Thoughts on CBD Bus Changes

Last week Auckland Transport made the latest round of changes to streets in advance of the construction works for the City Rail Link. As mentioned in my post the other day, these changes impact me quite a bit as my commute normally involves transferring between buses and trains at Britomart. Below are just a few personal observations I’ve made over the last few days and I’m keen to hear your experiences of the changes.

Train to Bus

For my trip to work I catch a train to Britomart and then transfer to the Northern Express. In the mornings, the NEX runs every 7-8 minutes and so every second bus is effectively on the same timetable pattern as the western line. Due to the timetabling of services, previously I usually arrived in town just a few minutes before the next NEX departure so a quick dash from the train platform to the bus and I was on my way again with minimal delay.

CRL Bus changes map departure

Now, instead of walking across the road outside of Britomart I now have to walk to Albert St and the timing difference means I just bus I would have previously caught is just pulling away from the stop. That’s a little frustrating but given the frequency it’s not a massive deal. This should also all change when the Western line gets a frequency bump in about two weeks so I suspect could see pretty much back to as they were – with a slightly minor and not terrible walk.

Given lower Albert St is where many buses will leave from post CRL, I don’t think the short walk is terrible – or at least it won’t be once the permanent lane through the Commercial Bay development is completed. It’s certainly not the disaster some like George Wood would have us believe

Downtown Lane

Bus to Train

My trip back to the city is generally a little varied. I’ll either catch a bus direct from Takapuna and then transfer to either a City Link or a NEX on Fanshawe St or I’ll go to Akoranga and catch a NEX from there. For the purposes of this I’m only referring to these services from about the Nelson St intersection towards Britomart.

CRL Bus changes map arrival

City Link – Previously this used to travel down lower Hobson St then along Quay St before heading up Queen St. This part of the trip used to infuriate me as lower Hobson St and Quay St were often jammed up and it could sometimes take over 10 minutes to travel about 500m and the reason I’d transfer to a NEX if possible. The change to using Customs St West with a right turn into Queen St has been a fantastic change and it feels like it’s significantly sped up the service. The stop is just up from the Customs St intersection and even with a short walk from there to Britomart instead of being right outside, it is a much more pleasant journey.

Of course on Queen St also now has bus lanes and it was good to see AT out monitoring them the other day. Given how AT have acted in the past, I suspect they will start with an educational approach first.

Queen St Bus Lane enforcement

NEX – I’ve had mixed results with the NEX so far. In the afternoon peak the downtown carpark can disgorge a lot of cars onto Customs St West who then want to loop around the block to get to Hobson St – presumably that’s faster/easier than using the dedicated ramp to Fanshawe St. In one experience the bus was held up from being able to turn left at Albert St for a set of lights or two as a line of cars in front of my full bus took their turn to do so. That plus the short walk to Britomart was just enough to see a western line train departing as I walked in the building. However in another experience there were only a few buses and we weren’t held up so I suspect it could be a bit of a hit and miss situation.

Other observations

A few other related observations.

  • Crossing lower Queen St outside Britomart was quite easy, sometimes a bus or two to dodge but fine so long as you were paying attention. Crossing lower Albert St is not the same as for one general traffic is allowed on it which they weren’t on Queen St. And because it’s open to cars and quite a wide road there are inevitably some idiots out behind the wheel trying to see how fast they can get to the next set of traffic lights.
  • Of course crossing at the lights is always an option too and given the numbers of people who will now be getting off NEX services and probably heading southeast of the bus stop I wonder if AT should consider converting the Albert/Customs St intersection into a Barnes Dance like the intersections to the east of Albert St.
  • By contrast to Albert St, the new/currently temporary space outside of Britomart has been a welcome improvement. Walking to/from the station and having more space without having to dodge buses is fantastic. I also like that AT are thinking about temporary activation of the area – such as this which was being painted the other day.

Temporary Activation outside Britomart

Overall the changes seem to have gone fairly smoothly and I haven’t seen any real issues with the changes either personally or on social media (not saying there haven’t been). I’ve also noticed that AT have had a lot of ambassadors around directing people who might need it to the new bus stops which is useful. So all up sounds like AT have been fairly successful here. Were you affected by the changes and if so what are your thoughts on them?

A Summary of AT’s Internal CRL Business Case

The City Rail Link is probably the most intensely scrutinised transport project New Zealand has ever seen thanks to the government’s earlier outright opposition to it. Over the last six years we’ve seen a number of studies, reports and business cases examining the project and often one sided and deeply flawed reviews of all of these. In 2013 when the government finally came to the party and agreed with the project although they wanted to delay it till 2020. In January they agreed the project could start earlier (although their funding may still only start in 2020) which would allow Auckland Transport to get on with the project including negotiating contracts.

AT already had approval and was/is well underway with the first stage of the CRL up to Wyndham St. Late last year they started the process of sounding out the market on the rest of the project. As part of that they’ve produced an internal business case looking at the project taking into account the all of the changes to the project and improvements in their understanding of it.

AT have now released a glossy summary of this business case – one issue with the document is that many of the graphics are of quite low quality and in some cases impossible to read. They are quick to point out right on the front cover:

This document is AT’s internal business case to facilitate the Gateway Review process prior to letting contracts for enabling works construction.

It is not a joint business case with government.

As I understand it, the Gateway Review process is related to the market sounding and working out the best way of sequencing and contracting out the project. As AT Chairman Lester Levy says at the end of his opening message.

The business case summarised here will continue to evolve. This version is suitable for the AT Board’s decision on letting Enabling Works contracts. As the project is further developed the costs (and benefits) will be refined and the business case advanced.

On to the interesting stuff.

AT say their detailed economic assessment shows the project will return benefits of $2.96 – $3.2 billion in Net Present Value using the NZTA standard 40-year assessment with a 6% discount ratio. When assessed against the costs including operational ones (also in NPV terms) it has a BCR of 1.6-1.7. That’s much better than the 0.4 in the hatchet job that was the Ministry’s initial review or the 0.9 in the City Centre Future Access Study which wasn’t a full detailed assessment. It’s also better that most of the government’s big RoNS projects

A breakdown of the benefits is shown in the graphic below.

CRL Benefits graphic

Travel time savings are obviously the biggest single benefit and the document gives some information on the project’s impact on transport use. The results were modelled by the joint modelling group that is made up of the council, AT and the NZTA. They say that in 2046 during the two-hour morning peak there will be 50,000 people using rail if the CRL is built compared with 32,000 using rail if the CRL wasn’t built and 12,000 in the AM peak in 2014. Aotea Station will surpass Britomart and see 13,000 people pass through in the morning while Britomart will still be busier than it is today and have 12,000 during that time.

The modelling also looks at difference in mode share for the city centre across the entire day between 2010 and 2041. As you can see private vehicle usage remains unchanged at 34,000 – about the same as it also was 2001. Bus use and ferry use both increases slightly but the big changes come from rail, light rail and active modes which grow significantly. Based on those figures, by 2041 only 26% of people will enter the city centre in a car. It also must be remembered that so far we’ve had a history of underestimating public transport usage.

CRL City Centre Mode Share

Interestingly in the section that briefly talks about capital and operating costs it says AT may not need new trains initially.

As the CRL allows a major productivity benefit from shortening the route from the west to Britomart, additional EMUs may not be required for the immediate post-CRL opening services. The shorter route means that the overall operating cost for the rail services will reduce.

This seems hard to believe given how fast patronage is growing. Yes the CRL will speed services up and combined with improvements that need to be made before then, it will help get more out of the fleet we have but in my view, the CRL will be so popular that not having additional services sounds like a recipe for very busy trains.

Aotea Station Design Platform Mar - 16

Aotea Station will be the busiest in the city

One of the big things our economic assessments aren’t able to grasp – especially with projects like the CRL – is just how transformational they can be, especially when it comes to land use. For the West in particular it will be like the whole area has been lifted and moved 10 minutes+ closer to the city. Even within the project area it opens up some significant development potential.

They say that just the CRL footprint includes 4.9ha of developable land with a potential floor space of 210,000m² to 250,000m². That could be enough space for thousands of jobs and thousands of new resident. The estimated value of this potential new development is $1.2-$1.4 billion and of course that won’t have been included in the business case. Some of the options for redevelopment are shown below.

CRL TOD options

The project, while disruptive to build, will be fantastic for Auckland and it’s good that over the last few years AT have been able to get on with it despite the initial government opposition. We’ve already seen the disruption start with bus and traffic changes and as underground services get shifted. Within weeks diggers will be on the ground to actually start working on the tunnels themselves.

City Bus changes for tomorrow

The City Rail Link gets a step closer tomorrow as the next round of changes for the city centre kick in as work ramps up to the start of construction.

The biggest changes will see all of the bus stops around Britomart move.

Changes are coming to bus services in downtown Auckland from this Sunday 17 April.

Construction work is about to start on the City Rail Link (CRL) and this affects bus services on Albert St and lower Queen St in particular.

AT Metro Bus Services Manager, Brendon Main says Auckland Transport is moving bus stops now to minimise disruption to passengers.

“Some parts of the downtown area are being closed off so we are have to move some buses. On our website we have set-up an interactive map which will help people find if their service is affected and where it departs from.”

Auckland Transport also has signs at bus stops in the area and will have ambassadors at stops to help customers.

Mr Main says Auckland Transport wants to make it as easy as possible for passengers but this is a big change and will need some patience.

“The CRL is the biggest construction programme ever in the central city so there will be some disruption during the construction phase. At the same time there is a lot of building work going on in Albert St so the buses will have to work around this.

“All we can ask is that people follow the signage and talk to ambassadors so that we can make this as easy as possible for our customers.”

The changes to routes and stops are shown below

Arriving

CRL Bus changes map arrival

Departing

CRL Bus changes map departure

There are a few other changes to such as to the 020/005 and 991x/992x routes. There is also an interactive map showing where stops are moving from/to.

I’m sure there is bound to be some confusion and teething issues while these changes bed in so I won’t be surprised to hear about issues come Monday morning but hopefully the issues will be minor.

Perhaps somewhat ironically (or depending on your view perhaps appropriately), as one of the biggest supporters of the CRL I’m also one of the most impacted by these changes. I work in Takapuna and pass through the city to get there. The first round of changes back in October last year removed direct buses to Takapuna from near Britomart resulting in me requiring an additional transfer to get to/from work and now buses from Britomart will be a little further away. But as frustrating as it can be at times, I’m also acutely aware of just how important and transformation the CRL will be.

In addition to bus stop changes, also going live tomorrow are (finally) bus lanes on Queen St which turned green 1-2 days ago.

Other recent changes include the closure of the underpass at Britomart which needs to be removed so the CRL tunnels can be built. It’s not being reinstated as after the CRL is finished the space outside the station will be a public plaza so there will be no buses to dodge.

Britomart Underpass Closed

I’m looking forward to the actual construction work starting. I’m not sure just yet of the exact date but I believe it is likely to be within the next month or so. I believe the demolition of the Downtown Shopping mall starts early June.

Combined with all of the other work going on in the city it’s certainly a busy time.

Porters Ave and the CRL

While looking at Auckland Transport’s website recently I came across a now closed consultation relating to the Porters Ave level crossing and how it is affected by the CRL. Some of the information included in the consultation is quite technical and may be of interest to readers.

As originally planned the CRL was to have had a station underneath the southern end of Symonds St before travelling through a flat junction to the connections towards Grafton and Kingsland. Due to the grades involved the tracks from the CRL would have been in a cutting about 4m below the current track level at Porters Ave so it wouldn’t have taken much to bridge over the tracks to provide a grade separated crossing. This is shown below.

RevA

AT say this design is no longer possible due to the changes made dropping the Newton Station and creating a grade separated junction in its place. As a result, the tracks will be a lot closer to the surface and as such would need a higher bridge. The problem is the proximity of the crossing to New North Rd and as such the ramps needed to reach the bridge would result in a 2-3m difference in height at the intersection. As such AT needs a different solution.

A traffic assessment found the crossing was used by just over 2,800 vehicles a day with hourly peak volumes as shown below. It also found that the impact of closing the crossing would send traffic to Dominion Rd and Mt Eden Rd which would result in some all increases on nearby roads but that overall travel times won’t be all that different.

Porters Ave Traffic volumes

For the consultation AT provided three alternatives. Each were assessed a range of criteria which can be summarised into four groups

  • Strategic
  • Traffic
  • Environmental and social
  • Economic

1. Close the crossing built build a pedestrian/cycle bridge

Given the title, it should be fairly self-explanatory and AT say that this is their preferred option having come out with the best results from the assessment criteria with a total of 12.07.

RevA

2. Close the crossing built build a pedestrian/cycle bridge and a road from Fenton St to Akiraho St

This is an extension of the option 1 above and adds a new road connection between Fenton St to Akiraho St. AT say the main issue with it is that it would require new land to be purchased to build the connection and would increase vehicle numbers. From the analysis it wasn’t too far behind assessment of option 1, scoring 11.41

Porters Ave crossing Option 2

3. Build a new road connection from Ngahura St.

The third option is a departure from the two above and AT also consider it the least favourable option. It would involve building a 120m long bridge from Ngahura St. This option would not only be expensive but also require the removal of the apartment building next to the tracks. In other words, this wouldn’t be cheap (or easy). It had an assessment score of 9.84.

RevA

Option 1 does seem like the best of them but it will be interesting to see what feedback AT get. Will they cave and pursue a bridge option like they did just down the road in Newmarket with the Sarawia crossing?

I also wonder when or when we’ll hear about any other level crossing removals. It feels like something not even really on ATs agenda.

Lastly I thought this image (click here for larger version) showing the layout of the area was quite interesting. In the top right you can see a cross section of the rail corridor at a few locations. Also showing is the junction that will be underground and the extension of Ruru St over the new station platform and around alongside the tracks to Mt Eden Rd.

Mt Eden indicative layout

 

City Centre Bus Stop Changes 2.0

Auckland’s city centre is already starting to see the impacts of the early works for the City Rail Link but in coming months that will step up a gear. In preparation AT have already advertising about the next phase of works and the changes that will occur. They say the advertising is designed to:

  • Raise awareness of traffic delays in the central city that are likely to happen once the build begins
  • To get motorists to reconsider their transport options into the city, to consider; public transport, walking, cycling, carpooling or other options
  • To inform bus users of changes to bus stops in the central city that are moving as a result of CRL early construction.

Of the next round of changes, one of the first to be seen will be the closure of the underpass from Britomart to QE2 Square at the end of this month. The tunnel is being fully removed as part of the CRL works which will see the area outside of Britomart is being turned into a public space.

The biggest change will prior to works will be the change in bus stops for many services – this follows a raft of changes late last year prior to the enabling works starting. The routes/bus stops will change on April 17 and AT have done a better job this time in communicating these changes. For all routes affected there is a brief description of the changes for each of the routes impacted but more importantly they’ve created some maps to show this more clearly.

The first map shows how inbound buses will travel l to their destinations in the city while the second map shows the routes of they will take to get out of the city. As you can see, all services that currently use lower Queen St (outside Britomart) will be shifted.

Arriving

CRL Bus changes map arrival

Departing

CRL Bus changes map departure

The 020 and 005

CRL Bus changes map 020

991 & 992

CRL Bus changes map 991-992

They’ve even created an interactive map which allows you to select a stop and a service using that stop, the map will then highlight where the bus stop has moved to by way of a green pin.

CRL Bus changes interactive map

With all of the changes happening both in the city and coming up on the New Network it seems like a useful tool for AT to have.

As mentioned we’ve already started to see the impact from the works that are happening. In the latest AT board report they note that they’ve set up a Tactical Response Team come up with an operations plan to deliver interventions to improve how the network is managed.

City Centre Tactical Operations Plan

With the level of new development and new transport projects occurring in the City Centre a co-ordinated approach to the management of the roading network is required. Development of a Tactical Operations Plan is underway, which will provide a framework for the operation of the network including construction planning, incident management, traffic management and customer communications. Over the last month two teams have become operational – the tactical response team and the working group. The working group is a proactive planning team from across AT and the NZ Transport Agency looking at upcoming projects, developments and events on the network to plan interventions in advance and manage travel demand in the city centre.

The tactical response team manage daily operations in the city centre, responding to traffic delays and issues and has additional support from two SCATS (Sydney Co-ordinated Adaptive Traffic System) intersection control operators providing 7am-7pm coverage. Travel times and traffic delays are monitored in the city centre on six key routes: Quay Street, Customs Street, Victoria Street, Wellesley Street, Queen Street and Hobson/Nelson Street. During February traffic entering the city increased from the January holiday period. Delays have been experienced particularly at Quay Street (3 minutes in the evening peak and 1-2 minutes across the whole day) and Customs Street (increase of 1-2 minutes across the day). With the works at Victoria Street delays have increased with average speed being as low as 12.5 km/h however, interventions by the Tactical Response Team have increased these speeds by up to 25 percent.

I hope they’re also ensuring that to achieve improvements in the road network, that they aren’t doing so by compromising pedestrians through things like longer waits for pedestrian phases.

Rodney Hide’s bizarre rail rant

Rail has been on a roll recently, electrification has vastly improved the quality of our trains, patronage has been soaring – sustaining over 20% per year on year growth and as of January was at 15.5 million trips. Added to that the first stage of the City Rail Link is now under way and of course most recently the government got on board with starting the main works in 2018. With so much positive news it can be easy to forget that there are still some fighting very hard (thankfully unsuccessfully) against these changes.

This was highlighted well by former ACT leader Rodney Hide the other day who pulled out some of the most clichéd, bizarre and contradictory arguments for reasons why we shouldn’t be building rail. If you didn’t know he seriously believed what he was saying you’d swear it was comedy. Listen to it yourself below but some of the comments include:

  • Trains are a 19th century technology that are “hopeless at moving people around in cities” and “not suitable, not designed for shifting people” – I look forward to Rodney’s campaign to re-educate so many cities all across the world. Even in the context of Auckland it is clearly not true given the rapid growth as soon as a half decent service was provided.
  • That “since the 70’s “they stopped work on completing the motorway network, so it’s never been completed and the idea there was to congest the roads so that people would be forced on to trains” – perhaps he would like to explain what the $4 billion that’s has been/is being spent the Western Ring Route is all about then.
  • That it’s all an evil scheme by planners to try and control people’s lives rather than letting people choose how they live and travel – because people can obviously choose to live next to train stations and catch trains that don’t exist.
  • He used to catch a train because it was a convenient way to get from Newmarket to the city yet he doesn’t think it makes sense to make it convenient for a greater number of people.
  • Why invest in PT anyway when driverless cars will save us all. Will also be great because will be “privately owned and privately run” – Of course that’s exactly what happened with PT in the early 90’s something we’re only just recovering from now.

Perhaps someone needs to show Rodney what’s been happening with rail patronage which will be close to 16 million a year by now.

2016-01 - Rail Patronage

Interestingly he didn’t make any of these criticisms just a month an a half ago when praising Len Brown and to a lesser extent John Key, for getting the project over the line. One of ironies of course is that without the amalgamation of the councils, for which he was responsible, it’s likely the CRL would never have been signed off.

Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse

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.

Victoria 5:40pm

Victoria 5:40pm

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.

WELLESLEY VICTORIA_7266

Wellesley 4:40pm

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.

Priority

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.

Wellesley 5:32pm

Wellesley 5:32pm

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?

CEWT Roads

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

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.

Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut

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’
  • http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/secular

John Key visits Aotea Station

One side effect of the government’s announcement in late January to allow for the CRL to start on time in 2018 has been for a string of senior government politicians to visit the CRL team to see what’s going on.

Just over a week after the announcement Auckland Central MP Nikki Kay was getting a virtual tour of the Aotea Station

Two weeks after that Transport Minister Simon Bridges had a tour.

Now another two weeks on, Prime Minister John Key has had a look at progress and with the Herald in tow.

The Prime Minister yesterday took a tour around a busy railway station which doesn’t yet exist.

Mr Key slipped on a virtual reality headset for a walk around Aotea Station – one of the proposed underground stops for Auckland’s $2.5 billion City Rail Link.

The station is projected to handle around 12,000 people in peak hours and be one of the busiest hubs on the network.

Describing the visit to a downtown control room as a chance to grasp the complexity and potential of a crucial venture, Mr Key stressed the importance of making sure one of the biggest engineering missions in Kiwi history gets a “successful execution”.

“This is something that’s been talked about for decades. It’s exciting, but something you’ve got to get right,” Mr Key told the Weekend Herald. “The successful execution of the plan will allow it to be delivered on the broad budget of $2.5 billion to $3 billion.

Perhaps my favourite quote from him is at the end of the video where he says:

In one sense it’s a tremendously exciting time for Auckland, you know, you can see a world class city that can rival Sydney and Melbourne emerging before your eyes and you’ve got to go through all the planning phases and construction phases of that, but you know Auckland’s here for the long haul and they know the potential. And personally as someone who lives in Auckland I’m pretty excited by why I see. I think that for long period of time I’ve felt that Auckland could do a lot better than it has done, it’s got that natural beauty but it actually now needs the capacity and facilities to back that up.

That last line in particular is something we’ve also said many times before and one of the reasons we’re so passionate about improving this city.

We’ve seen the images of what’s proposed at Aotea before but the most interesting aspect of the whole piece had to be the video. AT have recreated the Aotea station in virtual reality and the video gives the best idea to date of what the finished product will look like. I personally thought it looked very good, especially the entrance on Wellesley St.

 

Aotea Station VR Outside 4

Aotea Station VR Outside 3

Radio NZ have also published the video but with just the shots of the station.

With various members of the government now visiting the project offices it suggests that they have rapidly getting on-board and wanting to be associated with the project and given even the PM has visited perhaps even suggests that they’re actually quite impressed by what they’ve seen.

MoTs changing view on the CRL

piece by Todd Niall at Radio NZ has highlighted just how much of the advice the Ministry of Transport has changed about the City Rail Link and disturbingly that the advice they’ve given in the past has been far from neutral.

Papers obtained by RNZ News show officials who once saw little merit for the project starting before 2030 now support it getting underway 12 years sooner.
In July 2013, when Prime Minister John Key announced for the first time that the government backed the project, but with conditions, the Ministry of Transport was advising against an early start.

“We conclude that the evidence does not support a case for construction of the CRL by the council’s desired timeframe of 2021, but that the case becomes stronger closer to 2030,” said a Minister of Transport briefing dated April 2013.

Last month Mr Key went a step further, removing the previous funding conditions, and promising a half share from 2020, in a way that would give the council certainty to start building the main tunnels in 2018.

By then, a joint Treasury and Ministry of Transport cabinet briefing, released to RNZ News, showed official advisors had got in behind.
“On balance we consider the disadvantages are outweighed by the merits of enabling the Auckland Council to provide funding certainty for the project,” they wrote.

We had been seeing the Ministry’s language slowly changing in the six-monthly progress reports that they produced with the most recent being in August last year – we normally would have had one around now however with the government’s announcement I assume we won’t see any more of them. They started off at the end of December 2013 saying Auckland would never reach the target, then it was that patronage was growing strong but would taper off and by August last year said it remained on track to reach the target. In the papers released to Radio NZ they say:

If rail patronage continues to grow at its current rate, it is likely to reach the 20 million threshold that was specified by the Prime Minister by 2018. At this rate of growth, Auckland Transport has indicated that there is likely to be capacity issues with Britomart during the morning peak period from around 2018 which may cause some access restrictions to the station.

I guess that’s the kind of change you see when there are sustained 20% per annum increases in usage.

The papers have a lot of blacked out information including risks – such as the potential for cost escalation – and ownership issues the Ministry think need to be addressed.

The article highlights that there remains a big discrepency between the ministry and AT on the business case for the project with the ministry relying on the results of the hatchet job they performed on the original business case. AT’s response suggests they’ve got a more recent assessment so I’ve asked them for a copy of it.

The most concerning aspect of Todd Niall’s piece is the suggestion that the Ministry haven’t been providing neutral advice, instead telling the government what they want to hear.

Minister of Transport Simon Bridges acknowledged that the view of the government had had an influence on what the officials were advising.

“Look I think ultimately Treasury and the Ministry of Transport respond to what the government’s position is,” he told RNZ News.

We’ve obviously been following the issue fairly closely over the years and it’s been pretty clear to us that this was the case. One of the clearest examples was with the City Centre Future Access Study where Ministry officials were involved in and supportive of the process only for that to change as it emerged that the CRL was the best option.

I’m sure this definitely won’t be the first and won’t be the last time this happens under governments from all sides and it’s hardly unsurprising that it happens. If your ultimate boss – the minister – only wants to to hear one side of the story, not providing that view point could cost you your career. It does make you wonder just what the advice would have been had there not been the political view on the project had of been more neutral.

While on the topic of the CRL, AT have released a new video about the project featuring Jerome Kaino. The messaging about the project is clearly shifting now that construction is getting under way with AT able to focus more on the fact it is happening rather than trying to justify the project.

I also noticed there were a few new images about the project on AT’s website including this one of what the platforms at the Karangahape Rd station may look like.

Karangahape Station Platform View

That goes with this one from late last year showing what the Aotea Station platforms would look like – it looks like the guy in the red checked shirt is a regular user of both.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

These images how the ground floor level of Britomart will look are also new and show that the raised platform in the middle will go which will make it much easier for people accessing the station. You can also just make out that the gates are moved to this area which is something we’d that had been indicated before.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 1

Our red checked shirt guy also likes Britomart too.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 2

Lastly in an update a few weeks ago, AT say the contractors working on shifting services before construction starts came across some of the old tram tracks.

Working through layers of power and telecommunications services, they came across an unexpected piece of Auckland’s transport history: a section of the city’s old tramway network in Victoria St West that connected back to Customs St.

“These services are always very dense at the corners of intersections where most are located, so you can never be certain what you’ll find underground,” says Mark Anderson, utilities engineer with the Connectus Consortium, undertaking the work.

“Even though we used ground penetrating radar and searched through the city’s service records, we didn’t expect to uncover the old tramway network.

I wonder how much of the old network they’ll discover when they start digging up streets to build the light rail network in a few year’s time.

Auckland 2025- the Last Decade in Review- Part 2

It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part scenario. Part 1 here.

Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:

  • Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway.
  • Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age.
  • De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue.

Aotea Station - Victoria Entrance

Transport- the city shaper

CRL, LRT, Road Pricing, Carbon Tax, AMETI, Harbour Crossing battles, electric buses and ferries, the de-carring of the city, the Bike Boom. Transport, along with the housing reset, really has been the story of last decade

The momentum gained from the Alignment Process between the Council and the Government at the beginning of this decade helped lead to the doubling of PT trips to around now 160m per annum. This is around about 80 trips per capita, which is still at the low end internationally, so there is clearly still plenty of growth to come.

The big news was of course the long awaited opening of the CRL. The rail network was straining at the leash, the delivery of additional trains helped of course, but the critical limit at Britomart made for overcrowding issues and unmet latent demand, pax was struggling up against the 30m mark, and that was really only made possible by strenuous measures to shift movement to off peak trips by improving frequencies and span, and discounting fares. Ridership is now again growing at a meteoric rate, as expected, jumping 25% over the last two years to well over 40 million annual trips. It’s been like a dam bursting. Night trains, trams, and buses are proving popular too.

But perhaps even more important has been the uplift to communities connected to the rail system, especially along the Western Line. Places as diverse as Morningside, Avondale, and Glen Eden are buzzing with new building, business and activity as a result of the new accessibility and the freer rules around parking and density. And more than this it already clear that the greatest change brought about by the CRL has been a reinvention of the very idea of Auckland into a sophisticated multifaceted Metro-City of diverse but connected communities that is truly fresh and transformational. Of course this has not gone unnoticed around the world with Auckland now firmly on the must-include list of those breathless taste-setting magazine and blog sites that busy them selves with such issues. Auckland really is competing with much bigger and better placed cities now that the quality of its built environment is catching up with that of its natural one, and the great diverse quality of our society. No-one misses the old car-drenched City Centre; young people can barely believe what it used to be like. The continued tourism boom is a very real testament to this, especially the data showing constantly rising length of visitors’ stay in the city before out to see the beautiful rest of the country.

The recent completion of LRT-1: Dominion Rd right through the now gloriously car-free Queen St is also profoundly popular, like the CRL now it is open and booming, complaints around construction disruption and from the small number of drive-everywhere diehards has withered away and, like with the CRL, now it’s hard to find anyone who claims to have been against it; success has a million mothers. No wonder the plan to extend this system across the harbour and to the Shore has proved unstoppable and after an intense debate between tunnel or bridge, is now in the detailed design stage. The extreme cost, limited utility, and appalling environmental effects of the old road crossing plans having been shelved for now. Of course they may be revived but that is only likely once the whole of the fleet has been converted to EVs, a change that is underway, but that is taking longer than many hoped Even though the recent Carbon Tax is of course speeding that transition up.

Queen St LRT_800

Now that Light Rail from downtown to Albany [and Takapuna] is about to be underway the debate about the RTN to the Airport is getting more intense. The prospect of a LR line spanning Airport to Albany is of course proving popular north of the harbour, balanced by those that see the clear utility of connecting the power of CRL and the rest of the booming rail network through Mangere to this important anchor. Especially as the popularity of the first LRT line means the current vehicles are already often full without this longer extension. Resolving this is urgent however as everyone including government agrees connecting the country’s gateway with an RTN is urgent, and is agreed it will be the next major infrastructure work after the Light Rail Harbour Crossing in Auckland. The urban motorway building age is now firmly behind us.

And now that NZTA has taken over ownership of the nation’s rail lines making this one agency now truly responsible for all land transport and not just roads, a funding mechanism without arbitrary mode constraints has been created. The change to GPS-based time variable road charging and the transformation of the old Fuel Excise to a Carbon Tax has secured income to the National land Transport Fund. While also improving the price signals to all users of our transport systems, resulting in a sizeable increase in efficiency, especially the noticeable drop-off in peak time driving demand. I guess there really were a whole lot of journeys clogging our roads last decade that could easily be taken on another mode, or another time, or even not at all!

The transformation of the busy bus fleet to electric vehicles is gaining pace, and all the more urgent as the completion of the AMETI busway and the upgrade of the North-Western bus shoulders to busway status from Pt Chevalier west has driven the continued growth of bus numbers. Not building a dedicated Busway as part of the massive Western Ring Route works has now achieved ‘what were they thinking‘ status as people can’t believe the politicians,  planners, and engineers were so stupid not to have built it when they had an easy opportunity to do so. It is now being worked on urgently to provide quality transit options to the rapidly growing areas of the North West. The only current issue now is when the busiest routes can be added to the Light Rail network, or converted to E-buses.

Skypath Consent - Observation Deck

As in so many cities across the world the bike boom has of course been both sustained and welcome, squabbles over street space notwithstanding. Cycling and walking now make up more than 20% mode-share in morning peak to the City Centre, greatly straining cycleways and footpaths. Happily now shared paths are a thing of the past and both Active modes are being supported with their own routes. E-bikes are everywhere now, and there’s even a kiwi designed brand on the market. And of course the SkyPath is insanely popular and world-famous, like the Highline many cities globally are looking to copy this approach and attach similar additions to existing bridges. The duplication on the west side is now underway as well, the only debate being whether to separate pedestrians and cyclists as they do in Sydney, or to keep both as mixed-use but one-way. Property prices in Northcote are now matching St Marys Bay, as this new access especially to the hospitality centre of Wynyard Quarter proves just so valuable.

The Urban Cycleway Fund started by the Government in 2014 proved immensely successful and popular leading to successive governments extending and expanding on it. The completion of the trunk and city centre routes proved vital in building ridership and support for quality bike infrastructure to be expanded across the wider city and out through suburbs. The big issue is now many of our existing core routes are struggling with the demand and transport agencies are busy working to widen or duplicate them.

The ride-share business is of course booming, with the carshare free parking spaces and regulations to include them in all new developments with parking proving an important incentive. Uber, Lyft, and the expanding rental market is growing the proportion car journeys in non-privately owned vehicles. Car and licence ownership per capita continues to slide. Driverless technology has advanced impressively but the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles having run of our streets is proving to be endlessly stuck in legal tangles. The transition to Electric Vehicles is also taking longer to occur than many hoped, as the old fleet shows surprising persistence. Interestingly it is the fleet operators that are driving most of the demand in this area, especially truck and bus operators. The trial of freight lanes on the motorways also looks likely to be the most cost effective way to both increase safety and efficiency in the important freight and delivery sector, and prepare for higher degrees of automation of these machines.

The expanded ferry services across the harbour are also proving popular, especially with the new wharf at Wynyard Pt, as is the new private water-taxi business, giving anyone near a jetty or wharf a lift uber-like, just a tap of the App away.

WIRI DEPOT JULY 15_6623

Conclusion: Auckland 2025

The trials of growth and of becoming such a clearly desirable place to live continue to be the biggest problems for Auckland, issues of inclusivity, of access to the city for all in the broadest social sense are the major problems that balance an otherwise healthily diverse and largely socially mobile community, offering a considerably increased range of options for living, working, and playing in this changing century. It is riding the global shift to the urban services based economy, and proving adept at adapting to the technological and social pressures of our age. Auckland is becoming one of the most dynamic, successful, and beautiful small cities of the world. Auckland offers great access to the now more protected countryside, is still of course is made up of relatively low rise suburbia formed last century, now augmented better connected and more intense local centres, and the buzz of the vertical and newly peopled and vibrant Centre City. As has happen periodically in its short history, Auckland has taken another sudden jump and changed character, and in this case very much for the better: The sleepy seaside city has awaken, to take its singular place on the edge of the Pacific century.

NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions and made now and in the near future…discuss…

‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’