NZTA support light-rail to Airport

A briefing to Councillors (from page 251) included in an attachment for the Council’s Planning Committee meeting for next week says that both the NZTA and Auckland Transport boards have now agreed on a way forward for the city to airport corridor. And that decision will see the route upgraded to light rail, eventually.

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) shied away from saying light rail was needed and instead just referred to a number of strategic public transport routes as “Mass Transit”. We know that following ATAP, the NZTA commissioned a study to see if buses could meet the expected demand on the City to Airport route instead of Auckland Transport’s preferred light rail option. This was called the Advanced Bus Study (ABS) – as it happens I have an OIA request in for this report which was due back today but the NZTA have extended it by another 3-weeks. They even went as far as getting overseas consultants to do the study so it was completely independent to AT’s previous investigations on the issue.

The presentation states that like other recent studies, the ABS confirmed the proposed Queen St/Dominion/SH20/SH20A route which has helped “provide confidence and a degree of investment certainty” that they should get on with protecting it for mass transit. They also say it highlighted the need for better PT access from the East.

Here is a map of the route planned by the ABS showing it almost identical to the route AT planned for light rail.

The agreed way forward appears to be sensible. I read it as essentially being to make a range of short term improvements both north to the city and east to Manukau to help buses move around easier, which would likely take some of the current pressure off, while working to protect the route to the city for an eventual upgrade to light rail.

The short term improvements include infrastructure changes and it appears, additional services.

The changes to services are shown on the map below and would entail a number of new routes or changes to existing routes.

One interesting slide shows what the unitary plan allows for development in a rough walking distance around the proposed stations of both the North and East route. One aspect that stands out is the amount of almost white (single house zone) around some of the Dominion Rd stations. There is some mixed use density allowed close to Dominion Rd that is hard to see in these maps but the density does drop of quickly.

Light rail certainly feels like it’s going through the same sort of obstructive process as the CRL did before the government finally agreed to help pay for it and that it’s needed now. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long as the CRL did to get to that stage. The biggest unknown of course is the government who have been hostile to the project so far. I can’t understand what they would lose by supporting it, even if it was built in a decade or more, as the numerous reports back up the need for light rail and it’s a project that would be popular with voters.

Overall, it’s good to see there’s progress being made on this project and even better news that modern light rail continues to be the plan.

February-2017 Ridership

Auckland Transport’s hold a board meeting next week which means we finally get to see how public transport performed in February. February’s results are always slightly more interesting than normal as they give an indication of what kind of results we can expect from March Madness as the busy conditions usually start manifesting in late Feb – and so far, March has been noticeably un-mad. February this year had an additional dimension to keep an eye on as last year had an extra day due to being a leap year – although there were the same number of normal working days.

The good news is the results were strong, the highlights are:

  • Overall ridership for February was 7.38 million, up an impressive 8.6% on February-2016. That’s almost 600k more than in February last year and sees ridership on 12-month rolling basis, rise to 85.7 million trips.
  • The Rapid Transit Network continues to see strong growth with usage on the RTN clocking in with 2 million trips, up 11.3% compared to Feb-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 10.3% to 1.6 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 15.2% to 395 thousand
  • The big surprise from February’s results was the non busway buses which hasn’t been doing as well as other modes in recent times. In Feb though, usage on them rose an impressive 7.8% compared to Feb-16.
  • Ferries continue to glide along with nice growth, increasing 6.3% compared to Feb-16.

Most PT trips happen on work days and for those, you can see on bus and train that February was well ahead of previous years and that sets us up for a great March result. Could we see March reach 80,000 trips per day on the rail network?

If the current trends hold then we’re in for a bumper result in March, and without almost all of the cramming and missed buses of previous years.

The farebox recovery has been a measure we’re been keeping a watchful eye on a lot recently to see what impacts the various service and fare changes made in recent years are having. The results for February are notable in that for the first time, the net subsidy per passenger km for trains is lower than it is for buses.

We’ve sometimes seen subsidies measured on a per trip basis however per passenger km is more accurate as it takes into account that the average train trip of 13.26km is longer than the average bus trip of 7.54km.

One aspect that isn’t clear is what is causing farebox recovery ratios on buses to be falling. I suspect one element of it would be all the extra services that were put on both recently and prior to Christmas to help combat March Madness.

While not ridership specifically, AT added an interesting set of graphs to their Monthly Indicators pack. We’ve shown them before for specific projects, such as with AMETI. In all but one of the examples, you can see that PT can often compete with driving usually in the peaks – although we think PT needs to be more time competitive throughout the entire day. There are a couple of things that stand out though and the biggest one is how in most scenario’s the travel time via PT is at least in the range or close to it, with the exception of one – the northwest. This of course highlights once again how important it is we get a proper busway built along SH16.

Perhaps the buses along SH16 being so slow also has a small part to play in increasing popularity of the NW cycleway. For Feb, the counter at Te Atatu was up an massive 47% on Feb-16 while at Kingsland numbers were up a still impressive 18%

Lastly, Wellington also published their ridership numbers for Feb – but they’re definitely not quite as pretty as the Auckland results. For the month of Feb-17 compared to Feb-16:

  • Total trips taken were down 5.9%
  • Bus trips were down 4.7%
  • Train trips were down 7.7%
  • Ferry trips were down 20% – although this was off a very small base

 

AT’s Albert St preliminary design

On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.

Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.

The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.

The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.

The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.

Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.

The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.

But those trees disappear outside the district court.

Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.

 

The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:

  • The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
  • There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
  • Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
  • Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
  • Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
  • The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
  • While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St

While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.

One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.

there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.

I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.

Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.

Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:

  • bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
  • bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
  • the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
  • bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
  • bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.

Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.

In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)

To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.

Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?

Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.

Missed News Roundup – March-17

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Parnell Station opens

While the first services started using the station on Sunday, Monday saw the official opening of the new Parnell Station. Currently only the Southern Line stops there regularly with the Western Line only stopping in the evenings and on weekends. We’ve talked a lot about the station in previous posts so don’t need to re-litigate that here. As it stands the station is bare bones and AT even warns that it’s not recommended for mobility impaired passengers.

Photo by Alex Burgess from https://www.nzrailphotos.co.nz

The station currently has platforms, shelters, ticket and AT HOP card readers and an underpass to link the platforms.

When stage one is complete later this year the station will be equipped with electronic gates, CCTV, improved access, mobility parking, and upgraded connections to Cheshire St and to Nicholls Lane.

Refurbishment of the exterior of the heritage former Newmarket Station building will also be completed by KiwiRail.

When the station is complete and receiving full services up to 2,000 passengers a day are expected to get off the train every morning and head to the universities.

I’m personally a little skeptical that the station would see 2,000 people in the morning peak any time soon.

New Ferry for Devonport

Fullers have leased another ferry to support the Devonport Service

As tourism figures continue to rise in Auckland, so do passenger numbers on popular ferry routes. Fullers is introducing a new vessel, Capricornian Surfer (Cap Surfer), dedicated to Devonport. A unique destination, the charming seaside village of Devonport is a bustling visitor hub, but also services more than 1,000 commuters who rely on Fullers ferries daily.

Cap Surfer will begin service in the next couple weeks, complementing Kea. Since 1988, Kea has been the favourite vessel of the route with efficient boarding through side doors. Similar to Kea, Cap Surfer has side-door loading and four engines, allowing it to manoeuvre in the same way when docking. This will help keep the Devonport service running to schedule.

“We acknowledge some service interruptions on the Devonport run this summer, and want to let our passengers to know that we’re listening. We’ve leased Cap Surfer from Australia specifically for Devonport, freeing up other vessels not always suited to the Devonport route,” said Fullers Chief Executive Douglas Hudson.

Cap Surfer’s modern amenities:

The $6 million vessel is capable of carrying up to 380 passengers. It’s currently being fitted with a new café and bike racks, after 40 additional seats were installed on the back deck. Cap Surfer is spacious and comfortable, with big windows and air conditioning. The 35-metre EnviroCat uses less fuel per passenger than a small four-cylinder car. Its systems are computerised and fully integrated.

Crew training is currently underway, being led by Cap Surfer’s Australian crew while she was servicing the Gladstone to Curtis Island run in Queensland.

Designed to navigate shallow waters, Cap Surfer will also be able to service Half Moon Bay on low tides.

What’s next for Kea?:

As Kea closes in on 30 years of service, Fullers is investigating options for her future – while keeping a pulse on rapidly evolving technology, including electric ferries.

“By leasing a modern ferry for two years, we’re able to evaluate alternative propulsion technology and its suitability for Kea’s eventual replacement. Though Kea is a highly reliable vessel, we need to be looking ahead. Retirement isn’t imminent, but when the time comes, we’ll have a well informed decision on what technology to include in a vessel purpose-built for Devonport,” said Hudson.

 

AT saving water

Bus and Train stations might be a little dirtier than usual for the next few weeks

Auckland Transport to limit water blasting

Auckland Transport is doing its bit to help conserve water.

Following silt infiltration of dams in the region, Watercare Services is calling on Aucklanders to reduce water usage by 20 litres per person, per day until the end of March.

In response Auckland Transport has asked its maintenance contractors to limit water use and to carry out water blasting only if it is absolutely necessary.

“We have scheduled cleaning for facilities such as bus shelters, train stations and platforms but we’ve asked that water blasting only occur for hygiene reasons for the next few weeks,” says Tony McCartney, Group Manager Assets and Maintenance.

“We expect that this could save thousands of litres a week. As a result, some facilities may be a little grubby but this is for the greater good of all Aucklanders,”  Mr McCartney says.

Herald agrees on Wellsford Motorway

While not strictly a press release, this seems worthy of inclusion. An editorial by the Herald appears to agree with much of the criticism we have regarding the proposed Warkworth to Wellsford motorway route that was announced recently, they sum up with this:

It appears the cabinet is determined to proceed, regardless of evidence which ought it give it reason to pause. Transport Minister Simon Bridges responded to calls to scrap the project by arguing that the four-lane highway was a “game changer” , economically and socially.

He pointed out the road, which could shave seven minutes off the journey between Wellsford and Warkworth, was incredibly popular in Northland.

Roads, in particular links which could cost as much as $2b, should not be constructed on the basis of popularity. That is not a reassuring sign for completing the project, in time and within budget.

Te Whau Pathway Consultation

Auckland Transport yesterday opened consultation on the proposed Te Whau Pathway, a 12km walking and cycling link between the Manukau and Waitemata harbours, mostly following the Whau river. Once fully completed in an estimated 5-8 years, the pathway is expected to connect 33 reserves, esplanade strips, sports parks, and roads along it’s route.

AT say some of the benefits of the project are

  • Provide safer, more convenient connections to the city centre and within neighbouring suburbs.
  • Offer better connections to 13 schools, and access to the Northwestern Cycleway and the proposed New Lynn to Avondale Shared Path.
  • Maximise opportunities to experience the Whau River, and improve access to the river for small boats and kayaks.
  • Offer new spaces for recreation (such as fishing and bird watching) and education.
  • Improve the natural environment through a clean-up of the water’s edge, restoration, and weed removal following construction.
  • Attract tourists and visitors from other neighbourhoods.

Here’s a map of what’s ultimately proposed and as you can see, some parts are already completed.

A few thoughts I’ve had about the proposal

  • I wonder if the option to straighten some of the route, especially near the NW motorway and at the New Lynn ends. I don’t think that would diminish the recreational value of the path but it could help make it more appealing for other journeys too. For example in the future we hope to have the NW busway with a station somewhere around Te Atatu and this path, if designed well, could provide an easy connection to that station for many residents in Glendene and Te Atatu South.
  • Likewise at the other end, the proposal seems to make no effort to improve connections to New Lynn which seems like a missed opportunity. Sure it connects to the New Lynn to Avondale path alongside the railway but a more direct connection from the North seems like it would be useful too.
  • As well as the path along the river, it seems a good opportunity to also provide some connections across the river too, to better link in the Rosebank peninsula. Some of the associated documentation suggests a future project of a bridge as an extension of Hepburn Rd.
  • AT say it will be a minimum of 3m wide however browsing through the various scheme plans shows suggests that all the boardwalk sections will be 4m with the narrower sections being those on land and through reserves. Could it not be kept 4m the entire route?
  • As mentioned earlier, the obvious intention of this is for recreational use however the completed section shown to the east of New Lynn is the existing cycle lanes on Portage Rd. These however are only paint and the lanes are often located outside parked cars. Unless there is an intention to improve this, which the documents indicate there isn’t, then this section won’t be used by families or less confident cyclists.

One thing important to note is AT say the boardwalks will be designed to account for sea level rise over the next 50 years

The pathway has been designed to last for 50 years. Because of predicted sea-level rise, the boardwalk has to be built for the predicted sea level in 50 year’s time, in a major storm event. A coastal processes assessment has estimated the sea level in year 2070 during a severe storm to be 3.46m (AVD-46 Datum) or 5.20m (Chart Datum). As a comparison, the current high tide generally spans between 1.2m to 1.8m (AVD-46 Datum).

The bottom of the boardwalk will be built at 3.5m. Any level lower than this will be a case-by-case scenario to be confirmed in detailed design. The height of boardwalk is yet to be confirmed and options to minimise the structure’s thickness are being explored.

Overall I find the path intriguing and has the potential to really improve connections to many of the communities along the route which are disconnected by not only geography but also in many cases, poor street networks. It certainly has the potential to be another of the fantastic recreational paths we’ve been building or have planned and I can imagine it will be something people will jump on the train to New Lynn with their bikes to ride along. With a few tweaks could also be much more functional for other trips too.

ATs Parking App is live

The days of parking meters are numbered now that AT have released their parking app.

Back in May last year, Auckland Transport released a video about their new parking strategy and in one part of it they mentioned they were working on a mobile app to let you pay for on-street parking without having to go to a machine to buy a ticket. This is part of a plan to thin out parking meters, which I understand are obsolete, before eventually removing them completely. In January it was reported that it had been delayed till late February or March.

Well it appears that AT have quietly launched it, with a more formal launch coming in a few weeks time. Given I don’t often drive to work, and definitely wouldn’t in March, I haven’t had a chance to check it out properly but based on the video it seems like they’ve done a good job with it. It certainly seems like a better job than their public transport apps. A few things I noticed included:

  • If you’ve set up an AT account for your HOP card the parking app can be linked to it so you can see both services from AT. However it’s clear both have been developed completely independently from each other and if it wasn’t for the name and access via the AT account you’d never know they were from the same organisation.
  • As an example of the above, the app is tied into the MyAT account but you have enter your credit card again. It also can’t be tied to your HOP balance.
  • It has much better functionality for searching for transactions and even appears to let you search your transaction history and even download.

I’m keen to hear the thoughts of anyone who has actually tried it but so far, it seems like a good step forward. Now if only they could make a decent PT app.

North Shore Rapid Transit Network Strategic Case

Back in October last year in the AT Closed Board Meeting a item called the Northern RTN Strategic Case was mentioned, its reason for being closed “to protect information that will soon be publicly available”. Me being ever so patient, I waited for the report to be released over the coming months, once this didn’t happen I decided the LGOIMA it. Recently AT released the report in detail which can be found here.

A large portion of the report was dedicated to the importance of making sure that improvements to the RTN are aligned with the potential future Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), either included as part of the crossing itself or at least so a road crossing doesn’t make difficult or even prevent necessary RTN improvements. This makes a lot of sense.

Another point to note is that this report was completed prior to the completion of ATAP, which confirmed the AWHC as not being needed as early as previously assumed and pushed it back to the third decade, although route protection should continue.

One of the great parts of the report was this graph showing what the models predict for future patronage crossing the harbour bridge every morning compared against trends over the last three and ten years. This shows the potentially huge underestimation of PT demand by official models we’ve talked about on many posts in the past.

North Shore PT Demand Model

The document confirms what we had already suspected, that the Busway was originally predicted to provide capacity well until the 2040s will now realistically be at breaking point in the 2030s, with some sections, such as in the city centre, already under strain.

Key evidence for PT demand exceeding the functional capacity of the existing Northern Busway is provided by the North Shore RTN study that compares infrastructure capacity with forecast bus volumes required to meet modelled growth in PT demand in four evaluation years: 2016, 2026, 2036 and 2046. It finds that:

  • Current peak-period bus volumes exceed functional capacity already in 2016 at the City Centre end of the busway and at Constellation Station.
  • Capacity problems are somewhat reduced by 2026 due to implementation of bus infrastructure improvements in the City Centre. However, Albany Station experiences capacity problems.
  • By 2036 operating bus volumes that are sufficient to cater to forecast demand mean significant over-capacity operations in the City Centre and at Albany, Constellation and Akoranga Stations.
  • By 2046 capacity problems exist at all major North Shore Stations and in the City Centre.

The most visible part of the busway is where it has its own dedicated infrastructure next to the motorway between Constellation and Akoranga. But it seems even that will be feeling pressure within one to two decades.

In 2016 performance issues identified include:

  • Limited capacity, slow travel speeds and variable travel times for the missing segment of busway between Constellation and Albany.
  • Inadequate size and capacity of Constellation Station to accommodate a large volume of bus services and passenger demand.

“However, by 2026, the joint AT/ NZTA Northern Corridor Improvements (NCI) project is anticipated to have completed the missing section of the busway, constructed a new Rosedale Busway station and provided and additional platform to Constellation Station, therefore improving these deficiencies, capacity problems are somewhat reduced by 2026 due to implementation of bus infrastructure improvements in the City Centre, however, Albany Station experiences capacity problems. However, by 2026, a significant improvement in city centre bus infrastructure has been assumed. These interventions, while still conceptual in nature and subject to funding commitments, these upgrades are still constrained by signals at intersections. As such even in 2026, soon after implementation the city centre infrastructure is likely to only just provide sufficient capacity to meet demands.

Nevertheless, by 2026, increased patronage on the busway and busway stations is likely to manifest in over capacity conditions and poor operational performance at Albany Station due to large volumes of commencing services in the AM peak which use up a lot of station capacity. Sunnynook Station which has the shortest platforms of all the busway stations will also be experiencing over capacity conditions affecting dwell times. Akoranga Station is also starting to experience congestion by this time.

By 2036, performance has degraded further at the above stations, whilst Constellation and Smales Farm are now also expected to experience over capacity conditions affecting operational performance (i.e. dwell times). all City Centre corridors and termini are likely to be under sustained pressure in peak times at between 102-108 per cent of capacity. This is likely to lead to degraded performance, with dwell times becoming more variable, increased bunching of buses and accumulation of passengers at stops congesting footways. It is in by this time period that the performance of the busway is likely to no longer be to an acceptable RTN standard.

By 2046 all of the busway stations are expected to be at or near capacity suffering from increased dwell times and greater dwell time variability affecting operational performance, virtually all parts of the City Centre used by buses would be operating at over 110 per cent of theoretical capacity, and with highly degraded and unacceptable levels of performance (slow and highly variable travel times).”

What this means is we are starting to have capacity issues now. Improvements to infrastructure such in the city centre & extending the busway to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor project will only just be able to meet demand over the next decade or so. That could of course be even sooner if the Busway continues to exceed expectations. By 2036 the system will start to resemble the congested motorway the current busway runs alongside and by 2046 the whole Busway will have broken down. So, we may need a full North Shore RTN not by 2036 but by 2026- however ATAP doesn’t have this until 2038-2048.

Nearly all the growth the growth across the Harbour Bridge is projected to be PT going from around a 1/3 of mode share today, to well over half by 2046.

At present, around one third of all trips on the Waitematā Harbour crossing are public transport trips. By the mid- 2030s public transport demand exceeds general traffic and by the mid-2040s public transport is forecast to be the dominant mode on the Waitematā Harbour crossing.

….

This is due in part to road capacity constraints on the Harbour Bridge, but it is also be affected by factors such as increased reliability of PT travel times at peak times due to the Northern Busway and increases in the price to park in the city centre

NS AHB Modeshare

The report also shows that nearly all of the increased demand across the Harbour during the 30-year period is to the City Centre & City Fringe, with very low numbers increasing further south of the City Centre. There is also some increase in car demand across Upper Harbour. This is another black mark against a road based AWHC as it means a new, $3.7+ billion, six-lane vehicle crossing makes little sense, especially compared to a cheaper, RTN crossing.

Mode Demand Change NSWe can drew two major conclusions from this report

We can draw two major conclusions from this report that

AWHC as we know it is a dud

This is more evidence that a road based AWHC is a sub-optimal solution for the area, with nearly all growth in demand across the harbour being on PT, and towards the City Centre & Fringe. Trying to serve the demand towards the City Centre & Fringe, where road capacity is already stretched and not realistically able to be increased, with an expensive road crossing makes zero sense.

We should re-evaluate the option of a cheaper, transit only crossing

While the report mentions that by 2036 Northern Busway Services will deteriorate to the point the service is no longer RTN standard, realistically by 2026 a new PT crossing may be needed even if needed CBD Bus Infrastructure is brought forward. That’s because if growth continues like it has recently, are we so certain the busway will be able to cope between 2026-2036.

There is also no reason the road/rail components need to be combined, for one thing, the road alignment is not likely to be the best alignment for rail. With capacity constrained much sooner than the road crossing is now said to be needed, we should reassess building a transit only crossing first. ATAP estimated a tunneled light rail line  connecting from Wynyard Quarter to at least Takapuna at $1,868 million with an extension to Grand Drive Orewa at another $868 million. So that’s $2.7 billion for light rail from Orewa to the City, compared to $3,7 billion for the road tunnels alone. We should also reconsider making this particular crossing a bridge. As well as being much cheaper than tunneling, it could allow walking and cycling from the start. A road crossing could then be build as a second (or Third) stage when it is needed in the future

The last point I would like to make on the report is that once again PT solutions reactive, it is not until they have broken down from over-utilisation that better PT is considered. We need to change to a more proactive view where we see PT investment as being an agent for transformative city improvement, instead of waiting till the last possible minute.

A mapping bouquet for AT

On Monday I blogged about the new rail timetables due out in March but at the same time also made a number of comments in relation to a new rail network map that AT were introducing that among other things, finally included the Northern Busway.

Some of the comments I made were perhaps a little nitpicky but comes from the fact I want to see AT do a good job as even little things can help in getting more people to try and use public transport. Many of the comments also echoed similar ones I’d made on twitter on the weekend.

To the surprise of myself and a to a few others who made comments, AT responded yesterday to say they’d made some changes as a result of the feedback.

Here’s the new version. The changes are subtle and seem to primarily consist of:

  • Changing the walk between Britomart and Lower Albert St – I still think this is unnecessary to even show this as a walk, in many cities overseas transfers between lines can be considerably longer and through a rabbit warren of tunnels
  • Adding the North Shore Hospital
  • Subtle changes to the Onehunga line at Penrose
  • Renaming ‘Bus/Train transport hub’ to just ‘Major transport hub’

Updated version – click to enlarge

 

As a comparison, this is the previous version looked like

Version released last week – click to enlarge

While the changes might be minor in the overall scheme of things, what impressed me was that AT were responsive and actually made them at all. I think what this also shows is that there are a lot of people in the transport advocacy community that want to help make things better. Perhaps AT should try to harness that a bit more to gather informal feedback for improvements.

And speaking of improvements, here’s another one for them. Why not show some of the future plans on map too, as a way of both highlighting those projects and letting people know that AT have plans to keep improving the network. Given the status of various projects right now, the City Rail Link and possibly the Eastern Busway should be shown – but then given the recent ATAP work perhaps the whole strategic network should be shown. Except for the likes of us and our readers, most Aucklanders probably don’t know many of these plans even exist.

The approach of showing future lines is quite common overseas. For example this is a rail map of Sydney from 2004. At the time the Epping-Chatswood line was under construction and it didn’t open till 2009 but was shown on the rail map so people know it was being built.

So how about it AT, let’s get at least some of those future lines added to maps.

AT to be more open about contracts

In an interesting and positive move yesterday, Auckland Transport announced they would start releasing the details of every single contract they award, not just those over $50,000 as they currently do.

Auckland Transport (AT) will be releasing details of all its contracts publicly.

Since it was established in 2010, AT routinely published the details of all contracts valued over $50,000 on its website. That threshold has now been dropped to zero.

AT Chairman, Dr Lester Levy, says that as a publicly-funded body, the organisation wants to be as transparent and accountable as possible.

“There is a small extra administrative burden in releasing this sort of information, but we feel that it’s worth it to allow more open scrutiny of our activities,” he says. “This demonstrates a clear commitment to being open and accountable to the public at large.”

Dr Levy says the nature of some of AT’s activities, such as property negotiations, means that sometimes information is commercially-sensitive and involves third-party businesses or individuals.

“In those cases, and to protect the interests of ratepayers and taxpayers, they are dealt with confidentially. However, when the reason for that confidentiality no longer exists, the material is routinely released (and published on AT’s website).”

I wonder how much of this comes as a result of the fallout from the recent fraud case in which on former AT manager was sentenced to 5 years jail. We also know that this is something Penny Bright has been pushing for, I wonder if it means she will pay her rates now?

The information they currently release is here. One request for AT is it would be useful if AT could also provide a CSV version of the data in the PDF. Also it seems silly that AT only show the last 6 months. Why not just leave old versions of the file online.

The results on the website at the time of writing this are still only contracts for over $50k but the one thing that particularly surprises me is just how many are direct appointments. By my count, of the 260 contracts on the list, 229 of them (88%) were directly appointed. Here is a same of the current report.

I’m sure some people will be going through these results, with a fine tooth comb.

January-2017 Ridership

With Auckland Transport moving to having less frequent board meetings it makes it more difficult to get monthly updates. However, while not quite as detailed as the reports presented to the board meetings, we can get an indication as to how performance is going from this ridership report AT update monthly and has been updated to include January.

The headlines are:

  • Overall ridership for January was 5.64 million, up 6.7% on January-2016. Importantly, on a 12-month rolling basis ridership has now surpassed 85 million trips. That’s pretty good considering that only just passed 75 million just over two years ago. The majority of that 10 million increase has come from the Rapid Transit Network which increased by 7.7 million trips over the same timeframe.
  • The strong growth on the Rapid Transit Network continues to drive ridership growth with usage of the RTN in Jan at 1.5 million, up 16.4% compared to Jan-16. Within that:
    • Trips on the rail network increased by 17.9% to 1.2 million
    • Trips on the busway increased by 10.8% to 301 thousand
  • On buses excluding ones that use the busway, ridership was up 2.6% to 3.5 million
  • Ferry use continues to grow well, up 8.8% in Jan to 617 thousand

While we haven’t yet seen the January version yet, the results for December show positive movement once again on metrics such as weekday boardings and farebox recovery.

The strong growth on the rail network in particular, is seeing boardings on business days skyrocket and as you can see the difference between Dec-16 and Dec-15 is substantial. As you can also see, March tends to set a new benchmark for usage so we’re expecting another big jump this year. Could we hit 80k per day?

Farebox recovery had taken a dip recently which was expected to a degree with the introduction of Simplified Fares. While only one data point so far, it has hopefully started to turn around now as I suspect this is what could partially be behind AT not improving aspects like rail frequencies off peak like they need to. What is also interesting is the subsidy per passenger km for bus and rail are now close to identical and I suspect in a few months, rail will actually perform better.

December also set a new record for rail punctuality with 98.4% of all trains arriving at Britomart within 5 minutes of their scheduled arrival time. That’s a far cry from the months before the full roll out of electric trains when it plummeted to below 75% with the old trains breaking down frequently.

By waiting a little longer than usual for this post, it also allows me to include the January results for Wellington too. The good news is ridership in the capital has been growing, but not to anywhere near the levels that Auckland has been experiencing. Because we don’t talk about it as much, I’ll focus on the 12 month rolling results. The key highlights are:

  • Overall in the 12 months to the end of Jan, ridership is 2.9% to 37.6 million
  • Bus use continues to fluctuate a bit but as a general trend is going up and to for Jan it was up 0.8% to 24.3 million.
  • The rail network has been seeing some decent growth over the last year or so and is currently up 6.9% to 13.1 million