Mill Rd update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project features

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

Here’s a video of the route.

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

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

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

Redoubt Rd/Murphys Rd Intersection

Mill Rd - Murpheys Rd intersection

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

Mill Rd/Alfriston Rd

Mill Rd - Mill Rd, Alfriston

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

And some of the cross sections

Mill Rd - Cross sections

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

New Auckland Rail Timetables

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

Here are the key changes.

Eastern Line

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

Onehunga Line

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

Southern Line

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

Pukekohe

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

Western Line

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

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

Dec 14 Timetable Change - old southern line

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 14 Timetable Change - New Manukau

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

RPTP rail frequencies

RPTP rail services

 

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

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

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

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

What Is Happening With Airport Rail?

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

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

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

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

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

SMART Scheme Assessment Report

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

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

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

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

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

So many questions. So few answers.

AT Earlybird parking to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBD Parking Supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 50 cities parking rates

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

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

What happened to the promised bus lanes?

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

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

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

Fanshawe Day1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onewa Road Transit Lane:

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

onewa_road_new_500x699

Auckland Transport plan for Onewa Road Transit Lanes

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

Upper Symonds Street:

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

Mt Eden Road:

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

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

Park Road and Khyber Pass Road:

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

Park Road buslanes

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

New North Road:

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

Sandringham Road:

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

Constellation Drive interchange:

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

Constellation Drive buslanes

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

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

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

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

 

Te Ara Mua – Future Streets

Auckland Transport are currently consulting on what could be quite a transformative project for the people living around the Mangere Town centre through what is effectively a series of traffic calming measures and improved connections that looks to make it safer and easier to walk or cycle around the area. Known as known as Te Ara Mua – Future Streets, the changes are part of a wider research project being conducted by a number of different organisations on how to design our streets better and highlight the economic benefits of safer roads. The research is being funded by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) while Auckland Transport are paying for the physical changes to the streets. Once complete and assuming the changes are a success the research has the potential to really help in changing the focus of how our streets are developed.

The research also builds on previous research by some of the same organisations on what they call Self Explaining Roads (SER). An area wide trial in Point England had impressive results and saw the introduction of traffic calming measures including the removal of centre lines on some roads. One of the outcomes from the Pt England trial was a dramatic improvement in the speed of drivers. Prior to the changes both local streets and larger collector roads saw some travelling at over 80km/h. After the changes you can see the speeds travelled are in a much narrower and lower band, especially for local roads.

Self Explaining Roads - Pt England speed changes

For the Te Ara Mua – Future Streets project the area being looked at is below and is a bit of an island being bordered by motorways on its sides and busy arterials to the north and south. It also happens to be one of the most dangerous in Auckland with it ranking 4th out of 275 Auckland communities for fatal and serious crashes.

Future Streets Area

By and large the changes that are being suggested are good, although it does seem like they could go a little further in some places. Below is an example of some of the kinds of changes that will be made.

Arterial Roads – Bader Dr and Massey Rd/Kirkbride Rd (Purple)

The focus seems to be on the installation of more pedestrian crossings (some of which will be controlled by lights) and cycle lanes. Below is an example of how Bader Dr might changed.

Te-Ara-Mua-Future-Streets-Bader-Drive

Where I think they could go further would be to look at using Dutch style roundabouts with cycle lanes around the roundabout such as from this post.

Roundabout

Collector Roads – Mascot Ave and Orly Rd/Thomas Rd (yellow)

These roads are likely to see the most change and overall the aim is to reduce speeds through pedestrian crossings, cycle lanes, speed tables and better bus stops. I particularly like how they are suggesting carrying on the cycle lanes behind the bus stops rather than just ending them at the bus stop like AT typically do in other places.

Te-Ara-Mua-Future-Streets-Speed-table

Te-Ara-Mua-Future-Streets-Bus Stop

The artist impressions even show protected cycle lanes which would be great if it happens.

Te-Ara-Mua-Future-Streets-protected cycle lane

Local Roads (Red)

Again the intention is to slow traffic and make the roads safer for people to be on. This is time it appears to be through narrowing the lanes in addition to speed tables. Speed tables would be at the entrances to local roads to help encourage slower speeds. Below is an example of what’s proposed for Friesian Dr

Te-Ara-Mua-Future-Streets-Friesian-DriveThere’s quite a bit more being done than what I’ve described however you can find out all the details about the project here (if you can get in). I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Northern Busway Success

The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s biggest success stories. Opened in February 2008 it’s helped transform transport on the North Shore with perhaps the most stunning statistic being this quote from a NZTA report on extending the busway to Albany and Silverdale – something that government cut from the package of works to widen the Northern Motorway.

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

The primary service that uses the busway is the Northern Express (NEX) who’s growth has been a direct result of the congestion free route the busway provides – although it uses the busway for just 41% of its journey. As of September over 2.5 million trips were taken on the NEX over the previous 12 months which us up from about 700,000 before the busway opened (NEX services started in late 2005 as a precursor to the busway).

14 - Sep NEX Patronage

The NEX is only one of a number of services that use the busway for some or all of their journey and many more people benefit from the infrastructure. With HOP it’s made it even easier to catch non NEX services that use the busway e.g. the 881. We don’t know the actual number of people using the busway however I’ve heard estimates that it’s in the range of 5-8 million trips a year. Another important feature of the busway is that buses using it travel at about twice the average speed of buses elsewhere in Auckland. That means the same number of buses and staff can run more services for no extra cost compared to other routes making them much more efficient. Because of all of the positive aspects mentioned we’ve also heard that services run at or close to full cost recovery so little or no subsidy is needed for them. In other words it’s a success on many measures.

NEX buses run every 3 minutes in the peak direction while counter peak – away from the city in the morning and towards the city in the evening – and off peak during the day they run every 10 minutes.

NEX Timetable

As many know I work in Takapuna and normally commute using PT. Recently instead of catching a bus direct to Takapuna I’ve taken to catching the NEX to the Akoranga station and walking from there (15-20 mins) as part of increasing the amount of walking I do. In addition due to the timing of the direct buses and transfers it often works out not much longer to get to work. It means I’m travelling counter peak and one thing that’s surprised me, as it does with buses direct to Takapuna, has been just how busy they are. In the case of the NEX this is particularly surprising considering just how poor the land use is around the busway stations.

This image was taken a few days ago while heading over the bridge in the morning with the bus full of people both sitting and standing. This is now a common sight at many times of the day in both directions.

Full NEX

The mornings are often busy however the afternoons have been seen buses packed, often to the point that people at Akoranga are missing out and having to wait for another 10 minutes for the next bus. While it is a sign of the popularity of the service it leaves those having to wait angry and frustrated. Those who get on and are standing on the bus don’t feel that much better either due to how packed it is. In addition buses extremely packed quickly fall behind schedule as they have to dwell at stops for a lot longer which can have knock on effects for future services. To make matters worse, those waiting on the platform for a bus will often see 2 -3 NEX buses plus up to half a dozen non NEX buses race past towards the city not in service so they can ferry people from the city back to the shore.

After this happened a few times and no response from Auckland Transport on social media about it (although they have been better lately), I went to AT directly about the issue. They pulled the data for the stop in the direction I was travelling for October and provided this graph which shows that around 5pm in particular many of the services are very very full.

NEX counter peak afternoons Oct 14

As a result they are now working with Ritchies to put on an additional service which they say will likely be at 5:05 to help cater for the demand. They will also closely monitor some of the other service s that look quite full such as the 4:30pm service.

This is a good outcome and should hopefully really help address some of the issues although I would have thought a 4:55 might be useful too. I think ideally AT should be looking to move to 5 minute frequencies in the afternoon peak which shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as the buses are having to get to the CBD anyway. In addition this information was only pulled because I highlighted it, I hope to see AT getting to the point that services are regularly full are automatically highlighted to them so these issues can be addressed sooner.

AT Staff Shuttle Fails

Earlier this year we learned about Auckland Transport’s staff shuttle between its offices in the CBD opposite Britomart and Henderson where the building is part of the train station. The shuttle was put on because AT didn’t believe the PT services were good enough for their staff to use. In my view the shuttle was idiotic and it highlighted AT as being out of touch, after all if the organisation that runs our PT system isn’t prepared to use its own services then why should others.

I actually happened to see it just a few weeks ago (empty) and thought it was a past the time it should have been gone. The shuttle was said to be on a 6 month trial however it turns out it’s use was extended a month due to a cancellation clause in the contract. In addition the trial has failed badly, Radio New Zealand reports:

The trial has been a flop, costing more than expected at $140,000, often travelling empty and failing to make the hoped-for savings.

The council-owned Auckland Transport launched the shuttle in May, when it was criticised by public transport advocates who said if services were too slow, they should be improved for everyone.

Auckland Transport hoped to save more than $300,000 a year in staff travel costs between its head office in Henderson, west Auckland, and its downtown office, opposite the Britomart Transport centre.

Savings were to come from cutting the agency vehicle fleet by 20 cars, and removing most of the $95,000 a year reimbursed to staff who drove in their own cars between the offices, claiming $32 per round trip.

However, the two 11-seater minibuses often ran empty, with patronage rising at the end of the six month trial to only 2.5 passengers per trip.

Only three of the hoped-for 20 fleet cars have been cut, and big savings have been made on paying staff to use their own cars, simply by banning the practice between Henderson and the CBD.

So hardly any staff used it, only three cars have been cut and the major savings come from a change that could have been made without the shuttle trial. David Warburton’s response to the failure highlights they still have some way to go in coming up with solutions to the size of the vehicle fleet.

“It has been money well-spent”, said Dr Warburton. “We have established some changes in the operation, and that has to be allocated across the future efficiency of driving the business, and going forward.”

But the agency admits it has more work to do to try to reduce its vehicle fleet, tighten spending on reimbursing private car use and look at other options such as video conference.

Dr Warburton said the direct bus and rail services which operate from the door of both offices did not suit much staff travel, taking 40-45 minutes and not suiting meetings which start at the top of an hour.

He said it was not easy to schedule meetings to better suit public transport travelling times because many involve other parties, although the agency would try that with internal meetings.

On the last point in particular there is nothing to say a meeting has to be on the top of an hour, starting a meeting at other times is perfectly possible. There is however another solution which is completely within AT’s power and would allow them to keep meetings to the top of an hour, they could always change the timetables to make them more suitable for those going to meetings. They could further improve the usefulness by increasing the frequency of the western line from the half hourly off peak timetable that currently exists to at least services every 15 minutes.

Perhaps AT could even prepare a pack for its employees which includes a HOP card loaded with a concession for free travel and a copy of the relevant timetables (both physically and electronically).

And here’s the audio that goes with the story.

or listen here.

AT’s good AMETI video

Auckland Transport have released this new video for AMETI

I really think AT have got the messaging and tone right with this video which is nice to see. Also I really like that they talk about the poor situation currently for buses meaning they aren’t a good option and how that is a key reason for low use of public transport in the East. Even better is AT picking up on the terminology of providing congestion free choices when talking about the busway improvements that will eventually link Panmure to Botany.

As far as I understand, one part that isn’t quite right is the suggestion that the South-eastern busway will carry more people than the Northern Busway. It is true when comparing patronage on the Northern Express however the Northern Busway also carries a large number of other buses that boost patronage on it substantially. Still the South-eastern busway will be a very good addition once built.

West Auckland Network with new interchanges

Last week Auckland Transport began consultation on the new network for West Auckland. I and many readers were highly critical of it as it seemed to ignore much of the network design philosophy and elements AT are implementing elsewhere and enshrined in the Regional Public Transport Plan. In particular the consultation sees a move away from the idea of a high frequency all day network that may require some to transfer to a network with lots of infrequent routes but may have not direct routes. The two different network design models are shown in the image below.

New Network Model

In most post I speculated the network proposed was a result of not having interchanges at Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd. It appears like that is exactly the case with AT now saying:

AT is redesigning the bus network across all of Auckland. Within each area, there are opportunities to improve public transport. However, the reality is that all changes will take time to implement, especially where major new infrastructure needs to be built, or where the cost of operating services will increase substantially. Both will require more ratepayer (Auckland Council) and taxpayer (New Zealand Transport Agency) funding than is currently budgeted.

For West Auckland, AT has taken the view that it is better to make as many improvements as we can afford to make in the next 2 years, to take advantage of the benefits electric trains will bring, rather than wait until all of the desirable infrastructure is in place.

The current proposal which is out for consultation is shown on the left-hand diagram below. On the right-hand diagram is the network we want to implement as soon as we have the necessary funding and consents to build interchanges at Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd, in anticipation of the long-term proposal to build a Northwestern Busway. We hope this clearly illustrates the benefits of the more frequent and better connected network that will be possible once the required infrastructure is funded and built.

West Auckland With and Without Interchanges

To me the network on the right is so much cleaner and easier to understand as well as being more useful due to the higher frequencies. What’s clear is both AT and the NZTA need to urgently get on with sorting out the interchanges at Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu to enable the new network to properly implemented. I suggest that anyone submitting on the West Auckland Network highlight the need for the right hand image to become a reality.