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.
‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol
Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.
It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.
We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:
1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?
People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.
Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.
2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.
However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.
This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.
3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).
There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic]. For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.
This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.
Same as it ever was.
Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work
In July Auckland Transport stealthily uploaded a 97 page Programme Business Case on the Light Rail page of the AT website. Due to ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project), the Unitary Plan and City Rail Link (CRL) has gone a little bit under the radar.
So what is it? Technically while Light Rail is one part of the business case, the document is called the Central Access Plan (CAP) & deals issues identified in City Centre Future Access Study, which was even with the CRL CBD bus corridors would reach breaking point due to bus congestion/numbers on Wellesley & Symonds Streets.
Bus Numbers with CRL 2041
It looks to be part of a wider scope of studies/works about providing transport access to Central Auckland, they being the CRL which provides good access for the West/South/Inner East, the North Shore Rapid Transit study, which I assume is looking at a need for future rapid transit options either standalone or as part of AWHC project in the foreseeable future, and the Northwest Rapid Transit Project which one would assume is the Northwest Busway report due April 2017 prepared by Aurecon.
Access to Central Auckland
The area the Central Access Plan looks as if it trying to address is Void, which has been mentioned on this blog before, the isthmus area between the Western & Southern lines. This area consists of some of Auckland’s major arterials & bus routes – Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Road, Manukau Road and Dominion Road.
The study identified 3 major problems
- The inability to meet current and projected transport demand on key corridors will sustain unreliable travel and poor access to productive central city jobs
- Blockages and delays in central bus services worsen travel times and customer experience for those using public transport
- High and increasing traffic volumes on residential and inner city streets create adverse urban amenity and environmental effects.
The study also notes that “There is already a substantial problem now with buses frequently late and full, resulting in passengers being left behind. Projects and initiatives such as the City Rail Link (CRL) and the New Network, largely with double-decker buses, will provide substantial additional capacity, but the underlying growth in projected demand is so great that most bus routes and the associated terminals and bus stops will have reached capacity by the early 2020s. The stress on the system at that time will be such that only the introduction of a mode that can move more people in fewer vehicles and that can use the sole under-used City Centre corridor – Queen Street – will provide more than very marginal relief. While measures to optimise the use of the bus services and reduce demand through promoting active travel are integral components of the proposed programme, they only ‘buy time’ before the extra corridor must be brought into use with a higher capacity mode. They will help to make conditions more tolerable as demand continues to grow and before a step-change can be introduced.”
CBD Street Capacity
The below graphs show the buses per hour needed on each street, the Orange shows unmet demand due to over the realistic capacity of buses on the corridor.
Wellesley St Bus Numbers
Symonds St Bus Numbers
The below map shows the Business as Usual scenario, with the red areas no longer within the 45min PT Commute of the City if speeds decrease by 31% (This was a KPI in ATAP)
Areas within 45 CBD PT Commute
To try & mitigate the 3 problems above they first tested 6 options against the Do Minimum Network (The Do Minimum Network included CRL/AMETI/Busway to Albany, Puhoi-Walkworth, as well as Southern/Northern Corridor Improvements.), the options were (Please note these are the Plan’s Pros/Cons, I don’t necessary agree with all)
Option 1 – Do Regardless which includes: Auckland Cycle Network – $200m, More Double Deckers – $80m, City Centre Street Improvements – $30m, Footpath improvements – $15m, Bringing forward Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd stations – $10m, Implementing off board collections, traffic signal changes, more cycle parking and bus shelter improvements – $2m
Pro: Buys Time & minor increase of capacity.
Option 1 – Do Regardless
Option 2 – Non-Financial Demand Management which included reducing parking supply in CBD, all lanes on Symonds (Past K’ Road) & Wellesley during peak would be bus lanes, more aggressive cycle/walking upgrades due to removal of parking.
Pros: Improves Bus Efficiency, more space for Active Modes, does not preclude further options & reduction in pollution.
Cons: Effectiveness Short Lived
Cost: $540M (Not sure if Do Regardless Cost is Part of each Options Cost or Not)
Option 2 – Demand Management
Option 3 – Extended Bus Network which turns Queen Street into a surface busway for Dominion & Sandringham Road bus services as well as changes to other routes.
Pros: Increase of Capacity & Bus Efficiency, Removal of General Traffic from Queen, Buys a number of years before further intervention.
Cons: Lots of Buses on Queen Street, effective short lived without bus terminal capacity, restricts future interventions, high cost.
Option 3 – Extended Bus Network
Option 4 – A Mt Roskill Spur using the Avondale Southdown Corridor with two stations at Owairaka & Mt Roskill.
Pros: Low Impact due to using rail designation, provides extra capacity on inner west stations, buys time before further intervention, some reduction in buses, does not affect further intervention.
Cons: Short lived, low train frequencies adds to travel times, longer distance for Dominion Road.
Option 4 – Mt Roskill Spur
Option 5 – An LRT Network which consists of 5 stages. Stage 1: Mt Roskill via Queen Street & Dominion Road, Stage 2: An extension to Wynyard Quarter, Stage 3: A Sandringham Road LRT Line via Queen Street, Stage 4 & 5: Three Kings via Symonds & Mt Eden Road LRT, Onehunga via Symonds & Manukau Road LRT.
Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes high level of buses from CBD, removes traffic from Queen Street, increase of public space.
Cons: Cost & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.
Option 5 – LRT
Option 6 – The introduction of a Bus Rapid Transit System with a CBD Bus Tunnel.
Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes buses from CBD surface, increase of public space, North Shore services can use tunnel.
Cons: Extremely high cost, large tunnel portals & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.
Option 6 – BRT Tunnel
AT then put each option against criteria with a ranking of 1-5 for each, the total was the average score with LRT coming on top as best option with a average of 4.4/5 compared to the next highest option the BRT tunnel at 3.7/5.
Cap Option Evaluation
After concluding that LRT was possibly the best way forward, they looked deeper into the option, the first observation they made from the models was that “a second light rail service pattern using Symonds Street, Manukau Road and Mt Eden Road may be required towards the very end of the 30 year period. Allowance has not been made for this service pattern in the IP owing to the level of uncertainty in forecasting so far out as noted in ATAP.” So in the time frame they would only be looking at Cost/Benefits of two of the LRT Lines, Dominion Rd & Sandringham Road
Dominion Rd LRT had a Cost Benefit Ratio (CBR) of 0.7 – 1.9 if land value uplift was included, this allowed the potential of a Mt Roskill Spur to be potentially added to the package. The Cost of Dominion Rd LRT including Wynyard Quarter was $1,367m.
Dominion Rd & Sandringham Rd LRT had a CBR of 0.5 – 1.1. However they say this should improve due to it being able to be staged. The cost of Sandringham LRT they have estimated at $500m.
AT says there is issues with the modelling however for the following reasons which do not allow a proper case to be made
- The constraint of requiring a fixed land use for the evaluation is a flawed assumption, as without additional capacity for travel to the City Centre, the ability to deliver the land use is compromised.
- Similarly, for the people that are ‘crowded off’ the public transport services, there is likely to be a second order effect on general traffic as some of them would be forced back to car travel, making it even less efficient in the process. The performance of the road network would also be expected to degrade over time so potential benefits further in the future are likely to be under represented.
- Large public transport projects where a step change is being made represent a significant investment up front, but offer comparatively modest benefits in the early years. However, for a number of reasons there is a need to make that investment at that point in as there are no feasible options to allow continued functionality without the investment.
- The reliability improvements that come with almost completely segregated travel need to be explored further, particularly as the EEM currently caps them at the same value as the travel time savings.
- The non-transport benefits, such as increased tourism activity in the City Centre would further contribute to the overall economic benefit of the IP.
- Land use value uplift has not been estimated in detail but based on overseas examples is potentially large. Further assessment will confirm the magnitude of these benefits.
These are now the same graphs as before but with the Programme Interventions
Wellesley St Bus Numbers with Intervention
Symonds St Bus Numbers with Intervention
With ATAP released the other day, it should be noted they in the Indicative Projects List have said that Bus Improvements may be able to last until the 2nd Decade 2028-38 period before a Mass Transit system may need to be introduced, I am not sure ATAP & CAP are on the same page regarding this, and this issue may potentially need more investigation.
So what do you think?
Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.
But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.
Why Are There Cars on Queen St?
This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine
Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.
People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.
No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.
It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.
And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.
If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.
Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.
And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.
Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.
Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:
- Pedestrians in all directions
- Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
- General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs
And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.
So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.
Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.
Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…
In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.
Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?
‘…Five Years, what a surprise’
AT have now put the SMART study documents on their site, here. There’s a lot to review there and this post is not a look at the whole report and its conclusions, but rather is a response to the problem of the length of time this project is likely to take whatever mode is selected.
All of the proposals in the report are capital intensive, without any currently identified funding source, and the timing of the RT route looks likely to be complicated by the Airport’s development plans, particularly those for the second runway, so there is a good case for looking at interim improvements for Airport/RTN interconnection while these bigger decisions are being resolved. I am focussing on the airport because of its fast growth is clearly a major generator of increased traffic congestion for the whole Mangere area.
First some background from the report. Just setting aside travellers for a moment, what about the workforce at and around the Airport, what are their current patterns?:
So we can see in the above data from the 2013 census that the key connection for workers is east to Manukau area, followed by that to the centre. Furthermore that employee movement is still quite peaky, despite the airport itself obviously being a 24 hour operation:
So what opportunities are there for a quick and relatively low cost connection between the Airport and the current RTN, particularly with the above information in mind, that could be built while the full Mangere/Airport RT route is being developed, whatever the mode? The first and obvious point is that there is already, right now, great service on the spine of the Southern Line relatively close to the Airport, particularly to the City Centre, but also south and across to Manukau City. Where the red and blue lines overlap there are services every five minutes at peak. So there seems to be a clear opportunity to improve connection east from the Airport for its own catchment while that also will connect, via the rail system, the City Centre and anyone who can access a train station.
Currently the connection between rail system and the Airport is very poor, as anyone -like me- who has used it will tell you.
The 380 via Papatoetoe station is not a viable option because of three problems [the longer and slower route to Onehunga is even worse, as well leading to an equally low frequency train]:
- Low frequency: 1/2 hourly service
- Slow route; the 380 has no priority on its route so therefore is subject to both delay and unreliability caused by other traffic [I have been on this bus stuck in traffic for tens of minutes]
- The Station/Bus physical connection at Papatoetoe does little to encourage the transfer.
So why not investigate a dedicated shuttle between the even closer Puhinui Station and the Airport on a minimum 10 minute frequency with dedicated lanes on Puhinui Rd and improved passenger interchange at the station, complete with lifts for people with luggage, and all weather cover? Puhinui is currently timetabled at 33-35 minutes from Britomart [this should improve with current work] with a train leaving every 5 mins at the peaks, exactly when traffic congestion is at is most disruptive. With bus lanes on Puhinui Rd the journey to the terminals would be a reliable 10 mins. Including an average wait time of 5 mins that’s a perfectly satisfactory 50 minute journey from Britomart to the Airport. Because this journey time is reliable and not subject to congestion and avoids the time and cost of parking at the Airport it should be competitive enough for a good proportion of travellers and workers. As shown below, there is space to build an interchange and turning space to the west [Airport] side of the station, this would need to be of interchange standard.
The Puhinui Rd/20B road and bridge are due to be upgraded or duplicated soon in the on-going work to increase general traffic access to the Airport [what you feed grows] surely it would be wise to actually include dedicated transit lanes on a bridge in Auckland for once? This is a future RTN route, the route is flat and unconstrained by buildings; these are good practical and cost arguments for bringing this section forward. Shoulder lanes, or better, a dedicated busway and bridge, LRT ready, would be real ‘future-proofing’ [a phrase it is hard not to be cynical about in Auckland as it generally means doing less than nothing in practice].
With this service then it would be viable and essential to brand both the shuttle bus service at the terminals and the Southern and Eastern line services, both of which, with no changes to how they currently run, then become true Airport services.
Of course the transfer is less ideal than a system that takes you on one seat right into the Terminal either as a flyer or an employee there, however we know many travellers currently transfer from their cars to various bus shuttles in order to get cheaper parking, and surely many workers would be happy to not to have to battle increasing congestion with a reliable and cost effective alternative. In other words by optimising the bus connection we will further unlock the value of investments recently made in the rail system. It probably makes sense on those grounds alone.
This should not be seen as instead of a north/south pan Mangere RTN, but it would surely make a good start, especially as this is the route for the future Botany-Manukau City-Airport RTN. So it would be even better if it continued to the new interchange at Manukau City, and then on to Botany and AMETI. And ensuring all hard infrastructure is built to be efficiently upgradeable to Light Rail in the longer term. Improving eastern connectivity is completely compatible with the northern Mangere routes discussed in the study, and indeed the current Airbus service, so arguably is an even more urgent direction to improve. There is no duplication in sorting this connection out first.
Incidentally this map clearly shows the other areas lacking RTN coverage: the Northwest and Upper Harbour, and the Isthmus and Mangere….
Which is exactly what AT have on their future RTN maps, but far too far into the future in my view. This is still based on last century’s thinking where every road is widened first, leading to the inevitable dysfunction and only then do we try to relieve this adding quality RT alternatives.
To summarise: we already have a high quality Rapid Transit service almost all the way to the airport, it seems to me that the addition of a high quality connection between these points would be a very useful first move in improving connectivity in this important area, especially if taken at least to Manukau City too, and as soon as possible.
In May the government announced a package to try and increase the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand as a way of reducing emissions – a laudable goal but some of the government’s proposed some measures missed the mark. At or at least near the top of the list was the idea to allow for electric cars to use bus lanes and the Northern Busway.
Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes
Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.
At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.
The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.
As I said at the time, the idea is madness and defeats the whole purpose of having bus lanes which is to make buses:
- faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
- more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
- more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
- more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.
It’s now been revealed by the Herald that the government ignored advice to at least consult with councils first before announcing the idea and highlighting that at least one council is ruling it out.
Andy Foster of the Wellington City Council said his city had the country’s highest rate of public transport use “by far” and did not foresee it opting for the change.
“Traffic getting in the buses’ way is not conducive to maintaining reliable timetables.”
Foster, who chairs the council’s transport and urban development committee, said he saw “no chance” that electric vehicles would be allowed to use the city’s bus-only lanes.
“Bus lanes are generally very well respected by motorists. If some vehicles start using bus lanes because they are [electric] there is a greater risk that others which are not [electric] will do so too.”
They also say Auckland Transport and the Christchurch City Council seem cool on the idea although the NZTA say they have begun initial discussions with Auckland Transport to investigate the potential of permitting electric vehicles on the Northern Busway
Back when this policy was announced I sent an Official Information Act request to the Ministry asking for details relating to the idea. I received back some excepts from a report looking at options for promoting EVs but it had been sitting in my inbox for a while. It includes the suggestion that the Minister consult councils on the idea first as well as a few other interesting comments. For example, not only did they recommend talking to road controlling authorities (RCAs) first, they say the NZTA expects none of the major RCAs would implement it.
I find the point that the NZTA highlighted that such and idea was unlikely to work as the RCAs wouldn’t want to implement it as much more damning than the fact he didn’t consult with them
They expand a bit on the efficiency impact portion below highlighting that it will likely impact PT and general traffic congestion. Even more so bottom paragraph below confirms the bus lanes will be full soon but that people will still want to drive in them.
As a way of implementing the idea, it was suggested to either use legislation to declare EVs as allowed in all bus or transit lanes or give RCA’s the power to decide on what lanes to allow EVs to use. Thankfully the Minister at least chose the second option but given the responses above, it seems unlikely to they’ll approve having EVs in bus lanes. That raises the prospect despite the government suggesting it, it won’t actually be possible anywhere. That in turns means the whole point of the policy would be a flop and will have wasted precious resource from the ministry. I wonder if the government will quietly drop it.
Of course if they really want to get more use out of bus lanes one idea would be to provide more funding to put more buses on which would have the added benefit of making PT much more useful.
Every year for many years now March has been mad for public transport use and every year that madness has been entirely predictable. It’s happens due to a combination of many factors such as high numbers of people being at work, schools and universities all back in action and generally decent weather. But predictability doesn’t mean AT do anything all that much about it and this year, AT’s solution publicly was just to tough it out
Mark Hannan, Auckland Transport spokesman, said it was too early to say if complaints had increased this year as tertiary students had only just started back.
“The numbers travelling on buses and trains does increase but settles back again as students work out their schedules. The best advice is to plan ahead and try to travel outside peak times.”
Now we know they did a little more than that, for example getting bus operators like Party Bus to run services but that was far from enough. While I accept that some of the factors will change over the year, one that AT seem to not even consider is that people are so put off by the poor and crowded services that they simply go back to driving.
As well as the ‘tough it out’ stance of AT, I’ve noticed over the year’s people increasingly fed up with how AT handle complaints, often feeling that no one has even cared about the issues raised and that’s if they hear back from AT at all.
This year our friends at Generation Zero ran a campaign asking for people to provide on poor bus experiences they’ve had and they’ve now released the some of the results of their survey. Overall they say they had over 1,000 responses which is impressive as by comparison it appears AT had about 1,900 complaints. The complains came from primarily along the isthmus and Mt Eden Rd is very noticeable.
Unsurprisingly the big issues related to buses being late and full/overcrowded.
There’s a lot more in the report breaking down the results in various ways however the key takeaways for me are that AT need to do better to improve capacity through more frequent/bigger buses as well as get the bus lanes sorted so they’re more useful to buses and therefore the city.
After Generation Zero released the report, AT responded and continued continuing the line that people just need to tough it out.
Auckland Transport welcomes the Generation Zero: Better Bus Report but General Manager AT Metro Mark Lambert says it highlights some of the key initiatives already underway that will improve bus services in Auckland further.
“We would generally support the report and its findings and note we are already working on much of what it recommends.”
Mr Lambert says the Generation Zero report highlights the increased travel demand in March but doesn’t consider the fact that Auckland Transport has to plan for all 12 months of the year.
“March Madness is an annual phenomenon which isn’t unique to Auckland. During the month we carried 5.9 million bus passenger trips. March is the month each year with the highest demand on transport and other services. With the end of February it includes the start of the tertiary year, schools are back and more people are in the city following summer holidays.
“With significant public funding provided for public transport, it would be financially irresponsible to plan for the least possible wait time for a bus during the busiest period of the year, otherwise we would have empty buses on the network for the rest of the year. But we do need to ensure that average wait times for buses are acceptable and improved. On some corridors, especially Mt Eden Road, wait times were too long in March.”
In the 12 months to the end of March public transport use has increased by 4.1% and now exceeds 81.4 million passengers trips a year with record bus, rail and ferry passenger levels. In January, Auckland Transport recorded its best ever month for bus punctuality and in March punctuality was down slightly to 90% of bus services operating within 5 minutes of schedule.
In the past year Auckland Transport added 53,000 extra seats on public transport with 30,000 of those on buses. “We are also part way through a programme to roll-out more than 60 double decker buses to the Auckland network and in the year to the end of June we will add another 17 kilometres of bus lanes.”
He also says Auckland Transport is planning more services, more often with the public transport New Network which starts in the south later this year. The New Network reviews every bus route in Auckland and is implementing from October a hub-and-spoke system of feeding local bus services into a connected network of higher frequency services that will operate on key corridors, either rail or high frequency bus routes, operating 7 days a week between 7am and 7pm.
Mr Lambert says a simpler and more logical public transport fares structure is planned to be launched in the coming months to encourage further public transport use.
“With all these changes we are in a much better position to handle the growing demand for bus services in Auckland but we have to work within current budgets.“
The problem with the theory that it’s all just a one off month and that things will soon return to normal is that it hasn’t. Even in May we’re still hearing/seeing people commenting about full buses. One such example was yesterday by Journalist Kim Baker-Wilson but there have been plenty of others.
Perhaps we need a name for each month to describe the overcrowding. This month could be May Mayhem while next month could Jammed Up June.
AT also make mention of some of the projects they’re working on like integrated fares – which ironically could encourage more people to use PT, possibly making it worse. Double deckers on additional routes and the New Network are also mentioned. All of these changes are good of course but they’re taking an age to complete. AT need to get these changes rolled out faster.
It’s a perfect storm really. The CRL works plus other street and building works are combining with the recent sharp increase in pedestrian and bus numbers to pretty much infarct the Central City at any time of the day. The City-sandpit is not going to get better until the CRL is actually running in 2023, which seems a very long time away.
Sure some important improvements loom large; the Wellesley St bus corridor and better stations and priority on Fanshawe St will clearly help. But it’s also certain that both pedestrian and bus demand will continue to rise because 1) the number of people living, learning, and working in the City Centre is growing rapidly and is likely secular* 2) PT uptake is currently running at about 3 times population growth across the city.
Time and Space
In the medium term AT is keen to add Light Rail in a ‘surface rapid transit’ pattern down the length of Queen St, which certainly would add significant high quality PT capacity on a route that, aside from the CityLink and Airbus, is not used much for PT, nor does it provide substantial private vehicle volume [properly understood, and executed well, LRT on Queen offers new capacity on a route that is currently hiding in plain sight]. This is a good plan, but like CRL, not a quick one. It’s only just begun its battle for believers in Wellington. And anyway, delivering this system would involve even more street works and therefore further disruption, which alone could significantly stand in the way of it happening in the near term. So sorting Centre City street allocation should be front and centre of AT’s senior management group’s attention. Perhaps, in this sense, the CRL works are a test of this group’s attention to detail and creativity?
It seems plain things have to be done now and probably every year until the big PT improvements are finished ready to do their heavy lifting. Bus vehicle supply is clearly a problem which is being addressed, albeit in a Dad’s Army kind of way. But other operational issues must follow too.
AT and AC need to immediately address the allocation of roadspace and signal settings in City Centre. Currently both exhibit legacy private vehicle privilege over other modes, which is completely at odds with the strategic direction of the city centre and the efficient running of all systems. Crossing cycles and crossing opportunities have improved for the dominant mode: pedestrians, but this has been been additional to other priorities rather than substitutive. The throughput of people and goods on these streets is not what it could be; there are simply too many space eating cars preventing higher capacity and value transport modes. Cars are given too many options and too much cycle time at critical intersections, which in turn requires more road width to be used for dedicated turning lanes.
Streets in the city centre are increasingly inaccessible for truck and trade vehicles and, importantly, also for emergency vehicles.
Our pavements and crossing cycles are pumping ever more people through on that brilliantly spatially efficient mode; walking, as can be seen in the shots here. Less visible, of course are the numbers of people in the buses. In the photo above we see 12 or so buses. As it’s the afternoon peak they’re likely almost full so together will be carrying approximately 500 people. The cars maybe a total of 10-15 people. So why is so much space dedicated to cars?
Buses that are not moving are not only belching out carcinogenic diesel fumes for us all to inhale, and C02 to help fry the biosphere, but they are also wasting our money; buses stuck in traffic cost more. On proper bus lanes or busways, buses can do much more work. Average speed on the Northern Busway services, for example, is 40kph, whereas other buses average 20kph. Faster buses not only cost less to operate but they also attract many more (fare paying) passengers because they are more useful.
AT really need to make some clear decisions about private vehicle priority in the city centre. Right now it’s a dog’s breakfast that is neither working well nor reflects policy.
The City East West Transport Study highlighted the importance of east-west traffic movements between the north-south routes of Symonds St in the east and the unlovely couplet of Hobson/Nelson in the west. Queen St is actually not that important for private vehicles, it is cut off at each end by Customs St and K Rd, neither of which supply it with either motorway traffic nor major bus routes. Outside of Hobson/Nelson all motorway traffic from the rest of the city arrive perpendicular to Queen before heading across the valley to parking structures, and the major bus routes likewise all are on either side of it, save some recent additions and the Airport and City Link service. The critical mode on Queen St are the pedestrians, and the cross town vehicle movements that need to traverse the street, albeit briefly. Driving along Queen St needs to be diminished as it is largely pointless [no vehicles entrances on Queen St], and because it disrupts these more valuable movements.
So what can be done ***immediately*** to assist the east-west direction without compromising pedestrian movement on Queen and it’s smaller parallel routes?
The obvious first step would be to remove the near useless right turns at Wellesley and Victoria. Restricting general traffic to straight ahead and left hand turns would greatly simplify the cycles to only three: Ped Barnes’ Dance, east-west traffic, and north-south traffic each running concurrently. Clearing these intersections more efficiently and reducing the addition of pointless traffic onto Queen St a little. Such an arrangement will likely happen post-Wellesley Street bus corridor so why not make it happen now?
Two other moves on smaller streets would help too. The right hand turn out of Lorne St looks particularly disruptive for its utility, and using High St to exit the Victoria St parking building is still a terrible thing and really needs fixing, too much space is stolen from pedestrians there and the resultant traffic blocks the mid block of Victoria St East.
High St 4:32pm
Anyway it is policy to get the cars off Queen St one day, so why aren’t we working more deliberately towards that in increments? Do we really have to wait for Light Rail to achieve this? Let’s get the important east-west road priority happening along with complete bus lanes on Queen St as a way to prepare for the glorious future; because for the foreseeable, glamorous or not, buses will have to do most of the heavy lifting in the City Centre.
A strangely people-free picture of a future lower Queen St.
- secular = Economics (Of a fluctuation or trend) occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period: ‘there is evidence that the slump is not cyclical but secular’
The Additional Harbour Crossing as currently proposed is a pair of tunnels containing six traffic lanes between the motorway at Esmonde Rd rejoining it at Spaghetti Junction [The CMJ] in the city. The publicly available schemes also show additional rail tunnels between Akoranga and Wynyard Quarter, but no connecting network for any trains to actually use. It is clear to see the appeal for NZTA of straightening and simplifying SH1 past the bridge, but the outcomes for the city are much less certain. Below for example is version T1:
Clearly this or the other versions that date from 2010 are not the current versions NZTA are developing now, but until new versions are released these are still worth looking at in some detail as neither the various physical constraints or the overall aims that drive these options have changed. The options can be seen here.
Considering these there are several high altitude observations I think are important to begin with:
- This will be the most expensive urban transport project ever undertaken in NZ; claimed to be $4-$6 billion. Two to three times the cost of the CRL.
- Not least because of the massive cost it is extremely unlikely that both sets of tunnels and systems would be undertaken at the same time. They will be staged; one will precede the other.
- The road scheme is essentially a SH1 bridge bypass, and therefore optimises through traffic, however it does not make any new connection that is not currently available nor in fact any increase in capacity on SH1.
- There is little spare capacity in the CMJ for additional vehicles so the new connection will remain the current three lanes north and a reduction from four to three lanes south.
- Essentially the bridge becomes a massive on/off ramp for city traffic and unless and until the rail tunnels and line are built more buses on bus lanes across the bridge will be the PT part of the project.
Here’s the set of variations currently available for the city end, all versions involve four tunnels under Victoria Park [3 new ones]:
All schemes also involve massive new interchanges on new reclamations at the North Shore end with flyovers and multiple connections between crossings, not unlike the new interchange at Waterview currently being built. Like the outcomes for traffic on North Shore local roads, the impacts of this project will be neither small nor all positive north of the bridge. However for this post I just want to focus on the city-side implications.
Assuming the road crossing is built first, which is consistent with assertions by politicians and officials with phrases like it will be ‘future proofed for rail’, as well as the lack of any real work yet on a rail crossing, it is worth asking exactly where will the new traffic enabled by the extra capacity across the harbour go once in the city?
Because the new crossing plugs directly into the CMJ, three lanes in and three lanes out, and because there are no planned increases in capacity through the CMJ, nor any space for any without further massive tunnelling, in effect the new capacity will be all on the bridge, so coming from the Shore this new traffic will all have to be accommodated by just three off ramps [same in reverse heading north]:
- Cook St; with new direct connections through Victoria Park
- Fanshawe St, especially for buses on new bus lanes
- Shelly Beach Rd, and then on to Jervois and Ponsonby Rds.
None of these exits can accommodate any increasing in traffic well, or without considerable disbenefit, especially if that increase in traffic is large.
- Cook St is pointed directly at the heart of the city, so this contradicts policy of reducing vehicle volumes in the city centre and is likely to infarct daily at the peaks as Cook St is close and perpendicular to Hobson and Nelson Sts which serve the Southern and Northwestern motorway flows. Gridlock is likely at the controlled intersections unable to handle large and peaky traffic volumes to and from these motorways. Additionally land use in this area is changing and intensifying making it even less suitable for the high speed motorway offramp it already hosts.
- Fanshawe will have reduced capacity for general traffic as a multilane Busway will be required to take the increased bus volumes from the bridge, and anyway is already at capacity at the peaks.
- Shelly Beach Rd is a narrow residential street not suited to the high volumes and high speeds it already suffers from the bridge now. Furthermore there is no benefit and little capacity for the streets beyond Shelly Beach Rd, particularly Jervois and Ponsonby Rds for a large increase in vehicle volumes.
Nonetheless, here are the forecasts they have come up with, Shelly Beach Rd with a 63% increase, is basically filled with bridge traffic by 2026 and the new crossing:
20,300 additional cars modelled for Fanshawe + Cook St with the AWHC option (assume that is all day on a weekday?). Even at the best sorts of turnover that would require around 10,000+ new carpark places. The downtown carpark has 1890 spaces. So where exactly do we put six new downtown carpark buildings? And what six streets get sacrificed to feed them?
20,300 cars carry perhaps 25,000 people. The CRL at capacity will carry that entire amount in 40 minutes. As could a North Shore rail line of similar specification. If the net outcome of this project is to take 20,000 commuters to midtown, why not do it with rapid transit at a third the cost with none of the traffic congestion?
“The significant increase in traffic movements conflict with many of the aspirations outlined in current Council policies, strategies, frameworks and master plans.”
–P 65 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, NZTA, 2010.
Obviously these higher traffic volumes are not good for every pedestrian, resident, and general city user in these areas but there is one other group that this situation in particular is going to make miserable, and that’s the motorist. There is a word for all this additional driving everywhere on city streets: congestion. Yup this increase in capacity across the harbour may speed that part of the journey but it’s going to make arriving anywhere in the city in your car much more hellish than it is now. And don’t even think about finding or affording somewhere to park.
What NZTA’s consultants say about this:
The increased traffic flows through St Marys Bay on both Shelley Beach rd and Curran St look to lead to particularly poor and unfixable outcomes:
It seems optimistic to say that because there are cafes, and strongly increasing pedestrian volumes, on Ponsonby Rd, that drivers won’t try to drive there, especially if other bridge exits are controlled or too busy. After all the first rule of urban traffic is that it will expand to wherever it is allowed to go. So, in the end, taking measures to dis-incentivise drivers to use these exits, is the consultant’s advice:
It does seem kind of odd to spend $4-6 billion to increase capacity across the harbour only to then introduce other measures to try to stop people using it.
And it won’t be just parking, there’s also likely to be tolls, it appears the model says they can pretty much eliminate the traffic problem with an $8 toll!:
If only there was a way to enable more trips without inducing more and more cars to also be driven into the crowded city streets. After all the City Centre has been growing strongly without adding more cars most of this century:
In fact it looks like we are already at or even above the limit of desirable vehicle numbers in the city, and future developments like replacing car access to Queen St with Light Rail are likely to make even current numbers face pressure.
Additionally there is an issue with bus volumes as well as car numbers on the city streets, even though the New Bus Network, the CRL, and Light Rail, if it happens, will reduce bus numbers from other parts of the city, there is certainly a limit to the numbers of buses from the Shore that can be comfortably accommodated too. Below is the predicted year of maximum bus capacity at major entry points to the city. The role of the CRL in reducing bus number pressure from the Isthmus is obvious, so why not do the same thing for buses from the Shore?
So perhaps the answer is to reverse the assumed staging and build the rail Rapid Transit tunnels first, leaving space for the road crossing to come later. This certainly looks physically possible in the maps above. This would enable all of those possible trips across the Harbour that NZTA identifies to still be served but without any of the traffic disbenefits that so clearly dog the road only crossing. In terms of people capacity two rail tracks can carry twice the volume of six traffic lanes. Furthermore it can be built without disturbing the current crossing and its connections. And rail crossings have proven in the past to be good alternative routes in an emergency.
This would add the real resilience of a whole other high capacity mode across the Harbour instead of simply more of the same. It would make our Harbour infrastructure more closely resemble Sydney’s where most of the heavy lifting in terms of people numbers is done by Rapid Transit, as shown below. We already have ferries, buses, and cars bringing people across, isn’t it time we added the particular efficiency of electric rail?
It seems particularly clear that whatever we add next really can’t involve trying to shove ever more vehicles [cars and buses] onto our crowded city streets; that will simple hold everyone up.
All the information above was gleaned from the work done some six years ago for NZTA, from here, and Auckland has moved on a great deal from where it was then. Among other things that have been proven recently is that when we are offered a high quality rail system we will use it. We are also discovering the value of our City Centre as a place to live, and work, and just be in, and how this is only possible to continue this improvement with fewer cars on every street. We certainly believe that there are more options for a far greater Auckland than the simple binary ones studied above: the road crossing ‘future proofed’ for rail, or the ‘Do Minimum’ which is nothing.
So we have asked, as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process, for a Rapid Transit crossing as the next additional crossing to be modelled too. So we can compare the status quo with the road crossing, and with a Rapid Transit crossing separately. Additionally we know that AT are now working on how various rail systems could work so in time there will be properly developed rail options to compare with the road one.
There is time as well as the need to get this right, the Western Ring Route will begin to become more complete next year with the opening of the Waterview tunnels, and that whole multi billion dollar system is of course an alternative harbour crossing system and will alter both the performance of both the Bridge and the CMJ. Similarly decisions about AT’s proposed LRT system too has a bearing on options, as will the opening of the CRL next decade. Not least because the addition of these high quality systems will make movement through the city without a car much more common, as is the case in many overseas cities of Auckland’s size and quality.
The road crossing looks very much like an extremely expensive ‘nice to have’, that duplicates and tidies up the State Highway route, something to add when the missing alternatives have been built and there is spare budget to spend on duplication. Because on balance the road first additional crossing proposal really achieves little more than this:
The more I look at the events and data of 2015 the clearer it becomes that this has been a profoundly significant year for Auckland. It is my contention that this year the city reached a critical turning point in its multi-year evolution back to true city pattern. I have discussed this change many times before on this forum, most notably here, as it is, I believe, an observable process that has been building for years. Generally it has been gradual enough, like the growth of a familiar tree, as to easily pass unobserved, but now I think it has passed a into a new phase of higher visibility. The group who see it most clearly are people returning from a few years overseas. Many ex-pats express surprise and wonderment at the myriad of changes in quantity and quality they find here on returning.
Changing City: New apartments with views over the city and harbour, a Victorian school and park, 20thC motorways, and the new LigthPath.
Below is a summary of evidence for 2015 being the year Auckland returned as a city, in fact the year it crossed the Rubicon onto an unstoppable properly re-urbanising path. Later I will add another post on how 2016 and beyond is certain to see the city double-down on these trends, and why this is very good news. This transformation is observable in all five keys areas:
DEMOGRAPHICS. New Zealanders returning in big numbers are one of the key metrics of 2015. Along with new migrants and natural growth, the other change driving Auckland’s demographic strength is fewer people leaving, all of which, of course, are a vote of confidence in the city as a place to want to live and to likely fulfil people’s hopes for a better future. Population growth for the year was at 2.9%, the strongest rate since 2003, the strongest in the nation, and biggest raw number on record. See here for Matt’s [Population Growth in 2015] and Peter’s [Why is Auckland Growing?] posts on these issues.
And importantly for my thesis many more people are moving into the centre, particularly into new apartments. This is a evidence that the The Great Inversion is happening in Auckland as it is all over the developed world; the return of vitality to centre cities all over. Auckland’s urban form is reverting to a centred pattern; with proximity to a dense centre as a key determinant of value.
TRANSPORT. The huge and sustained boom in rail ridership way in advance of population growth is the headline transport news of 2015, and is the result of the upgrade in quality, frequency, and reliability of the service brought by the new electric trains. Sustained growth of over 20% is very strong; this year every four months an additional million trips have been added to the running annual total; 13 million in March, 14 million in July, 15 million in November. I am not overstating it to say that these numbers change a great deal: They change the argument for further investment in rail systems in Auckland, and significantly they change growth and development patterns across the city:
Elsewhere on our Public Transport systems the news is great too; The New Bus Network is just beginning, and is already showing huge growth in the few areas it is in effect. This year we have also seen new ferry services, including a new private Waiheke service that means there is much more like a real turn-up-and-go service there [started late 2014]. Ferry modeshare is holding its own at 7% which is a strong showing given the explosion in rail and bus numbers.
Importantly AT is now routinely rolling out long overdue bus lanes across the city. And now that they are doing this confidently and more consistently, surprise and anguish about this more efficient re-purposing of roadspace by car drivers has fallen away to nothing- there surely is a lesson there.
So total PT ridership cleared 80 million annual trips this year, for an overall growth of 8.1%, a rate running at nearly 3x population growth, evidence of a strong shift to public transport at the margin. Growth that is certain to continue despite capacity issues becoming pressing at peak times on both buses and trains.
HOP card use also became strongly embedded this year [except on the ferries] which is another sign of a maturing system.
More population and a growing economy of course means more vehicles and more driving on our roads, [see: What’s Happening to VKT?] but because of the powerful trend to Transit outlined above the per capita number is flat to falling. This is a historic shift from last century when the two tended to move strongly in lockstep.
Another discontinuity from last century is that GDP and employment growth have also separated from driving VKT, as shown in the following chart from Matt’s post linked to above. Another sign that the economy too is shifting on the back of public transport, and not driving as much as it was last century:
So whereas investment in the rail network has been answered by an extraordinary boom in uptake the multi-year many billion dollar sustained investment in driving amenity has not led to massive uptake. It is hard to not conclude from this that 1. We are far from discovering the latent demand ceiling for quality Transit; only the degree of investment will limit it. And 2. Driving demand in Auckland is saturated; this mode is mature, well served and not the area to invest in for new efficiencies or growth.
2015 also saw the launch of the Urban Cycleways programme; a multiyear government led investment in infrastructure for walking and cycling. This, like the Transit boom is another shape changing departure from the past. Although the active modes are not well counted [what a culture counts shows what it values] it is clear that the shift back to the centre is also accompanied by a growth in active mode transport. This is one of the great powers of Proximity; the best trip is the one that isn’t need because the potential traveller is already there, or near enough to use their own steam:
DEVELOPMENT. All over the city investment is going into building projects of various kinds, the retirement sector is particularly strong, as is terrace house and apartment buildings, all three at levels not seen for a decade and together support the argument that Auckland is not just growing but also changing shape into a more more city-like pattern, as John Polkinghorn has kept us up to speed on all year on the Development Tracker:
Significantly there is also renewed investment into commercial projects especially in the City Centre, led by Precinct Property’s 600 million plus Downtown rebuild and tower, and Sky City’s massive Convention Centre and Hotel project between Hobson and Nelson. Additionally Wynyard Quarter is also moving to a new level soon with a mix of Hotel, Residential, and Commercial buildings. Somewhere in the region of 10 billion dollars of projects are underway or close to be in the City Centre. And as Peter clearly illustrated recently this is in no small part due to improved regulatory conditions [The High Cost of Free Parking].
ECONOMY. Cities exist simply because of the advantages for humans to be in close proximity to each other for transactions of all kinds; financial, cultural, social, sexual. And Auckland is beginning to show real possibility of opening up an agglomeration advantage over the rest of the country now that it is really intensifying. The latest data on Auckland’s performance shows a fairly consistent improvement over the last five years
POLITICS. Two major political programmes begun this year will have profound impacts on Auckland for decades to come. The first is the Auckland Transport Alignment Process. Something we haven’t discussed on the blog because we are involved in it and are awaiting the first public release of information which will be soon. Then we will certainly be discussing the details of this ongoing work. But the importance of this process is already clear; it is a reflection of a new found acceptance but the government that Auckland’s economic performance matters hugely to the nation and that transport infrastructure investment is, in turn, critical to that performance. We are of course striving to make the case for a change in the balance of that investment in Auckland away from a near total commitment to urban highways now that motorway network approaches completion [post Waterview and Western Ring Route] and that the evidence of success from recent Transit improvements, particularly to the Rapid Transit Network, is so compelling. There are hurdles here in the momentum and habits of our institutions and politics but also huge opportunities to really accelerate our cities’ performance across a range of metrics through changing how they are treated.
The other political shift is another we are yet to cover in depth but soon will, and that’s the agreement in Paris on Climate Change. This does indeed change a great deal. The city and the nation will have to ask the question of all decisions around urban form and transport how they fit with the new commitment to reduce our carbon intensity. This will clearly lead to a further push for higher density and greater emphasis on Public and Active Transport, as these are current technology and long term fixes to this global challenge. Unleashing further the urban power of proximity and agglomeration economies. So much of the conversation around New Zealand’s carbon intensity is around the agricultural issue and this tends to ignore the opportunities our cities offer, particularly Auckland, and particularly the Auckland transport systems, to this problem.
Cities are emerging as the key organising level that are most able to react to this problem as discussed here in The Urban Planner’s Guide to a Pst-COP21 World:
In many ways, Melbourne’s experience represents a coming-of-age of the urban sustainability movement. The private sector is listening to cities and responding. Now it’s up to cities and national governments to continue the conversations that began at COP21 and continue the evolution.
“The commentary for a long time has been ‘nations talk and cities act.’ We’ve been part of that dialogue too. That’s changing now,” said Seth Schultz [director of research at C40 Cities]. “National governments are coming to organizations like ours and saying ‘help us. We get it.’ I want to change the trajectory of the conversation. Cities are a vehicle and everyone should be getting in that vehicle and joining in for the ride.”
So in summary 2015 has seen:
- Completion of Electrification of the Rail Network and the New Trains
- The start of the New Network
- New Interchange Stations
- New Buslanes
- Improvements to Ferry services
- Start of the Urban Cycleways Programme
- CRL start
- Paris COP 21
I will follow this post with another looking ahead to what is going to be a huge 2016/17. Here’s a short list to start with:
- Fare Integration
- Further Interchange Stations
- Western Line frequency upgrade
- New Network rollouts
- Queen St Buslanes [so overdue]
- More Cycleways
- SkyPath underway
- CRL seriously underway
- Huge city developments begin
- ATAP concludes
- Council elections
- Progress on Light Rail [it could be closer that many expect]
For all the frustrations and compromises that we’ve highlighted over the year I think it’s very clear that there are many very hard working and dedicated people in AC, AT, NZTA, and MoT and their private sector partners and it is their collective efforts in a very fast moving and changing field go a long to making Auckland the dynamic and exciting city it is fast becoming. I am keen to acknowledge their efforts. Onward.
I also want to personally thank my colleagues here at the blog, as it has been another big year for us, Matt, Peter, Stu, Kent and John, from whom I continue to learn so much, it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to give this up anytime soon…
Also I would like to shout out to colleagues over at Bike Auckland, our sister site, they’ve had a fantastic year, so cheers to Barb, Jolisa, Max, Paul, Kirsten, Ben, Bruce and the rest.
And of course to y’all, the reader, you are what really makes this thing work, so if what we do here makes any kind of difference, ultimately that’s because of you.
Kia ora tatou…