“Why economists tend to be in bad odour …” – Cycleways in Christchurch

In an 1879 essay, Francis Walker tried to explain “why economists tend to be in bad odour amongst real people.” Walker, who went on to become the first president of the American Economic Association, argued that it was partly because economists disregard “…the customs and beliefs that tie individuals to their occupations and locations and lead them to act in ways contrary to the predictions of economic theory.”  Frank et al  1999

As some of you may be aware, Christchurch City Council has applied for NZTA funding to develop the network of major cycleways illustrated below.

majcycroutes-may14

This economic appraisal of this investment is discussed in detail in this blog post. The benefit-cost ratio for the $160 million investment was estimated using NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual to be 7:1, with the benefits of the project breaking down as follows.

chchcyclemodelbenefits

All well and good.

Until about a week ago when two economists from the University of Canterbury, namely Glenn Boyle and James Hill, released their review of the business case for the major cycleways network. Based on their review, Boyle and Hill conclude the actual BCR is more likely to range from 0.7 – 1.6. They reached this conclusion for the following reasons:

  1. Fuel prices – Rather than the 40% increase in real fuel prices assumed in the business case, Boyle and Hill suggest a more reasonable assumption is constant fuel prices. This reduces the BCR to 6.0.
  2. Time savings – Boyle and Hill calculate the average time saving per vehicle trip and conclude that because it less than 6 seconds, that these benefits should be discounted. This reduces the BCR to 4.6.
  3. Safety benefits – Boyle and Hill argue that the procedure used to calculate safety benefits is designed only for small projects costing less than $5 million. Removing these benefits reduces the BCR to 3.8
  4. Health and environmental benefits – Boyle and Hill argue that the procedure used to calculate health and environmental benefits is designed only for small projects costing less than $5 million. Re-calculating these benefits reduces the BCR to 0.98 – 2.3
  5. Discount rate – the business cases uses a 6% discount rate; Boyle and Hill argue “market realities suggest this is probably too low”. Using a discount rate of 8% reduces the benefits to 0.7-1.6.

Oh dear.

I’ve subsequently reviewed Boyle and Hill’s review. My general conclusion is that while they make some valid points, they miss the mark in the places that matter. This in turn means that their conclusions are at best unsubstantiated and at worst simply wrong.

The key issues I find with their analysis are summarised below.

The first issue relates to their grounds for dismissing time savings. First, Boyle and Hill the divide total (estimated) time savings by the total (forecast) number of vehicle trips in Christchurch so as to calculate the average time saving per vehicle trip. They then reason that because the average time saving per trip is ~6 seconds, then the time saving benefits are too trivial to be included in the business case.

This analysis smacks of the sort of erroneous logical reasoning that one would critique in a first year statistics course.

Consider the statistical distribution of time savings that might result from cycle investment. It’s reasonable to suggest these savings will not be distributed evenly.

More specifically, the time savings will accrue primarily to vehicle trips that occur within specific corridors and at specific times. That’s certainly what the modelling of cycle flows seems to indicate, as shown below. From this map one might expect very small time savings for vehicle trips in areas such as the airport, Brighton, and Banks Peninsula, with larger time savings for vehicle trips travelling in the peak direction on key radial corridors.

Christchurch cycle network demand map

The need to consider the distribution of time saving can be illustrated with a stylised example. Imagine a city where there are 1,000 vehicle trips, and where a proposed cycle investment will save 2 minutes for 50 vehicle trips, while the remaining 950 vehicles trips are unaffected. The average time saving in this city is only 6 seconds per vehicle trip, even if every vehicle trip affected by the investment actually saves 2 minutes.

The takeaway message is that the localised time savings in a large transport network cannot be accurately represented by the average time saving per vehicle trip. The latter metric may indeed obscure what are tangible savings for a small number of vehicle trips.

Or, to put it another way, if Boyle and Hill wanted an even more sensational figure, then they could have averaged time savings over all vehicle trips in New Zealand rather than just Christchurch, and concluded that the project would save less than half a second per trip. But that would be even more ridiculous.

Reductio ad absurdum; QED Boyle and Hill’s dismissal of time savings is unsubstantiated (NB: One could of course analyse the distribution of time savings and consider only those savings that were above a certain minimum threshold, but Boyle and Hill have not done this).

The second issue relates to their choice of an alternative discount rate. The major cycleways project is a transport investment which is seeking funding from NZTA’s land transport programme.

Let’s make this very clear: NZTA specify that a discount rate of 6% is to be used when undertaking economic appraisals of transport investments. It is therefore entirely appropriate for the business case to use a 6% discount rate. If Boyle and Hill have an issue with the discount rate that has been chosen by the NZTA, then they should raise those arguments in an appropriate forum – not pretend it’s an issue associated with the major cycleways project.

At this point it’s worth pausing for a moment and simply noting that if we add back in even 50% of the travel-time savings and use the 6% discount rate stipulated by NZTA, then the BCR for the cycleways project is likely to return to respectability – even if we accept all of their other points. And I don’t …

The third issue relates to their discussion of travel behaviour change. Boyle and Hill question the magnitude of travel behaviour change, but ignore that the business case takes a conservative view of behaviour change when compared with the results of stated preference surveys.

Stated preference surveys in Christchurch suggest that up to 30% of people would be willing to switch to cycling if sufficient safe infrastructure was provided. At present, the Census suggests that around 7% of people in Christchurch cycle to work, while the Household Travel Survey suggests that around 3% of total trips in the Canterbury region are made by bike.

The modelling did not conclude that cycle mode share would increase to 30%. It took a much more conservative view, which is that the cycleways would boost the number of cycling trips by 15-35%, which would imply an increase in mode share of 1-3% to between 5-10%.

A bit of international context would help here. Other cities that have invested in transformative changes to cycling infrastructure have experienced much larger increases in cycling mode share. For example, the Dutch only started investing in safe, quality cycling infrastructure in the 1970s. Today, many Dutch (and Danish and Swedish) cities have cycle mode shares in the range of 20% to 40%. Moreover, more modern cities like Portland have achieved cycling mode shares approaching 10%. QED the travel behaviour change assumptions in the modelling are within the range of what we observe elsewhere.

The fourth issue is that Boyle and Hill have misread the EEM guidance on analysing cycling benefits. They claim that cycling benefits have been estimated using an inappropriate (“simplified”) procedure. However, that’s simply not true. The values used to calculate per-km benefits for cycling are part of the core EEM (Appendix A20, if anyone’s interested). QED it was appropriate for the original business case to include these benefits.

The fifth issue is that Boyle and Hill make non-standard assumptions about fuel prices. They criticise the modelling for assuming that real fuel prices will increase. However, the assumptions in the business case are based on modelling published by MBIE – who are hardly a bunch of peak-oil alarmists. Boyle and Hill’s critique basically boils down to “oil prices are around their historical norm”, therefore we should not assume any future increase in price.

As economists, they should know that past performance may not be a good guide to the future.

Boyle and Hill argue that crude oil futures quotes are expecting current prices will persist, although I understand these contracts 1) typically extend out only for the next decade or so, and 2) the liquidity is fairly low in more distant future years. In contrast, NZTA stipulates a 30 year evaluation period for similar transport projects. Moreover, unless Boyle and Hill have an alternative (forward-looking) model of fuel prices, as well as evidence that their model is more accurate than MBIE’s, then their objection to the fuel price assumptions used in the business case is somewhat vacuous.

If, as it seems, Boyle and Hill’s real target is NZTA’s evaluation methods, then their critique of the cycleways is at the very least misplaced. Christchurch is proposing to invest a decent amount in cycleways, but that expenditure is dwarfed by state highway spending. If, for example, Boyle and Hill applied the same attention to the $11 billion RoNS’ programme, then they’d find some projects which start out with BCRs less than 1.0, even with more uncertain agglomeration / wider economic impact benefits included from the outset.

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

 

A serious investigation would have at least considered this wider transport investment context, before honing in on the cycleways project as perhaps a case study. And even then it’s a relatively non-representative (and unimportant) choice of case study.

So where does this leave us?

Well, if the aim of Boyle and Hill was to create clickbait for anti-cycling neanderthals, then they can rest happy in the knowledge that they have done their job exceptionally well.

However, if they wanted to foster more informed public debate on the merits of the major cycleways project, or the business cases for transport investment in general, then they have clearly and demonstrably failed. It’s especially unfortunate their review comes across as a deliberately sensationalist hatchet job with largely unsubstantiated and/or incorrect conclusions. By extension, their review does not – as they claim – call into doubt the key finding of the original business case, i.e. the investment in major cycleways represents a relatively effective transport investment. For these reason I wouldn’t expect their review to hold much sway with Christchurch City Council and/or the NZTA.

Postscript: While Boyle and Hill’s review is, in my opinion, “in bad odour”, it is encouraging that the business cases for transport investment are receiving more attention from the wider economics profession in New Zealand. I’d certainly encourage Boyle and Hill to pursue this new found interest further, and would welcome them scrutinising the business cases for RoNS projects, many of which cost in the billions of dollars and start with BCRs less than 2.0. That’s really where the real money is being spent, and it’s where the economic evidence is the weakest.

Sunday reading 18 January 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Urban kchoze, “Prince Charles’ 10 Principles of of urbanism: typical example of what’s wrong with urbanists/architects“:

In a way, the true descendants of traditional cities aren’t the mummified European cities of Paris and London where all is done to maintain buildings and neighborhoods as they were in the early 20th century, but Japanese cities. Yes, Japanese cities are resolutely modern in terms of buildings, but the traditional process of city-building is still alive in Japan, while it has been replaced by planner fiat in Europe and North America. The people who built the cities people love would have likely been more than happy to have our modern technology to allow for taller buildings with more varied materials. Likewise, though the Japanese use modern materials and technologies, they still use them in a way that is more in line with the traditional process of incremental city-building.

Alan Davies, “What would it take to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s?“, Crikey:

The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.

Cost

If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).

Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.

Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.

James Dann, “They paved paradise etc etc“, Rebuilding Christchurch:

Yesterday, Georgina Stylianou revealed that the earthquake recovery minister Gerry Brownlee had used his “special powers” to fast-track a car parking building for Phillip Carter, the brother of the Speaker of the House, National MP David Carter. This was followed by a chorus of down-on-their-luck property developers piping in that they too needed more car parks, and that could the government please build some for them.

The sad, bizarre situation in Christchurch right now is that there are more people lobbying for the rights of cars to sit motionless than there are trying to house human beings.

Lindsay Cohen, “Seattle dog’s rush hour ride: on the bus, by herself, weekly“, Komo News:

SEATTLE — Public transit in Seattle has gone to the dogs.

Commuters in Belltown report seeing a Black Labrador riding the bus alone in recent weeks. The 2-year old has been spotted roaming the aisles, hopping onto seats next to strangers, and even doing her part to clean the bus — by licking her surroundings.

“All the bus drivers know her. She sits here just like a person does,” said commuter Tiona Rainwater, as she rode the bus through downtown Monday. “She makes everybody happy. How could you not love this thing?”

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, Why The Rules Of The Road Aren’t Enough To Prevent People From Dying, FiveThirtyEight:

On how speed limits in the US were set

Here’s how speed limits are established in most states, according to Federal Highway Administration research: Traffic engineers conduct a study to measure the average speed motor vehicles move along a road. The speed limit is then set at the 85th percentile. From then on, 85 percent of drivers would be traveling under the speed limit and 15 percent would be breaking the law. Sometimes other factors2 are taken into consideration, but in most places, speed limits are largely determined by the speed most people feel safe traveling. Some states, including Louisiana and Michigan, go so far as to call limits determined by this method “rational speed limits,” stating that achieving compliance is possible only if the speed limits are reasonable.

Todd Niall,  Knowledge gap in Auckland rail saga, Radio NZ:

The gap, in this case, is a knowledge gap. The gap between what we see being played out in public, and what is going on behind closed doors, between the Auckland Council, and the Government and its agencies.

The reminder of the significance of knowledge gaps was the Government’s announcement in June 2013 that it would commit to sharing the cost from 2020 of a project it had publicly poo-poohed.

This was widely regarded as a sudden and unexpected change of tack by the Government. It wasn’t.

Paul Little, Trees, not cars, make a liveable city, NZ Herald

Although no one has actually been seen embracing them, the stand of six 80-year-old pohutukawa on Great North Rd near the SH16 interchange works could use a hug right now. Auckland Transport has approved their removal to widen a road we don’t need.

Hugs would also be welcomed by a lot of Aucklanders who have recently begun to see all too plainly what a hellish plan is being put in place between here and the Waterview connection (cost $1.4 billion). The pillars and overpasses can now be seen to be on a scale so colossal they appear not to be made with humans in mind at all.

One of a few images from a 1937 plan for London by Sir Charles Bressey on how to accommodate more vehicles in London

Sir Charles Bressey 1937 London Plan

Chris Barton, The Best Urban Design of 2014, Metro:

It was a year of winning forms and some massive fails. Chris Barton picks his favourite urban design developments — and hands out the wooden spoons.

And finally, Councillor George Wood sent us a fun game to play via twitter. Fortunately, I passed the test:

Quiz: Can you name these cities just by looking at their subway maps? [Wonkblog]

Is New Zealand getting public transport right?

Increasingly, the answer is yes – although we certainly can’t rest on our laurels yet. Read on if you want to know how and why…

I recently read Paul Mees’ excellent book Transport for Suburbia, which argues that high-quality, useful public transport services can be provided even in the low to medium density cities of Australia and New Zealand. Reader Warren S gave a glowing review of the book earlier this year.

Mees, who did his initial research on Auckland in the 1990s, was quite scathing about the decades of planning failures that led to the city having an underutilised and not especially useful public transport network. The user experience has suffered, he argued, due both to decades of underinvestment and a refusal to plan an integrated bus network that would be useful throughout the growing city.

The key to any good public transport network, Mees argued, is that it must function as a network. A 2010 NZTA research report (pdf) that he co-authored identified two key principles of network structure.

First, the network should be stable throughout the day, as shown on the right hand side of the diagram. In other words, the bus lines that are running in the peak should be running in the middle of the day, in evenings, and on weekends. This has important benefits for users, because it gives them a lot of certainty. For example, a working mother who rides the bus to work doesn’t have to worry that she won’t be able to make it home in the middle of the day in case of a medical emergency. The bus will always be running down the same streets.

Mees principles of network design

Second, frequent connective services are essential if public transport is going to serve a diverse range of trips. As Jarrett Walker says, frequency is freedom: when you know that you’ll never have to wait long for a bus (or to transfer between services), then it’s really convenient to choose to take the bus. The following diagram is somewhat difficult to read at first, but it depicts how much more mobility is enabled by a frequent connective network. This is really, really good for users, because it gives them many more choices about where to travel and how to get there.

Mees Squarevill example

Based on the best practice from overseas, Mees argued that New Zealand needed to make some crucial changes in three main areas. As the table below shows, we’re actually well underway (or finished with) most of these changes! Moreover, we’re seeing the benefits of many of these changes already, meaning that they will be easy to build upon and hard to reverse.

Of course, we’re not yet in the promised land of PT, and the devil is often in the details. While Auckland’s New Network represents a real improvement in the quality and usefulness of the city’s PT offering, Mees points out that there are many elements of network design that will require fine-tuning. That means things like rolling out bus lanes on more routes, getting bus stops in the right place, and making connection points between frequent routes comfortable and easy to use – all of which requires on-the-ground knowledge.

Paul Mees’ recommendation Are we doing it in Auckland?
1  Appropriate institutions and public processes:
Establish a public agency to plan the network across the whole urban region. Auckland Transport is doing this – it seems to be earning more bouquets than brick-bats in the process
Redirect private-sector competition into producing best-value tenders for the delivery of part, or all, of a publicly planned system. Done – changes to PT contracting under the last two governments have given transport agencies back control of network planning
Use well-designed public education and consultation programmes to manage changes. Done – AT’s consultation on the Southern New Network was praised
Provide a simple fare system that avoids the imposition of penalties for transfers. HOP cards have given us integrated ticketing; integrated fares are (hopefully) up next
2  Network structure:
Provide a simple and stable network of lines throughout the day. In progress – that’s the goal of the New Network
Base mode choice for different lines in the network on required capacity, comfort and speed. In progress – CRL and more busways planned in AT’s capital programme
Consider locations for suburban interchanges on the basis of predicted travel patterns and efficient vehicle operations. In progress – Panmure Station successfully implemented, Otahuhu to follow
3  Network operations
Simplicity and directness:
Organise the network on the principle of ‘one section – one line’. Done in New Network
Avoid deviations in the physical routes chosen for bus services. Done in New Network
Provide pendulum lines through key activity centres and interchanges. Done in New Network
Speed and reliability:
Aim for travel speeds comparable to, or faster than, door-to-door travel times that can be achieved by car. Already done on selected routes – e.g. the Northern Busway and some isthmus routes
Provide on-road signal and traffic-lane priority to allow buses to meet connections. In progress – e.g. with the quick win on Fanshawe St – but not fast enough
Aim to have vehicles stopping only as required to pick up and drop off passengers. Already standard practice
Frequency:
Establish ’forget-the-timetable’ headways (10 minutes or less) in key travel corridors. Key principle in New Network, although that aims for 15 minute frequencies as a minimum
Set up integrated timetables outside high-frequency areas. Key principle in New Network
Location of stops and access to services:
Carefully plan the location of stops to minimise the number of stops and ensure their optimal location in relation to major trip attractors, intersecting lines and pedestrian accessways. Hopefully underway as part of New Network route design… AT’s been doing some work on new bus shelter designs
Locate stops in car-free precincts close to important destinations, to give public transport a significant competitive advantage. We haven’t yet started to think about this – perhaps time to get started?
Change current access to ‘trunk’ services from ‘park-and-ride’ facilities to access by walking, bicycle, or feeder bus, in order to cater for long-term growth in patronage. More could be done
Ensure that walking distances between services in interchanges are very short: preferably no more than 10 metres.
Marketing for first-time and occasional users:
Create a simple line structure that makes the network easy to understand. Done in New Network – have you seen the maps?
Use maps, on-line information, vehicle livery and on-board displays to reinforce understanding of the line layout and transfer opportunities. Some bus routes (e.g. Northern Express, Link Buses) have branded livery; real-time information is improving but still spotty

Moreover, this is not just an Auckland phenomenon – other New Zealand cities are eagerly embracing the principles of PT network design. Wellington and Dunedin are at work applying the same set of principles to their public transport networks. This week, Christchurch’s own frequent connective network went live – a significant milestone for a city that’s still rebuilding following the earthquakes.

chc-network-map

In short, there has been a quiet revolution in public transport planning in New Zealand. Many regional transport agencies (and central government) have looked at best practice from overseas and gotten on with implementing it. Paul Mees might have torn his hair out when studying the mess that had been made of PT planning by the 1990s – but things are now turning around. Long may it continue!

Today is NZ Transit Upgrade Day

Well for Christchurch Bus and for Auckland Rail users it is. Christchurch is launching its New Bus Network today:

CHCH new Network

PDF here. We are very keen to hear back from users about they think of this. In fact we’ed be very keen to run a guest post or two from interested PT users in Christchurch. Here’s what Christchurch Metro say about it:

Our city has changed, and so must we.  Public transport is a valuable asset to a modern, vibrant city. It helps to keep us, and our economy, moving, and so this new network has been developed to cover our emerging city.  The core of the new network features five high-frequency, direct services running across town.

Also today the new Auckland Rail timetables, especially for the Eastern and Southern lines in Auckland begin, as Matt described last month here:

Dec 8 2014 rail changes

This means the beginning of an all EMU service on the Eastern Line, and the beginning of our much more legible and frequent turn-up-and-go Metro-style rail Rapid Transit running pattern. This is the next step in the great upgrade of rail services for Auckland that is already being met with enthusiasm by Auckland travellers. Early next year the Southern Line with get its Electric Trains, followed by the Western Line towards the end, which will also come with frequency increases. Next year will also see the beginning of the roll out of the radical upgrade of the Bus system that is the New Network. Today will also see the beginning of regular use of electric six car sets on the network.

Again we are keen to hear from users how the new services are going.

Cycling: the benefits of complete networks

A group of New Zealand researchers recently published an excellent paper on the costs and benefits of investing in a complete cycle network and safe street design. Their paper, which is available online, found that:

the benefits of all the intervention policies outweighed the harms, between 6 and 24 times. However, there were order-of-magnitude differences in estimated net benefits among policies. A universal approach to bicycle-friendly infrastructure will likely be required to achieve sufficient growth in bicycle commuting to meet strategic goals.

Our findings suggest that the most effective approach would involve physical segregation on arterial roads (with intersection treatments) and low speed, bicycle-friendly local streets.

We estimate that these changes would bring large benefits to public health over the coming decades, in the tens of dollars for every dollar spent on infrastructure. The greatest benefits accrue from reduced all-cause mortality due to population-level physical inactivity.

The researchers employed a system dynamics modelling approach that incorporated feedback loops between infrastructure provision and street design, people’s travel behaviours, and actual and perceived safety.

As a transport economist, I found their methodology incredibly interesting. It illustrates how you often need complex modelling tools to quantify things that are intuitively quite simple. In this case, the fact that if you make every street safe to cycle on, people will choose to get on their bikes.

Macmillan et al (2014) causal loop diagram

Feedback loops in cycle networks (Source: MacMillan et al, 2014)

Importantly, the researchers found that a larger, more ambitious programme of cycle upgrades will deliver a higher benefit-cost ratio than a smaller programme. This is what economists sometimes call the “complete network” effect – in effect, the more places you can get to easily and safely on a bicycle, the more likely you will be to cycle. (This is also why Facebook has so many users: You have to have an account because everybody else also has an account!)

Right now, Auckland’s obviously not doing too well when it comes to complete cycle networks. If you look at Auckland Transport’s online cycle maps, you’ll see some streets with strips of green paint down the side, and many more that you could in theory cycle on (if you were especially bold).

However, we’re lucky enough to have a local example of a city that is rolling out an ambitious complete cycle network. Since the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, Christchurch has planned a network of 13 major cycleways that will extend throughout the city, a re-jig of its city centre street network, and a new street design manual that will deliver better on-road cycle facilities. (Disclaimer: I have previously worked on the An Accessible City project as a consultant.) And they’re planning on getting it done over the next five years.

Christchurch Major Cycleways

Will Christchurch “go Dutch”?

It’s going to be interesting to watch Christchurch over the next few years. I expect they’ll provide a good example for a lot of other New Zealand cities.

Wellington and Christchurch Patronage

We keep a close eye on patronage in Auckland – which has been surging in recent months – but what’s happening with patronage in our other major cities? So in this post I’ll look at patronage in both Wellington and Christchurch.

Wellington

Unlike Auckland which has seen considerable growth over the last decade, the use of the system in Wellington can only really be described as flat. There are probably a number of factors at play including that the number of people employed in the Wellington Region peaked in 2008, the same year as patronage peaked – although I don’t think this is the only reason. On the positive side some recent growth meant that the end of June saw the 12 month rolling as the highest it’s been for potentially decades.

14 - Wellington Total Patronage

While Wellington does have ferries they carry such a small number of people (less than 200k per year) that they hardly register, of the other two modes bus patronage has grown slightly although it it dropped slightly in 2013 the figures are starting to rise again.Monthly patronage in June was up 6.3% on the same month last year which is a good sign and one of the largest single month increases in six years.

14 - Wellington Bus Patronage

The rail network has seen more volatility with a large drop off in the number of trips from mid 2009. Patronage then stayed fairly low until after Wellington’s new Matangi trains were introduced in early 2011. Since then it’s been a slow recovery with the exception of the RWC. However in recent months we’re starting to see some real improvement and 12 month patronage to the end of June was up 2.8% – although that’s also partly because some lines were closed for over a week in June last year due to storm damage.

14 - Wellington Rail Patronage

Overall patronage in Wellington has been flat for some time but the good news is that things seem to be changing with patronage numbers reaching new heights. Let’s hope that growth continues.

It’s also worth noting that traffic volumes on Wellington’s state highway network have also been flat for some time.

Christchurch

Between 2000 and 2010 patronage in Christchurch increased by almost 80% which better than what Auckland achieved over the same period with both cities coming off low base numbers. Then in 2010 and 2011 the earthquakes struck devastating the city – with the CBD suffering some of the most extensive damage. The impact on bus patronage was dramatic and set  use back use by a decade more. Positively patronage in Christchurch is now recovering although still well below the pre-quake levels. Let’s hope the growth can carry on and see us quickly surpass the pre-quake results.

14 - Christchurch Bus Patronage

If anyone has details about patronage results for other NZ cities then I’d love to see it so let me know in the comments or flick me an email with the details.

Christchurch to use Auckland’s old trains?

As the new electric trains roll out over the coming year or so, a question we don’t know the answer to is what will happen to the old diesel trains Auckland no longer needs. Of course we will need to retain a few to run services between Papakura and Pukekohe until that section can also be electrified (which is hopefully soon) but the rest of the fleet will have no use. For some time the most likely option has been that they would be sold off, probably to a Southern African country like some of the old trains from Wellington were. One of the reasons for this thought is that while many people have had suggestions about using them in other parts of NZ to start services, there was no serious talk from other regions about starting rail services.

That could all change with the Envrionment Canturbury commissioners voting today on whether to investigate a starting a rail service from Rangioria to Christchurch. It’s a response to chronic congestion caused by the so much development occurring north of the city following the earthquakes.

Commuter rail services between Christchurch and North Canterbury are on the cards after pressure from frustrated drivers.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) commissioners have been asked to approve up to $20,000 for an investigation into short-term passenger rail as a way to help alleviate the congestion into the city along the northern corridor.

The report said ”numerous enquiries” had been received from the public on the potential to use the existing rail track from the Waimakariri district.

Commissioners will decide tomorrow.

There is a chance also to buy old rail stock from Auckland Transport, which is upgrading to electric trains.

Traffic along the northern corridor has reached crisis point with  buses recording 22 minutes from the old Waimakariri Bridge to the Chaneys off-ramp 1.2 kilometres away.

The growth has been attributed to the effects of the earthquakes.

Waimakariri District Council data now predicts nine years historical growth in just three.

There’s bound to be decent number of potential users of such a service. According to Stats NZ there are about 50,000 people in the Waimakariri District and more than half of those are in Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Woodend or Pegasus. Further as mentioned the area is growing fast thanks to the earthquakes pushing a lot of development away from the city.

From Rangiora to Christchurch it is approximately 30km which is about the distance that Papakura is from Britomart. Kiwirail’s Coastal Pacific service that travels between Christchurch and Picton (only in Summer) does that journey in around 24 minutes nonstop which is a fair bit faster than the hour and forty minutes mentioned in this article on the proposal. In reality it would be a bit slower than that due to needing to stop in places like Kaiapoi if it went ahead. The tracks also pass through some significant residential areas of Christchurch itself.

Christchurch Rail

The biggest problem would be what to do with a train once it got to Christchurch. Like Auckland used to have, the nearest tracks are some way from the CBD and from the northern suburbs would require a Newmarket style end change. There are plenty of other issues too but I’m sure they’re ones that can be solved if there was a desire to do so.

ADDINGTON

There’s a missing leg to the junction.

 

If ECAN do decide to go through with a plan to trial some rail services it could end up following a very similar pattern to what happened in Auckland. The city has had some grand plans for light rail but can’t get any political support, at the same time there is rail infrastructure sitting in place but being largely overlooked by those in charge. Using some hand me down rolling stock to get services running patronage can be built up till future more substantial and upgrades can be justified.

If the online poll on The Press’ site is anything to go by, it’s certainly a popular idea with over 90% of all votes in favour of it. I would bet that Gerry Brownlee is unlikely to be one of those happy with the idea though.

Update, they voted to investigate it

Environment Canterbury commissioners have agreed to investigate commuter trains to and from the Waimakariri to help alleviate traffic congestion.

It is one of the options being investigated by a group led by New Zealand Transport Agency southern director Jim Harland.

The draft report is to be completed by June 13 and the final report earmarked to the council chief executive group by June 30.

ECan staff said it was a short-term solution for the six years it would take to complete motorway upgrades.

Is our transport model flawed?

This story from The Press caught my attention the other day.

Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) boss believes Christchurch’s public transport model is “flawed” and is lobbying the Government for change.

In a letter to then Local Government Minister Chris Tremain in January last year, Dame Margaret Bazley writes about how public transport sits between councils, and should be addressed at a national level.

The letter, released to The Press under the Official Information Act, states: “The current model for delivery of integrated and effective public transport is flawed in Christchurch in particular. We have signalled our support to the minister of transport for a review of public transport arrangements.”

I think the fact that ECAN is controlled by government appointed commissioners rather than elected officials leads people to think that this suggestion is automatically about trying to damage PT in Christchurch and that comes through in the comments a bit but reading further, I actually agree with ECAN.

In Christchurch, responsibility for the provision of public passenger transport lies with ECan, but the responsibility for providing the infrastructure to support public transport, such as bus stops, shelters, and interchanges, rests with the city council, which has caused some tension.

However, hundreds of emails between the staff from both organisations, released under the Official Information Act in a separate request, show they appear to be working together, with the differences occurring at the governance level.

ECan commissioner Rex Williams, who is in charge of public transport, agreed it was a flawed model.

A review would most likely be done in “due course”, he said.

“It’s not urgent. We should be able to get around it,” Williams said. “All we have to do it work together and commit to the policy instead of veering off with other stuff.”

He hoped the two organisations would be able to communicate better at a governance level.

Any review of public transport would have to take place nationally, and would be unlikely for a couple of years, Williams said.

During last year’s budget-setting process, ECan lobbied the city council to put aside $18 million a year for the next three years for public transport infrastructure, but $8.4 million was included in its budget.

In a written submission at the time, Bazley said ECan was unhappy with the level of funding from the council.

“The absence of any significant capital expenditure to improve the operation of public transport over the next three years reinforces our view that the city council no longer seems committed to a viable future for public transport in Christchurch,” she said.

The problem really stems from the fact that the organisation that controls the PT network is different from the one that controls the roading network. The best plans for PT mean nothing if the road owner won’t do anything to support them.  For example if ECAN want a bus stop added in but the council don’t want to do it then it doesn’t happen and getting bus lanes added can be a whole other level of difficulty.

The reality is this issue is not just one that is faced by Christchurch but by every city in NZ with the exception of Auckland. The problem exists due to the local body structure that we have and I assume the primary reason for putting public transport under the control of the regional body was to address the likes of Wellington and the old separate Auckland councils where there were multiple councils within a single urban area.

Auckland used to suffer this fate with the old ARTA setting plans for PT but it being reliant on individual councils to put in infrastructure like bus stops and bus lanes. For this reason it is perhaps even the more surprising that we managed to get the bus lanes we did on roads like Dominion Rd. Of course the creation of Auckland Transport was intended to be able to cut through these types of issues as well as the through the political impediments to change however oddly that didn’t help with the creation of more bus lanes until recently.

Overall I agree with what ECAN are saying. As we start to build a greater appreciation of the importance PT plays in the transport system in our cities then the current way it is set up simply isn’t going to work.

The new Christchurch bus interchange

In Christchurch, CERA have released plans for the new central city bus interchange and it looks like it will be a nightmare. They say

From the second quarter of 2015, Christchurch bus users will enjoy a state-of-the-art Bus Interchange in the heart of the city.

Bounded by Tuam, Colombo and Lichfield streets and SOL Square, it has been designed to meet the needs of customers – both now and in the future – and to integrate with its urban location and the existing public transport network.

On opening, the Bus Interchange will handle up to 115 bus movements per hour and by 2041 it will be used by about 7,500 people per hour.

It will cost $53 million and they also say it will include other development opportunities, provide easy access to the ‘slow core’ of the CBD that is being prioritised for pedestrians, includes cycle storage but also carparking (which is odd as they say the bus interchange is about trying to encourage PT use to get to the city.

The interchange is being designed by Warren and Mahoney along with Aurecon but I can’t help be feeling that the design is focused too much on how the interchange looks and not how it will actually operate.

And here’s the top down view.

The design seems incredibly impractical for a bus interchange, it looks more like an intercity terminus. Here are some of the issues with it.

  • Due to the internal roundabout it uses an incredible amount of space for what is only 16 platforms. Some island platforms could probably cut down the land requirement substantially which would have left more land available for development.
  • Due to how deep the sawtooth platforms are, buses will need to be reversing quite far to be able to get on to roundabout. That presents two major problems.
    1. There’s a pedestrian crossing to the island (not sure what’s on it) but it’s squeezed between the sawtooth platforms – which will probably be busy with passengers. Even worse is it will require buses to reverse over the crossing. Let’s just say that’s far from ideal and quite a safety hazard.
    2. On the South-western side it will mean reversing buses will block the entrance to the interchange, again another potential safety hazard.

This design gets even stupider seeing as ECANs proposed bus network in their 2012 Regional Public Transport Plan has buses through routed through the CBD, not terminating in it.

Christchurch RPTP Bus network

I much prefer this concept shown a while ago

Christchurch bus interchange early concept

It’s also worth highlighting this video from then the plans were launched a few days ago. Skip to 11:50 to here Gerry Brownlee saying such things as

“The concept of discrete shops, laneways and open space is very much a winner with the Canterbury public” (Gerry it’s not just those in Canterbury who like that).

“Public transport is very very important, people will know that in the CBD we’re looking at some slower speed restrictions, but part of that is to encourage public transport as much as possible”

From the Ground Up: Rebuilding Christchurch as a Sustainable City

Dr. Susan Krumdieck is an energy researcher and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury. I met her earlier this year at the 2013 NERI Energy Conference, where she gave a spoken presentation and was listed as an author for five different posters being presented!

Susan argues that the current recovery and growth strategies for Christchurch, put in place since the earthquakes, are taking the city down the wrong path. For example, the  Land Use Recovery Plan (LURP) “is a short sighted and dangerous plan for the city in several ways: it puts the cohesion of the city at risk, pulling the people from the city center, it will be very expensive to build, and people will lose a lot of money in property that will not give a return on their investment”.

The LURP seems likely to be ratified today, although things seem to be complicated

Working with other researchers, Susan has proposed an alternate growth plan for Christchurch: “to redevelop within the city in a way that would re-energize the city, boost the economy and provide affordable housing”. In particular, the team suggested more intensive redevelopment of the Riccarton area as a way of beginning this process.

Susan has put together a couple of videos explaining her team’s proposals. The first one, below, is four minutes long and a pretty good introduction to her take on the situation.

The second one, below, is a 48 minute public seminar, and goes through the Christchurch situation and the researchers’ proposals in more detail.

Note that both videos, if you open them in Youtube rather than here on the site (click the “Youtube” button in the lower right of the video screen), have notes and comments which explain a bit more. In brief:

The ‘From the Ground Up’ project had the simple objectives of developing a plan to house 15,000 people within the urban boundary in a way that provides a rate of return on investment over 10% for developers, provides warm, low-energy sustainable housing for 20,000 people across the spectrum of income levels, which can adapt to zero oil-based transport and which can drive development of urban infrastructure like electric trams and the central city. The project used a methodology based on science, engineering, and research of best practice. The project resulted in a plan for “New Riccarton” a re-build of an old suburb into a new urban area with all the amenities.

We’ll hopefully be hearing more from Susan in the future – perhaps including some guest posts.