Auckland Transport November Board Meeting

Every month I comb through the reports to the AT board looking at what the organisation is up to (that they’ll say in public). I’ve already covered the separate reports on additional bus priority and the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast so this post covers the rest of the reports for the meeting held yesterday. As such this post is a combination of a lot of little items

Once again all of the most interesting papers appear to be in the closed session which means we only have the agenda items to go off. The items being discussed are:

Items for Approval/Decision

  • Budget Realignment
  • Development Proposals
  • CRL Update
  • Parnell Station Update
  • Wynyard Quarter Roading
  • PT Security & Fare Evasion
  • Ferry Downtown Access
  • Ferry Services Strategy
  • Off Street Parking

Items for Noting

  • Deep Dive – Wharves
  • Heavy Rail Strategy Update
  • Customer First Strategy

Most seem fairly self-explanatory however two items draw a bit more attention for me. They are the vaguely titled Development Proposals – what are AT thinking of developing? – and the Heavy Rail Strategy update. The latter is interesting as it’s the first time I’ve seen AT refer to heavy rail as opposed to just rail and comes just after the herald suggested AT were looking at light rail to the airport.

On to the board report and there are number of brief updates on a range of projects. Many we’ve talked about separately or there hasn’t been much change in the report from last month but the ones that stand out are:

Onewa Rd – AT say they are going to be creating an additional westbound general traffic lane after the intersection with Lake Rd. It’s not clear why they are creating a general traffic lane and not a bus or transit lane seeing as westbound bus priority has been needed (and promised) on the road for a long time.

Electric Trains – As of the time of writing the report there were 31 of the 57 on order now in the country with 28 given provisional acceptance. From December four trains a month start arriving which means they should all be in the country by the middle of the year. They also say they have successfully tested modified software to control traction on the EMUs fixing issues from the overhead feed which was presumably the issue behind the problems earlier in the year.  The report also talks about six car EMUs being in operation from mid-November however I suspect that’s been held off till the new timetable.

City Rail Link – There are a number of comments related to the recent briefings to the incoming minister about the CRL however perhaps most significantly they say:

The City Rail Link has recently been subject to an intense period of public scrutiny due to the Council’s deliberations on the Long Term Plan (LTP). Extensive media coverage on the project led to a significant amount of feedback, including positive endorsement of the CRL by a variety of proponents. This was a timely reminder of the need to continue to “tell the story” of the CRL and its benefits, especially across the entire region. For example rail-users (and potential new rail users) will see their journey times substantially reduced as well as a much more frequent service. More effort will go into promoting these and other benefits of the CRL story from now on, particularly in the lead-up to the beginning of the enabling works in the second half of 2015

AT telling the story of the projects benefits across the region has been something we’ve talked about numerous times. It will be interesting to see what they come up with this time.

Northcote Cycle Route – AT say that as a result of the consultation they are making changes to what they initially proposed, particularly in Queen St. I suspect this will mean AT are watering down the proposal to retain more car parking

Newmarket Crossing (aka Sarawia St) – was approved last month after an in dependant review looked at the options again. I’m sure some of the Cowie St residents will continue to fight the proposal though.

Pukekohe Bus Rail Interchange – AT say they have $1.5m in funding for this financial year to upgrade the station which I’m sure is something that will get the locals will be pleased about. AT will also be moving the facilities to refill diesel trains from Papakura to Pukekohe

Puhinui Station – The station will be getting an upgrade to the standard Auckland design to improve customer experience. It is expected to be finished by June 2015.

Grafton Bridge – From early next year AT will be allowing taxi’s to use Grafton Bridge as part of a one year trial. While they say they will review the impacts in 3 months. Overall this seems like it could be quite a bad outcome for those on bikes but we’ll have to wait and see.

Integrated Fares – The AT board signed off the business case for integrated fares last month although we’re still waiting to hear just what that will entail. What we do know from the report to the board is that integrated fares won’t go live till the end of next year. This is due to AT needing to re-program much of the system to handle proper integrated fares. As for HOP as it is now, once again the board report¹ says that the percentage of trips on the PT network using HOP has remained the same as last month, AT say they think the ” Get onboard with Jerome” campaign will improve results over the coming months.

HOP ticketing usage October 2014

 

How CRL transforms travel in the west

It was a relief last week to see the majority of councillors vote against delaying the City Rail Link project, as part of developing the draft Long Term Plan. Add that to Transport Minister Simon Bridges comments to Newstalk ZB yesterday saying the government accepts the need for and agrees it is sensible timing for the ‘enabling works’ to take place while the Downtown Shopping Centre works are going on. The enabling works is the cut and cover tunnel from Britomart to Wyndham St.

As such it now seems certain that the enabling works part of the project will commence either late next year or early 2016, with the timing of the rest of the project a matter for negotiation between the council and the government. With rail patronage booming, it seems like there’s certainly good reason for that negotiation to continue over the coming months before the final Long Term Plan is signed off in June next year.

For years now we have been annoyed by Auckland Transport’s inability to clearly explain some of the key benefits of the CRL project. Much of the talk has always been in terms of generalisations rather than specifics, often with far too much of a city centre focus and often just very confusing. Their best effort has been the CRL video they produced but requires people to actually watch it to get information which doesn’t support people being able to get a better understanding by glancing at an image. It would probably really help if they copied the messages in the videos across to other formats.

There are many hundreds of posts on this blog over the past five years about the CRL and its benefits for Auckland, so for this particular post I want to focus on one specific impact of the project – how it provides significantly faster travel times for people travelling to the city from locations along the Western Line. Here’s how Auckland Transport currently advertise the time savings.

city-rail-link-travel-times-Jul14_800x439

The current trip into town from the Western Line is a fairly tortuous affair, due to the turnaround at Newmarket as part of the diversion around the city to enter from the eastern side and the relatively slow speeds along the line as a whole. For those travelling to the midtown area – where the largest chunk of employment is located, along with the two major universities, the trip is effectively even longer – with a 10 minute hike from Britomart. All added together, even trips from fairly close in on the Western Line to the midtown area by train take a long time and unsurprisingly the “inner west” stations do not rank particularly high in terms of use.

Taking the intersection of Queen St and Wellesley St as a somewhat arbitrary location in “midtown”, we can start working out what difference the CRL makes to travel times – with a few key assumptions:

  • Google maps says the walk to Britomart is about 10 minutes
  • With CRL in place, it will take approximately 6 minutes to travel between Mt Eden Station and Aotea Station (Britomart to Mt Eden is listed as 9 minutes above, about 3 minutes per station).
  • At the moment it takes 16 minutes for a train to travel between Mt Eden and Britomart.
  • Finally, let’s assume 2 minutes to exit (or enter) any underground station – Britomart or Aotea
  • This hasn’t taken into account the time spent waiting for a train which would boost the savings from the CRL even further due to the higher frequencies it allows.

Using the above assumptions we can map the western line in terms of how long it takes people to get to midtown from the particular section of the rail network – using rough 10 minute increments before and after the CRL. Thanks to Niko from Generation Zero for the fantastic graphic:

West-Midtown-GZ

As you can see the differences are huge. The removal of the 11 minute walk up from Britomart plus it taking only 6 minutes (rather than 16) to travel between Mt Eden and town on the train means a whopping 21 minute reduction to trips times from western line stations to the very heart of Auckland. That means every location out to Glen Eden is now within a half hour train trip from midtown, whereas at the moment if you were travelling to midtown from Mt Eden via train it’d nearly take you half an hour.

A comparison between travel times to midtown at the moment, compared to a conservative estimate of post-CRL travel times is shown below. You’ll notice the New Lynn time doesn’t match up with what AT are suggesting which may be related to time savings from electric trains however we’re yet to see if any savings will actually eventuate. Even so, as you can see these are truly massive time savings, bringing many suburbs in the west far much ‘closer in’, in terms of their actual accessibility.

west-midtown-times

We’ll try to do a few more of these “travel examples” over the coming while, to really show in a concrete way what the benefits of CRL are. Southern Line to K Road station is next I think however we’ll also do some non CBD journey ones

CRL the key to a unified city

Our good friend and director of Generation Zero, Sudhvir Singh wrote a fantastic op-ed for the Herald the other day on the City Rail Link. It was intended to be printed on Wednesday when councillors voted on whether to delay the project – which thankfully they didn’t – however the Herald ended up running it on Friday. I’ve included a few images from AT’s CRL page.

As Auckland councillors have been voting on a budget for our city, they must be commended for their continued support for the City Rail Link (CRL), a game-changing piece of infrastructure that will reduce traffic, revitalise suburban town centres and unlock Auckland’s potential.

A 3km rail tunnel connecting Britomart with the rail network at Mt Eden, the CRL will link the three disparate limbs of Auckland’s rail network into a coherent whole. It will serve motorists just as well as rail commuters, and benefit the suburbs just as much as the city centre.

Auckland already has a 100km rail network. While rail usage is growing at over 15 per cent year on year, as long as the network finishes in a dead end at Britomart, Aucklanders will only ever be offered services on an infrequent timetable.

The CRL will change all this: by breaking the bottleneck at Britomart, Aucklanders will have access to trains running at five-minute frequencies.

Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

Any new rail lines such as the proposed airport and North Shore lines are not possible without the CRL. This is therefore the foundational project that Auckland needs to develop a true “metro” public transport system, like those seen in all the world’s most liveable cities. It’s at the core of the Congestion-Free Network, a plan laid out by Generation Zero and Transport Blog to address Auckland’s lack of public transport and show how major improvements are easily affordable within the current budget.

Investment in the CRL will not mean that Auckland motorists’ concerns are neglected. Quite the opposite: international transport system research shows that widening roads is not the cure for traffic congestion. By encouraging more people to drive and failing to provide transport choice, heavy investment in roads only adds to traffic problems. Investment in rail takes large numbers of people off the road and reduces carbon pollution.

What is more, the CRL will not see suburban development sacrificed in favour of city centre development. The best way to spur renewed investment and development in our suburban centres is to give people access to frequent, quality public transport and watch the private investment that follows. Britomart’s transformation since the opening of the rail station is an example of this – the CRL will be the impetus for similar town centre upgrades across Auckland.

In the short term, residents of West Auckland will arguably benefit the most from the CRL. Travel times by train from the west will be halved, in effect bringing this entire side of Auckland closer to the city. This represents an unrivalled opportunity for the west to prosper, particularly if a mix of affordable housing choices is offered near existing stations.

Let’s also stick to the facts when it comes to funding: the CRL is not one of the factors putting pressure on the council’s budget and leading to calls for motorway tolls and rate rises. Despite the alarmism promoted by its detractors, funding of the CRL will not influence rates in the city until it’s open.

As a piece of capital investment, it is funded by a combination of development contributions and debt. This is separate from the spending that our rates fund. Those who suggest that today’s funding for libraries and community services is to be sacrificed for tomorrow’s funding of the CRL are peddling falsehoods.

The Government has not had the foresight to plan a single piece of public transport infrastructure in the country’s biggest city during its six years in office. Instead, it has a myopic obsession with roading that sees it spend Auckland’s share of national transport funding exclusively on motorways. The council’s response needs to be to balance the transport budget with investment in public transport.

Auckland needs its rail link. Now is the time for the council to show leadership and not delay its completion.

Good work Sudhvir

We’re working with Generation Zero to try and come up with some more creative ways to highlight the need and the benefits of the CRL. We have already have one of these done which we will look to launch soon. If you also have a good idea on how we can help better explain the project then let us know.

CRL passes another hurdle

Yesterday the council started debating and voting on what will go out for consultation as part of the Long Term Plan. There were two big interrelated issues people were watching closely, what level rates would be set at and whether or not councillors would vote to delay the City Rail Link. These weren’t the only items on the agenda but they certainly took up a lot of time, most of the day in fact with the meeting continuing tomorrow to discuss the rest of the agenda.

By the end of it all the councillors voted 16-7 to increase rates in the next two years by 3.5%, up from the original 2.5% increase (the subsequent eight years were already set for a 3.5% increase). For transport voting on whether to delay the City Rail Link also thankfully fell short, again with a 16-7 result which is notable as on Monday Bernard Orsman was reporting that nine 9 councillors were going to vote to delay the project. The councillors that changed their minds were Ross Clow and Calum Penrose leaving those supporting a delay being Cameron Brewer, Linda Cooper, Denise Krum, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, John Watson and George Wood.

I wasn’t at the meeting but was following it Twitter and so I thought I would just highlight some of the interesting tweets from those that were there as there is clearly tension on the issue between many councillors.

The council say even the CRL wasn’t ring-fenced it would still be number one on the priority list due to how much positive impact it has.

On Capacity issues

It sounds like Council CEO Stephen Town did a good job in stepping the councillors through the information

On CRL Operations

Even from before today Chris Darby and Penny Hulse seem to be the best councillors we have and Chris once again show they actually understand many of the issues.

The last comment clearly upset George Wood

Dick Quax not wanting to be left out later added this gem

Perhaps Dick forgot that cars are a 19th century tech too.

There’s still a lot of work to go before the CRL gets started but at least it’s cleared another hurdle

20 by 2017?

14 - Sep AK Patronage table

Latest figures from AT: September 2014

In March this year I wrote a post called 20 by 2020 assessing the Prime Minister’s challenge for rail ridership in Auckland to do be heading to 20 million passengers pa by what I understood to be 2020 to justify a partial investment in the CRL by the report .From a PwC Patronage Report  I have found what he said:

“We will consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest. 

Which is a fairly ambiguous sentence. Here’s how the kind folks at the MoT interpret that:

“MoT interprets the rail patronage target as meaning that “patronage will reach 20 million trips a year around 2018″

PwC then tabulate this as follows:

PwC CRL targets summary

 

So 13.5% average growth is all that is needed to meet the MoT’s pretty sharp 2018 interpretation of this barrier. And it looks like we’re on the way more for the 2017 rate. Here’s what I wrote in March:

So where are we at now? Ridership at the end of June 2013 was almost exactly 10 mil: Less than a year later and it is now 11 mil. 3 months to go and already 10% growth. To reach 20 mil by 2020 a rate of 10.4% is sufficient.

Oh how things change. Just six months further on and we’ve already hit 12 million. Rail ridership is running at around 16% – 21% pa [As is the Northern Express- Rapid Transit Investment works]. If this can be sustained over the next few years things will become rather awkward for those relying on this particular hurdle to delay the government’s commitment to Auckland. The magic of compounding growth means that this kind of rate leads to a rough doubling of the figure in just four years. From 10 million in 2013 to 20 million in 2017 or thereabouts.

Is that growth likely to continue, on grounds other than mere extrapolation? Well here’s what I wrote back in March. Events since have not made a fool of me yet:

OK, I can hear the cynics out there saying that you can’t just extrapolate ridership growth from one year out indefinitely and that is indeed true, almost as absurd as assuming traffic growth will leap upwards from a flat line; well almost. So we must ask are there good reasons to believe that ridership growth will continue at this rate? Well no, but there are three good reasons to be confident that it will in fact accelerate from this year even more strongly;

1. The vastly more attractive, higher capacity, and able to be more frequently run New Trains

2. The new integrated ticketing and fares system

3. The New Bus Network that is focussed on coordinating with the Rail Network to help speed and improve many journeys, from new transfer stations like the recently completed Panmure, New Lynn, and coming Mangere and Otahuhu.

Interestingly 18% has been the average growth rate ever since the Council built Britomart Station back in 2003. It’s probably then a number those well paid and highly numerate apparatchiks at the MoT can reliably hang their hats on. From the previous post:
We should also remember that rail ridership has grown by some 400% since the opening of Britomart [annualised: 18% pa, so this has been a consistent grower since even simple improvements were added to what was a completely under invested in system. Build it and they will indeed come.

It is also worth noting that no motorway network shows or is required to show anything like a 10% demand growth in order to get even 50% funding from government. In fact the government had to invent an abstract and novel category of road -The Road of National Significance- in order to get around the low traffic demands all over the nation and overcome their often appallingly low business cases. For example traffic demand in and around Wellington is going backwards, actually falling, but NZTA can’t stop drawing lines down every fault-line for new motorways there. How about 10% demand growth hurdles for investment all transport systems?

And because every post needs plenty of images and because this never gets old, here’s the Perth story, the one we are most clearly going to emulate, in fact are emulating, here in Auckland once we can get the tarmac out the eyes of those who control our money:

 

 

perth-patronage

Auckland Transport’s 30 Year Project List

As part of the discussion on Alternative Transport Funding, which was launched yesterday, the Council also released a copy of Auckland Transport’s entire 30 year transport programme which includes the cost of projects and seemingly ranked according to some combination of criteria. The programme unfortunately does not include state highway projects, which makes it difficult to fully assess the merits of the overall transport packages outlined in yesterday’s announcements. However, it’s certainly clear what Auckland Transport projects can and cannot be afforded over the next 30 years under the two scenarios.

The document doesn’t explain the list in any detail, but it seems as though there are a number of projects on the first page which have some form of existing commitment or are ongoing requirements and therefore are not really considered “discretionary”. These are shown below:

committed-projectsThe ‘committed’ projects include those that appear to have contracts in place (electric trains, Albany Highway, a few things around Westgate), renewing existing assets and the City Rail Link. I actually wonder if it would be helpful for CRL to be ranked against all the other projects – rather than be included in this “other” list – as almost certainly it would rank either right at the top or very near it.

Anyway, moving on to the top of the list the projects listed below are those that are in both the Basic Network and the Auckland Plan Network – as well as some fairly broad brush allocation of funding to support sprawl in some of the areas identified by the Unitary Plan:

basic-network-projects

It’s a pretty short list for the 30 year transport programme, as well as being strangely focused on the first decade. The other key thing to notice here is the yellow boxes, which appear to be wrapped up programmes of projects (e.g. walking and cycling) where the amount of funding allocated to the programme varies quite significantly, depending on whether it’s the Auckland Plan Transport Network or the Basic Transport Network.

Even taking a fairly harsh look at the list above, there doesn’t seem to be too many projects that don’t make sense doing at all over the next 30 years. For me the three most glaring ones that need to be questioned are:

  • The Reeves Rd flyover at $141 million
  • The widening of the almost $200 million and soon to be opened Te Horeta Rd for another $74 million
  • Mill Road at $472 million which is something that we’ve highlighted could be looked at for a cheaper option, especially seeing as the government are now widening the southern motorway.

The rest of the projects are those which form part of the Auckland Plan Transport Network only. Essentially, these are the additional projects from Auckland Transport which the additional funding is being asked to pay for:

auckland-plan-network-projects

While there are a few really dumb projects on the list above (Mt Albert Park & Ride, what the heck?) there’s also a lot of pretty good stuff that is missing out under the Basic Transport Network. Furthermore, while there is some, it seems at first glance that there isn’t a huge amount of really expensive dumb stuff in the programme list of Auckland Transport’s projects. That contrasts with the package of state highway projects highlighted yesterday which doesn’t appear to have been questioned at all.

Over the next few days I’ll be starting to look into the detail at the overall balance of the packages, as well as assessing the extent to which they are similar to what we proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

Competition Winners

Attentive readers will recall the little competition we ran some weeks back, well Labour Day has given us the chance to sort through the entries and make some choices.

This exercise has shown that the City Rail Link is a difficult project to summarise and it is hard to feel that we’ve quite cracked it yet, but here goes…

While I for one did particularly like Stu’s CRL: Centre Right Legacy but as there is no sign of this actually happening I think we have to discount that one.

For originality we felt we had to include Mike F‘s: Auckland’s wormhole – a shortcut in time

On the important need to reach out to drivers about the project we also chose:

Greg N‘s CRL – Auckland’s Traffic Decongestant

and

Spartan‘s witty acronym CRL – Congestion ReLief

And finally there’s Nick‘s City Rail Link: Building Auckland’s Regional Metro which he expanded on more fully in a comment on a post earlier today. This is as good a summary of how to better communicate the value of the project as I’ve seen:

They should make a clean cut from the tarnished CRL ‘brand’ and start calling it what it actually is, something like ‘Regional Auckland Metro Rail” (or a snappier alternative). Don’t sell it as a two billion dollar CBD tunnel with two stations, sell it as a two billion dollar metro system with four lines and 40 stations serving 3/4 of metropolitan Auckland, with trains running every five or ten minutes to every station between Swanson, Onehunga, Manukau and Papakura.

Did NZTA sell the Waterview connection as the means to drive from Owairaka to Waterview? Of course not, they spend far more time talking about completing the motorway system, creating an efficient network and delivering a western bypass from Manukau to Albany.

AT seem so intent on hiding all the benefits and potential from the public, so risk averse as to shoot themselves in the foot. Sell the damned thing FFS! get the public excited, have them banging on the beehive door saying hurry up and get on with it. In my experience the only people against the CRL are those that have a mistaken understanding of what it does, or rather doesn’t, do. Those that do understand can clearly see it is the most efficient spend of transport funds possible in the city. That is squarely ATs fault in terms of marketing.

Give it a new name, them stick signs and billboards out next to main roads and motorways showing the travel time and frequency to various places. Put one by SH1 in Manurewa with the travel time to Silvia Park and Aotea, one near Orakei with the time to Eden Park, one in Mt Albert with the time to Henderson and Aotea, one in Howick village with the combined bus and train time to the city centre etc. Hell stick one up in every neighborhood within ten minutes of a rail station.

…and give it a new brand, a regional, metro branding.

Thanks again to Madman Entertainment for the DVDs.

So congratulations Mike, Greg, Spartan, and Nick and stand by for an email from me requesting a physical address so I can send out the DVDs

No correspondence will be entered into etc….

CRL engagement ideas

As the CRL inches closer to reality we’re bound to see a lot more of the general public start to get involved and as such discussion about it is only likely to intensify. This isn’t a bad thing as the more people that learn about the massively positive benefits the project brings the more support the project will have. Penny Hulse has come up with an idea to help push the discussion along which has been highlighted by Metro Magazine.

Deputy mayor Penny Hulse wants to paint some lines on Albert St. And put up some signs. Why? Because she wants to show people where the City Rail Link will go. Railway lines, geddit?

Do that, she argues, and the abstract economic burden of our proposed underground railway will become a really-happening-now project, a talking point, a springboard for the imagination. A mechanism for us to start thinking seriously about what the downtown city might become when tens of thousands of workers and shoppers and students spill every day out of a subway station underneath the intersection of Albert and Victoria streets.

It’s a brilliant idea. Cheap and powerful. They could build on it, too. As the work starts — next year is likely, and it will be disruptive cut-and-cover, not a tunnel — how about they turn it into an “imagine Auckland” project? Use the walls they will put up to keep us out as a giant, ongoing canvas on which people can post their ideas for the city — in words, in pictures, hell, in 3-D installations. Aucklander Stuart Houghton has been posting his “100 ideas for a better Auckland”, a set of beautifully whimsical illustrations, at 100daysproject.co.nz (one of them is shown above), and they’re a terrific provocation. Put some of them up and invite everyone to contribute more.

Penny Hulse wants to lay down the painted tracks because she wants to generate more public engagement with the changing city. She wants us to feel part of what the council is up to. But guess what? She says she can’t get people at council to support her idea. Why not?

I think painting some tracks down Albert St is a great idea but why stop there.

London has long considered the building of full sized mock ups of tube stations a crucial part of the design process to ensure they get the stations right.

Crossrail Station Mockup

Now with just two underground stations – Aotea and K Rd – perhaps AT should do a similar exercise, firstly to ensure they get the design right but if they were also in a publicly accessible location such as AT’s Bledisloe carpark for the Aotea one, they could also be a great tool for further public engagement.

However both of these ideas are focused centrally and unfortunately don’t help address the incorrect assumption of some that the CRL is just about benefits to the CBD. More needs to be done by AT to highlight the benefits the CRL provides to the region and it is something highlighted in the latest newsletter from the AA. They note:

Perhaps for the first time, chinks in the broad support for the City Rail Link (CRL) are also visible.  Many Auckland Members believe that the project will only benefit a small proportion of the population (those who live or work in the central city).

Awareness of the network-wide benefits that the CRL could offer is minimal – instead, it is commonly assumed that the project is only about intra-CBD travel.

As a result, support for the project is surprisingly low: only one-third of Auckland Members believe investment in the CRL would be money well spent.

And in their recommendations they say AT needs to de-mystify the CRL

At present, Auckland’s flagship project is poorly understood, and risks becoming the focal point for public concerns about cost.

Politicisation of the CRL has stood in the way of a conversation about its substance.

Much more needs to be done to develop public understanding of what the project is, and how it could benefit all of Auckland.

Again, the story needs to be told in terms of concrete outcomes – economic growth, travel time savings, and de-congestion.

I think the AA are absolutely correct with this and importantly they’re not saying no to the project but just that more information is needed so the public better understand the need for it.

In my view just having a few open days or putting up some posters isn’t likely to be effective so what are some ideas for getting more public engagement in other parts of Auckland?

PM gets it right about Auckland, mostly

Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:

First home buyers in Auckland might have to consider an apartment in order to get onto the property ladder, Prime Minister John Key says.

After all, the locational efficiencies of well placed apartments can mean great savings in transport expenses, and the smaller size of these dwellings also leads to savings in operational costs such as energy and maintenance. Apartments do offer a great option for getting onto the property ladder in the more central locations that many desire, and in fact in many cases will be the only option.

And he is doubly right when he added:

“If you’re a young person buying your first place in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, in most instances you’ll be going into an apartment.”

Doubly right? Right in the first instance because that’s true, but secondly right because he is implying that Auckland is becoming more similar to these cities in its functioning. Yes, Auckland is increasingly exhibiting the well known economic patterns of cities; high value placed on proximity, increases in productivity with density, the power of spatially efficient transport modes.

He’s kinda right when he then says:

“The real magic here is what’s driving those [price] increases – it’s land.”

Kinda right? Yes because of course it’s land, the cost of land, but he is only telling part of the storey, because he neglects to say that where that land is is the principal determinant of its value: Location, Location, Location. A 300m² site with a problem on it in Ponsonby recently made the news because of the price it sold for and of course it only reached that sum because of its locational value. No one is spending that kind of money on similarly tiny plots with rotting old shacks on them at the fringes of the city. Only by delivering more dwellings on locationally valuable sites can the demand for city proximate living be met and at attainable prices.

Several Densities

Several Densities

But then he was rather curious about the City Rail Link, that project that more than any other, will facilitate Auckland’s urban spatial reset by improving efficient connectivity and extending locational value to more currently underdeveloped parts of the existing city:

“And that’s one of the reasons why we’re not looking to rush to bring forward the rail, in terms of the CBD rail link, because if we do, the other portion of that has to be borne by the rate payers.”

Curious? Yes because he says he doesn’t want to use our taxes to fund half the project because he wants to save us from spending our rates on the other half. Well Mr Key there’s an even better way out of that, and that is to recognise that the CRL’s value to the Auckland economy and therefore the national one too, means that it should be funded entirely from the National Land Transport Fund like other nationally significant land transport projects.

Every project is somewhere, the CRL is no more local than a Highway in Tauranga, nor the coming one that almost no one will use out of Wellington. Aucklanders help fund those roads. The CRL will unlock a network from Swanson to Pukekohe, and points in between, helping shift a great many more people than a State Highway around Te Puke, and freeing up roads for many more freight movements. Therefore it is no less important for the national economy.

But anyway the City’s share of the CRL is already budgeted for in capital works programme so withholding the taxpayers share is not saving the Auckland ratepayer anything.

And this is significant because there are two issues that are vitally important to the success of apartment living that PM understands we now need; the location of the apartments and the quality of their connectivity. It is important that they are well placed in as much walking distance of amenity and employment as possible, but then that they are also well connected to the rest of the city through spatially efficient transport systems. After all the best trip is the one not needed to be taken, or that is shortened or otherwise has less impact on other city users and places [reducing the negatives of  traffic congestion, space consumption, and pollution].

Auto-dependent apartments on greenfields sites at the end of the motorway will only achieve the worst of both worlds: dense sprawl. And this kind of distant and disconnected living supplies none of the agglomeration economies that make cities successful. Furthermore they are unlikely to succeed as they satisfy no one: They provide neither the scale nor gardens that detached house lovers want, nor the city proximity that city dwellers value.

So the successful growing city economy isn’t just about Land, or Dwelling Type, but about Location, Dwelling Type, and Connectivity.

Gotta have all three.

*Adendum. In case anyone is thinking that increasing sprawl doesn’t increase transport demand and therefore pressure on all systems here is an up to date chart derived from the 2013 census Journey To Work data that shows a very clear match for distance from centre and length of journey to work. This is not just about the concentration of jobs in the centre, but also about people working in all sorts of places throughout the city and travelling across  town to get there:

Trip Length residential 2013

So with the interesting addition of that area on the south of the Tamaki River, and a developing one on the mid North Shore, the most efficient journeys to work on a distance basis are all in the City Centre and the older heart of the Isthmus. In other words the further out you live the longer your schlep to and for work is likely to be, by whatever mode.

Source: http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2014/10/INF_20141021_MAT_4791.PDF

The Great Auckland Transit Revival: Theory and Practice

Einstein

2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.

The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.

Here’s the uptake overview:

Comparator cities

So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.

So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?

It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.

And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:

Fares and ticketting Benchmark Study

The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].

Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:

Service qual. Benchmark Study

Oh dear.

Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:

Rapid Transit benchmark study

Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.

In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.

Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:

CFN 2015

Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?

Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:

August 2014 Ridership

SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.

So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.

And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.

But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.

Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.

Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?

Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:

CFN 2030 South-Grafton