Rodney Hide’s opinion piece in the Herald on Sunday highlighted an issue that’s been bugging me for some time – whether those opposing the City Rail Link on the grounds that “buses can do the job fine” are really interested in improving Auckland’s bus system or not. Here’s what he says about his preference for buses:
It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.
Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.
Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.
John Roughan made a similar cry in favour of buses in the Saturday Herald:
The crossing would have to be under water and probably it would be connected to the northern busway that one day conceivably could be converted to a railway, but that, too, is a solution looking for a problem.
The busway, like the bridge, is fine.
The problem lies in roads closer to home. By car it can take as long to get on to the motorway as it takes for the rest of the journey. By bus it takes too long to get to a busway station. Once on the busway, you can be in the city in eight minutes.
In fact, the North Shore is probably better served by the busway than the rest of Auckland is by its railways, which also have to be reached by bus or car from most people’s homes.
The only reason the mayor invokes rail for the Shore is to answer its ratepayers when they ask why they should help pay for a project that isn’t coming their way. It’s a silly answer to a silly question but this is election year.
Russell Brown from Public Address notes the great irony of John Roughan now being a huge fan of the busway when he absolutely hated the idea back in 2007. I guess we chalk that up as someone won over – or should we?
The simple fact is that all these supposed bus fans have done diddly squat to actually encourage the improvement of Auckland’s bus system. I can’t exactly remember Rodney Hide out there campaigning to save the Remuera Road bus lane from turning back into a T3 lane. Or John Roughan supporting the implementation of the HOP Card – he pumped for Snapper back in 2009 and didn’t that end well?
As for the cabal of local councillors, Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. They frequently like to grandstand against the CRL claiming it is sucking up all of the money for PT, like in this article from 6 months ago.
Mr Quax said the rail project made little sense because it would gobble up 80 per cent of the public transport capital budget over the next 10 years when much-needed bus lanes and ferry terminals received a “paltry” 20 per cent.
They use this line quite frequently these days, despite their numbers actually being wrong – the PT capex budget for the next decade is ~$4b and the inflated CRL price is $2.86b, or 72% of the budget. Despite this, I haven’t exactly seen George Wood talking much about the stalled progress of extending the Northern Busway to Albany, or Dick Quax wanting to see the AMETI busway’s construction schedule sped up. In fact I don’t think I have seen any one of them suggest where a single metre of bus lane should be added or where they think new ferry services should operate from. Yesterday in response to the alternative funding proposals, they once again made vague comments without giving any detail.
I have a nasty feeling that when rail opponents say they support buses they’re actually not quite telling the truth. They realise it’s not viable for them politically (or practically) to dismiss public transport out of hand anymore – so they pretend to support buses on the spurious grounds of “buses need roads too” – when in actual fact they’re just mainly interested in spending as little as possible on public transport so all the money can go back into roads.
So next time someone plays the “buses are better than trains” card, I suggest asking them “so what have YOU specifically done to try and improve Auckland’s bus system recently?” Or “I look forward to your support for introducing bus lanes along desperately needed routes like Great North Road in Waterview, Manukau Road, Pakuranga Road, Onewa Road (uphill) and in many other places”. Then let’s see how deep their love affair with the bus really is.
There’s been a lot of discussion after Auckland’s roading network completely collapsed on Thursday due to a crash on the Newmarket viaduct, which caused huge delays.
More than two hours later, traffic on almost all of the city’s arterial routes was gridlocked, with buses backed up in city streets and motorists reporting speeds of less than 10km/h.
Journeys that normally took 15 minutes were taking more than an hour.
Automobile Association traffic spokesman Phil Allen said he had never seen traffic so bad in central Auckland.
The association launched traffic-mapping technology on its site 18 months ago. Routes marked in black show where traffic is moving at under 25 per cent of the speed limit. “I have never seen so much black in the CBD. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Having the Newmarket viaduct blocked off just before rush hour during the busiest week of the year for traffic (March madness) is pretty much a “perfect storm” in terms of things that can go wrong. Interestingly the train system ran just fine throughout the event because of its fundamental separation from the roading network – whereas most bus route in the area got completely nailed by the delays as they spread from the motorway network onto the local roads.
Len Brown’s comments in the Herald highlighted that while events such as what happened on Thursday are incredibly difficult to plan around, the ‘fragility’ of Auckland’s transport network to events like this is a really big issue and something improved public transport would help reduce:
Mayor Len Brown said the gridlock showed “why we need to invest in an integrated transport system including trains, ferries and buses”.
“Only through initiatives such as integrated ticketing, our new electric train fleet and the City Rail Link, can we unclog our roads and unlock the potential of Auckland.”
Cameron Brewer’s comments are, unsurprisingly, less sensible:
Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer said he had to miss the Orakei Local Board meeting because of the traffic. He left the Town Hall at 5pm, spent 40 minutes on Hobson St, opted to take the Northwestern Motorway, got off at St Lukes and made his way across town to his home in Ellerslie, arriving an hour and 45 minutes later.
“When the airport western ring road to Waterview is complete that will take some pressure off SH1, but what that one accident shows is just how reliant almost all of us are on cars, and that’s not going to change much in the foreseeable future.
“It should be a real wake-up call to the mayor as to where the real problems and frustrations lie for most Aucklanders – that is in traffic jams.”
Mr Brewer said he’d like more improvements to the motorway network and more bus lanes, ferry terminals and cycle and walkways, rather than the CBD rail tunnel.
While the Waterview Connection is a project that would help a lot in situations like this – by providing that much needed “alternative route” – unless Mr Brewer is advocating for a return of the Eastern Motorway project I can’t quite see how further motorway improvements would change what happened on Thursday. And he should have just taken the train to the Local Board meeting as it was held not too far from the Meadowbank train station.
And it seems like the chaos has continued today – not helped by Auckland Transport’s stupidity in not running anything better than hourly trains across much of the rail network even though there are a huge number of events on in Auckland.
Sunday’s launch of the Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry seems to have got some, such as the perennial mischief-maker Cameron Brewer, excited about ferries and thinking that they can fix all of Auckland’s Transport problems. On the plus side, he also seems to have become a fan of bus lanes which is something to store away in the memory banks:
“Yesterday’s opening of the new ferry terminals for Beach Haven and Hobsonville Point was a great day for Auckland, but the claim that ferries would play a much greater role in Auckland’s transport future was a bit disingenuous. The rhetoric simply does not match the reality of what’s being planned and budgeted.”…
…”These two new ferry terminals are great but the sad reality is the council won’t be able to pour a heap into new or improved ferry infrastructure simply because of the Mayor’s central city rail obsession which is set to soak up most of the public transport capital expenditure budget this coming decade.
“Spending approximately 80 percent of the 10-year budget on the City Rail Link is not a balanced approach, and will not deliver a strong and mixed integrated transport system.
“This is not good news for ferry and bus users who want serious investment in their infrastructure and services. The Mayor tells everyone he’s going to do everything, but the budget clearly points to one CBD project soaking up most of the money”
“In 2013/14 alone we’re set to spend $180m on the City Rail Link. That’s a lot of ferry terminals or tarmac for new bus-lanes,” says Cameron Brewer.
While the support for bus lanes is great (a pity it comes too late to save the Remuera Road bus lanes from being turned back into T3 tractor lanes) I think Brewer, along with a lot of other people, often miss the point when they state that ferries should do much more of the transport task by building a whole pile of new terminals and opening up a whole pile of new routes. Put simply, the point is that while ferries have an important role to play in Auckland’s PT system, they only work in certain situations.
So what are those situations? Obviously for a start they need to be on the coast – which has the somewhat unfortunate outcome of half a ferry terminal’s walking catchment being water (much more than that if a long wharf is required). The prime waterfront location of ferry terminals also makes park and ride facilities either incredibly expensive to provide in terms of land acquisition or incredibly ugly. Or both. So there’s quite a reliance on good feeder buses, or having the ferry route offer such a significant time savings that it’s worth going out of your way to make the ferry work.
And on that last point there are some situations in Auckland where ferries really do offer a compelling advantage over anything else. Waiheke is the obvious example because there really isn’t an alternative, while Devonport comes to mind as the other immediately obvious location where ferries will always make sense – simply because of this:
These two locations really dominate ferry patronage, as shown in the screenline survey for trips to the CBD in the AM peak period, making up nearly half of trips:
The relatively slow growth since 2006 seems to indicate that we’ve probably squeezed close to as much out of those two routes as possible.
So how can we make the most out of the potential of the ferry system? I guess there are a few different options:
- Add more routes from new locations – Te Atatu, Mission Bay, Browns Bay, Howick, Takapuna and various other points around the harbour (including a cross Manukau service) are often mentioned.
- Build more park and ride spots so that more people can drive to ferry terminals.
- Continue to invest in current services by offering better frequencies and bringing ferries into the proposed zone based ticketing system so that fares (at least for regular users are cheaper).
- Improve bus/ferry integration (fares being a critical part of this) so that ferries are used in a similar way to trains and the busway: as a fairly rapid part of the PT network which avoids congestion on the road system completely.
There are possibly other ways in which we can improve ferries, but generally I think the last two bullet points above are what we should focus on – particularly ahead of continuing to look for new routes – no matter how attractive that seems to local politicians.
Let’s take the new Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry for example – while there’s much excitement about this at the end of the day the service provided is pretty rubbish: barely a handful of sailings and only on weekdays. No off-peak service, no weekend service, eye-wateringly high fares. Too bad if you want to use the ferry to check out Hobsonville on a sunny Saturday – the ferries don’t run. Too bad if you’re a university student living in Hobsonville and want to stay late – the ferries don’t run after a 6:10pm sailing. Too bad if you don’t want to live your life around a timetable: even at peak times it’s over an hour between sailings and 8.05am is the last sailing from Hobsonville to get you into the city in the morning.
Many other ferry timetables are similar. The Gulf Harbour Ferry also only runs a couple of trips a day – though at least it also has a middle of the day service for day-trippers up to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Tickets are only again pretty steep at $27 return for an adult. The Half Moon Bay ferry, which I think has huge potential as it bypasses a hugely congested stretch of Auckland’s transport network, similarly has rubbish frequencies with one service every two hour outside the peak (I guess at least there are off-peak services?)
In terms of improving access to the ferries, I think we’d do well to think of them as being somewhat similar to the rapid transit network. A fairly sparse (in terms of walk up catchment) but pleasant and (theoretically) fast and reliable service because it avoids traffic congestion on the roading network. So bus integration, including free transfers between buses and ferries, becomes absolutely critical here in opening up the catchment of the ferries far wider than otherwise possible. If Half Moon Bay ferries were far more frequent we could have most buses from Bucklands Beach and that northern portion of “southeast Auckland” feeding into the ferry network as much as it feeds into Panmure station and the rail network or Botany town centre and the future busway along Ti Rakau Drive. Park and ride will always be difficult to provide for at ferry terminals – due to their inherent location in high amenity waterfront areas.
So perhaps next time someone comes up with a “we should add this ferry route” argument we might also think about whether that’s really the best use of funds or whether we should focus on improving what we already have – because it seems like there’s a lot of untapped potential in the routes that already exist. But I guess that’s just not quite as sexy as pushing for new routes – regardless of the quality of service which ends up being provided and the rather high capital cost in providing for just a handful of trips every weekday.
The results of leaked release of the Horizon survey and the CCFAS last week has clearly started to cause concern amongst the anti rail councillors with the number of comments from them, and George Wood in particular increasing quite a bit. With this post I want to focus on just one aspect that gets trotted out quite a bit, in this case by Mr Negative himself, Cameron Brewer (because I can’t think of a positive thing he has said for 2 years).
Mr Brewer said he had yet to be convinced about the cost and benefits of the project, including the benefits to nearly 90 per cent of Aucklanders who do not work or live in the CBD
As Nick showed in this post a few months ago, the CBD has traditionally been defined as the area within the moat that is the motorway system however really the central city area that would be impacted by the CRL is actually larger than that and encompasses some of the surrounding suburbs like Newton and Parnell. But even that doesn’t tell the full story as while it puts the central city employment percentage at over 20% it still implies that the are is insignificant regionally . But in reality, even at that level, the central city is head and shoulders above anywhere else in the region so I thought with this post I would try to show that. The map below shows the key employment areas in the regions and how many thousands of jobs are in them.
As you can see the central city with 134,000 jobs (of which 80-90k are within the moat) is far larger than any where else in the region. What’s more here are a couple of other interesting points:
- There are more jobs in the central city than both the North Shore and West Auckland combined
- The only group of areas where the number of jobs comes close to the central city is the group of areas from Onehunga to East Tamaki but that covers a massive area and is part of the reason why AMETI is so important.
- 50% of all jobs in the region are located close to the rail network and so could benefit from increased frequencies that would be able to be justified due to the number of jobs in the central city.
- Not included in the 134k figure for the city centre are ~60,000 students who attend the universities.
More people working close to jobs in the central city is well and truly much higher than anywhere else, do we really need to be focusing so much on growing that number even more. In a single word, Yes. The reason for that is due to agglomeration benefits which occur when you have a lot of people working close to each together means more economic activity can happen which in turn benefits not only Auckland but the whole country. Of course this applies not just to employment but also to residential density and this post yesterday on The Atlantic Cities looked cities across the US and found that generally cities with more dense urban cores performed better not only economically but across a wide range of factors.
Ever since Jane Jacobs, urban thinkers and economists have argued that clusters of talented and ambitious people increase one another’s productivity and the productivity of the broader community, spurring economic growth. So, what about economic growth: Is it higher in metros where density is more concentrated? The short answer is yes.
Economic growth and development, according to several key measures, is higher in metros that are not just dense, but where density is more concentrated. This is true for productivity, measured as economic output per person, as well as both income and wages.
The CRL allows for a lot more people to access the city centre which in turn will make it more attractive and encourage more jobs and residents in the area. Those additional jobs and residents will most likely provide considerably more economic impact than if they were spread out across the city, or even worse if they were out on the far flung edges. So at the end of the day, by arguing against the CRL on the basis on the current percentages of jobs and people in the CBD, these councillors are actually arguing against one of the best opportunities for economic growth we have.
Most people who visit the Wynyard quarter love the development that has occurred there so far. It is very different to how we have developed things in the past and a lot more emphasis has been put on pedestrians and how it ties in to the water. It has quickly become one of stars in Auckland and that is only set to continue as the redevelopment of the area carries on. The development isn’t just a favourite with the locals as it has now won numerous awards with the latest just the other day beating out a host of other international cities to claim a top waterfront development award.
Now if you are winning awards like this it is probably a good indication that you are on the right track and also suggests that extending the development as far as possible is probably a good idea. Well even before this award, Waterfront Auckland and the council were quick to realise the success and smartly decided to try and emulate it further down the waterfront and so in the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) called for Quay St to be turned into a boulevard. It was also mentioned in the Waterfront Plan.The CCMP and Waterfront Plan went out for consultation at the same time as the Auckland Plan allowing anyone who wanted to to give feedback.
I think that turning Quay St from a 6 lane almost de facto motorway into a more pedestrian friendly zone while still retaining some space for cars is a pretty good compromise. Of course now, months after the consultation finished various elected officials of the eastern suburbs are now up in arms about the plan. Their key issue seems to be just how unfair it will be that they can no longer drive to the ferry terminal. The Herald today reports:
Anger has erupted over plans to turn Quay St into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard within three years – and the greatest upset has been caused by what critics say was lack of public consultation.
But Waterfront Auckland says it kept the community well informed about the “exciting project” and it “couldn’t have done more” consultation.
Waterfront Auckland’s plans, revealed in the Herald on Friday, could result in more crossing points, a wider footpath taking in a lane of traffic or two and opening up parts of the red fence to improve to the water’s edge.
The first stage – from the Viaduct to Britomart – is due to be finished by 2016.
But critics of the project say the Tamaki Drive Master Plan hasn’t been taken into account, the traffic plan is “just nuts” and the local board most negatively affected by the proposal was not consulted.
Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor said he was disappointed by the plan, which he said would take cars off the street in the name of beautification.
“This is a surprising development that does not appear to have been thought out …
It seems to be motived more by ideology than practicality.”
Mr O’Connor said Waterfront Auckland was pinning its hopes on the “unfunded, yet to be built rail loop and a new ferry service”.
Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer said the suggestion that Quay St was not a busy road outside rush hour was “just pie in the sky”.
“This is a critical piece of transport infrastructure that carries over 30,000 cars a day. Taking out lanes and directing more traffic down the likes of Customs St is just nuts.”
This is an absolutely stupid argument. For starters 30,000 vehicles a day don’t need 6 lanes of traffic and there are many two lane roads that handle much more than that. Hell Dominion Rd carries about that same number of vehicles with only two lanes, one of which is a bus lane for a large part of the day. What’s more there are a number of other routes that these vehicles could use and very few places you can actually drive to that you can’t get to by other routes. There are still heaps of trucks going to and from the port using Quay St even though less than a decade ago we spent hundreds of millions upgrading Grafton Gully and providing direct connections from there to the North Shore specifically to get them off Quay St. There are also a number of improvements that could be made to other city streets that could be used to help spread that traffic out.
At the end of the day despite claiming the opposite, the arguments from Simon O’Connor and Cameron Brewer seem to be the ones based on ideolgy, they seem to be beholden to the notion that we must put cars ahead of people. It is people that make places interesting and lively and attractive. It is people that spend money and it is people that we should be building this city for. The recent improvements from things like Wynyard and the shared spaces have been outstanding successes and the best thing we can do is to continue these kinds of developments. The waterfront is to valuable for us cut off, all in the name of saving 5 seconds when driving and I suspect the economic benefits of improving it would vastly outweigh the impact to any vehicle movements. Its about time that these idiots go out of their cars and had a look at is happening in the city as even international press are starting to acknowledge the cities improving urban style.
NB: Upon reflection I have modified my original post in response to critical feedback, which you can read about in the comment thread below. Most of this feedback suggested that the message of the post was obscured by my personal frustration with Cameron Brewer, which I have accepted. Hopefully the revised post better reflects the issues that are important, rather than my opinion on the personalities driving the issues.
Let’s start with a question: Should property owners on Queen Street be allowed to use their properties for the highest and best use (as defined by their customers), provided that in doing so they don’t cause much (if any) harm to other people?
Most Aucklanders would say “yes” when confronted with such a question. Some of my ACT Party friends would nod sagely before launching into a spiel about how property rights are the yarn that knits successful societies together; bless their capitalist socks. National Party people would say yes and then try to shut down anything remotely fun. Labour Party people would say yes and then tax all activities to within an inch of their life. But I expect the predominant answer would be “yes”.
Cameron Brewer, however, seems to be saying “no” when it comes to respecting the rights of property owners on Queen Street. At least, that’s what I have concluded in the wake of his recent crusade against small shops. Things kicked off in somewhat Animal Farmish fashion back in April with this NZHerald article, in which Mr Brewer criticised “little shoebox shops selling absolute rubbish.” It appears that all shops are created equal, but certain ethnic small shops are less equal than others.
Brewer’s comments were quickly rebutted from a number of angles. Auckland Council’s Ludo Campell Reid was first out of the blocks in this Herald article, where he was quoted as saying:
Smallness is not necessarily a bad thing. Executed well this can be a great way for independent operators to enter the market,” he said. “They can create a sense of vibrancy and uniqueness and can play a positive role in developing an authentic and bespoke offer – a point of difference. I am assuming that this trend is market-led following an increased demand from smaller tenants. The owners of these properties are therefore merely seeking to meet market demand.
A wonderfully enlightened NZHerald editorial (maybe John Roughan was sick?) followed up the next day:
… there is a limit to the ability of a council to influence the quality of shops. A regulated minimum size such as Mr Brewer suggests would run the risk of leaving much more space standing empty. It is better to leave the shops to find their own scale and character. The high rents being charged are a good sign. It seems unlikely immigrants are paying those rates just to prove they are setting up a business here. They could easily find cheaper leases for that purpose.
More likely, Mr Brewer is witnessing a development long common in “world-class city centres”. New arrivals colonise central areas that have lost commerce and population to suburban centres. The inner city becomes a new place of language schools, apartments, ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, nightlife and entertainment.
Queen St reflects the times. It always did, always will and still it holds a central place in Auckland’s identity.
At this point I thought that the “Sanity ” versus “Brewer” boxing match had finished with the latter being cleanly knocked out 2o seconds into the first round. But now it seems that Brewer has somewhat unfortunately hauled himself up off the canvas and thrown himself back into the ring for more punishment. Cue small-shop article #2.
This second NZHerald article manages to highlight, again, all the reasons why Brewer was wrong in the first place. If I was to try to spell it out clearly: Small shops are a natural market response to a) high land values that encourage people to economize on space and b) consumer demand for the sorts of things that small shops can sell efficiently. And when one travels around a bit (I mean further afield than Remuera) then you see that small shops are at the heart of successful, vibrant cities worldwide.
What annoys me most about the whole episode, however, is that Brewer’s is not just wrong: He’s apparently hypocritical. For those who don’t know, Brewer purports to represent Auckland’s “Residents and Ratepayers”. Last time I checked, those very small shops on Queen Street paid a shed-load of rates. Not only that, but the small shops are trying to meet the needs of inner-city residents. Yes that’s right, small shops and their customers are ratepayers and residents too, not rubbish peddlers.
But why, you might reasonably ask, is Brewer on a crusade against small shops? Why is he advocating for regulations on minimum shops sizes? Regulations that would ultimately serve to de-value the affected properties and prevent them from meeting the needs of local residents?
The only rational reason I can see for why Brewer would assume such a position was because he’s what I call an “opportunistic dictator”. He’s opportunistic because he’s trying to suggest (somewhat bizarrely) that small-shops demonstrate that Len Brown has failed as Mayor, thereby undermining the latter’s political support. But he’s also a dictator because he’s wandering around imposing his values on other people. He’s saying that the sorts of shops that we like are not the sorts of shops that he likes. And his response is to regulate small-shops out of existence.
To sum up:
Small shops are good for Auckland’s economy and society. They are a natural market response to high rents and consumer demand. Small shops support businesses and jobs and ultimately make many people happy. Just because you prefer to shop elsewhere does not mean that there is no place for small shops in Auckland.
And with that off my chest I’m now going to go spend some of my not-insignificant disposable income at the smallest shop I can squeeze my not-so slender Anglo-Saxon frame into.