Auckland’s March-17 Rail Timetables

Last week Auckland Transport were talking up how prepared they were for the expected upcoming March Madness. As part of that, and as we’ve seen from board reports for a few months now, a new rail timetable comes into effect on March 12. We already knew what most of the timetable changes involved, consisting of:

  • Westfield Station will close
  • Parnell Station will open, served initially by Southern Line trains with Western Line trains only stopping in evenings and weekends.
  • Onehunga line trains will skip Greenlane, Remuera and Parnell stations. This is said to be to speed up services enough that it frees up a 3-car train.
  • Speeds on the other lines will also be improved, enough that it frees up an additional two 3-car trains.
  • In total the changes free up three 3-car trains, which will be used to boost capacity on some peak services.

The big unknown was just how much faster the trains would be. AT have now published the new timetables along with some information about them.

In terms of the information surrounding the changes, overall I think AT have done a decent job and for anyone who bothers to read it – which let’s be honest, most won’t bother to do so. They’ve bullet pointed the key changes for each line nicely and it feels like they’ve been more open than they have in the past about why some of the changes are being made. One example being the Onehunga Line changing to limited stops which they say is to “improve travel times and the number of units required to operate the Onehunga Line“. In the past it has felt like changes have often been made with little explanation.

With all of the changes and linked to early in the page, AT have introduced a new map of the rail network that will presumably be added to the trains. I have mixed thoughts on this map though, here are some of them in no particular order

  • It’s great that AT have finally included the Northern Busway as this is something we’ve wanted to see for years, but ….
    • With the inclusion of the Busway, perhaps it’s time to drop the Train Network terminology and refer to it as a singular Rapid Transit network. Perhaps we could just call it ART – Auckland Rapid Transit (yes this was also the official name of Robbies Rail in the 1960’s and 70’s).
    • What’s with showing the connection between train and bus as a massive walk. While I appreciate that there is a walk between Britomart and Lower Albert St and that this is a schematic, not a geographically accurate map, the walk between the two looks substantial, about the same as between Newmarket and Britomart. It is not particularly arduous and showing it this way feels like it has the potential to put some people off trying this as an option. Suggesting you have to walk through the Ferry Terminal is also incorrect. All of this isn’t to say that the connection between the two services couldn’t be improved but that’s a discussion for another post.
  • I’m no graphic designer but what’s with the 90° corner at Penrose for the Onehunga Line when all other corners are dealt with as curves
  • I’m also in two minds about showing the Western Line as doubling back on itself. While it’s technically accurate and may help avoid confusion from new users, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary on a schematic map, especially as it appears to be one of the reasons the Busway can’t be closer.
  • AT have dropped the aircraft symbol from Mt Eden but retained it at Papatoetoe. I wonder if this is anything to do with the Skybus service being fully commercial.
  • AT have added in hospital symbols for Auckland and Middlemore but why not North Shore Hospital, which is a similar distance walk from Smales Farm station as Auckland Hospital is from Grafton.
  • It’s interesting that they’ve includes information about toilets as it highlights how few of our stations have even basic amenities.

Click to enlarge

As a comparison, this is what it currently looks like.

As mentioned earlier, on of the key issues we’ve been waiting to see is just how much faster the timetables were. That’s because our trains are being run significantly slower than they were required to be able to achieve as part of tender to buy them. The changes in travel times are

  • Western Line – services are 1-minute faster to Britomart and 3-minutes faster to Swanson by 3 minutes – in the evenings and weekends the Western Line will stop at Parnell yet there is no impact of doing so on the overall travel time
  • Southern Line – Services are 3-minutes faster to Britomart and 1-minute faster to Papakura. AT also say they’ve reduced the transfer time at Papakura to/from the Pukekohe shuttle.
  • Eastern Line – No changes in time despite no longer stopping at Westfield.
  • Onehunga Line – 5 minutes faster to Britomart – although even in the evenings when it stops at Remuera and Greenlane, it is still 4 minutes faster than today.

While time improvements are definitely welcome, these ones are nowhere near enough the level they need and as we’ve highlighted before, the likely best opportunity to achieve them is to improve dwell times.

Also disappointing is that there has been no improvement to inter-peak frequencies. This was particularly needed for the Southern Line where the new bus network has already rolled out and for which the rail network was meant to be the all-day frequent backbone. Did the rail team not read the strategies that have been publicly discussed and consulted on for many years now?

Are we finally ready for March Madness

Next week, the transport version of a perfect storm kicks off in the form of March Madness. It’s the time of the year when both roads and public transport use is at its heaviest. This is generally the result of a few factors that combine to create a significant surge in transport demand. These include:

  • Primary and secondary kids are all at school
  • Tertiary institutions have started for the year and students tend to be more keen and eager to attend classes
  • A lot of people take leave over Christmas or around the various public holidays early in the year rather than in March so more people are at work
  • Coming out of summer, more people are also at work and not struck down by the winter illnesses that tend to sweep through workplaces and classrooms.
  • The weather is still decent so people are less likely to be put off walking/waiting for services.
  • As the roads get busier, more people try out public transport as a way of avoiding congestion

That last point is important because if people try PT and it works well, they’re more likely to keep using it later in the year. If instead they find buses and trains too busy to get on, caught in congestion they’ll be much more likely to give up and go back to driving.

A typical scene in March in previous years

To highlight just how much busier March tends to be compared to other months, this graph shows March coloured red.

You can also see it in these graphs from Auckland Transport’s monthly indicators showing the average boardings on business days. March last year saw almost 250k people a day on buses and over 70k per day on trains.

For many years now we’ve repeatedly asked the question of whether AT is ready for March and every year, once March hits, they’ve been caught short and images of full buses and trains are a regular occurrence. Some people have reported in the past of up to 12 buses passing them before one turned up that they could get on. Often AT have capacity improvements planned but they’re not due to be implemented till after March which defeats the purpose. Last year things were so bad that AT got operators to pull out every old dunger of a bus they had hiding out the back of their depots just to try and meet demand. So, will this year be any different?

Positively, while I expect March will continue to be busy and put pressure on bus and train capacity, I think there’s a greater chance than ever of getting a good result. That’s because AT appear to be learning and have been adding capacity *ahead* of March.

Auckland Transport is putting on more services to meet passenger demand during March.

Group Manager AT Metro Operations, Brendon Main says in the morning peak there will be 56 more city bound bus trips each morning compared to March last year. That’s 5% more capacity overall for bus services and an increase of up to 34% on some corridors. “We know the number of public transport passengers peaks in March as students head back to their studies, schools are in term and lower numbers of people are on leave. It’s known as “March Madness” and since March last year we’ve worked hard to get more services on some of our busiest routes.”

Mr Main says last March some peak time trips were crowded and these are the services being targeted with extra buses this year.

“We will have more than six and a half thousand extra spaces on buses and trains, this will go a long way towards meeting demand.”

Bus capacity has increased by close to 5400 spaces and timetable changes for trains from 12 March will mean an additional 1200 spaces are available in the morning peak.

Mr Main says double-decker buses are also coming to Birkenhead to help with the demand.

From next Monday, 27 February, four double-decker buses will commence services on routes between Beach Haven, Glenfield and the central city providing much needed additional capacity along Onewa Road.

New routes for double-decker services are 970, 973, 973B, 974 and 974B between Beach Haven and the CBD and the section of routes 950 and 955 between Glenfield Mall and the CBD.

Mr Main says public transport will be busy but Auckland Transport and its service providers will be closely watching the situation. “You might not always get on the first service but we want to ensure wait times are acceptable and, on some routes, better than last year.”

 

Here is where the additional capacity has been added, most of occurring late last year which is likely why, for me at least, February doesn’t feel to have had the same trouble indicators as previous years.

AT also say that the change to the rail timetable on 12-March will see 1,194 spaces inbound during the morning peak, split between the Eastern Line (796 spaces) and Southern Line (398 spaces). The western line had a capacity boost last year when it moved to 10-minute peak frequencies and the services I catch have been busy but not crushingly so.

The table AT provided raises a few other interesting aspects.

  • In March last year, Dominion Rd and the Northern Busway had similar levels of capacity but my understanding is that ridership is notably higher on the Northern Express.
  • You can also see the impact that the double deckers have on operations. Both routes had capacity for just over 4,000 people but the NEX did that with 43 buses compared to 63 buses on Dominion Rd. That means Dominion Rd needs additional drivers and buses to move the same number of people and with so many buses down the corridor, on which the bus lanes aren’t continuous, it can lead lots of issues of bunching, slow services and ultimately a worse experience for passengers. This is ultimately why AT want to put Light Rail down Dominion Rd but given that’s some time away, they really need to improve the bus lanes now and that could also help reduce operational costs.
  • Given many of these services have been in place for a few months, they will already be reflected in the very peaky nature of our services.

Let’s hope that this year services handle the PT pilgrimage better than they have in the past and we don’t have people being left behind.

Level Crossing Removal Feasibility

A few times every year we’re unfortunately reminded of the lack of action there has been on removing rail level crossings across Auckland. Removing these crossings have numerous benefits such as increased safety, reduced delays for drivers and allowing for signalling improvements which will trains to run faster. Removing them from the western line in particular will become even more important after the completion of the City Rail Link when frequencies will be able to be further increased and trains could be running in each direction every few minutes. In that situation, crossings will probably be closed more than they’re open.

Across the electrified network there are currently 45 level crossings, 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. The majority of level crossings are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.

Yet despite the need to remove level crossings, the last ones to be removed were about seven years ago as part of the New Lynn trench construction, but there has been nothing since then. Looking to the future, Auckland Transport are hoping to remove the Sarawia St crossing and their latest board report suggests they’ve come to an agreement with those who appealed the consent so hopefully work will start on that soon. We also know that the Normanby Rd and Porters Ave crossings will be removed as part of the City Rail Link works with the latter replaced by only a pedestrian and cycling bridge. Other than those crossings, AT have previously told us some crossings will need to be dealt with as part of packages and the packages with the highest priority are: (not in any particular order)

  • Southern NIMT – Walters Road, Manuroa Road, Taka Street, Spartan Road
  • Western Line – Morningside Drive
  • Western Line – Woodward Road
  • Western Line – St Jude Street, Chalmers Street, St Georges Road
  • Western Line – Glenview Road
  • Western Line – Bruce McLaren

One of the challenges with the level crossings across Auckland is just how they might be done. Some crossings, such as St Jude St, appear to present significant technical challenges to grade separation.

Harriet has been doing a great job requesting up a storm of information recently and one of the items she received from AT was a feasibility study of grade separating the level crossings that involve roads. The report says of the 31 crossings, AT first identified the crossings that, from primarily a road operations perspective, it might be feasible to just close the crossing. They found ten could potentially be closed and a further five which could possibly be closed leaving 16 crossings to look at, although more work would likely be needed to confirm if crossings could be closed. The report doesn’t separate out what the feasible and possible closures are but includes crossings such as Fruitvale Rd, both Rossgrove Tce and Asquith Ave, and George St – which would likely be removed when the New North Rd interchange is torn down.

For the remaining 16 crossings, the study looked at three options for each one:

  1. Road bridge over rail on existing road alignment with the railway retained at its current level (Road Over)
  2. Rail trench under road with the road retained at its current level (Rail Under)
  3. Hybrid of 1 and 2 consisting of partial raising of road and lowering of rail to achieve required train clearance beneath road bridge

The study is only really a high level look at the options so doesn’t state which of the three options is preferred or even rule any options out, although based on the results, options at some locations would almost certainly be ruled out. The potential costs for each option a have been blacked out so we can’t see those. I’ve only looked at the Western and Southern Line crossings so if you want to see the ones on the Onehunga Line, or more detail about all of them, take a look at the report.

Morningside Dr – This is one of the most common level crossings that gets discussed as it’s also the one that probably appears the most frequently in the news. Option 2 of rail in a trench really seems like a no starter as they say it would require significant regrading of the rail line including having to lower Kingsland Station as well as the New North Rd bridge and the road underneath it.

Woodward Rd – Option 3 seems the most likely here as Option 1 would require raising the New North Rd intersection by 2m and Jersey Rd by 6.5m although they say it could be closed too. Option 2 here is also effectively ruled out here as it would be restricted by the Mt Albert station

St Jude St – St Jude St is one of the busiest crossings for road traffic in the country with almost 20,000 vehicles per day passing over it. On top of that, the crossing is effectively on the side of a steep hill. They say that for a road bridge to get back to ground level by Gt North Rd, it would need to have a gradient of a very steep 12.5%. It’s also worth noting that during double tracking the rail line (Project DART) was already lowered once, a missed opportunity to do things properly as part of that project?

St Georges Rd – As rail is already at the maximum gradient for freight an changes to the rail line would require option 2 or 3 for St Jude St.

Portage Rd – Any options for lowering the rail line have already been ruled out due to the close proximity of the New Lynn trench and Whau river crossing, both of which would otherwise have to be lowered. Again this appears to be something that could have, and should have been tied in with DART.

Glenview Rd – AT seem to be stuck with this crossing as no option is considered feasible. Option 1 would require raising the West Coast/Glenview Rd intersection by a whopping 8.5m, above the height of most of the buildings in Glen Eden. Meanwhile Option 2 would require regrading 1.2km of track and Option 3 would need 1km of track regraded. AT will have to look for other options here but once again, I can’t help but think this could have been done as part of DART when the whole line was being dug up.

Bruce McLaren Rd – The close proximity of the intersection to Railside Ave to the east of the crossing and access to industrial properties to the west makes Option 1 difficult while Options 2 or 3 would interfere with plans to add additional rail access to the stabling yard also next to the crossing.

Metcalfe Rd – Given all the other road connections to Metcalfe Rd on either side of the crossing, it makes Option 1 difficult while options 2 or 3 would require redevelopment of the Ranui station and have potential impacts on the ponds to the east.

Walters Rd – This appears to be one of the least difficult of all the crossings.

Taka St – Option 1 would likely require closing access to Takanini Rd. Option 2 would require Takanini Station to be rebuilt but given it’s never been upgraded, that’s probably not a bad thing. It would also require lowering the tracks at Manuroa Rd

Manuroa Rd – This is similar to Taka St

As mentioned earlier, other than a few crossings, most have no time frame for removal. ATAP identified level crossing removals as an important item and in their costs suggested spending $203m in the first decade and $385.3m in the second decade on addressing them. I’d certainly much rather we focused on these kinds of projects rather than mega projects like the East-West Link.

Improving EMU Travel Times – LGOIMA

Back in January I made a request to Auckland Transport asking what had been done/planned to improve travel times on the rail network, the response I received was very positive and if able to be implemented fantastic for rail users. You can view the entire response here.

The highlight is the section on dwell times, which remarked that CAF have been hard at work testing different options to reduce the dwell times with one option possibly allowing 20 second dwells. Whether this option is feasible outside the depot however is to be seen.

CAF have recently undertaken timed tests in the depot for different opening and closing options – for the time from wheel stop till power is back onto the traction motors. It can be achieved in 20 seconds, plus the actual door open time depending on the open and close method. A modification has been implemented that has further reduced the time required to make the traction loop by 2 seconds – which is a good improvement to bank.

AT also asked KiwiRail and Siemens (signalling company) to look at improving network travel times by optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) signalling to allow increased line speed. The sections reviewed looked to be centred around the Westfield – Newmarket – Britomart section of network. As someone who uses the Southern Line I can understand this with line speeds feeling very slow considering the track alignment, zero level crossings & geometry. In a section where next the southern motorway you feel you should be putting the pedal down leaving traffic in the dust, instead you find yourself limping along.

Full Speed Ahead

The areas AT believe line speed can be increased are (up – towards north, down – towards south)

  • #3a: Line Speed Increase NAL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 10 sec Up, 15sec Down)
  • #3b: Line Speed Increase OBL South (Westfield Junction to Newmarket) – (saves 15 sec Both)
  • #3c: Line Speed Increase NBL (Newmarket to Britomart) – (saves 20sec Both. But addition of Parnell station will negate.)
  • #8: Sarawia St in-fill balise (Reduction in delays approaching 203 signal) – (saves 10 sec per train crossing to Platform 1)
  • #9a: 304 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminates risk of Up EMUs stalling at Neutral section).
  • #9b: 204 Signal approach clearing removal (eliminate the need for trains to slow to 20/km).

Overall the time savings of this could result in travel time savings for

Southern Line – Up Main Services of 70sec & Down Main Services of 35sec
Onehunga Line – Up Main Services of 65sec & Onehunga Down Main Services of 35sec
Western Line – Up Main Services of 30sec & Western Down Main Services of 20sec

However some of travel times may be negated by the opening of Parnell station, however Southern Services will of course have that offset by the closing of Westfield.

They are also looking at adjusting the level crossings to allow higher line speeds, this will be very useful if implemented for Western Line users.

Modifying the level crossings to support higher speed operation will result in the level crossing alarms operating for longer until the trains start running at the higher speed.

It mentions the potential reports to be done in the future for other sections of the rail network, hopefully we will see further optimisation in the future.

The tyranny of the peak

Recently Thomas Lumley, a Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland and author of statschat and Biased and Inefficient, created a bot that follows Auckland Transport’s real time feed between 6am and 10pm and tweets every 15 minutes how many buses it can see active in the system and how many of them are on time.

I thought it might be interesting to track the results for a week to see if there were any trends with on time performance, such as during the peaks. The data I collected for on-time performance was interesting but what turned out to be more fascinating was the overall bus numbers. The graph below shows how many buses are active in Auckland throughout the day based and you can see that weekdays have a very similar and distinctive pattern to them.

I’m not sure the peaks could be any more visible if AT tired.

As you can see, the AM peak is by far the strongest with over 800 buses on the road at the highest point which occurs around 8am as people go to work, school or other activities. There are more than double the number of buses on the road during the peak than throughout the interpeak period. The evening peak is more spread out though reflecting that schools finish at around 3pm and that workers finish at a range of different times and/or have other activities after work.

But being so peaky, especially in the AM, is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one side, it’s a positive as it reflects a lot of people finding PT the best way for them to get around to work, school or their other activities and of course we want to encourage as many people as possible to use PT. On the other side of the sword, being so peaky means AT and its operators need to commit a lot more resource to the system than they might want or otherwise need, just to serve the customers they already have. That pushes up costs to run the network.

A queue of buses at Akoranga Busway station (and more were out of shot) – plus an airport shuttle van in the mix

To get an idea of the impact, let’s consider what would happen if could knock the top off AM peak during the weekdays and spread it out more. During the AM peak, bus numbers top out at about 830 buses while the busiest period in the PM peak is about 710 buses, a difference of 120 buses. From what I understand, an average bus can cost around $400,000 (even more for double deckers), that’s potentially $48 million of capital operators have tied up in bus that might only get used once or twice a day. On top of the capital costs of the buses there is also costs for larger depots, maintenance facilities – 120 buses take up a lot of space. On top of the capital costs are of course the operational ones and they can be substantial.

Trying to spread out the peak could have a lot of positive impacts for the overall PT network. Here are a few suggestions we could implement.

1. Add more bus lanes and bus priority
Adding more bus lanes and other bus priority measures is vital as they are able serve a number of purposes. Faster and more reliable buses help to make buses more attractive to users, growing ridership, but they also improve bus operations because they can mean a single bus might be able to run more services in the same amount of time. This means fewer buses are needed to provide the same capacity/frequency or alternatively more capacity/frequency can be added to the network for no additional cost. In effect this isn’t likely to reduce the peakiness but it can help reduce some of the additional cost associated with it. As we reported the other day, it appears AT are looking at more bus priority across the region.

2. Extend bus lane hours
This is kind of related to above but is worth highlighting on its own. Many bus lanes have very narrow windows during which they operate, often 7-9am and 4-6pm (although there are some other times). Outside the bus lane hours the road space is often handed over to the driving public for carparking. It’s common for drivers to target these hours in order to get a good space but given the roads are often still quite busy, it can cause havoc on buses driving around the city, making them less reliable. As such means passengers often try to catch earlier buses than they otherwise would just to ensure they get to their destination on time. Extending bus lane operating hours would help address this and make travelling on later buses more viable, spreading the demand.

3. Off-Peak discounts
Along with extending bus lane hours, it’s common for cities overseas to offer discounts for travelling off peak. The purpose is to use pricing to encourage people who can to travel at times when it’s not so busy and there’s spare capacity available. There are a couple of different ways it could be implemented, such as having it automatically apply when you tag on/off or having people buy a pass that is loaded onto their HOP card and entitles them to the discount. AT staff have told me in the past they want tools like this so we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever happens.

4. Improve Frequencies off peak
Along with improving bus priority and offering financial incentives to travel off peak, we also need to ensure that our transport network has the services needed to encourage use. In other words, not having half the buses disappear back to the depot at 9am. This is one of the key reasons the New Network is so important, as it creates a lot of strong all day network that people can use to get around.

5. Change school hours
As mentioned, everyone rushing to work and school at the same time of the day is why the morning peak has so many more buses at any one time. One option could be to shift the start times of some schools to later in the morning in a bid to spread out the demand. High Schools would make a perfect candidate for this, giving teenagers a chance to get more sleep and perform better. This is obviously outside of AT’s control but is a discussion we should be having as a society.

For those also interested, this is what the punctuality data looked like, you can see the peaks in some of the days but it’s not as defined as the bus numbers above.

How fast should our trains be

In just under a month’s time, on 12 March, Auckland Transport will introduce a new rail timetable. There are a couple of significant changes that we know will come with this timetable:

  • Westfield Station will close
  • Parnell Station will open, served initially by Southern Line trains with Western Line trains only stopping in evenings and weekends.
  • Onehunga line trains will skip Greenlane and Remuera stations. This is said to be to speed up services enough that it frees up a 3-car train.
  • Speeds on the other lines will also be improved, enough that it frees up an additional two 3-car trains.
  • In total the changes free up three 3-car trains, which will be used to boost capacity on some peak services.

From what we hear, what won’t be included in this timetable change is any improvement to frequencies, which is desperately needed off-peak and weekends, especially in the South where the new bus network has already been implemented.

The issue of train speed is something we’ve talked about a lot recently, such as Stu’s excellent post on the economic benefits of speeding up our trains, and a guest post on how our trains are slower than even steam trains used to be. I want to focus on it again in this post.

If you recall, when we moved to electric trains Auckland Transport actually slowed down the timetable. They  padded it out to make the punctuality results look better, especially as the old diesels started to break down with increasing frequency. Following the initial services that were converted to electrics, there also turned out to be a number of issues with the signalling system, other infrastructure and operations (such as dwell times), which prevented trains from being as fast as they should.

In July 2015, Auckland Transport released a report outlining all of the work they intended to do to improve train reliability and speed. From what I understand, not all of it was eventually implemented, for a variety of reasons. However, much of the work they did do has contributed to the record highs we currently experience for punctuality and reliability. In the 12 months to the end of December, 98.6% of all trains arrived at their final destination and 96.5% of those did so within five minutes of the schedule. That’s up from lows in mid-2015 of round 96% and 83% respectively, and some individual months were considerably lower again.

So what can we expect with this new timetable? In their board reports, AT have said

Train Run times on the Southern and Eastern Lines with electric trains will be shorter than previous pre-electronic train control system (ETCS) signalling with diesel trains, with equivalent times on the Western Line due to large number of rail level and pedestrian crossings and speed limits at these crossings.

 

We’ll have to wait to see just how big the speed improvements will be, but we’re hearing they aren’t significant – perhaps a 3-4 minute improvement on the current timetable at best. If correct, then in our view that’s simply not good enough. And if that is the case, AT’s lack of action mean serious questions need to be asked by those charged with overseeing and managing the organisation, especially seeing as the train network has been all-electric for over 18 months now. Also remember that speeding up services was something the council recently outlined as a key expectation of Auckland Transport.

  • ensuring full value is obtained from council’s very large investment in rail electrification by reducing journey times, particularly through shorter dwell times at stations and more efficient rail operations

But just how fast should our trains be? We’ve made plenty of our own estimates in the past, so with this post I’m going to look at some official estimates of what should be achievable.

The data for this comes from a document I was given by the EMU project team in early 2013. The document includes a lot of detailed technical information from train manufacturer CAF, such as acceleration and braking profiles. Importantly for this post, it also includes modelling just how fast the trains should be. In fact, it goes further, showing how CAF’s proposal compares to the original requirement from Kiwirail (the government initially put Kiwirail in charge of the EMU tender but it and the team were later transferred to AT).

The modelling shows exactly how fast both Kiwirail and CAF say the trains would be between stations, including dwell times. For the Western and Southern lines, the modelling includes trains stopping at Parnell, while for the Southern and Eastern lines it includes stopping at Westfield. Onehunga times weren’t included in the part of the document they provided me. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to show the times listed as being Kiwirail’s Requirement, but in all cases, CAF estimated their trains would be up to about 30 seconds faster over the entire journey. The modelling is also done for each direction of each route, but for the purposes of this post I’ll just list the times to Britomart (the differences in direction are minor).

First up, I’ve replicated the tables from the documents. One of the things that immediately stands out is that with the exception of Newmarket, all stations are expected to only have a 30 second dwell time. Even off peak at a quiet station, AT can’t achieve that kind of time. Newmarket is expected to have a 1-minute dwell for Southern line trains and a 2-minute dwell for Western line trains.

That’s fairly detailed, so next I cut the results down to compare them to our current timetables, remembering that current timetables are rounded to whole minutes. It’s also worth noting that on the current timetables, the Southern and Eastern lines have a two minute variation in travel times. In both cases I used the lower of the two.

Now I appreciate there’s always going to be a difference between some modelled results and what can be achieved in real life, but the difference between the current timetable and what was required of tenderers is, as Trump says, yuuuge.

In fact, the savings are so big they’re CRL sized – in the info published by AT about the CRL, they list New Lynn to Britomart as improving from 35 minutes to 27 minutes. Under the required times from Kiwirail above, which don’t include the CRL and include stopping at Parnell as well as Westfield, the trip is supposed to take ….. 27 minutes. Or course, that doesn’t negate the time saving benefits of the CRL. These time savings would then stack on top, so New Lynn to Britomart should be as low as 19 minutes post-CRL. Think about what impact that would have on how people choose to get around.

A really important advantage of getting speeds close to these required levels is that it would free up more trains, which could then be used to further increase capacity on the network. Or course, with times so much faster, that capacity will certainly be needed for all the extra people that will want to use the services.

It’s perhaps worth pointing out that we don’t know what happened along the way of buying the trains, and it’s possible that for budget reasons that AT had to make some compromises in design – but I’d certainly hope not.

I imagine there are still a number of improvements that could be made to improve travel times – such as eliminating level crossings on the Western Line – but in my mind, the biggest opportunity is improving our horrifically slow dwell times. That will likely require a mix of both physical and operational changes.

Coming back to the question of how fast our trains should be, I think that if we could get within 2-3 minutes of what was originally expected (and remember CAF said their trains would exceed those times), then I suspect we’ll be doing well.

Bring on the pedestrian crossing

Takapuna Beach is one of Auckland’s many fantastic assets yet the beach has long be separated from the town centre by The Strand, effectively a back street with only a purpose to provide access to parking. Yet the people on foot using the main access from the town centre, down from Hustmere Green, have long been cut off from the beach by the below signs.

This situation was made even more absurd after the addition of the new playground last year, seen in the background of the image above drawing in even more families and children to the area. We and many others have for years requested that these signs be removed and proper crossings be put in.

Finally, Auckland Transport have agreed to do something about it, for this crossing at least.

 

Parents’ safety concerns have been answered as Auckland’s hugely popular Takapuna Beach Playground is set to get a zebra crossing.

…..

Since opening in August, there had been numerous comments from the public to the North Shore Times calling for a designated crossing across The Strand.

But it was Auckland councillor for the North Shore Chris Darby who made an official request to Auckland Transport (AT) to investigate the playground’s safety and its case for a zebra crossing.

“During a visit to the beach last October, it was apparent that the throng of families accessing the playground was creating a serious pedestrian safety issue on The Strand,” Darby said.

“There’s a certain irony in this outcome as, for some years, there have been efforts to create a safer crossing of The Stand from Hurstmere Green to the beach but pedestrian counts did not substantiate it.

“Who would have thought a playground would create so much buzz? A cafe owner told told me there was an uplift in business with families discovering Takapuna for the first time.”

Auckland Transport will be installing the zebra crossing within the 2017/2018 financial year. This means it could be up to 18 months before the crossing is installed.

But AT media relations manager Mark Hannan said it is considering installing temporary warning signs, which can be “done quickly and relatively cheaply”.

Hannan said costing for the overall project had not been done yet, but The Strand met all of the criteria necessary for a street to qualify for a zebra crossing.

“Several factors are considered prior to putting in a pedestrian crossing, such as the pedestrian demand, traffic volumes, crash history, and proximity to driveways and side streets,” Hannan said.

“Our traffic and pedestrian counts indicate this site meets the criteria for a pedestrian crossing.”

Why it will take so long to put some white paint down on the road?

Unfortunately that isn’t the only sign telling pedestrians to give way in Auckland, it isn’t even the only one in Takapuna. Councillor Darby’s comments also highlight another, frequent issue, how we prioritise movement. In NZ the default in all situations is to do as much as possible not to inconvenience drivers in the slightest. Despite what numerous strategic documents say, maintaining the flow of traffic is normally treated as more important than the safety of people on foot, even when those on foot outnumber those in cars. Pedestrian crossings will only be provided if enough people are prepared to cross a road regardless. The problem with that it can often be the same as trying to determine the need for a bridge by counting the number of people swimming across the harbour.

 

We need to change our streets and our attitudes to users to fit more in line with the pyramid above and how different would we feel about crossings if they were designed the other way around?

AMETI finally moving forward

One of the items I had on my list to write about this year was to ask what was happening with the AMETI busway. That’s because since at least as far back as September 2015, the notice of requirement for the Panmure to Pakuranga section has been listed in AT’s board reports as being due to be lodged within the next three months. In April last year they even put out a press release saying they’d lodged the notification but nothing was heard since. Well now they’ve finally said the project is open for public submissions.

The Panmure to Pakuranga section, otherwise known as AMETI Section 2A, includes a number of big changes, such as:

  • The notorious Panmure roundabout will be replaced by a signalised intersection
  • About 2.4km of urban busway from Panmure to Pakuranga – an urban busway means there’ll still be some at grade intersections, as opposed to the Northern Busway which is grade separated, although some current intersections with Pakuranga Rd will be closed.
  • The route will have a mix of shared paths or and dedicated bike facilities
  • The busway and walking/cycling paths will be accommodated on a new, dedicated bridge crossing the Tamaki River
  • Changes to how side roads in Pakuranga interact with Pakuranga Rd, this includes linking some cul-de-sac’s together so only one intersection is needed.

The intersection that will replace the Panmure roundabout

The busway can’t come soon enough. East Auckland is easily the poorest served part of the urban area when it comes to public transport and as such it’s no coincidence that PT usage is low leading to a high reliance on driving and of course, congestion. The low use of PT is easily seen in this map of census data based on journey to work data showing East Auckland being equivalent in usage to rural areas. The busway will help extend decent quality PT further into the east, especially when combined with a quick, easy and free transfer at Panmure to the rail network.

Here are a couple more images suggesting what the project will look like.

Stage 2A is shown in the map below in yellow and is the first stage in what will eventually be a 7km busway that extends all the way to Botany. AT have also said they plan to put bus lanes up Pakuranga Rd towards Highland Park and that too and combined, will make PT much more useful and reliable in the east.

In their press release, AT do say they’ve made some changes to the design based on earlier feedback and that the changes include:

  • Changes to the design of the Panmure intersection.
  • Adding in a U-turn facility on Queens Road in Panmure.
  • Moving the proposed new Panmure Bridge 5m north to future proof the upgrade of the existing road bridge.
  • Widening Williams Avenue in Pakuranga to allow parking on both sides and two lanes of traffic.
  • Improvements to property access along the route.

Along with the public submissions opening for this stage of the project, AT have also released a new video of the project.

In both the video and the press release there are a couple of things that caught my attention, the biggest of which was the positive language used. For example from the video:

  • “Imagine getting into Auckland City from Pakuranga in less than 30 minutes”
  • “A new congestion free urban busway will provide a fast, reliable travel alternative”
  • “When the busway is finished, you can travel stress free between Panmure, Pakuranga and Botany”

While the press release said

Auckland Transport AMETI Eastern Busway Project Director Duncan Humphrey says the project will deliver the initial stage of New Zealand’s first urban busway, allowing bus travel on congestion-free lanes between Panmure and Pakuranga.

“AMETI is aimed at improving transport choices and better connecting residents of east Auckland to the rest of the city.”

“The Panmure to Pakuranga section of AMETI will allow buses to travel on congestion-free lanes. It’ll mean quicker, more frequent and reliable buses on lanes separate to general traffic, making public transport more attractive and improving the quality of service. It will also see major improvements for both cyclists and pedestrians giving them safer, more direct connections.

It’s fantastic to see AT using the term “Congestion Free”. When we created the Congestion Free Network back in 2013, one of the key aims was to get AT to improve how it discussed and presented rapid transit. We encouraged them to embrace the network and terminology and it appears they’ve done just that.

The video also highlights a couple of other things too, that the existing Panmure Bridge will be replaced in about 20 years with a fourth general traffic lane added – which seems odd given the changes above will leave Lagoon Dr with only a single lane each way for general traffic. It also shows that AT are still pushing on with the Reeves Rd flyover, at a time when many cities are, or are planning to tear down similar structures.

As part of the notification, AT are holding some open days for the project. The details are

Date

Time

Venue

14 February 2017 6.30am – 9.30am Panmure Station, mezzanine level
16 February 2017 4pm – 9pm Pakuranga Plaza (outside Farmers)
18 February 2017 6pm – 10pm Pakuranga night markets, Westfield (under The Warehouse)

Overall, it’s good to finally see some progress on this project which has been on the books now for over decade. AMETI was born out of the failed pushed for an eastern motorway by the likes of John Banks. It started as a scaled down version of that motorway plan but positively, over time it has morphed into a more balanced transport project although it still retains some of its heritage in the likes of the proposed Reeves Rd Flyover. The biggest concern however is the timing, even this section of busway (if the consent is approved), is not expected to start construction till about 2021.

Late buses

Public Transport that turn up late can be incredibly frustrating, and if it happens regularly and severely enough, it can put people off using PT services altogether. Monitoring if buses are on time is therefore a vitality important task for AT and if done right, can help identify where there are issues on the network or with how operators are doing their job. But correctly monitoring if buses turn up on time, also known as punctuality, is something that we’ve always struggled with and continue to do so.

Long-time readers may recall that in the past, Auckland Transport published each month punctuality and reliability (if buses turn up at all) statistics that would make a tinpot dictator proud. That’s because the results were based entirely on self-reporting by the operators. The foxes were guarding the hen house if you will and as such we would regularly see ridiculous results. The operators would tell AT they had over 99% of buses on time. Any regular user would likely instantly laugh at you if you tried telling them that result was accurate.

Then mid-2014, Auckland Transport mixed things up by moving to calculate the results based on the buses GPS location. This comes from the same system they use to display information on realtime signs. This had an immediate impact, dropping the results from 98.42% in June 2014 to 90.53% in July 2014. The number has improved in the last few years but it remains in the low 90s meaning that almost 1 in every 10 buses is late.

But while things have definitely improved from the old self-reporting days, we still have major issues with just how the number is reached. This is best explained here from AT’s stat’s report.

Punctuality is measured by the percentage of total scheduled services leaving their origin stop no more than one minute early or five minutes late.

In other words, as long as a bus leaves the first stop within 5 minutes of its scheduled time, it counts as one time. The major problem with that assumption is that most people don’t get on at the originating stop but further along the route. As such, by the time the bus reaches people further along the route, it could already be significantly late. The other PT services are now measured this way too, although for rail at least, AT also still publish the data using the old methodology – which counts services based on when they arrive at their destination vs the timetable. How we count reliability is something I’ll come back to.

Yesterday the herald published the results of an OIA by the Green Party into just how late buses are. What’s interesting is they had AT break the results down by route, allowing us to see just what the bad routes were.

Punctuality has always, publicly at least,

Ever wondered how often your bus arrives on time? Now, we can tell you.

New figures from all 280 bus services around Auckland show the percentage of time each service arrives within five minutes of its scheduled departure time.

Auckland Transport say the figures are improving and hit an all-time-high of 96.36 per cent of buses running on time in January.

But broken-down data, obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, shows the most unreliable bus services include the popular Inner Link and routes on a new network introduced in South Auckland three months ago.

Three out of 10 Inner Link buses turn up late, as do many South Auckland routes, according to the figures.

Of the 20 worst bus routes across the Super City, 11 are in South Auckland where Auckland Transport trumpeted a simpler network, more buses and better fares last October.

With so many routes in South Auckland near the top of the list, surely its time for AT to start putting in some bus lanes around the place.

 

So just how could/should AT be reporting punctuality?

Option 1

One option would be to adopt the strategy of Transport for New South Wales. Here’s how the bus operators reliability KPI is determined.

(i) At least 95% of Published Timetable Trips and Headway Trips commence each Trip On Time

(ii) At least 95% of Published Timetable Trips and Headway Trips leave the mid-point Transit Stop on each Trip On Time

(iii) <5% of Published Timetable Trips arrive at the last Transit Stop of each Trip Late

What I like about this method is that is that that it takes three measures into consideration for more a balanced result. This means its not just counting if a bus left on time but that it was also on time during it’s journey. This surely wouldn’t be too difficult for AT to do.

Option 2

AT could report even more detailed information. Thomas Lumley recently built a small bot to check punctuality of the real-time info vs the timetable and tweet the results every 15 minutes. For an explanation of the bot, it’s worth reading Thomas’ post on the matter.

I don’t recall having seen the percentage on time over 80% since the bot started tweeting on 21-Jan and I’d suspect this probably better reflects people’s experiences with the bus network. Either way it’s clearly possible to report the results better.

Option 3

Ultimately the thing that causes the most for buses to run late is other drivers on the road – also known as congestion. The solution to that of course is to put in more bus lanes so that buses don’t get caught up in it. The map below is a year or more old now but shows where bus/transit lanes exist or are planned. On the isthmus there is generally good coverage of bus lanes, although the existing lanes could still be much better than they are today.

What do you think about bus punctuality and how should AT report it?

AT Event PT Groundhog

Auckland Anniversary weekend, like many other long weekends, has long been associated with people packing up their car and fleeing the city, usually to beaches in places like the Coromandel Peninsula or North of Auckland. In the last few years in particular, we’ve also started to see Auckland growing into becoming an international city that is able to celebrate the anniversary weekend through a wide range of events. What’s more, many of these events are now being held in the city centre. Take yesterday for example, in the city centre we had:

The impact of this change and development of the city centre as a destination not just for work has been hugely positive and importantly popular too, going by the massive numbers of people drawn to the city to participate in the events.

Unfortunately, a cloud continues to hang over events like what took place yesterday – and the rest of the weekend, AT’s continued sole focus on the hunt for the great white commuter (the stereotypical 9-5 office worker). This is evident by the almost non-existent public transport that existed due to public holidays being treated with a Sunday timetable – with one exception, some extra trains to cater for the cricket.

But even the extra trains put on for the cricket would have been useless for most as there were only a few extra services put on at the expected start and finish time of the match. That meant throughout most of the day, the rail network continued to run with just 30 minute frequencies – a level at which most people would think makes using it just too hard.

And it’s not just the infrequent services that cause issues but also how long they run for. On Sunday, and like with New Year’s Eve, the final trains for the day left just minutes before the fireworks ended. On Monday, the same thing happened with the Laneway Festival as the last trains departed Britomart just before the festival ended.

To me this all represents a massive missed opportunity to showcase our PT network, which has been improving. It also likely means AT aren’t getting the most of their 99c child fares on weekends.

We know that by in large, most people are rational. Many are more than happy to use PT if a decent service is provided but what AT continues to provide on days like yesterday doesn’t even come close to a decent service.

Of course, the ultimate solution is for AT to not treat event days like this weekend separate at all but just to provide a decent base level of service every day. That is part of the philosophy behind the New Network but it’s notable that AT haven’t implemented the associated rail changes with it yet, these were described in AT’s Regional Public Transport Plan as:

This isn’t the first time I’ve raised issues about the provision PT and events and sadly I doubt it will be the last.

Did you have any PT experiences over the weekend and how did they go?