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West Harbour ferry gets bigger

Some good news from Auckland Transport that ferry patronage out of West Harbour has increased to the point of needing a larger ferry.

A jump in passenger numbers means a bigger ferry has joined the run to West Harbour operated by Belaire Ferries for Auckland Transport.

Belaire Ferries Managing Director, Adam Tallentire, says the 90 passenger Spirit will now operate on the morning services along with 49 seaters Clipper and Serenity. “With this increase in capacity we are confident that even more commuters will consider the ferry as an alternative, a way to escape the on-going upgrade work on the North-western motorway.”

The new service was immediately popular, on the first sailing of Spirit on Monday 3 March there were 64 passengers (picture attached). The previous capacity on the sailing was 49 passengers.

The West Harbour service has seen a 56 per cent jump in patronage since capacity was last expanded in October 2011.

There are 14 return trips between West Harbour and Downtown each weekday.

A 56% increase in patronage over just a few years is fairly impressive, even if just off a small base. I imagine the service could be especially popular over the next few years now that the North Western motorway has been turned into a giant work site.

West Harbour new Ferry

Photo of the day – Evening Ferry

It’s a glorious Friday afternoon so how about some photos to look at taken from Queens Wharf (not taken today though, weather is much nicer)

Photo are copyright to Sydney

Clifford Bay decision raises more questions than answers

Interesting to see yesterday the government make a decision on the Clifford Bay ferry terminal. I say interesting because the more you look at the details the more it shows just how much transport policy is being driven by political agendas rather than based on facts. First up here is Gerry Brownlee’s press release

The outcome of a study into the commercial viability of a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay in Marlborough has concluded Picton should remain as the southern terminal for the inter-island ferries, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee announced today.

Over the past year a Ministry of Transport-led expert team has been testing whether Clifford Bay could be delivered as a fully privately funded project.

“We have been delivered a thorough and robust report which clearly shows Clifford Bay is not commercially viable as a fully privately funded project, and the level of investment required at Picton over the next decade to extend its life would be substantially less than previously estimated,” Mr Brownlee says.

The project team estimated a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay could be delivered by 2022, at a cost of $525 million.  This left a gap the Government would have been required to fill to induce private sector investment in the construction and operation of the terminal.

Meanwhile, the investigation found Picton’s facilities are not expected to fail or become constrained due to asset age or condition, or growth in freight volumes, over the next 30 years.  It also found the level of investment required at Picton by its owner Port Marlborough over the next decade to extend its life and adapt its facilities is approximately half the cost estimated in 2012.

Mr Brownlee says it was concluded a number of significant financial risks would exist in the development and early operating phase of a ferry terminal at Clifford Bay.

“While it was expected these would be manageable, mitigation and management cost would have fallen to the Government.

“In the end, the government cost, remaining risks, and the lack of a compelling constraint at Picton have led us to decide the Clifford Bay option should be set aside at this time,” Mr Brownlee says.

“I hope this announcement will provide some planning certainty for Marlborough communities.”

To read the report, Clifford Bay Investigation 2013, and the paper Mr Brownlee took to Cabinet, visit www.transport.govt.nz

For those that aren’t familiar with the proposal, the idea is to create a new ferry terminal further south of Picton as shown in this image from the Ministry report.

Clifford Bay Routes

It would be a substantial project though with the report stating there would need to be

  • the construction of a breakwater 1.8km into Clifford Bay with a single-pier dual-berth facility for the two ferry operators
  • associated shore-side facilities for the marshalling of passengers, vehicles and rail wagons
  • the upgrade to Marfells Beach Rd to SH1
  • a rail link to the main trunk line

None of that is going to come cheap and the report costs the terminal at $525 million – although positively Kiwirail already own most of the land needed so land acquisition wouldn’t be as high. The problem comes that the berthing fees for ferry companies simply wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of building the terminal and so the project isn’t viable from a commercial perspective. But what about the economic benefits of the project?

There are a couple of massive benefits for the project first of all it’s a shorter route (~15km) as well as one that also has no speed restrictions on it which means faster journey times. In addition as most people and freight are travelling south it would also provide some substantial travel time savings for both roads and rail due to being further south and not having to deal with the climb out of Picton and the Dashwood Pass north of Clifford Bay. For rail that journey incurs not just a time penalty but an additional operational one too as either an extra locomotive is needed or trains need to be shorter. The time savings are listed below. Compare those savings with something like Puhoi to Wellsford which would save 10 minutes if we’re lucky.

Clifford Bay Time Savings

So while the costs are high at $525 million, the overall economic benefits are substantial enough to outweigh them with the report stating that the project has a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.3. Unfortunately we can’t see all of the details relating to the benefits as most of that has been blacked out. However interestingly the report does state that the BCR of 1.3 doesn’t include the wider economic benefits (WEBs) that might occur (which have been assessed) and also uses an 8% discount rate and 30 year evaluation period.

This in itself is interesting as the NZTA recently changed their economic evaluation manual to assess projects with a 6% discount rate and 40 year evaluation period. The report states that an assessment with a 6% discount rate was done but the result is blacked out.  I think it’s pretty safe to say the result would have been much higher if all of those bits were included. Why this is particularly interesting is that the government/NZTA have long been talking about the BCRs of the RoNS projects like Transmissions Gully using the new assessment criteria as well as included the WEBs figures too.

The project even scores highly on the NZTAs new assessment criteria which asks about Strategic/Policy Fit as the crossing is considered a key part in both the national road and rail networks.

Clifford Bay Stragtic Network

Now let me be clear, I have no problem with the government saying they that they won’t support the project - despite being economically viable – due to it not being commercially viable. Sure there might be a positive benefit to the economy but if we can’t afford to build the project then that is fine. But I do have a problem when the same approach isn’t being taken when it comes to other areas of transport policy like what is happening with the RoNS. Projects like the Kapati Expressway have a BCR of 0.2 and Transmission Gully isn’t much better yet the government are pushing them ahead as fast as possible.

What all of this means is that the government are clearly picking and choosing which types of projects they want to support regardless of the facts. There would be no issue with this if they just said we’re building roads because we like them better but they don’t, instead they pretend they are building stuff that will really help the economy.

Bayswater and Alexandra Park developments

As we keep pointing out, the development community is really coming back to life and lots of projects are now on the table again. This is most likely being brought on by a number of factors:

  • Higher land prices are making developments more viable.
  • The Unitary Plan, despite only being notified and not in place yet, has given developers some certainty about Auckland’s future.
  • The economy is looking healthier and so it is becoming easier for developers to obtain finance
  • Migration levels are increasing bringing more people into the city.

Today brings news of more development proposals. This time in Bayswater and at Alexandra Park.

Bayswater

The Herald reports:

A marina village is proposed for a “wasted” island which is a 10-minute ferry ride across Waitemata Harbour from the Auckland CBD.

Bayswater Marina lost a 2009 Environment Court appeal against North Shore City Council restrictions on residential building on its 3.4ha, which was reclaimed when the marina was built in the 1990s.

However, owner Simon Herbert said much has changed since – notably the receptive attitude of the Super City councillors to housing plans near the city centre.

It has encouraged Mr Herbert, who bought the marina in 2006, to work on a fresh plan for a better return from the land, which is presently parking lots for trailer boats and cars.

“It’s like a little island attached to the mainland by a causeway only 2km from the CBD. It has spectacular views back to the city and could offer an ideal lifestyle and a beautiful public area by the water. I feel it’s a wasted resource of land at the moment.”

Mr Herbert and his wife, Paula, say the new proposal fits the Auckland Plan and the proposed Unitary Plan, which is now out for comment. This provided for quality urban design, a mix of places for people to live and more places for people to live around transport nodes, including ferry services.

Bayswater Marina

Due to the previous opposition to building heights (and as we have seen its common thing on the shore) it’s suggested that the development will be limited to three storeys in height and have about 125 dwelling on it. That’s a little bit of a shame but still 125 dwellings more than are on the site right now. Although even that is too much for some of the locals who seem to feel they have a right on the land.

Long-standing opponent of marina housing Paddy Stafford-Bush said: “This is reclaimed land from the seabed and it belongs to the people. It’s nice the way it is and people are comfortable with it and the way it looks and works.”

Now admittedly it is a bit difficult to access the marina due to it being at the end of a peninsula however the really big opportunity with this development is that it should help to improve justification for improving ferry services to the marina. Currently services are half hourly in the peak, hourly off peak and almost non-existent in the weekends. If those were able to be improved due to the extra people then that would also benefit the rest of the community.

Bayswater Ferry Timetable

 

In fact it would be would be quite interesting exercise for AT and the council to do some work out how many extra people in the ferry catchment would be needed to improve services and what impact that would have on residents views. For example what if an extra 500 people in the area were needed to justify improved frequencies that would benefit everyone and this development delivered 300. How would that change the dynamic of those that support/oppose the project? By more directly showing locals the benefits of intensification it might actually help to get them supporting more of it.

Alexandra Park

Across town in Greenlane the owners of Alexandra Park want to develop some of their land.

Auckland’s Alexandra Park could be the scene of more than $110 million of commercial and residential developments over the next decade.

Members of the Auckland Trotting Club have voted by a huge majority to support their board in the first $41 million development of a joint purpose building at 223 Green Lane West.

The building is proposed to have four floors of apartments, ground floor commercial space and an underground carpark.

If that venture is successful the trotting club has the option of similar developments on two further Green Lane West sections.

The Unitary plan lists the highlighted section below as mixed use (as opposed to special purpose like the rest of the site) so this is most likely where they are planning on building the apartments.

Alexandra Park mixed use

I think the site will be quite a good one for intensification as there are a number of high quality amenities nearby especially Cornwall Park providing a lot of open space. Further transport should be quite good from this location, Manukau Rd is only a few hundred metres away and has frequent buses heading towards the CBD (although it could do with some bus lanes) while Greenlane West will also see frequent buses providing easy cross-town trips.

Let’s hope both of these can successfully go ahead.

One other development we haven’t really talked about before, but that we probably should have is Springpark in Mt Wellington which has just recently obtained resource consent. The development is converting land that is currently a plant nursery into 420 low rise terraced houses and apartments that is an example of getting intensification in the suburbs without having medium or high rise buildings. In fact a quick calculation suggests that an average of just two people per dwelling on this site will deliver a density of ~8,000 per km². That’s quite a bit above what we currently see in many parts of Auckland.

The site looks like it has some connections out to Mt Wellington Rd which will have frequent buses on it which is good.

Springpark

Works on the site are expected to start next month and both this and Hobsonville point could end up as excellent examples of future suburban development

The opportunities for ferries

With elections coming up we are bound to get the odd political hopeful throwing out the old line that we are a harbour city so if we want to improve public transport we should be thinking about investing in more ferries. It’s an idea that sounds really good in theory but as always, it the reality is sometimes a little different. Well the other day I went along to a talk by Douglas Hudson, the CEO of Fullers, about what opportunity he/Fullers see for ferries in the future. As I’m sure you can imagine it was quite an interesting talk and helped to confirm many of my thoughts on the subject. I’m going to break this post down into a few of the key areas he covered.

Auckland Ferry Performance

People often love to point to the Sydney ferries in particular as a great example of what we should be doing. If you look at a map of the ferries you see services going all over the place with services extending all the way from Manly in the North East of the harbour through to Parramatta in the west. The ferries carry about 14.8 million passengers a year which is quite substantial but when you put it in the context that there are about 551 million PT trips a year you realise the less than 3% of all PT trips take place on ferries. With a population of about 4.7 million it means that on average there are about 3.1 trips per year per capita in the Sydney area.

Another Australian city that Douglas raised was Brisbane which runs services along the Brisbane River. Yet despite being free yet there were only about 1.2 million trips on them last year. That is less than 1% of the total PT patronage and about 0.5 trips per person per year.

So how does Auckland compare? Well we have about 5.5 million ferry trips a year yet when you compare the figures for percentage of PT trips and per capita trips, we perform better than both Sydney and Brisbane.

Auckland Ferry Performance

Further as well as performing better when looking at patronage, Douglas says we also perform much better from financial point of view. As many of you will know the Devonport and Waiheke routes are fully commercial services while the other routes in Auckland tend to have fairly high farebox recovery. The reason for this high farebox recovery is that our ferry companies also run a number of tourist services meaning many of the operating and capital costs are currently able to spread across those. They will use their boats in the morning to do a few commuter runs and then during the middle of the day those same boats will be whisking tourists to many of the destinations around the gulf. The downside of course is that there are no or limited off peak services.

Operating Issues

While our ferries are apparently more financially efficient due to the use of the boats off peak for commercial tourist services, it does mean there aren’t any boats to provide off peak services. In addition we would ideally want more frequent peak services too. To do this it means that we would need to have a lot more boats and they don’t come cheap at $7-8 million each (he said a new boat was currently under construction in Wanganui which will be here in about a year). Further and perhaps most importantly over the long run is that there wouldn’t be the option to spread the operating costs out like what currently happens thanks to the tourist services. This means that effectively all of the operating costs would need to be paid for out of the PT budget, dramatically increasing the amount we would need to spend overall.

I have also heard it suggested that we should try using smaller, cheaper and quicker vessels instead of the larger ones we tend to use. In response to this Douglas pointed out a number of issues. We have quite a decent tidal range. As a comparison Sydney has a range of 1m while in Auckland the range is 3.5m. In addition the inner harbour tends to be more exposed and have stronger swells. All of this combined means that smaller vessels become much harder to dock in adverse conditions with the wharf so the larger vessels are needed to be able to keep reliability/speed up. As it is he said some routes have up to 30% of services cancelled a year due to weather which presents additional problems as people who are willing to give ferries a go often eventually give up due to reliability issues.

One major issue for ferries is that they tend to have a limited catchment due to half (or more) of it being water. This makes it very hard to attract lots of trips without either feeder bus services or heaps of car parking. Also due to their nature as a mode of choice and he said ferries are much more of a choice that people choice to make compared other PT modes and he cited that surveys show about 30% of ferry passengers are earning over $80k per year. In the area where I disagreed with what he said the most he then went on to talk about how he thinks many people will only catch a ferry if they can drive to it pointing out that around half of all people who use the park n ride at Devonport drive there from less than 1km away. Based on this he is suggesting that expanding park n rides at ferry terminals is needed to really increase patronage although he did admit that was all but impossible to do these days on prime waterfront land. Personally I think a vastly improved bus network – like what is being proposed – and integrated fares that include ferries will really make it much easier to use ferries.

Routes

Perhaps the most interesting comments – and ones I agreed with a lot – are that he doesn’t really see much opportunities for expansion of ferry services. As we have pointed out here in the past, all of the really useful and easy routes have already been done. Other routes mooted would generally require a lot of money to be spent and potentially a lot of wharf infrastructure e.g. a ferry wharf at St Heliers would extend about 500m out to sea for it to be deep enough. There are currently a couple of routes proposed by various people including services from Te Atatu, Takapuna and Brown’s Bay but each presents some significant challenges. He said that a rough estimate for any Takapuna is that it would need about 400 passengers each peak and would need two additional boats. To put that in perspective, the most recent screenline survey suggests only Devonport and Waiheke services have higher peak patronage.

ferry-passengers

As such Douglas said he thinks the real opportunity is to improve the existing routes through higher frequencies but to do that it would obviously require buying and running more boats but also require making it easier for passengers to get to the ferry terminals.

Auckland Ferry Routes 2

This also seems to be the position of the Ministry of Transport, well at least on the potential to expand ferry services. The extract below is from an OIA request I got back recently and the document was providing background information to Gerry Brownlee.

Mot Position

The Great Upgrade Timeline

Public transport patronage has been source of much concern for the last year and a half on the back of falling or flat numbers which followed about 6 years of almost constant growth. During that time the performance of the PT network has come under ever increasing scrutiny as public discussion and interest in transport has increased. For many of the PT figures there have actually been some fairly logical explanations as to why the numbers aren’t looking as good as they used to however unfortunately most people don’t look at the fine print and just look at the headline number.

Getting patronage growing is considered to be one of the key goals of Auckland transport and a lot of the expectation for future growth is being is being placed on a handful of key projects. Many of these projects have been going on for a long time however it is only over the next few years that we will really start to see them come to fruition and make an impact. This paper going to the AT board on Wednesday looks at these key projects and provides a timeline for when we will start to see the next batch of major changes. The key projects are:

  1. HOP integrated ticketing followed by progressive implementation of the initiatives within a strategic pricing and fares review for public transport including integrated and fares
  2. Service regulatory and procurement reform through the PT Operating Model (PTOM) following enactment of enabling legislative reform of the Land Transport Management Amendment Act 2013 in June
  3. New service network rollout of high frequency bus services and integrated and connected support services with associated facility and infrastructure upgrades
  4. Rail service enhancements and transition to the new EMU fleet
  5. Ferry service and facility enhancements
  6. On-time service performance and customer information
  7. Customer experience enhancement across all customer touch points

These projects are often what we refer to as “The Great Upgrade”. They represent Auckland Transport finally addressing the key issues of our current public transport network and putting in place the foundations for future expansion. Without these projects being successfully completed there is no City Rail Link and there is definitely no Congestion Free Network. Sadly they are all projects that should have happened at least decades ago and they help to show just how far behind we are. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a city in the world that is about to go through as much fundamental change as we are – but that is because most other cities have all, or at least a decent proportion of these things in place already.

The paper then goes on to show the most interesting part which how these projects will fit in on a timeline for the individual modes.

Rail

The next major event for the rail network will be later this year where AT are saying that we will finally get improved weekend frequencies which should mean at least half hour frequencies and services to Swanson on Sundays. One of the interesting things is that with no other changes on the rail network due till at least April when the EMU’s start running, it should give hopefully give AT some excellent data to see the impacts of the changes separate from anything else that is going on. Moving on to the end of the year and we are finally getting a new journey planner. This is long overdue as the current one is absolute rubbish and I simply won’t use it (I keep a copy of the timetable on my phone).

We have always known that the introduction of the EMUs will be spread out over a couple of years and I think I have seen a similar timeline before so it isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise though is the suggestion that we won’t be seeing integrated fares until the end of 2014. Of note the bus timeline has integrated fares happening slightly earlier and at the same time as the new bus network rolls out in South Auckland. Lastly we can see that in 2016 the current Transdev contract expires after having been extended a few times to avoid any possibility of a change in operator in the middle of the EMU roll out (we don’t want a labtests/Medlab situation happening and holding up the delivery of trains). I believe that the contract will be put out to tender so it will be interesting to see what comes out of that.

Timeline - Rail

Bus

On the bus side most of the timeline is similar to what we have seen previously in the likes of the Southern Network consultation documents. The next year and a half seems like it will be a particularly busy time in which most of the consultation, procurement will occur  and where the first areas will go live.

Timeline - Bus

Ferry

There seems to be quite a bit less going on with ferries however I think the key thing will be the first light blue arrow below the timeline where there are meant to be on-going service improvements to existing routes. You can also note that there is no integrated fares note on the ferry timeline once again confirming that ferries will exist outside of the integrated fare structure.

Timeline - Ferry

Across the bottom of all of the images above there are a couple of very specific points. One relates to marketing PT and shows how AT are really going to be a bit limited to only targeting towards specific services or areas for some time however once the entire new bus network has been rolled out it will enable them to market the entire network as a single entity. The network concept is probably something that many Aucklanders haven’t thought about it in the past.. The other piece common across all modes is the Customer Experience Programme which is the one area we haven’t really heard much about. Below is an explanation from the report as to what is involved. It will certainly be interesting to see what a fresh pair of eyes and thoughts might come up with and we will be following it closely.

This is one of the seven strategic projects in the three-year programme. This is a five month project that began in July 2013. The aim of the project is to develop a set of design blueprints and standards for an enhanced experience that customers will receive on future bus, rail and ferry services and through multi-modal support services. One of the first implementation of a customer experience blueprint is targeted for the service revenue launch of the EMUs on the Onehunga Line in April 2014.

Thoughtful Design consultancy has been appointed to facilitate the work having recently completed similar blueprint and experience design remits for Auckland Council and Air New Zealand.

The first four weeks of the project has been an information gathering exercise across current and new public transport services and public transport traveller profiles have been developed, that visually articulate current travel journey scenarios across public transport modes identifying pleasure-points, pain-points and needs. The phase one report is being finalized.

For the next six weeks to mid-September, from the public transport traveller profiles created, a set of guiding service design blueprints will be developed – the basis for building public transport customer-oriented experiences and products across services, facilities, support services and staff-customer interactions.

The rest of the paper looks at how these projects then get modelled to estimate what patronage might be. I will look at that part of the paper in a separate post.

The desperate need for a fares policy

There have been a lot of articles in the media recently bemoaning changes to public transport fares as the AT Hop card is progressively introduced. The latest relates to hikes in ferry fares which are coming in the near future:

Big fare hikes for ferry users could hit within weeks.

The North Shore Times has learned of the changes from an industry insider who says Auckland Transport has undertaken a “campaign of non-disclosure increases”.

When asked for a response to the claims, Auckland Transport directed the Times to its website.

The council-controlled group did not confirm or deny the increases were happening, whether tertiary discounts are again being cut or when the new fares will be implemented.

“Auckland Transport has an annual fare review process which is communicated to the media [as it was earlier this year] and to customers through our customer channels.”

But the industry source says changes are a result of the AT Hop card roll-out, taking place across Auckland’s public transport network.

A big increase in fares for some Green Bay bus users occurred recently. Plus it seems like the Discovery Day pass and the Northern Pass – the two existing integrated fare products in Auckland – are going to be phased out shortly. While the AT Hop card’s simplification of the current suite of fare products is a step in the right direction – it seems like there are going to be some really dumb changes to fares in the near future because of two key reasons:

  1. Auckland Transport not coming up with a much simpler zone based fare system ahead of implementing integrated ticketing.
  2. Auckland Transport not having a fare policy.

Unfortunately we also have the situation where Auckland Transport are aligning fares at the same time as rolling out the HOP card. This may be the technically easiest solution but it is only serving to give a lot of people a negative impression of the card itself. Had they done number 1 first, the roll-out of HOP would be much much easier.

Hop Card

We’ve discussed the importance of integrated fares and zone based fares many times before, so in this post I’m going to talk more about the need for Auckland Transport to have a proper fares policy.

Setting public transport fares is clearly a very complex balance between being low enough to attract people to use the service but also high enough to minimise subsidy requirements. The latter issue is also affected by NZTA’s completely arbitrary Farebox Recovery Policy – which requires fares to cover 50% of operating costs (Auckland currently manages about 44% recovery). In addition to this complex balance there are a number of other detailed considerations that need to be taken into account in the setting of fares. The list below is by no means complete but takes into account matters that need to be considered:

  • The extent to which fares rise with the length of the trip. At one end of the scale there are flat fares where you pay the same amount no matter how far you go – at the other end is something like a pure per kilometre charge. Longer PT trips generate more external benefits (e.g. congestion relief) so there’s a logic for having something in between a flat fare and a purely distance based fare.
  • The level of complexity or simplicity in the fare system. In pursuit of ‘optimal’ outcomes it’s very easy to create a fare system that’s mind-bogglingly complex and impossible to understand. Yet overly simple systems can lead to inequitable, illogical or inefficient outcomes: should a trip down the road cost the same as one from Pukekohe to the city centre, should children have to pay the same as adults, should someone travelling off-peak and not adding to peak capacity problems have to pay the same as someone at peak times? Once again a careful balance needs to be found.
  • Building on the above, the extent of concessionary fares is something that can be really complicated. Should a super-wealthy retired person really get free PT while a struggling working family have to pay full fares? Should university students get a discount when they’re pretty likely to catch PT already?
  • A further consideration is the extent to which the fare system should favour or encourage certain types of users. Should monthly pass holders get a particularly good deal because they’re the ‘best customers’? To what extent should smart-card users get a discount compared to people who pay with cash? And as above, is there value in providing a discount for off-peak travel? Or – dare I say it – should there be family/group passes?

As you can tell from the above, I have posed far more questions than I have answered – because this is a complex issue which involves significant value judgements and decisions to sit behind it. It needs some clear objectives, things like: maximising patronage, recognising the importance of a simple and easy to understand system, providing value for money (both for passengers and for public agencies picking up the subsidy), catering for those with fewer transport choices, encouraging people to use the HOP Card, encouraging people to make transfers where that’s an efficient outcome etc. It needs to be clear about the tradeoffs between different objectives – like how maximising patronage may conflict with maximising farebox returns.

In relatively recent times we have seen the mess which occurs when you don’t have a fare policy. The most recent fare rises saw the gap between HOP fares and cash fares narrow (contrary to efforts to get more people using HOP), saw monthly pass prices increase while single fare cash prices stayed the same (contrary to rewarding best customers and encouraging more people to use monthly passes) and saw fares for longer trips that generate the most external benefits increase while fares for short trips generally stayed the same. Plus the huge backlash against the fare zones proposed in the draft RPTP and the recent angst over fare changes as the AT Hop card is implemented.

The solution to this mess seems incredibly obvious to me: Auckland Transport needs to prepare a cohesive fares policy, which gets into much more detail about the mechanics and trade-offs of the different fare options than the draft RPTP did. Auckland Transport then needs to consult with the general public and key stakeholders about the policy, get general buy-in, and then use that policy to guide what it does in the future about fares.

Seriously. Not that hard and it would save them a lot of angst.

 

On a slightly related note, the stupidity of the way our PT contracting works where Fullers are allowed to do whatever they want on the Devonport and Waiheke routes due to them being fully commercial has thrown up classic example of how dysfunctional things are. Recently Fullers decided to replace their ticketing system due to their old one getting a bit long in the tooth but rather than just hook fully into the HOP system, they have launched a separate system allowing them to offer ferry tickets not available to HOP users. With crap like this, it’s no surprise that the HOP usage on Ferries has been abysmal with less than 5% of all ferry trips being paid for using HOP according to the most recent stats produced by Auckland Transport.

Ferry Dining

What an excellent idea, just a shame I don’t like seafood.

A group of commuters leaving downtown Auckland tonight will spend their short ferry journey enjoying seafood soup and white wine at a pop-up restaurant.

Chefs Andreas Eggmann and Benjamin Barton, who run POPdining, are holding their latest dining event on the 7pm ferry to Devonport in an attempt to get more people using public transport.

The pair founded the business two years ago as a vehicle for challenging attitudes towards food waste, the dining experience and other social issues.

Eggmann said the premise of tonight’s event was to get people engaged with public transport and create a positive experience for the dining commuters.

“The idea is to bring more awareness to the public transport issue in New Zealand.

“By making it imperative that you must use public transport to be part of this experience, we hope to get people used to, and encouraged by, the idea of public transport.”

It also provided the opportunity for people to explore different parts of the city, he said.

“It should be a pretty interesting experiment. It’s a bit of a flash mob dining experience.”

Thirty-two diners will be seated at four tables during the short journey, eating their entree and sipping a glass of wine.

Upon their arrival at Devonport, they will walk a few metres to The Esplanade Bar & Grill for their main meal and dessert.

Although it does almost seem like it is just for those that have pre-booked so is only really using PT as a way to get people to a restaurant rather than being something special for PT users.

Eggmann said the pair had “a bit of a battle” convincing ferry operators Fullers to permit tonight’s event but had eventually managed to sell their vision.

They hoped to “get the ball rolling” tonight and then use it to leverage the support of Auckland Transport to hold future events.

“From this we plan to hold following events using the trains, buses, and biking lanes,” Eggmann said.

Another event could start at Britomart train station, with a course served on the train en route to a dining experience at a station somewhere in the surrounding city, he said.

POPdining events are multi-course dinners, usually for 60-70 people, served at large communal tables, with each course served on large shared plates.

Tickets for tonight’s three-course ferry meal cost $50 but it has already sold out.

Still I like that PT is being used in this way as a point of difference, after all you couldn’t do this on a motorway with everyone in their cars. In some ways it is a take on on of may favourite PT videos.

I look forward to seeing what else they might do.

Making ferries make sense

Sunday’s launch of the Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry seems to have got some, such as the perennial mischief-maker Cameron Brewer, excited about ferries and thinking that they can fix all of Auckland’s Transport problems. On the plus side, he also seems to have become a fan of bus lanes which is something to store away in the memory banks:

“Yesterday’s opening of the new ferry terminals for Beach Haven and Hobsonville Point was a great day for Auckland, but the claim that ferries would play a much greater role in Auckland’s transport future was a bit disingenuous. The rhetoric simply does not match the reality of what’s being planned and budgeted.”…

…”These two new ferry terminals are great but the sad reality is the council won’t be able to pour a heap into new or improved ferry infrastructure simply because of the Mayor’s central city rail obsession which is set to soak up most of the public transport capital expenditure budget this coming decade.

“Spending approximately 80 percent of the 10-year budget on the City Rail Link is not a balanced approach, and will not deliver a strong and mixed integrated transport system.

“This is not good news for ferry and bus users who want serious investment in their infrastructure and services. The Mayor tells everyone he’s going to do everything, but the budget clearly points to one CBD project soaking up most of the money”

“In 2013/14 alone we’re set to spend $180m on the City Rail Link. That’s a lot of ferry terminals or tarmac for new bus-lanes,” says Cameron Brewer.

While the support for bus lanes is great (a pity it comes too late to save the Remuera Road bus lanes from being turned back into T3 tractor lanes) I think Brewer, along with a lot of other people, often miss the point when they state that ferries should do much more of the transport task by building a whole pile of new terminals and opening up a whole pile of new routes. Put simply, the point is that while ferries have an important role to play in Auckland’s PT system, they only work in certain situations.

So what are those situations? Obviously for a start they need to be on the coast – which has the somewhat unfortunate outcome of half a ferry terminal’s walking catchment being water (much more than that if a long wharf is required). The prime waterfront location of ferry terminals also makes park and ride facilities either incredibly expensive to provide in terms of land acquisition or incredibly ugly. Or both. So there’s quite a reliance on good feeder buses, or having the ferry route offer such a significant time savings that it’s worth going out of your way to make the ferry work.

And on that last point there are some situations in Auckland where ferries really do offer a compelling advantage over anything else. Waiheke is the obvious example because there really isn’t an alternative, while Devonport comes to mind as the other immediately obvious location where ferries will always make sense – simply because of this:


These two locations really dominate ferry patronage, as shown in the screenline survey for trips to the CBD in the AM peak period, making up nearly half of trips:ferry-patronage

The relatively slow growth since 2006 seems to indicate that we’ve probably squeezed close to as much out of those two routes as possible.

So how can we make the most out of the potential of the ferry system? I guess there are a few different options:

  • Add more routes from new locations – Te Atatu, Mission Bay, Browns Bay, Howick, Takapuna and various other points around the harbour (including a cross Manukau service) are often mentioned.
  • Build more park and ride spots so that more people can drive to ferry terminals.
  • Continue to invest in current services by offering better frequencies and bringing ferries into the proposed zone based ticketing system so that fares (at least for regular users are cheaper).
  • Improve bus/ferry integration (fares being a critical part of this) so that ferries are used in a similar way to trains and the busway: as a fairly rapid part of the PT network which avoids congestion on the road system completely.

There are possibly other ways in which we can improve ferries, but generally I think the last two bullet points above are what we should focus on – particularly ahead of continuing to look for new routes – no matter how attractive that seems to local politicians.

Let’s take the new Hobsonville/Beach Haven ferry for example – while there’s much excitement about this at the end of the day the service provided is pretty rubbish: barely a handful of sailings and only on weekdays. No off-peak service, no weekend service, eye-wateringly high fares. Too bad if you want to use the ferry to check out Hobsonville on a sunny Saturday – the ferries don’t run. Too bad if you’re a university student living in Hobsonville and want to stay late – the ferries don’t run after a 6:10pm sailing. Too bad if you don’t want to live your life around a timetable: even at peak times it’s over an hour between sailings and 8.05am is the last sailing from Hobsonville to get you into the city in the morning.

Many other ferry timetables are similar. The Gulf Harbour Ferry also only runs a couple of trips a day – though at least it also has a middle of the day service for day-trippers up to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Tickets are only again pretty steep at $27 return for an adult. The Half Moon Bay ferry, which I think has huge potential as it bypasses a hugely congested stretch of Auckland’s transport network, similarly has rubbish frequencies with one service every two hour outside the peak (I guess at least there are off-peak services?)

In terms of improving access to the ferries, I think we’d do well to think of them as being somewhat similar to the rapid transit network. A fairly sparse (in terms of walk up catchment) but pleasant and (theoretically) fast and reliable service because it avoids traffic congestion on the roading network. So bus integration, including free transfers between buses and ferries, becomes absolutely critical here in opening up the catchment of the ferries far wider than otherwise possible. If Half Moon Bay ferries were far more frequent we could have most buses from Bucklands Beach and that northern portion of “southeast Auckland” feeding into the ferry network as much as it feeds into Panmure station and the rail network or Botany town centre and the future busway along Ti Rakau Drive. Park and ride will always be difficult to provide for at ferry terminals – due to their inherent location in high amenity waterfront areas.

So perhaps next time someone comes up with a “we should add this ferry route” argument we might also think about whether that’s really the best use of funds or whether we should focus on improving what we already have – because it seems like there’s a lot of untapped potential in the routes that already exist. But I guess that’s just not quite as sexy as pushing for new routes – regardless of the quality of service which ends up being provided and the rather high capital cost in providing for just a handful of trips every weekday.

Opening of the Hobsonville and Beach Haven ferry terminals

I had the opportunity to go to the opening of the Beach Haven and Hobsonville ferry wharfs today. While readers my know I have had my doubts on the services, primarily due to the limited sailings and steep prices, I do think that the infrastructure put in place does look good and of course cruising up the harbour on a ferry can be a pretty nice way to get to/from work. Our first stop on the ferry was at Beach haven for a quick ribbon cutting ceremony. Local board chair Lindsay Waugh gave a short speech about the project and at one point got a cheer when she said that the ferry will enable people to get to town and connect to the rest of Auckland using the CRL.

Beach Haven Terminal with Hobsonville in the background

Beach Haven wharf with Hobsonville in the background

The Beach Haven terminal waiting area

The Beach Haven wharf waiting area

After that it was time for a quick hop across to Hobsonville to open that wharf. We did get a little delayed though after having to turn back to Beach Haven due to leaving Len Brown behind. The Hobsonville wharf is quite nice, the waiting area is similar to above, albeit a bit larger. It is reached by a wonderful walkway which is lined with boards that talking about the areas natural and human history.

Hobsonville Wharf walkway

Hobsonville Wharf walkway

One thing I quite like is there is a bus stop just behind where I was standing meaning it is only a short transfer to the ferry.

One thing I quite like is there is a bus stop just behind where I was standing meaning it is only a short transfer to the ferry.

Hobsonville Ferry Wharf 4

Lots of people turned up for the opening

After the ribbon cutting it was time for more speeches which actually turned out to be interesting and a little bit insightful. First up we had Auckland Transports new chairman Lester Levy who gave a superb speech. He talked about the terminal but also how AT had to become better at customer service. He also covered off something I have been thinking about (and have mentioned in a few places), talking about how much of a change is happening to transport over the next few years. He is from a medical background and so used some medical examples, he said we weren’t just having a cosmetic peel that would make the skin look better for a while but that would eventually end up looking just the same, instead he said we were having major re-constructive surgery that will profoundly improve the quality of our lives. Some people may just think this is just talk but I have now met Lester a few times and I do think he is genuinely wants to improve transport in Auckland which is excellent and just what we need.

Next up was John Key who along with Len Brown opened the wharf. Perhaps the most interesting thing he talked about, and he mentioned this over at Beach Haven too, was how his son was starting at Auckland Uni this year. He mentioned about how there isn’t a heap of parking at the uni which makes it fairly expensive to park there. He said any student who drives in will soon become a very poor student due to those parking charges so it is important that options like PT still enable connectivity. It was good to hear him say this but I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just another take on the old attitude that PT is just for students, poor people or the elderly. Lets just hope that his son becomes enlightened on urban issues and is able to pass his thoughts on to his father.

John Key Speech

Bit hard to get a good photo due to the light sorry

Len Brown spoke next and most of the stuff he talked about is probably similar to stuff he has said before so I’m not really going cover it in this post. Last up we had Adrienne Young-Cooper who is the chair of the Hobsonville Land Company, the organisation doing the development of the area. Perhaps the key thing she talked about was about how they hoped the development would enable people to live with one less car. She talked about how the costs of owning a car can easily be more than $8,000 per year and how enabling people to have one car instead or two, or two instead of three is something that can really help improve affordability.  That is something this blog really supports and something I think is a key reason why we need to improve our PT system. Hopefully she is also pushing that same message to some of the other boards she is on as amongst others, she is currently also on the board of the NZTA.

All up it was a really good day and there was quite a large number of people that turned up from the local community. If we could get even a quarter of them using the services then it will be a pretty outstanding success.