Missed News Roundup – March-17

Every week we receive numerous press releases related to transport and we only tend to comment on a few of them. Here are a couple that piqued our interest but not quite enough for a full post of their own.

Parnell Station opens

While the first services started using the station on Sunday, Monday saw the official opening of the new Parnell Station. Currently only the Southern Line stops there regularly with the Western Line only stopping in the evenings and on weekends. We’ve talked a lot about the station in previous posts so don’t need to re-litigate that here. As it stands the station is bare bones and AT even warns that it’s not recommended for mobility impaired passengers.

Photo by Alex Burgess from https://www.nzrailphotos.co.nz

The station currently has platforms, shelters, ticket and AT HOP card readers and an underpass to link the platforms.

When stage one is complete later this year the station will be equipped with electronic gates, CCTV, improved access, mobility parking, and upgraded connections to Cheshire St and to Nicholls Lane.

Refurbishment of the exterior of the heritage former Newmarket Station building will also be completed by KiwiRail.

When the station is complete and receiving full services up to 2,000 passengers a day are expected to get off the train every morning and head to the universities.

I’m personally a little skeptical that the station would see 2,000 people in the morning peak any time soon.

New Ferry for Devonport

Fullers have leased another ferry to support the Devonport Service

As tourism figures continue to rise in Auckland, so do passenger numbers on popular ferry routes. Fullers is introducing a new vessel, Capricornian Surfer (Cap Surfer), dedicated to Devonport. A unique destination, the charming seaside village of Devonport is a bustling visitor hub, but also services more than 1,000 commuters who rely on Fullers ferries daily.

Cap Surfer will begin service in the next couple weeks, complementing Kea. Since 1988, Kea has been the favourite vessel of the route with efficient boarding through side doors. Similar to Kea, Cap Surfer has side-door loading and four engines, allowing it to manoeuvre in the same way when docking. This will help keep the Devonport service running to schedule.

“We acknowledge some service interruptions on the Devonport run this summer, and want to let our passengers to know that we’re listening. We’ve leased Cap Surfer from Australia specifically for Devonport, freeing up other vessels not always suited to the Devonport route,” said Fullers Chief Executive Douglas Hudson.

Cap Surfer’s modern amenities:

The $6 million vessel is capable of carrying up to 380 passengers. It’s currently being fitted with a new café and bike racks, after 40 additional seats were installed on the back deck. Cap Surfer is spacious and comfortable, with big windows and air conditioning. The 35-metre EnviroCat uses less fuel per passenger than a small four-cylinder car. Its systems are computerised and fully integrated.

Crew training is currently underway, being led by Cap Surfer’s Australian crew while she was servicing the Gladstone to Curtis Island run in Queensland.

Designed to navigate shallow waters, Cap Surfer will also be able to service Half Moon Bay on low tides.

What’s next for Kea?:

As Kea closes in on 30 years of service, Fullers is investigating options for her future – while keeping a pulse on rapidly evolving technology, including electric ferries.

“By leasing a modern ferry for two years, we’re able to evaluate alternative propulsion technology and its suitability for Kea’s eventual replacement. Though Kea is a highly reliable vessel, we need to be looking ahead. Retirement isn’t imminent, but when the time comes, we’ll have a well informed decision on what technology to include in a vessel purpose-built for Devonport,” said Hudson.

 

AT saving water

Bus and Train stations might be a little dirtier than usual for the next few weeks

Auckland Transport to limit water blasting

Auckland Transport is doing its bit to help conserve water.

Following silt infiltration of dams in the region, Watercare Services is calling on Aucklanders to reduce water usage by 20 litres per person, per day until the end of March.

In response Auckland Transport has asked its maintenance contractors to limit water use and to carry out water blasting only if it is absolutely necessary.

“We have scheduled cleaning for facilities such as bus shelters, train stations and platforms but we’ve asked that water blasting only occur for hygiene reasons for the next few weeks,” says Tony McCartney, Group Manager Assets and Maintenance.

“We expect that this could save thousands of litres a week. As a result, some facilities may be a little grubby but this is for the greater good of all Aucklanders,”  Mr McCartney says.

Herald agrees on Wellsford Motorway

While not strictly a press release, this seems worthy of inclusion. An editorial by the Herald appears to agree with much of the criticism we have regarding the proposed Warkworth to Wellsford motorway route that was announced recently, they sum up with this:

It appears the cabinet is determined to proceed, regardless of evidence which ought it give it reason to pause. Transport Minister Simon Bridges responded to calls to scrap the project by arguing that the four-lane highway was a “game changer” , economically and socially.

He pointed out the road, which could shave seven minutes off the journey between Wellsford and Warkworth, was incredibly popular in Northland.

Roads, in particular links which could cost as much as $2b, should not be constructed on the basis of popularity. That is not a reassuring sign for completing the project, in time and within budget.

New Ferries on the way

Some good news for Ferry users with a number of improvements on the way.

New Waiheke Ferries

Fullers are spending $16 million to build two new 360 seat vessels for use on the run to Waiheke. The design will be based on the Te Kotuku which launched just over a year ago and incorporate modifications based on staff and passenger feedback. Combined Fullers say that the three vessels provide standardised and therefore a more consistent level of service. The two new vessels will replace the Jet Raider which is used as a backup and eventually the Quickcat.

Te Kotuku

Like the Te Kotuku the two new vessels will be built at the Q-West boat builders in Wanganui and are expected to launch in October 2016 and April 2017.

I’m guessing these new vessels are in part to the competition being put on Fullers from Explore Ferries which started running services to Waiheke last year.

More Services to Beachlands

Sealink which operates the ferries to Pine Harbour are currently building a new vessel also at Q-West called the Clipper V – it appears to be an almost identical design to the Clipper IV which is already used on this route.

Clipper IV

AT want to use its introduction to increase the number of services to and from the city. They’ve published a proposed new timetable and are seeking feedback from users on itFrom what I can see the key changes include a shift to 20 minute frequency services in the morning and afternoon peak from what is mostly 30 minute services. There are also some new evening services on Friday and Saturday nights. Increasing the frequency, capacity and span of service can only be a good thing for patronage and ferry patronage has been growing well recently with annual figures up over 10% on this time last year. Below is a sample of the proposed timetable which they currently anticipate will be implemented in January.

Proposed Pine Harbour Timetable for Jan 16

AT are also looking at how to better connect buses through Beachlands and Maraetai and they are also seeking initial feedback on that with a second consultation happening at a later stage.

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