pieces of kit compared to what they’re replacing however most regular passengers on the Western Line have probably only seen them at Newmarket or Britomart. In the past I’ve overheard conversations on the train and at the platform by passengers looking forward to them.

Friday was a wet and miserable day and most of the 80 odd passengers at my local station were huddled under the single small shelter the station has. Perhaps because of this most people on the platform didn’t realise the service was an EMU until it was almost at the platform. It was when they did realise that was notable. There was an audible gasp and flurry of happy small talk. Suddenly everyone I saw had smiles on their faces. What’s more this wasn’t an isolated incident as I’ve heard similar stories from people on platforms at other stations too.

It didn’t end there. Upon entering the train passengers would basically stop in amazement looking up and down the carriages. I heard the words like ‘wow’ and ‘isn’t this nice’ many times on the trip to Britomart. The smiles continued all the way to town.

The reason I mention all this is that it was a remarkable reaction considering the actual service provided was no different to the ones these regular passengers have used for years. People were excited to be using the train and it was the piece of kit that transformed their experience. Perhaps it was just because it was something new or perhaps it signified that that the years of disruption, delays and frustration are coming to an end – that Auckland is finally growing up and delivering a modern transport solution. When was the last time these passengers were this excited about PT in Auckland.

Reactions such as those that I witnessed are priceless for Auckland Transport, something no advertising can buy. They are also bound to be repeated across the rail network as more and more services become electric over the coming months. People sharing their positive experiences with friends, family and co-workers will help fuel future patronage growth. This is of course likely to be a large contributor to what is known as the Sparks Effect (strong patronage growth after electrification).

Coming to the western line soon

Coming to the western line soon

Electrics on the Western Line

Other than seeing people reactions I was also very keen to see just how the trains performed on the western line given AT had already slowed down the timetable prior to their introduction. Overall the train was 5 minutes late into Britomart but that was after being held up at a few signals and in the Britomart tunnel for a few minutes to wait for a platform. Without those hold ups the train would have been fairly close to being on time.

The issues with dwell times are known and obviously need to be worked through. This includes a new one I’ve heard about in which there is a built in 5 second delay between the doors being closed the driver being able to move the train (one the western line that adds alone adds over 1 minute to trips to/from Swanson).

Perhaps most positively I got the distinct impression that if the restrictive signalling system can be addressed – something that should be much easier once all services are electric – that considerable time savings could be achieved. Unlike the diesel locomotive’s which sometimes feel like they are struggling on the hills and curves the EMUs feel like they take them in their stride. I almost got the impression that the frequent restrictions for things like level crossings would have made driving the train feel a bit like driving a high powered sports car in rush hour.

All of this gives me hope that over time AT, Kiwirail and whoever operates the trains can get them faster and faster.

EMU Rollout

In related news, I’ve heard that from now onwards all weekend services on all lines – where there are wires – will be run by electric trains.

RPTP update: Integrated Fares, LRT and more

In 2013 Auckland Transport adopted the current Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) – a document required by legislation and which sets out how the regions public transport system will be developed and operated. The 2013 RPTP was significant as among other things it officially added the New Network to Auckland’s plans. There were however a number of issues left unresolved and in the last 18 months there have been other developments in AT’s thinking on PT in Auckland. As such AT are now consulting on a variation to the RPTP to include all of this. The consultation will cover and be limited to only four specific areas:

  • The proposed introduction of simplified zone fares
  • Proposals for a new light rail transit (LRT) network on some major arterial routes
  • Service and infrastructure changes arising from the Ferry Development Plan which was approved by the AT Board in December 2014
  • Revised service descriptions arising from community consultation on the new bus network

Submissions on the RPTP variation open from today to 05 June and AT hope to have the variation adopted in July. Below is a bit more detail about each of four areas mentioned above.

Simplified zone fares

This is another name for integrated fares and AT are setting out how they think the system should run. This includes both the fare zones themselves and future fare products.

For HOP card users, fares will be based on the number of zones travelled in as part of a journey. A journey may involve travel on up to three different services, provided the transfer between services is made within the prescribed transfer time limit.

The zonal fare structure will apply across all bus, train and future light rail services. For ferries, the existing point-to-point fares will be retained, subject to further investigation of how they should be incorporated into the integrated zonal structure in future. The different approach to ferry fares reflects the fact that some ferry services are deemed exempt services, and not subject to the policies in this Plan. It also reflects the higher operating costs and premium quality of ferry travel.

The fact that ferry services will sit outside the rest of the fare structure seems to once again highlight the stupidity of the government’s decision to bow to the lobbying of fullers and allow some of the ferry routes (Devonport, Stanley Bay, Waiheke) to sit outside of the rest of the PT system. The zone boundaries are based on approximately 10km intervals from the city centre. We saw a low res version of the proposed zones around a month ago.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

I still think there needs to be some larger zone overlaps, particularly between the Isthmus to Manukau North/Waitakere zones and Waitakere to Upper North Shore. As an example it seems like the Upper North Shore zone should extend to cover Hobsonville Point.

Looking to the future AT say they hope to replace the monthly passes with weekly caps that will automatically limit the amount that customers will be charged for travel in any calendar week. They also say that in future that using stored value on a HOP card will be a minimum of 33% off the cash fare to encourage HOP use. As a comparison currently all fares 3 stages and over are just 20-26% of cash fares. AT also mention wanting to look at ways of using fares to grow patronage – especially in the off peak where there growth doesn’t affect operational costs. This includes wanting to:

  • Investigate and implement off-peak fare discount options to spread peak demand and encourage off-peak trips
  • Introduce 24/72 hour pass options to encourage off-peak travel by residents and visitors
  • Provide fare incentives for weekend family travel

All of these things are aspects we and many readers have suggested for a long time so it’s great to see AT pursuing them. One thing that is important to note is that it’s not likely all new fare products will be introduced at once and instead AT are likely to stage implementation over a period of time.

Light rail

PT services can’t be implemented if they aren’t in the RPTP and so AT are adding in the references to light rail now so that it’s possible for them to proceed with the project in the future should they wish to. We’ve already covered off AT’s light rail proposals quite a bit already and the proposed variation focuses most attention on the changes that would be needed to implement light rail on Queen St and Dominion Rd. There isn’t a huge amount of new information in the document with one notable exception – mention of light rail to the airport.

Subject to the outcome of these investigations, approval to proceed and funding, AT proposes a staged implementation of light rail, with completion of the initial stages (Queen Street and Dominion Road, with a possible link to Wynyard Quarter) within the 10-year planning horizon of this Plan. A possible extension of this route to the airport is also under investigation, along with metro rail options

The potential extension to the airport is also shown in the map below. I still believe that duplicating and extending the Onehunga line would be a better option due to a speed advantage compared with going via Dominion Rd- although it would possibly be a more expensive option.

RPTP potential LRT + RTN Map

Ferry development plan

Ferries are often touted as an area Auckland should focus on more and frequent suggestions included adding ferries to places like Browns Bay, Takapuna and Te Atatu. The RPTP suggested a review of the role of ferries and so last year AT created a Ferry Development Plan that was approved by the board in December. The outcomes from the development plan are included in the proposed variation. While I haven’t seen the full plan it appears from the variation information that AT’s have taken a sensible approach.

The Ferry Development Plan focuses on improving existing services and infrastructure and on greater integration of the current ferry network with local bus routes and supporting feeder services. It calls for service level improvements on existing ferry services to reach the minimum levels specified in the RPTP, with further increases to be implemented in response to demand. It also identifies a number of ferry infrastructure improvements and renewals that are needed to address capacity and customer amenity and safety issues at key ferry wharves.

The Plan also evaluated proposals for extensions to the existing ferry network, including new services to Browns Bay, Takapuna and Te Atatu. It concluded that due to the high infrastructure costs involved with new services, the priority for additional resources should be on improving the frequency and capacity of existing ferry routes, rather than network expansion.

The reality is the immediately viable ferry routes have already been developed and with the bus infrastructure that exists (or will shortly) it will be very hard for ferries to compete on speed, frequency, coverage and operating costs with some of the other locations mentioned. Getting service on existing routes up to regular all day every day frequencies will help make them a much more viable form of PT and useful not just for commuting.

New Network service descriptions

As mentioned at the start the RPTP sets out how the PT system will run and that includes exact and minimum frequencies. Since the RPTP was adopted AT have consulted on the new network for Hibiscus Coast, Pukekohe, South Auckland, West Auckland. The variation will update the RPTP with the changes that have already been consulted on.

There are also some changes to the network categories and maps with the new ones shown below.

RPTP Network Categories

As our network exists now, as you can see not much of the network meets the frequent definition being just a few bus services and the Southern line north of Penrose although arguably it should also be considered frequent between Westfield and Puhinui. You will also notice many of the ferry routes don’t exist on the map as they don’t have all day frequency.

RPTP Current Network

By 2018 with the new network implemented and all electric trains rolled out this is what we should have.

RPTP Proposed 2018 Network

And by 2025 with the CRL and even more bus improvements this is where the city will be.

RPTP Proposed 2025 Network

Wave to the Traffic

Around six months ago Auckland Transport announced the roll out of what is probably one of their most cost effective projects – rolling out much needed bus lanes to much more of the city. All up for $12-15 million they would implement out around 40km of new bus lanes over three years. There have already been some high profile results such as the extension of bus lanes on Fanshawe St and the introduction of one bus lanes on Symonds St up by Khyber Pass.

It’s pleasing to see that AT are also starting to publicly advertise the fact these improvements are happening to as seen in this poster from a reader.

A complete list of the bus lanes planned is below.

2014-15

Under construction

  • Onewa Road T3 lane.
  • Khyber Pass Road bus lane.
  • Wellesley Street bus pocket.
  • Victoria Street bus lane.
  • Totara Avenue intersection optimisation.

In consultation

  • Park Road bus lane.
  • Parnell Road bus lane.

Under investigation

  • White Swan clearway / May Road bus lane.
  • Esmonde Road / Eldon Street bus lane extension.
  • Totara Avenue intersection optimisation.
  • Great North Road (section 1) Stage 1 and 2 (multi-year).
  • Manukau Road Stage 1 and 2 (multi-year).

Completed

  • Fanshawe Street bus lane.
  • Symonds Street bus lane.
  • Main Highway bus lane (improvements).
  • Inbound bus lane on Dominion Road (between Richardson Road and Denbigh Avenue).
  • Bus efficiency improvements on Ellerslie Main Highway, Onewa Road and Bolton Street (Blockhouse Bay).

2015-16

  • Point Chevalier Road bus lane
  • Kirkbride Road bus lane.
  • Pakuranga Road bus priority.
  • Ellerslie-Panmure Highway bus priority.
  • Mount Eden Road bus priority.
  • Great North Road bus lane (collaborative AT/NZTA Project via Alliance).
  • Phase 2 delivery of Minor Efficiency Projects.
  • Great North Road section 2.
  • Sandringham Road bus priority (multi-year).
  • New North Road bus priority (multi-year).

2016-17

  • Mount Albert Road bus lane.
  • Great South Road bus lane.
  • Rimu Road transit lane extension.
  • Phase 3 delivery of Minor Efficiency Projects.

For those interested there was also this press release from AT last week on the issue

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