Overkill

We know that Auckland’s transport plans are completely unaffordable, a more interesting question is “why?” Much of the answer to that questions comes from what I refer to as “overkill”. Essentially, a solution that’s vastly oversized compared to the problem it’s trying to solve. There are a large number of examples of “overkill” when it comes to transport projects currently being planned:

  • The East West Link is perhaps the most obvious example, where somehow a bit of congestion around a couple of intersections at each end of Neilson Street somehow led to NZTA and AT proposing a gigantic and enormously destructive motorway through one of the most densely populated and deprived parts of Auckland. Yeah there are certainly some transport problems in the area but the jump to a huge motorway solution is a classic example of overkill.
  • The proposed motorway to motorway connection between SH1 and SH18 at Constellation Drive. The problem here appears to be a pinch point northbound on SH1 between SH18 and Greville Road and constraints around the interchanges themselves. Yet again the solution is to jump to a gigantic motorway-to-motorway mini-spaghetti junction that likely to cost upwards of half a billion dollars. What about just adding another lane northbound, extending the Northern Busway to Albany and then seeing whether anything else is actually necessary?
  • Puhoi-Wellsford is another classic example of overkill. Yes there are congestion problems around Warkworth, yes there are major safety issues in the Dome Valley and at specific points south of Warkworth, but it’s quite a jump to suggest the only solution to those problems is a massive new motorway that’ll cost close to $2 billion. Operation Lifesaver highlights how most of the benefits from the motorway can be achieved at a fraction of the cost by truly focusing on the problem at hand.
  • The recently proposed Lincoln Road widening project once again responds to legitimate problems like a lack of priority for buses, localised congestion and safety issues. Yet the respond is again overblown – massively wide intersections, slip lanes everywhere, extra lanes all over the place etc. The outcome is not just an overly expensive project, but a corridor that gets wider and wider – further degrading the urban form around it.
  • Penlink is a massive project to satisfy locals when the real problem is further north at Silverdale and can be solved with other smaller alternatives.

It seems like good transport planning should flush out what projects are overkill and what projects aren’t. An interesting comparison against the above projects is the process that the City Rail Link has gone through over the past few years – especially in the form of the City Centre Future Access Study, which looked in detail at a range of “smaller options” for resolving issues with access to the city centre – outlining which of these would be necessary anyway, which could occur prior to CRL being built but also the point at which the ‘small scale’ interventions need to become so significant you might as well do the job properly – in this case by building CRL.

Throughout the ITP there are a vast number of projects which are obviously “overkill”. Examples include $665m on Albany Highway (surely a typo?), around $800m on a section of Great South Road, a $150m motorway bypass of Kumeu, the $240m Mill Road corridor project and many others. Strip back these overkill projects so they really focus on the problems they’re designed to resolve and we’ve probably gone a long way towards solving our future funding shortfalls.

ITP Major Projects

CBT open letter to Gerry Brownlee about the CRL

In December last year the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS) which looked at various options for moving more people in and around the city centre. Crucially this project also involved staff from various government agencies including the Ministry of Transport and it came to the conclusion that the City Rail Link was the best option. When it was initially released Gerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss the study however some of that may just be bluster for the media. The reality is that the government is yet to formally respond to the CCFAS. Perhaps they are spending their time trying to come up with some more road based options like the Eastern Highway.

But as while we sit and wait for the official response, the CRL in particular continues to be talked about on all sides including by Brownlee himself on Campbell Live. The answers he has provided in public have prompted the Campaign for Better Transport to write a letter to Brownlee about some of his assertions.

Hon Gerry Brownlee
Minister of Transport
Parliament Buildings
Wellington

Cc: Hon Nikki Kaye, MP for Central Auckland; Hon Paula Bennett, MP for Waitakere; Rt Hon John Key

20-May-2013

Dear Minister

Re City Rail Link

I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport in regard to recent public comments you have made on Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL). Your comments indicate that you have been poorly advised of the main benefits of the project, and that you also misunderstand the costs associated with the CRL.

Specifically, on 30th April on Campbell Live, you stated:

  • That the CRL is “a short little loop”
  • That the CRL will cost $3 billion dollars
  • That “we” (implying the central Government) are currently funding $1.6 billion dollars to expand the rail network in Auckland.
  • That “we” are spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct and clarify each of these points. As the Minister of Transport it is vital you have an accurate understanding of Auckland transport issues.

The CRL is a not a short little loop

The CRL is a 3.5km rail tunnel forming a direct link between the Western Line near Mt Eden and Britomart, bypassing the current dog-leg via Newmarket as shown on the map below.

AT-CRL-map-large

While the CRL is relatively short at 3.5km, in practice it will never function as a loop. Instead the most likely operating pattern will be for Western Line trains to proceed directly to Britomart via the tunnel, continuing on either the Southern or Eastern Lines. Similarly trains from the South and East will continue through Britomart station to the west. Western line commuters will enjoy considerable travel time savings on journeys to Britomart and beyond due to the CRL. For instance the trip from Henderson to Britomart currently takes about 45 minutes because of the dog-leg via Newmarket; via the CRL this trip is expected to take around 35 minutes – a saving of 10 minutes. Travel time savings of this magnitude will no doubt attract even more rail passengers from the west than there are currently. (From Auckland Transport’s most recent survey, some 5,000 people a day board the train at stations within Paula Bennett’s Waitakere electorate.) In addition, three new stations will be built on the new CRL: Newton, K’ Rd and Aotea. These stations will greatly increase the accessibility of the CBD region to all commuters on the rail network. For instance a trip from New Lynn to Aotea Station (near the Sky Tower) will take just 23 minutes at peak time – faster than a car journey and much faster than the current journey via public transport, which takes 45 minutes.

However, the key reason to construct the CRL is to increase the capacity of the entire Auckland rail network. The rail network is the backbone of the public transport network, since it offers the highest peak time capacity for people of any transport mode. Currently Britomart is a dead-end terminal station, with all trains having to exit via the same two tracks they arrived on. Consequently there is a relatively low limit (approximately 21 trains per hour inbound) to the number of trains the station can handle. As Britomart station is by far the most popular station on the network, a bottleneck is created which limits the number of trains that can operate on the entire network. The CRL opens up the capacity of the entire network by turning the Britomart cul-de-sac into a ‘through route’, ensuring we get value for money from the rail network and significantly enhancing the capacity of Auckland’s public transport network. The City Rail Link creates a second rail entrance to the city centre (from Mt Eden), doubling the number of trains that can enter the city centre at any one time. Capacity is further increased through the reduction of conflicting movements on the rail network as trains do not have to ‘turn around’ and return the way they came – they can simply keep on going. The CRL is a necessary prerequisite to any future expansion of the rail network in Auckland.

The CRL will not cost $3 billion

The 2011 business case review confirmed a cost estimate of $2.4 billion; however note that this also includes other network upgrades such as double tracking the Onehunga Line and the cost of additional trains. More recent estimates expect the cost of land purchases, constructing the tunnel itself, the three new stations and track works to be under $2 billion.

Central Government is not funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network in Auckland

We assume that the $1.6 billion figure quoted is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
  • $500 million for the new electric trains

Project Dart has been completed now and included double tracking of the Western Line, station upgrades including Newmarket Station and New Lynn Station, reinstating the Onehunga line and the new Manukau spur line. This was funded from the 2006 budget which precedes National forming a Government.

Funding for electrification infrastructure was initiated in the 2007 budget, with an appropriation for both Wellington and Auckland track upgrades. When National came to power, the regional fuel tax funding mechanism was stopped and the electrification project was put on hold. Eventually this went ahead and was paid for, as I understand it, from nationwide fuel taxes.

Auckland’s new electric trains are being funded by way of a loan which is repayable by Auckland at commercial rates of interest. It is noted that National contributed a crown grant of $90m to procure more electric trains than originally specified. NZTA are also contributing to the loan repayments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs.

At the same time, Auckland Transport track access fees to KiwiRail were increased to in excess of $20 million annually.

In summary, the claim that the Government is funding $1.6 billion to expand the rail network is patently an exaggerated and misleading claim. The current budget includes little in the way of future funding for Auckland’s rail network.

Central Government is not spending $790m in the next three years on public transport in Auckland

Prompted by an earlier claim in the media from your office that $890m has been budgeted for public transport in Auckland over three years, I wrote to your office seeking clarification on where this figure came from. As you will be aware, you directed my enquiry to the NZTA, who responded with the following:

For clarification, the $890 million is the combined committed expenditure from the National Land Transport Fund (administered by the NZTA) and funding from Auckland Council for Auckland public transport services and infrastructure, between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2015. The NZTA’s share of the $890 million is $488 million. This is made up of $449 million for public transport services and $39 million for public transport infrastructure.

Almost half of the quoted figure comes from Auckland Council ratepayers, not from central Government. Without diminishing the fact that $488m over three years is a substantial commitment from the NLTF, it is misleading to be implying $790 or $890 million is being spent by central Government, when clearly it is not.

In summary, I hope you have found this information helpful in understanding more about the City Rail Link, and that we now have a common understanding of the project objectives and costs.

You will be aware that we have previously sought to meet with you, and again we would welcome a meeting with you to discuss Auckland transport issues in more detail in the near future. Please advise if this is possible.

As a side note, my understanding is that Gerry Brownlee is the first transport minister who has refused to meet with the CBT as even Steven Joyce did.

Misinformation continues about the CRL

Last week I wrote a post about how we need to stop underselling major PT projects like the CRL. I was – and still am – frustrated at the lack of useful information being put out by Auckland Transport that can be used to clearly show the benefits of them.

One thing that really frustrates me about public transport projects is the tendency of both our official agencies and many supporters to completely undersell the benefits of them. Auckland Transport is a frequent offender of this and I think that the main problem is that they are a bit gun shy. They are too scared to talk about specific benefits of the project, in particular the parts that really matter to the general public. It is seemingly out of fear that they might not meet those objectives at some point in the distant future, or that plans may change. But by taking this approach they often lose out on much of the impact that they could otherwise achieve.

To make matters worse, even those that support the project often don’t seem to grasp the transformational nature of the project and also undersell it. My post last week was aimed at statements from both the Greens and Labour in support of the CRL which has helped reignite the debate in the public. But without good information in the public domain, it is very easy for wrong or misleading information to spread, especially when it is pushed in the mainstream media.  I’m guessing that the Greens Reconnect Auckland campaign is what has triggered off the latest bout of CRL related news stories.

On Friday Campbell Live ran a story about the CRL. I will start by saying it was actually a lot better than most that we get however there were still some glaring mistakes. I’m just going to list my comments about both the good and the bad parts. Click on the image to view the video.

Cambell Live 26 April 2013

  • The old man at 1:40 makes some very good points worth remembering in this debate, that we need to be thinking about the future and the primary one being that Auckland is a growing city. Even using Statistics NZ most recent projections, under the medium growth scenario there will be roughly another 500,000 people living in the region by 2031 bringing the total up to roughly 2 million people. Those extra people are going to place a lot of pressure on our existing transport infrastructure.
  • I really had to laugh at the young guy at 1:50 who says he never uses PT, partly because it costs money so he prefers to drive a car. I wonder how much he paid to park his car in the city, let along the costs of running it?
  • At 3:00, why does Len continue to use the future inflation adjusted price instead of what it costs today? Also remember that the $2.86 billion figure includes a whole raft of other projects like duplicating the Onehunga Line, extra trains and grade separating some level crossings. It does seem that he is about to say something else that might have been cut though.
  • At 3:15, the Puhoi to Wellsford road is currently budgeted at $1.7 billion but from memory that is in 2009 dollars. Comparing the 2009 cost of that road – for which the shorter and easier section alone is now costing $1 billion – with the 2021 cost of the CRL is hardly a fair comparison.
  • At 4:00, perhaps the most shocking error on the entire report. It is suggested that there are only 4 trains per hour on the network and that the CRL will increase that to 7. Where the hell does that information even come from. As pointed out in my post last week, the CRL enables us to run a train on each line every 5 minutes, that’s 12 per hour per direction and totals 48 trains per hour heading through the CRL, one in each direction every couple of minutes.
  • At 6:00, Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett talks about how he wants the Wellington to region to receive a share of funding equal to its population. What he is obviously not aware of is that historically Wellington on a per capita basis has had a much greater share than Auckland. Auckland has historically, and continues to receive less funding that it provides in taxes. He also raises the point that Wellington has been waiting decades for Transmission Gully. If he thinks projects should be funded based on how long they have been proposed then the CRL still wins as it was first mooted in the 1920s and was the reason the main train station was moved out of the CBD in the first place. Further if we were to base transport spending on the expected percentage of growth over the next 20 years, for Wellington to get Transmission Gully, Auckland would need to get around $18 billion to receive a similar level of investment.

Then there was yesterday’s opinion piece by Rodney Hide on the CRL. I’m not going to cover it again as I did that yesterday but am going to talk about some of the comments in response to it. Unfortunately reading comments on Herald opinion pieces is often a hair pulling exercise but can be useful to see what misinformation exists out in the general public. So here is a selection.

Waterfront (West Auckland)
08:59 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
It’s like the inner city rail link.
What a complete waste of money. How do people get to and leave mt Eden for this proposed train line. There is no parking planned at mt Eden so how do people get there from outer suburbs? Walk?
More buses before trains.

h m
09:01 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Trains going round and round the CBD doesn’t help me nor anyone I know get to work.
I was working in Albany and living in Henderson.
Or, try going from Henderson to Carbine Rd.
Or, Waiuku to Henderson – like my son.

edd
12:50 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Who benifits from inner city rail. Not the suburban rate payers; it’s the inner city rate payers that get all the goodies, that contribute most to all the grid lock. Why not wack up comercial rates on the CBD to fund the project. The nat’s have their corporate taxes so low right now that they can well afford it

Clearly these people have the impression that the project is just about building a line that goes around in circles around the CBD, not a link that will improve the entire existing rail network and allow for it to be expanded. AT really need to get a map out showing how the rail network will operate after the CRL including how the lines will through route allowing for a range of trips.

MikeyB (New Zealand)
09:01 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
And the rail lopp will only allow three more trains in per hour.
I wouldnt be surprised if those at AT were getting back handers from the involved construction companies

The first part of this comment obviously came straight from the Campbell Live piece and highlights how important it is that AT gets information out about how many trains we will actually have on the lines.

Silver Fox (East Tamaki)
09:07 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Very good points Rodney. The rail enthusiasts are dreamers, mostly without common sense. Let them pay the real cost of transporting them by rail. As for transporting goods by rail, another dream. Do they ever consider how the goods are to get to and from the rail head and the heaps of vehicles sitting there for hours on end to pick goods up, that is after the paperwork to actually find the goods. NZ rail eventually put articulated trucks on the road in the 50′s to speed up goods cartage.

Ahh, the old chestnut of making train users pay for the upgrades themselves. Why is it that people continue to think that roads magically cover all of their costs? The reality is they don’t and huge amounts of money spent on them every year comes from sources other than fuel taxes.

Colin126
12:37 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Rather than plowing even more money into public transport there should be money spent promoting the benefits of telecommuting. That is having more people working from home.

If more people did this then this would go along way toward reducing the need for people to travel into work at peak traffic times. Choosing instead to either travel to work only when they have meetings that cannot be conducted online or stay at home and conduct their work affairs from there.

If more and more business adopted telecommuting as an option I am sure that over time the pressure on our transport system would ease quite significantly.

Many businesses now allow staff to work from home yet it makes very little impact. One of the huge benefits to working in an office with other staff is the ability to bounce ideas around much quicker and easier than is possible if everyone is in remote locations. This can have huge benefits for businesses.

Therecanbeonlyone (Auckland Region)
12:38 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
(in response to the first comment talked about)

Kind of agree will you on this, trains in Auckland have a limited operational area. There are no train tracks over the shore, or out east. Buses are the only option for these areas. Maybe the money would be better spend on dedicated bus lanes (like over the shore) or dedicated bus roads (like Crafton bridge).

How I believe there is a place for trains in the public transport plan, where they are integrated with buses. Apart from the Papakura, Manuwera & Homai stations, I have not seen many other train stations that have a regular bus service near them. Perhaps the buses could transport commuters to the nearest train station and the trains could carry them from there

Yes trains have a limited area of coverage and that is being expanded on by the RPTP which was adopted by Auckland Transport. While AT has stated this as part of the RPTP, perhaps they need to mention this in any material relating to the CRL as well.

phil lindsay (Queensland)
12:41 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Developing effective rail in Auckland requires lane acquisition of land for tracks and parking. Auckland is not laid out for rail, more so because rail has not been developed over the years.

However extensive work has been done to develop its road net work. Therefore it is logical, and has been for decades, to develop of comprehensive bus network linking suburbs to each other and to the city.

This would require land for stations only. An intelligent city will work to its strengths, it does not mindlessly follow other cities. I have never understood why Auckland did away with its central station when it did, poor money into Britomart, and for decades has failed to develop the obvious.

If you build it they will come. If there is an effective bus service linking suburbs and the city it will be used, but it has to be put in place first.

This seems to ignore the issue that there is only so much space on the roads to handle buses, especially in the central city which is why the CCFAS found the CRL was the best long term option. It also ignores that the rail network had/has been sitting as a vastly underutilised resource. The CRL is about maximising that resource rather than having it sitting around just for a few freight trains.

And I will end on this one.

DBD (Dannemora)
02:56 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Will never bother with the trains and can’t be bothered with buses either.

My plan is to wait till a lot of other people do, they the roads I drive on should be less clogged which is better for those of us that need our cars to get around for convenience and comfort.

At the end of the day, a lot of people will still drive and that is completely fine as people shouldn’t be forced to use trains or buses. As this person notes, their drive will likely be made easier thanks to the investment.

What all of these comments really confirm to me is that Auckland Transport need to be working to get some good, clear information out about the project so that people can properly understand it.

Rodney Hide on the CRL

What is it about right wing politicians in this country and a seemingly irrational fear of trains? Rodney Hide has written his weekly column on the City Rail Link and the two most recent reports, the 2010 business case and the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study.

It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.

Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.

Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.

Nonetheless, Auckland Transport has produced the Auckland CBD Rail Link Business Case (2010) and the City Centre Future Access Study (2012), both saying rail is more cost-effective.

So it seems Rodney admits he has a mode bias simply because he doesn’t understand how trains work, hell you could almost take from his argument that he thinks we are the first city in the world to think about moving people by rail. He then goes on to talk about trying to get more information on the two reports.

My research led me to Wellingtonian Tony Randle, who spent months trying to get the analysis underpinning the 2010 Rail Business Case, succeeding only after a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Once Tony got hold of the analysis he found:

1. Basic spreadsheet errors. The spreadsheet fails to calculate the running costs of the second purchase of 26 trains. That ignores $689 million on the train option.

2. Incorrect exclusion of costs from the rail option. The study excludes the necessary funding to extend the Northern Busway into the city centre. Building this access is a necessary part of the rail option.

3. Addition of a second bus tunnel without explanation, adding hundreds of millions to the bus option.

4. Unreasonable assumptions, including a prediction that under the rail option, present bus capacity into the city centre will carry another 20,000 passengers a day without any new bus lanes or busways.

The errors and poor assumptions total $1.5 billion. The bias is systematic; each and every mistake favours rail over buses. Correcting for the errors reverses the study’s conclusions and shows the CBD bus tunnel more cost-effective than the City Rail Link.

As soon as Tony Randle’s name popped up I knew that a derailment was imminent. We have looked at Tony’s report in the past and it is full of misinformation and his personal opinion on issues. For example why is extending the Northern Busway required for the CRL? it was required for the bus tunnel option because of the number of buses that would have been fed through the bus tunnel and over the shore. With the CRL, we only need to feed buses to the shore that actually need to go there. There are similar issues with the additional of the second bus tunnel. Tony seems to think we can get away with only one lane each way, however it simply wouldn’t have been enough for the number of buses that would have needed to be fed through the tunnel. It also creates the same issue that Rodney raised at the start as no buses would have been able to pass each other. It’s also worth pointing out that Tony is, or at least has at some point been a member of the Bus and Coach Association, the organisation that among other things lists this as one of their objectives “Promote the use of road passenger transport as a valuable resource.”

In saying this, there were definitely a number of errors in the original business case which is what lead to the CCFAS and that is what Rodney looked at next.

Last December, Auckland Transport released a second report. City Centre Future Access Study also concludes that the city rail link beats the two bus options considered, but now for different reasons to the first report. And, once again, Auckland Transport published the study without the underpinning analysis.

I followed Randle’s lead and requested the spreadsheets and the relevant model output reports. Auckland Transport has refused to supply them to me.

Its latest is a lawyer’s letter explaining that Auckland Transport will provide what I want but only if I pay them $3850.

Oh, and they won’t send me the spreadsheets.

What Rodney either fails to realise, or at least fails to explain is that it wasn’t just Auckland Transport who worked on the CCFAS but also the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Treasury. Further all agreed that the CRL was the best option as surface bus improvements alone were not viable over the long term due to the sheer number of buses that would be needed which also had the effect of making things really bad for cars. A bus tunnel, like Tony prefers was found to have cost more and move less people than the other options. As many of you will know, some route already seem to have decent amounts of bus congestion even when bus lanes are in place.

Bus Congestion

What’s more we have since learnt that there are significant problems with the modelling that even the MoT admit, are likely to overestimate car trips and underestimate the number of trips via PT. I do agree that where possible AT should be releasing the information behind the numbers however we also need to be aware that most of the figures coming out of the modelling are likely to need a lot of explanation as otherwise they could be very open to interpretation.

Once again we now have the various agencies involved agreeing that that the CRL is the best long term option, where they disagree now is on the timing. Auckland Transport are now working on a new business case that will hopefully address the issues raised in the two earlier reports. This also shouldn’t be a mode discussion. There isn’t one silver bullet that will solve Auckland’s Transport issues, we need a combination of improved road, bus and rail to really make this city work and arguing of the merits of one specific project for one mode has the potential to keep us locked into the same cycle that has gotten us into the mess we are in.

The Elevated Rail proposal is back

The group pushing for an overhead version of the CRL have cropped up again. Yesterday they published a letter and presentation that they have sent to both Len Brown and Gerry Brownlee and a few others with their alternative. They are now calling their proposal eLtrack.

eLtrack – an elevated alternative for the CRL Tunnel.

We are a group of Auckland-based infrastructure consultants. Over the last year we have prepared a contemporary and affordable alternative for the proposed CRL Tunnel.

Our proposal, which we’ve called eLtrack, is a mostly elevated train route above existing transport routes. It provides a range of benefits for the city when compared to the tunnel proposal, not least of which is a significantly lower cost.

The eLtrack route is double-tracked and meets the specifications for the new EMUs. We have completed an assessment for the route and taken account of relevant transport, engineering, urban design, and planning matters. An ‘order of magnitude’ cost estimate is also available.

The project is explained in the attached brochure. The Light Rail Transit component along Queen Street and Karangahape Road is essential to the idea, and is included in the estimated cost.

eLtrack was presented to the Office of the Mayor, NZTA senior staff and senior personnel of the CRL team early last year, and was mentioned in the City Centre Future Access Study (November 2012). We are disappointed that it was not seriously considered in that report, and we believe its casual dismissal as a viable option was a mistake.

The advantages of eLtrack over the tunnel, additional to its savings of around $750M, are outlined in the brochure.

We have met with the MP for Auckland Central, Nikki Kaye who suggested we write to you with copies to key decision makers. We consider eLtrack needs a serious evaluation as an alternative to the tunnel. We recognise the extent of work that has already been done on the latter, and that an evaluation may still favour that option.

The group fully supports the concept of a City Rail Link, and does not seek to slow progress toward that end. However, given the scale of the project and the Government’s reluctance to contribute to its cost, we consider it prudent to have a viable and lower cost alternative for all parties to consider and compare.

We are prepared to meet with an evaluation team and table the information we have prepared. This includes track alignment diagrams, sketch cross-sections and the cost estimate.

We would appreciate the opportunity to present eLtrack to you personally, and to arrange a meeting with your evaluation team.

We have looked at this before here and here but it is probably worth addressing it once again as there is quite a bit wrong with this proposal. Here is what they are suggesting.

eLtrack Proposal

I don’t think that the image quite shows just how much impact they are proposing. The very reason the NZTA ended up building the Victoria Park Tunnel was because the local residents strongly fought to prevent another viaduct being built. Perhaps by proposing an even higher viaduct they think they the residents will be so shocked it would give them all coronary and therefore they won’t fight the proposal. In reality the visual impact is likely to be immense. From what I can tell, it appears the track would be approximately 10-15m above Fanshawe St, 10m above the Wellington St bridge and 10-15m above the Newton Rd bridge. As a comparison the Newmarket viaduct is up around 20m high.

eLtrack Proposal elevation

But the visual impact isn’t the only issue with this proposal. By far the biggest issue is simply the catchment. The CRL travels right through the heart of the densest area of employment in the entire country. There are something like 80,000 jobs and 60,000 students within range of the CRL stations yet the focus of this proposal seems to be on getting a station at Wynyard, an area that is predicted to have somewhere in the range of 10,000-20,000 jobs.  Why you would try and avoid the area that would provide the most benefit is a mystery. Here is a map showing a 400m walking catchment of the CRL stations (red) verses this proposal (blue).

eLtrack Proposal station catchment

Wynyard will also eventually be connected with a rail station when a line to the North Shore is built further diminishing this proposal compared to what is being planned.

Other issues include that the route is roughly 700m (20%) longer than that taken by the CRL, reducing the amount of benefit we would receive from faster journeys. They suggest that at $2.14 billion their proposal is $700m cheaper than the CRL however that seems to be comparing their propsal to the inflation adjusted price for the CRL. The actual price for the CRL is now down around $1.8b and could drop further as the project progresses. In a bid to save even more money they suggest building the eLtrack as only a single line initially. For some reason the proponents also seem to want to prevent any buses from actually getting into the CBD and have indicated that all bus routes will terminate at the outskirts of the CBD and transfer to either the rail network or an at grade, tram line that runs from K Rd to Britomart.

All up the scheme seems to fail on almost every single level, it doesn’t save any money, it doesn’t save any time, it doesn’t go where most people want to go forcing a lot more transfers and it would have significant visual impacts to a large area of central Auckland. I can’t think of one redeeming aspect about it. As mentioned in the letter, it was even included as an option in the CCFAS but was dismissed for many of these reasons. I will leave the last word to this mention of it from the report.

The elevated rail was assessed to have some benefit with regards to City Centre access and is much cheaper than a light rail network. However, it is the worst performing option overall with significant implementation, environmental and amenity dis-benefits.

What was wrong with the modelling done for the CCFAS

These days, no transport project gets built or policy signed off without first being run through a model. I’m not talking about a scale model but a mathematical computer model that is designed to estimate just how people might use a project or how much a project and/or policy will affect the transport system. To do this, these models take historical data like traffic volumes and land use and mix them with assumptions about the future to get a result. Things these days have gotten to the point where people won’t make any decisions without running it though a model, after all if the computer gives the answer, it must be right. Right?

The problem though is that while they are all good in theory, these models are designed by humans. Yes they may be very smart humans but that doesn’t mean that they or their models don’t have flaws. Thanks to the OIA request I received back from the Ministry of Transport, as well as information in the recent Auckland Transport board meeting, we perhaps have more info than ever before on how our modelling works and some of the issues with it.

Auckland uses two general types of modelling, these are described below:

Travel demand models cover the region and are concerned with broad travel patterns and flows. These are usually calibrated on observed data (base year) and are then used to forecast responses to land use and transport changes or interventions.

Operational models usually cover a smaller area, are more detailed, and are used to assess detailed traffic operations on a section, approach, lane or turning movement level. AT operates two general types of operational models, one being flow based (traffic as a “stream”) and the other being micro-simulation (each vehicle or unit is simulated travelling through a network).

Demand models are typically used for long range forecasting whereas operational models range from “now” options to medium range forecasts.

As mentioned in the description about the travel demand models, they are calibrated against a base year. That means the data is put into them and they are tweaked so that they deliver the same results as what actually occurred in that base year. Data from subsequent years would then be added to that. At the highest level we have the Auckland Regional Transport Model (ART 3). This looks at travel demand across the entire Auckland region however this is where the first major problem lies. It was last calibrated against 2006 data which means it is almost 7 years out of date. That might not seem like much but the last 7 years have probably seen more changes in transport behaviour than any time during the prior five decades. Note: The ART3 model is actually controlled by the council, not AT. AT do however control a Passenger Transport model (APT) which looks at the impact on PT however this is even worse with AT saying that it was last calibrated against 2001 data.

As part of the work before AT start on a new CRL business case, they have said that both models are going to be updated to a 2013 base year. Although considering that the modelling was also being used to inform the massive roadfest that is the Integrated Transport Programme, you would have thought it would have been a good idea to update it earlier. A few million spent updating it would likely have had massive implications on the outcome of both the CCFAS and the ITP.

Sow how did modelling work for the CCFAS? Well AT used both travel demand models and more detailed operational models. A diagram of how they interacted is below.

CCFAS Transport Model

The ART3 model was used to produce initial results based on the employment, population and land use assumptions used in the project (remember these were agreed to by representatives of all organisations). That then kicks out data on vehicle and PT demand which is then fed through the APT model. One of the developments that came about from the CCFAS was a new function to address crowding on PT as after all, if people can’t get on a bus, they aren’t going to be able to use it are they? But here is where there start to be some major flaws in my opinion.

The people who were ‘crowded off’ the PT system were then added back into to the ART model as not being able to use PT. But they get added to the number of trips taken by car and the model then recalculates vehicle travel times with this extra traffic included. As the MoT said in its response to the report, there are no feedback loops to take into account the impact of the changed conditions. In reality people crowded off PT (and we know from the CCFAS this was affecting the bus network) would look for another mode of travel, change their travel time or perhaps not travel at all. While undoubtedly some will drive, the impact of them doing so might force someone else to change their mode, perhaps catching a non-crowded rail service instead.

The traffic results from this recalculated ART model are then fed into a Saturn model, which is a more detailed operational model, to get more detailed outcomes on the impact of the various options. Once again there were also no feedback loops from this stage either meaning that once again, the impacts of the congestion caused by the options were not fed back through the system.

So in summary we have a regional transport model that was last calibrated against 2006, feeding into a PT model last calibrated in 2001 that just assumes that anyone who can’t catch a bus because it is full will instead turn to driving on already congested roads. It is these issues that I think led the MoT to conclude that the modelling was likely overestimating the demand for private vehicle trips while underestimating demand for PT trips. This is likely the reason why the model suggested that during the morning peak period, we would have almost 50% more people entering the CBD via private vehicle in 2041 compared to now while over the same period removing space for cars. For reference the annual screenline survey recorded less than 34,000 people entering the CBD by private vehicle in 2012 while the reference case for the CCFAS suggests over 49,000 will do so.

It seems that until AT start really addressing some of these glaring issues, modelling the true impact of the CRL will remain elusive.

The MoT and the CCFAS

In December the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The study came about after the government rejected the original business case for the City Rail Link and Steven Joyce asked for among other things, more information on the alternative options. Crucially the work on CCFAS also included representativeness from the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Treasury.  The intention was to finally gain a consensus about the best transport solutions for the city centre.

Unsurprisingly to us, the CRL came out as the best solution but reaction from the government was swift in dismissing the study. The most frustrating part of the governments comments were from Gerry Brownlee questioning the assumptions and investigations undertaken as part of the study seeing as staff in his own ministry were deeply involved. It seems fairly reasonable to wonder, if they had concerns then why didn’t they raise them during the study?

So that night (13 Dec), I flicked of an Official Information Act request to the MoT to find out just what they knew. The request took a very long time and I only got it back a few weeks ago. It definitely wasn’t a small amount of info as there were over 250 pages worth (they wouldn’t provide me soft copies). I have however now read through it all as well as scan all of the pages and here is perhaps the most interesting bits. Note: due to the number of documents I have split it up into sections, in total they come in at just over 100MB so probably best not to try and read them from a mobile device.

 

10/10/2011 – (Part 2, page 9) The draft terms of reference for the study were sent to Steven Joyce for his comments along with the points raised by the MoT. Unfortunately the ministers comments have been excluded from the request.

04/11/2011 – (Part 2, page 20) Comments in a report to the minister that both the MoT and NZTA are attending fortnightly meetings project meetings which shows that they were very deeply involved right from the start.

23/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 37) Brownlee is now the minister and has been asked to sign a letter to Len Brown around the amended terms of reference (the final version he signed off on is here). Brownlee has refused to sign it as he wants a more detailed briefing on the project first. What is most interesting though is point 20 on the background information (page 40) where the MoT raise the suggestion that there needs to be a more “realistic target date” for the CRL. This is important as one of the key responses to the study from the MoT and government has been to talk of the project being more viable a decade later. Does this suggest they went into the study with that outcome already planned?

24/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 47) This is the additional briefing that was given to Brownlee and there were a couple of notable points. It mentions that the CRL would allow 5 minute frequencies across the network, something that AT won’t even promote for some reason. There is a section on the history of the project but seems to have some mistakes in it e.g. says the idea was first around in the 1970′s when in fact it has existed since at least the 1920′s.

19/04/2012 – (Part 3, page 4) The next few pages talk about kicking off the CCFAS project and includes the project and governance structures, this shows that MoT, NZTA and Treasury staff were very clearly involved in the project including at the highest levels. Also included is the proposed methodology that would be used for the project which includes discussion assumptions and how important it is that they are agreed upon. This is important as one of the key issues the MoT later objected to were the assumptions used.

20/08/2012 – (Part 4) One of the big changes to the study was a request by the MoT to do a detailed deficiency analysis on the transport system. This document is a presentation showing the outcome of this work. You can see from the email that it seemed to really help the MoT understand just how much of a problem the number of buses in the city centre would become.

07/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 1) A report to the minister advising of progress, of note is that the MoT say that the working group have agreed on the short-listed options for further study which were the CRL, surface bus improvements or a bus tunnel. They also note that they are providing comments on the draft versions of the report.

12/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 2) A small briefing given to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ahead of a meeting between John Key and Len Brown which again states what the short listed options were. It also points out that the CRL was likely to be the best option.

06/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 28) A letter from David Warburton to the head of the MoT thanking him for the way the staff from both organisations worked together. This is important in light of the upcoming comments.

09/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 30) Perhaps the first sign that there was trouble brewing. In a report the the minister, MoT officials complain that they haven’t been adequately consulted on some elements. This is despite them having been involved in various stages of the process right from the very start.

03/12/2012 – (Part 6, page 12) A briefing to Brownlee on the CRL. Unfortunately most of it is blacked out so we can’t see what was actually said. Some of the comments suggest that the MoT weren’t happy with the modelling and forecasts yet also confirms that MoT staff were closely involved.

04/12/2012 – For some reason I didn’t scan these page but it is repeated in the next part anyway.

06/12/2012 – (Part 7, page 3) This is the feedback that the MoT provided to AT. With some of the points you really have to wonder why they weren’t raised earlier. One particularly interesting point I noted, is below. It is perhaps the first time we have had a government official acknowledge that our modelling is likely to overestimate vehicle trips and under estimate PT trips.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

This comes about because there are missing feedback loops between the congestion in the city and change in travel. It is an incredibly important revelation as resolving this issue is likely to vastly benefit the CRL. We will look at the modelling issues in more detail in another post. However despite that, the MoT then go on in the very next point to suggest in the surface bus option that the modelled congestion on Vincent and Albert St could be improved by scaling back the bus lanes. I also have to question this comment in particular.

MoT OIA docs - Latent Demand

My understanding of latent demand is, demand which exists but that cannot be fulfilled because a product or service doesn’t exist to enable it. Under that definition there is latent demand for the rail network, it just needs the CRL for the latent demand to be realised.

07/12/2012 – (Part 8, page 2) Following the earlier mentioned briefing to Brownlee, he obviously came back with some questions which perhaps show where his thinking is, asking about the east west link and and ferries. The most interesting part though is the letter from AT to the MoT regarding their feedback. It is quite clear from the letter that AT were not happy perhaps feeling a bit ambushed by the fact the MoT came back with so many issues so late in the process.

As you can see, there is a heap of information about the project as well as some insight into the MoTs thinking. I made the comment a few months ago that I suspected the government and the MoT went into the study thinking that they could prove that AT were wrong and that buses would be the best option. However that backfired and it seems interesting that officials only really started getting upset about the study and the assumptions made in it after it emerged that the CRL was the best option. These documents confirm that government officials were deeply involved in the study all the way through and for them not to have raised the major concerns they had until the last minute makes me highly suspicious. Adding to that they seem to have gone into the process with a predetermined outcome if the CRL was chosen, in the form of questioning the timing of it, something that ended up forming one of their key complaints.

Another interesting point is that some of the concerns mentioned by Brownlee in his initial response to the report (below), weren’t even raised by his MoT officials to AT which makes you wonder where they even came from.

“Yet the report underplays State Highways entering the Auckland CBD from the south, both SH1 and SH16, and how improvements to these might impact central city traffic.

“Completion of the Western Ring Route in 2017 will also draw many thousands of traffic movements away from the CBD, yet none of these major transport corridors is explored in detail.

“Also overlooked is that evolving workplace practices and emerging technology will most likely have a considerable impact on peak hour travel over the next 30 years.

“These may offer considerable gains for a fraction of the cost of the CRL.

If there is one positive to come out of this, as I mentioned the other day, it is that at least we now have MoT officials agreeing that there is some need for the project, what is in dispute is the timing.

CRL in Parliament again

The CRL has been raised once again in Parliament with Green spokesperson Julie-Anne Genter questioning Gerry Brownlee on the CCFAS.

A full transcript of it is here.

Gerry has clearly taken the first question very literally and his response was at least a little bit funny. Now I generally tend to be an optimist so I’m going to say at least Gerry wasn’t completely dismissing the project. What’s more he seems to have softened his stance a little bit and clearly isn’t ruling it out. He even used the non inflation adjusted price, saying it would cost $2.4 billion, which is probably the first time a minister has done that.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exchange was when Julie tabled the document showing that over the last decade, the number of vehicles entering the city centre had dropped by 20%. This is something that Mr Anderson has pointed out before although it actually seems more like a 15% drop. The point went straight over Gerry’s head though as he started talking about what would happen in 2021, not realising that a shift has been happening already.

modalshift-2001-2012

City Rail Link – not if but when?

An interesting article in the NZ Herald on Tuesday, noting some comments made by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Council head planner Roger Blakeley, in relation to the City Rail Link project. Starting with Brownlee:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told a transport summit in Wellington yesterday that the case for the $2.86 billion rail link would be stronger in 2030 than the council’s target.

This is quite a shift from what Brownlee seemed to be saying in his immediate response to the release of the City Centre Future Access Study, where I think his key quote was this:

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the Sinclair Knight Merz report “City Centre Future Access Study” released this afternoon by Auckland Mayor Len Brown is a useful addition to the debate on long term transport management in central Auckland.

“It also falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL),” Mr Brownlee says.

“In a nutshell the report says the case for building the CRL is weak now, improves somewhat if it’s built closer to 2030 – based on some extremely optimistic assumptions about employment growth in the Auckland CBD – and even then would only provide about 20 per cent of the additional transport capacity needed to deal with increased congestion.”

My understanding is that the purpose of CCFAS wasn’t to justify when the project should be constructed but rather to look at the impact the CRL and other transport options would have on providing for continued access to the city centre in the medium to long term. Fully understanding when the project should happen is the task of a detailed business case – which seems to be the next step for the CRL to take.

Dr Blakeley noted in the same article that waiting until 2030 for the project was “untenable”:

Speaking at the summit today, Auckland Council chief planning officer Roger Blakeley responded that such a delay would be “untenable”.

He said further delays to the rail link would limit employment, growth and economic benefits.

“I’m aware that the Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that, in his view, the case for the city rail link is stronger at 2030 rather than 2020.

“The council and Auckland Transport’s view is that it should be implemented by 2021 … We think that it’s untenable to have New Zealand’s only international-sized city with traffic at speeds at peak in the morning reduced to around 7km/h.”

From a pure “can we find a way to provide sufficient transport capacity to meet demands up to 2030″ perspective we probably could delay construction of the CRL to that point. We can turn most streets in the CBD over to bus-only operation, we can run more trains directly between the west and the south, we can make all trains (aside from Onehunga services presumably) six cars long at peak times and so forth. We might get through.

Of course the down-side of that approach is missing all the transformational benefits of the City Rail Link, not just for the city centre but for the whole of Auckland. Stations along the western line simply won’t be “close enough” (in terms of travel time) to the city centre to stimulate intensification. We’ll probably see the employment targets for the city centre (where the most productive jobs are located) missed and lose out on the agglomeration benefits for all of Auckland and New Zealand that increased employment density would provide. We’ll lose the opportunity to reallocate street space in the city centre to pedestrians, thereby making it a less attractive environment. We’ll lose the improved connectivity between major regional centres on the rail network and the increased frequencies throughout the rail network that the City Rail Link enables. We’ll see further extensions to the rail network like a line to the airport and the Mt Roskill spur line pushed back another decade, and so forth.

In essence, I feel that building the City Rail Link by 2021 reflects the project’s key role in transforming Auckland into the world’s most liveable city and significantly boosting our economic performance. Finding a way to “get by” until 2030 simply views the project from a narrow transport perspective and really only in terms of it providing increased capacity to the city centre. Let’s just hope that the detailed business case looks at these wider issues when finding an answer to the question of “when”.

On the bright side, I think it’s a step in the right direction to even have Brownlee focused on the “when” question rather than the “if” question.

Making light-rail make sense

A week or so ago I wrote a post about how I think we can make sense out of ferries in the mix of Auckland’s public transport system. I think my key conclusion was that ferries do make sense in certain locations and we should try to take advantage of where they do make sense rather than pushing new routes all the time. Another piece of the public transport jigsaw puzzle is light-rail (or trams). In a number of ways light-rail is actually quite similar to ferries – it has its ardent supporters, it’s pretty expensive (although more in terms of capex while ferries are expensive in terms of opex) yet it also probably makes sense in some circumstances.

Let’s look at those circumstances, firstly by seeing what light-rail’s general advantages and disadvantages are compared to other modes. This is reasonably well summarised in a useful Australian Transport Study that highlights the importance of mode-neutrality when assessing transport projects (in other words, finding the best solution and recognising that all modes have a role to play in the right circumstances):different-transport-modesDefinitions of different modes is a much debated area, particularly when we’re discussing the “in between” modes of bus rapid transit and light-rail. In my mind there’s effectively a gradation of different types of both technologies – ranging from both buses and trams running in mixed traffic right through to Northern Busway style style bus operations or completed grade separated light-rail.

My general opinion is that in mixed traffic there’s little, if any, advantage to be had from running a tram or light-rail vehicle compared to a bus – as the capacity of the corridor is not determined by the vehicle itself but by the amount of congestion in that lane. At the other end of the scale once we’re talking about full grade separation it seems that light-rail once again doesn’t offer too many advantages over either a busway (which will be a cheaper) or heavy rail (which may be of similar cost but will have much higher capacity). Vancouver Skytrain style light-metro systems are a different issue entirely and have been covered extensively previously in posts that I’ve made.

The most obvious improvement to make as bus patronage grows along a route (or where there’s potential for fairly high bus patronage) is to install a bus lane. By separating the buses from general traffic, the capacity of the lane increases pretty dramatically while reliability and speeds of the bus services also improve a lot. With bus lanes being cheap and quick to implement, in the vast majority of situations probably the most important thing we can do to improve our public transport infrastructure is through extended, new and improved bus lanes.

However bus lanes only suffice up to a certain level of use – something which in many ways was the key finding of the City Centre Future Access Study’s Deficiency Analysis. In terms of buses per hour this is shown below:bus-lane-capacity
Once you start to push the limit of a bus lane the results are fairly ugly:sydney-bus-congestionBefore I go on to discuss the different options for what to do when a bus lane hits capacity I think it’s worth noting the difference between high frequency bus corridors where a large number of buses converge on a particular street (think Symonds Street or Fanshawe Street) compared to a high frequency bus corridor where frequencies are high of a single route (think Dominion Road north of Mt Roskill). Analysis tends to suggest that simply adding more and more buses in the latter situation hits a limit where it’s not really adding much value anymore as the buses tend to get in each other’s way as they’re all trying to do the same thing but not achieving it particularly well. Of course you can run local/express splits to reduce this problem but once again eventually you’ll hit a wall.

Now moving on, once a basic bus lane no longer has sufficient capacity there are a few options for what you can do about it – and the right solution is likely to depend on the circumstance:

  • Upgrade to a higher-quality BRT bus based system. This could involve median bus lanes, a semi-grade separated median busway (like proposed for AMETI) or a full grade separated busway (like the Northern Busway between Akoranga and Constellation).
  • Build heavy rail. This could involve a new line completely or extensions to existing lines. It could be underground, at grade or elevated.
  • Build light-rail. In this scenario I’m thinking about something that runs at street level in its own lanes but isn’t grade separated at intersections.

What’s probably going to make or break which of the three solutions above is most appropriate will be a number of criteria – the most important in my mind being the level of additional capacity required, the nature of existing infrastructure and the land-use impacts of the option. Oh, and of course the cost. Let’s explore this with a few case studies.

In the case of the City Rail Link project, future growth in public transport demand to the city centre effectively overwhelms the bus network (and the rail network at a later date) requiring something to happen in order to retain high quality access to Auckland’s city centre and around the region. Enhanced bus solutions don’t really work because our existing infrastructure only has a busway to the north whereas railway lines spread out west, east and south – as well as not working due to the capacity required (which would take away too much road space to provide for with buses alone) and also the land-use impact (widened approach roads throughout the isthmus). Light-rail doesn’t really work either as it’s of insufficient capacity and doesn’t integrate with the existing infrastructure.

In the case of the AMETI busway corridor, heavy rail is probably cost-prohibitive due to the need to get across the Tamaki River, while light-rail gets stuck between the need for a lot of feeder buses into Botany and then heavy rail connections at Panmure and Ellerslie at the route’s potential other end. In this situation the busway makes pretty good sense.

In the case of Dominion Road’s long term future, things start to get interesting. Because of the corridor’s significant heritage and character value, large-scale widening for a massively upgraded bus solution is unlikely to ever be feasible. Even widening the existing bus lanes outside the retail centres along the route proved to be impossible to make ‘stack up’. Heavy rail is clearly infeasible at street level or elevated and is almost certainly cost prohibitive underground – so light rail starts to look like it could be worth exploring further. Further potential aspects in favour of light-rail on Dominion Road include its huge potential as a high-intensity mixed-use corridor where amenity of the street environment is important as a shaper of land-use patterns. Plus the route is potentially well anchored at the city end by putting the tracks down Queen Street (probably via Ian McKinnon Drive) and at the southern end by a future rail station/bus hub – so it’s likely to be a single route without any deviations or branches.

Perhaps in summary we can try to distill a clear rationale behind situations where light-rail might make sense for Auckland. I think it’s in situations where demand along a single corridor (rather than where a number of corridors come together) can no longer be efficiently provided for by standard bus lanes and where land-use factors make either enhanced bus priority options or heavy rail infeasible or cost-prohibitive.

In my mind this is a fairly difficult test to pass and I don’t actually think any corridor in Auckland at the moment (perhaps except for Queen Street) would fit the criteria. This will probably annoy some, who want to run trams everywhere and anywhere, including seemingly with mixed traffic along Ponsonby Road. It might annoy others who think that light-rail is an expensive folly which doesn’t make any sense in Auckland. If I annoy both sides of the debate then I’ve probably got it just about right.