ATAP: The right answers to the wrong questions

So the long-awaited final report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released yesterday. This is the third “deliverable” from the project, building on the “Foundation Report” in February and the “Interim Report” in June. The Final Report isn’t dramatically different from what was reported in June, although there’s a lot more detail – particularly around the timing of major projects. I’ll get onto that soon. First if you want to watch the announcement from Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown you can do so below thanks to Auckland Transport filming it.

Overall, ATAP appears to have landed at a pretty sensible overall strategy for Auckland’s transport system over the next 30 years and see’s the government agree to something fairly close to the council’s Auckland Plan. For example, the report highlights:

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Here’s the strategic approach in a nutshell, it seems very similar to what we’ve seen in existing Auckland plans:


Of particular interest is, of course, the timing of projects – especially what’s “brought forward” into being a first decade priority. The first decade is the key as it’s difficult to project what will happen much more than that – something the report acknowledges. The major projects are summarised in the table and map below:


There are a few interesting things in here:

  • Northwestern Busway – a project we’ve long been calling for and should have been included as part of the current SH16 works – has been brought forward into the first decade. Remember this was a third decade project in the Auckland Plan.
  • With the exception of some improvements to the existing rail network, there seems to have been an allergic reaction to the term rail for any new lines. Instead the report uses the phrase Mass Transit instead.
  • There seems to have been a compromise on isthmus light-rail, with it now being a second decade priority. On the positive side, this project wasn’t officially in any of the plans before ATAP.
  • The Early Rail Development Plan priorities include Pukekohe electrification and a third-main between Westfield and Wiri. I wonder if this means government is agreeing to fully fund these?
  • A “mass transit” upgrade of the Northern Busway is now officially in the plans as a longer-term priority. Presumably this means to some sort of rail in the future.
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is not seen as required before the third decade (around 2040). Given that NZTA had previously been talking about it needing to be in place by 2030, this is quite a major shift.

The major projects shown above are only those on the ‘strategic networks’ and there are a lot of smaller projects that sit below that. The strategic networks have also been shown in a schematic form too.

The road version shows that while map above looks busy, there’s not a heap of new major roads on the horizon. The black arterial roads should also be AT’s basis for a bus lane network map.


By comparison the strategic PT network shows that a lot of development is needed – and the government has agreed with this, also does it look familiar?



I’m sure we’ll have plenty more posts to come on the details of ATAP as we sift through them over the coming days. But what’s perhaps most interesting is how ATAP has landed at a reasonably good overall approach, even though it seems to have come at the issue from a pretty “old school” predict and provide approach. Firstly, the project objectives are very focused around congestion – even though we know that higher or lower levels of congestion are a pretty poor indicator of whether a city is succeeding or failing. Secondly, the analysis (which is described in much more detail in the “Supporting Information” report) is very demand-led, predict and provide. It is the result of a massive reliance on transport modelling that we know has traditionally not done well, especially in the face of transformative change that projects like Britomart, rail electrification and the Northern Busway.

We would have preferred to see a strategic, top-down, outcomes focused approach that focused on the jobs we might want different parts of the transport system to do. I guess the challenge with this approach is that it would have required all of those involved to actually agree to a vision for the city.

Despite this, ATAP has still landed in broadly the right place – which in a way makes it even stronger. Even if your focus is very old-school, predict and provide etc. the evidence shows that the best solution for Auckland is a major expansion of the public transport network and a shift to managing demand. Of course ATAP isn’t perfect:

  • There are a lot of major roading projects in there which seem unnecessary if you were to bring in smarter pricing, something the report even acknowledges in this section about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles

This could present opportunities to defer or avoid future investment in additional road capacity

  • Some of what’s said about arterial roads is quite worrying as there’s a really strong push for those to have more of a movement focus when many of these are also places where we want a lot of development to occur – a balance between place and movement is required
  • I think some major public transport projects will probably need to be brought forward – if for nothing else, to respond to massive demand

One thing you may have noticed is missing from the report is active modes. This is in part because our transport models are hopeless on active modes and because “the views of central and local government are already well aligned on the priorities and likely level of future funding”. Hopefully that means more initiatives like the Urban Cycleway Fund are expected.

Overall it’s a pretty big step in the right direction, especially in terms of having something the government has signed up to. At the briefing yesterday the representatives from the business and infrastructure lobbies were fairly dismayed at the outcome of the report, perhaps a sign it’s on the right track. They want to more built sooner but have also separately said they don’t want to pay more rates to enable that.

The next challenge is of course how we fund it. ATAP estimates that over the next decade we’ll need to spend $24 billion but based on current budget trends, that will leave a $4 billion funding gap (mostly in the later part of the decade). With leading mayoral candidates promising to cap rate increases, it will make for an interesting few years while this issue is addressed.

Rail to the Shore Meeting Tonight


In case you missed it, the North Shore Rail campaign is holding a meeting tonight to draw out support from the public and Auckland Council candidates.

As the media release says, the campaign is really pushing for North Shore residents to turn up and demonstrate their support for a high capacity electric rail connection across the Waitemata, otherwise it might not happen at all. An online petition has so far garnered over 1,500 signatures from the general public.

If you aren’t familiar with the background, NZTA’s proposed road crossing has no economic business case and is likely to cause even more congestion in the central city and surrounding road networks unless further road widening takes place. The New Zealand Transport Agency are planning to lodge planning approvals with the Auckland Council for the road crossing some time early next year.

The free public meeting will feature Barb Cuthbert from Bike Auckland as MC, with speakers including:

  • Cameron Pitches from Better Transport
  • Patrick Reynolds from TransportBlog and Greater Auckland
  • Chris Darby, currently a North Shore Councillor and standing again in this year’s election
  • Richard Hills, current Kaipatiki Local Board Member and also standing this year for the Auckland Council North Shore electorate

To be held:

  • Thursday 15th September, 7:30pm
  • Onewa Netball Centre
  • 44 Northcote Road, Takapuna

A new Road Only Harbour crossing option unpopular

Back in May I wrote about how it appeared a road only harbour crossing might be on the cards following some NZTA documents I recieved as part of an offical information act request. That prompted our friends at Generation Zero to initiate a survey to see just how much support there was for various options. The results are now back in.

The survey was conducted by UMR Research and had a sample size of 500 with a margin of error of ±4.4%. The survey asked the following question.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is planning to build an additional Auckland harbour crossing in the next decade. They’re considering three options. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means “strongly oppose” and 10 means “strongly support” how strongly do you support each of these options?

  • A rail-only crossing, that would mean rail could go from Albany to the CBD, which costs approximately $3.5 billion
  • A road-only crossing which costs approximately $5 billion
  • A rail and road crossing, that would mean rail could go from Albany to the CBD, which costs approximately $7 billion

Of the three the road only option was deeply unpopular with just 22% of respondents saying they support or strongly support it compared with almost twice as many (41%) opposing the idea. By comparison the rail only option had 42% support compared with 29% opposition while the idea with the most support was combined option.

AWHC - Gen Z Survey Result - Overview

I think it’s quite good that Gen Z included costs in the options as often these types of surveys don’t but the result is quite interesting in that the most expensive option was the most preferred. This suggests that Aucklanders want more of everything regardless of cost, and that lines up with what we’ve seen from other surveys and the likes of Mayor Len Brown often says he gets told to just get on with it. As we know, some of those views might change a little when it comes time to push the button on increasing rates or taxes to cover this extra infrastructure costs but regardless, it has interesting implications for future funding discussions.

The report also takes a look at the demographics of those who responded and they too have some interesting outcomes.

  • People under 45 were more likely to support a single mode crossing compared to those 45 and over while they were comparatively less supportive of the combined option. I wonder if this reflects them taking more account of the costs of these projects while those 45+ were more inclined just to get stuff done.
  • A rail only crossing had the lowest level of support from those in the South which seems to tie in with a the highest level of support for a road only crossing from that area. Perhaps this suggests that the people surveyed from the South were more likely to need to drive over the harbour and so favoured that. Conversely of the single mode options, those in central areas were more likely to support a rail only crossing which perhaps suggests a greater concern about the impacts of a road only connection.
  • The combined crossing option has the most support amongst those in the highest household income brackets and also those who own a home with a mortgage

AWHC - Gen Z Survey Result - Rail

AWHC - Gen Z Survey Result - Road

AWHC - Gen Z Survey Result - Combined

Overall a useful survey and thanks to Generation Zero for organising it.

You might recall that the recent ATAP interim report poured a little bit of cold water on the AWHC, noting

Improving access to and from the North Shore

  • The bridge and its approaches are a pinch-point on the transport network, particularly during the evening peak in both directions.
  • An additional crossing significantly improves accessibility to/from the North Shore, but does not appear to substantially improve congestion results.
  • Projected growth in public transport demand appears likely to trigger the need for a new crossing within the next 30 years. There is potential for a shared road/PT crossing, but the costs and benefits of different options require further analysis.

High cost of potential solutions

  • Because any new crossing will be tunnelled, there is a significant opportunity cost arising from this investment. Fully understanding key drivers, alternatives, cost and benefits will be crucial before any investment decisions are made.
  • It makes sense to protect the route for a new harbour crossing in a way that integrates potential future roading and public transport requirements.

In light of this, if a survey were to be done again it would be interesting to see how people supported the various options if they knew the road options also result in a considerable congestion impact on and around the motorways in the future.

ATAP - Interim Report - AWHC


NZCID’s scary views on transport in Auckland

I don’t think New Zealand’s infrastructure lobby has met a project it didn’t think should be bigger or more expensive and later today they’re holding an event to release a report on Auckland’s transport system that they’ve titled: Transport Solutions for a Growing City. At the event they’ll also have talks from the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the AA. Here’s the banner for it

NZCID transport report

They describe the situation as this.

Auckland’s transport system is under pressure.

Peak traffic congestion is rapidly extending into commercial and recreational periods, undermining competitiveness and liveability. Public transport is increasing, but not fast enough to reduce pressures on the road network. Auckland and Central Government are reviewing transport plans through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project to identify how better outcomes can be delivered. But the transport programme is only one part of the equation.

Learn how the city can turn around Auckland’s transport outlook by expanding the capacity of the network and improving the alignment of demand, growth and investment.

While we’ll have to wait for their report to be released, they’ve already published this video which gives a hint at the direction their report will be taking.

A few take outs include

  • They want huge investment in building carparking buildings at busway stations. This would cost at least $30,000 per extra carpark (excluding land costs), and even now the busway carparks account for less than 50% of the trips from those busway stations. If you built 1,000 carparks for $30 million, the interest costs would be $6 million a year, but it would only add around 500,000 extra PT  trips. $12 per trip is an expensive way to grow patronage, and we hope Auckland Transport has better ways to spend its money than that.
  • They say the busway is empty and want trucks, vans and high occupancy vehicles to have access to the busway – either for free or a charge. This was presumably also before the government’s announcement of allowing electric vehicles on the busway too. It’s worth noting this from the NZTA’s post implementation review of the busway in 2012 – and the busways got busier since then..

It appears doubtful that following the success (and increased frequencies) of the bus operation any significant amount of HOV use of the existing busway could be achieved without negative impacts on bus operations (5).

And from our friend Cornelius


  • There are lots of sweeping shots of the motorways with cars. They seem to pay a lot of attention to a few spots, particularly the North Shore on-ramps and around Mt Wellington. This is no surprise as the NZCID have been huge supporters of the East-West link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Yet related to AWHC they do note “While the bridge flows relatively well”
  • There are a number of sniping comments at cycleways such as Lightpath where they say it “carries few patrons”. This is despite the fact you can see at least 5 people on it, the same number as using the using the motorway off-ramp. Later they also make similar snarky comments about the NW cycleway over the SH16 causeway.
  • In talking about rail they make a basic error, saying that the Auckland Plan envisages rail patronage doubling from 70 million trips a year to 140 million. This is actually total patronage including buses too. They then go on to say that PT isn’t enough so a “significant increase in road capacity will be needed”. There is no talk of delivering a true regional rapid transit network.

And again from Cornelius


  • They say that the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) must deliver solutions to congestion which to them includes road pricing – something they’ve led the charge on – PT, walking and cycling but also “desperately needed road capacity”. From this and previous comments it’s clear their main focus is MOAR ROADZ

They then list of the solutions they think are needed. Some of these aren’t too bad and we would agree with but others are crazy

  1. Improving frequency and convenience of public transport services to major centres of employment, education and entertainment
  2. Vastly increasing park and ride facilities and providing express bus services across the public transport network
  3. Developing mixed use “live, walk and work” communities
  4. Targeting high amenity intensification around rail and busway stations
  5. Enabling satellite city development at scale beside the main rail corridors
  6. Promoting teleworking and work from home initiatives utilising digital connectivity
  7. Investing in leading edge intelligent traffic management systems
  8. Enabling early adoption of new vehicle technologies
  9. Building a new Eastern Ring Route from Esmond Rd [sic] to Papakura, and East West from Onehunga to Mount Wellington
  10. Introducing variable motorway network tolls to both manage traffic demand and fund much needed additional transport investment

Of those #9 sounds remarkably similar to our April Fools day post which we even called the “Eastern Ring Route”.

This is the route we think they’re proposing, only differing from ourjokee in that it doesn’t go under Lake Rd


Could our April Fools joke become a reality?

In some ways that’s not a surprise as that April 1 post was based on what we’d been hearing for some time. They’ve said before that they want AWHC to connect to the east of the city to join up with Grafton Gully. We’d also heard for some time that they’ve wanted the Eastern motorway back on the agenda and that to get around the issues of the residents in the east who scuttled the last attempt over a decade ago, that they’ve proposed it be tunnelled all of the way to Glen Innes. Combining these two projects together would result in a tunnel of around 14km in length and that also doesn’t include how it gets from Glen Innes to Papakura. The cost of that corridor alone would probably build and entire regional rapid transit system and still have change to spare.

We’ll have to wait for the report to hopefully be made public to see just how bad it is but based on what we can tell so far, it doesn’t look like it will be good. Given they’re also a stakeholder on ATAP I assume they’re probably pushing these ideas there too.

Will the proposed Waitemata Harbour Crossing be good for drivers?

There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.

But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.

Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.

I-10 Katy Freeway

Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.

Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.

But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.

Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:

Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.

This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];

This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.

Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.

The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.

What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.

Sydney Harbour am peak

It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.

Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].

In 1992 it  [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.

The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:

AWHC - Induced Demand

Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:

  • Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
  • Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.

So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.

Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore.  And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.

The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.

What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.

What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.

Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.

Light Metro North & Northwest

Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.

So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.

And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.

This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.

What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:

CRL Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern

Parking must pay its way

Parking, parking, parking! In many places in many cities – even eco-friendly German cities – the price of parking is distorted by minimum parking requirements (MPRs). In these places, local governments regulate an over-supply of parking, which in turn holds down prices.

The Auckland city centre is not one of those places, as MPRs were removed from the area inside the motorway cordon in the late 1990s. As a consequence:

  • New developments provide a lot less parking. For example, the new Commercial Bay building would have had to provide over 2000 carparks if it was subject to the same MPRs as the rest of the Auckland isthmus. It’s actually providing 278 carparks – 85% less.
  • The price of parking is higher, as new parking garages must “compete” with other land uses, such as valuable commercial, retail, and residential space. If parking doesn’t pay its way, it doesn’t get built.

Furthermore, the price of parking will tend to rise over time as a result of supply and demand interactions. New demand for parking will tend to be met with increased supply. However, new parking supply will tend to be costlier, as cheap surface carparks are likely to be redeveloped and new city centre parking will increasingly be provided in expensive structures.

In fact, parking fees has been rising. In November 2014, Auckland Transport announced that it would end earlybird discounts – meaning that all commuters would pay an all-day rate of $17 to park. In July 2015, AT hiked the all-day price to $24. Other operators have followed suit. For example, Sky City now charges $22 for earlybird parking – whereas it only charged $14 in 2013.

Of course, not everybody pays to park. According to a 2007 survey of city centre parking spaces summarised in a recent report, there were 22,639 public carparks in the city centre, and 22,121 private non-residential carparks attached to businesses. Here’s the table:

Auckland city centre parking supply 2007

In the Auckland city centre, it is almost always necessary to pay to use public parking – e.g. parking garages or on-street parking. Private carparks attached to businesses may be offered as part of compensation packages, which means that people give up a bit of salary in exchange for a carpark that they don’t have to pay to use on a daily basis. Alternatively, employers may choose to rent them out for a monthly fee.

But here’s the thing. This data suggests that at most 50% of the nonresidential parking in the city centre is being offered free of charge. People using the other 50% must pay to park, either on an hourly or daily basis. The price to park for a day is now in the range of $20, and hourly prices tend to be higher.

In other words, the average price that people pay to park in the city centre could easily be $10/day or more, assuming that 50% of drivers get “free” employer-provided carparks and the remaining 50% pay market rates of around $20/day. Furthermore, the cost for the marginal parking user will tend to be higher, as the removal of MPRs means that they will be more likely to pay full market rates for parking.

This leads me on to the curious case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). Or rather, the peculiar assumptions about city centre parking prices that are incorporated into the transport modelling for AWHC.

If constructed, AWHC would be New Zealand’s most expensive single transport project – coming in at a cost of $5-6 billion to bore road tunnels under the Waitemata Harbour. A project of this magnitude demands extra-special care to validate all the model inputs and workings and ensure that they are as realistic as possible. Errors on a major project can have costly ramifications.

With that in mind, here are the parking price assumptions from the 2010 business case for the project. (They can be found on page 42 of the project’s transport modelling report.) They assume that the average price to park in the city centre was $2.83 in 2006, rising to $7.72 in 2041:

AWHC parking price assumptions

It is not clear how these assumptions were chosen, but they do not seem plausible. As I discussed above, the average parking cost in the city centre today could easily be higher than the modelling is assuming for 2041. Getting parking prices back in line with the modelling assumptions would require them to fall by perhaps 30% over the next decade.

A reduction in parking prices is highly unlikely without a major policy shift and a boat-load of investment in uneconomic city centre parking garages. In the absence of MPRs, parking must pay its way. It will not be built if it does not provide a competitive return to business or residential floorspace. This means that new parking will tend to be supplied at a considerably higher price than the AWHC modelling envisages.

Lastly, it is worth noting that parking prices can have a significant impact on transport outcomes. Public transport tends to be cheaper than driving if you have to pay for parking – but more expensive otherwise. Consequently, unrealistically low parking price assumptions will bias transport modelling results by inflating demand for driving and depressing demand for public transport and other non-car modes.

What do you think will happen to city centre parking prices?