Film distributors Madman Entertainment have kindly sent us four DVDs of the BBC documentary on the London Underground: The Underground:
Narrated by Julian Barrett of Mighty Boosh fame, each of the six episodes is an incredibly in-depth and unblinking look at what it takes to keep Four Million people moving under the streets of London everyday. Full of characters and extraordinary information from this unseen world.
Produced for the BBC, THE UNDERGROUND goes behind the scenes of the world’s oldest, biggest and busiest underground train network, during the biggest overhaul in its 150 year history.
The series follows key members of the Tube’s 19,000 staff – from the chief operating officer down to the litter pickers who walk miles of track every night collecting rubbish. Drivers, station staff and emergency response workers all reveal their unique perspective on the passengers. From tourists to suburban commuters to drunks getting the last train home, we capture the life of the Tube in all its guises.
To win a copy just add a comment to this post with the sentence or soundbite that you think should be used to promote Auckland’s own [but of course much smaller] version of underground; the CRL. We will choose the four best ones and send them each a copy. As well as seriously suggest to Auckland Transport that they use one of them!
As I discussed yesterday the debate on big urban issues of housing and transport far too frequently descends into left/right debates and today I’m looking at transport.
One of the reasons this has come up is that we’ve had some interesting conversations on Twitter in the last few days with a couple of Nationals MPs, which apart from highlighting a scary lack of understanding about transport, inevitably touched on the issue about whether the transport policy that we generally advocate on this blog fits into the traditional “left-right” political spectrum. Here’s what the fairly new National MP Paul Foster-Bell said on Twitter:
@sudhvir@WoodhouseMP never said it was partisan. But I do see an anti-roading pro-rail/cycle bias which suggests left worldview.
We have a fairly diverse range of bloggers on this site: a couple of economists, a transport planner, an urban designer, an architectural photographer, a planning student etc and of course myself who most recently working in banking and from our discussions I think we have some reasonably broad political viewpoints.
Furthermore, many of the key changes to transport and planning policy that we have advocated for strongest over the past few years hardly align with any traditional definition of a “left worldview”. Let’s take a look a few of our most common arguments:
Cut back or cancel some of the Roads of National Significance that do not provide value for money. This seems to me like basic fiscal conservatism – as some of the RoNS projects are simply a huge amount of money being spent on a problem that really doesn’t warrant such high investment. Puhoi-Wellsford could be replaced by Operation Lifesaver, Transmission Gully is just overkill for a city that’s hardly growing in population, the Kapiti Expressway has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.2, the Hamilton bypass will carry fewer vehicles in 20 years time than the Kopu bridge did when it was a single lane… and so on. This seems like cutting wasteful spending, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they want to do?
Built the Congestion Free Network instead of the Integrated Transport Programme. Ultimately the CFN proposal is at least $10 billion cheaper than the current transport programme for Auckland. It probably has a much higher chance of achieving the many targets that Auckland has set for its future transport outcomes than the ITP is able to meet (although that’s not hard as the ITP failed to achieve just about any of its targets). Similarly to above, this is achieved through chopping out an enormous amount of wasteful spending on unnecessary projects (both road and rail) – yet again, something that those on the right of the political spectrum say they support?
Built complete Streets. Democracy equality and choice are meant to be good things aren’t they? Most of our roads focus solely on the task of moving as many vehicles as possible and give scant regard for anyone not in a car. Building complete streets that treat each user equally and allow people to have a real choice in how they get around is the ultimate form of transport democracy.
Improve walkability. We’ve seen both locally and internationally that when there is a focus on improving the walkability and the pedestrian environment (that includes wheeled pedestrians) a couple of significant things happen. One is that people shop more boosting local retail, perhaps the best example of this is the upgrade of Fort St to a shared space which has seen the hospitality retailers revenue increase by a staggering 400%. The second thing is that people walking (and cycling) more is good for them, improving health and therefore reducing long term costs to the health system. This is further enhanced as often these improvements also see a reduction in traffic crashes. So once again we see a case where we can lower costs while also increasing revenue and therefore tax at the same time.
Get rid of Minimum Parking Requirements. This key proposal is to get rid of a current regulation that causes more harm than good, that adds significant cost onto developers (thereby discouraging development and growth) and often just adds regulatory churn cost for no gain (as it seems most applications for parking waivers appear to be granted). I would have thought this aligns quite well with a “right of centre” political ideology where reducing regulation (especially regulation that harms economic activity and growth) is a very very good thing.
Relax Planning Rules to give people more Housing Choice. This was covered yesterday but worth repeating again. Most planning rules limit development potential in existing urban areas: whether that’s through height limits, yard setbacks, density controls, parking requirements, minimum unit sizes or whatever. Through the Unitary Plan process we have advocated for (and will continue to do so) the relaxation of planning controls – particularly in areas where it makes good sense to allow high density developments to make best use of existing infrastructure. Similarly to parking controls, this is a relaxation of current regulation that significantly limits development potential and the prospects of economic growth through making better use of inner parts of the city. The relaxation/elimination of economically damaging regulation should be music to a right-wingers ears you’d think.
There are probably many more examples than above, but they give a good overview of why transport policy (and land-use policy) really doesn’t fit well into a traditional “left-right” ideological spectrum. We could easily point out how bizarre it is that our current supposedly centre-right government has significantly increased petrol taxes to spend on a series of very dubious mega-projects in the form of the RoNS. That seems rather more “tax and spend” than fiscal conservatism.
Furthermore, if you look internationally there are many examples of centre-right political parties taking public transport seriously. In Britain, the current Conservative government is making a big contribution to the £15.9 billion Crossrail project in London and is also likely to spend even more money on the High Speed 2 rail project. That government seems to understand the economic importance of having good rail infrastructure. For example, Crossrail massively increases the residential catchment of the Canary Wharf employment area – somewhat similar to how the CRL vastly increases the residential catchment of the city centre. London Mayor Boris Johnson is a big champion of not only Crossrail but also getting more people to ride a bike and is planning to invest huge amounts of money in cycle infrastructure. In Australia, the centre-right New South Wales government is championing and making a massive funding contribution to the North West Rail Link project. Even in Auckland we have business groups who politically are considered “right of centre” supporting projects like the City Rail Link and improved cycling infrastructure.
It’s interesting to try to understand this political divide through other lenses than a traditional “left-right” spectrum. Pro-urban and suburban/anti-urban is perhaps a better lens in my opinion – particularly because it seems to explain better why some right-wing parties (like the Republicans in the USA, the current Liberal Government in Australia and the National government here in NZ) appear to be sceptical at best about public transport, while others (e.g. NSW government and UK government) seem to really understand the importance of public transport.
Perhaps this “pro-urban” and “suburban/anti-urban” divide even exists within the current National Party. It was interesting that John Key (an Aucklander who has lived in big overseas cities for much of his life) was the person who changed the government’s position on City Rail Link while Steven Joyce (grew up in New Plymouth and now lives on a lifestyle block in Auckland) and Gerry Brownlee (from Christchurch) were apparently the biggest opponents of that change. Or how we get current Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse saying this on auto-dependency:
On this day in 1863, that’s 150 years ago, the first section of the London underground opened in the form of the Metropolitian line between Paddington Station and Farrington. The reason the the line was built in the first place is that there were a series of main lines that terminated at what was then the edge of the city and a combination of property prices and local laws prevented them from being linked up on the surface. Going under the road corridors was a way around this problem and the first tunnels were built using cut and cover methods. Over the 150 years since that time, new lines and extensions have turned the system into what exists today along the way becoming one of the most famous systems in the world.
Crucially thought those original tunnels are still in use today which is not only impressive but also shows how long the benefit of this type of infrastructure lasts. It probably provides a hell of a lot more economic benefit to the city now than it did even 30 year after it was built. This is especially important as we debate projects like the CRL as it will have a very very long lasting impact on the city yet the current assessment guidelines only look it giving benefits over a 30 year period.
The issue of road pricing comes up quite frequently in the comments on this blog and it’s certainly not something we’ve shied away from in the past – though I find myself a bit frustrated by how polarised arguments over road pricing become:
Its advocates think it’ll solve all transport issues, tend to ignore its potential negative side effects and think we should do it tomorrow if only the politicians had some guts.
Its detractors think it’s the worst thing ever, will price the poor off the road and forces us to pay for roads we’ve already paid for.
Both sides miss the point I think. Let’s start with the arguments in favour of road pricing, which are nicely summarised in this TEDx video from Jonas Eliasson:
I like the points made around how a relatively small change in the number of vehicles along a certain route can make a big difference to its level of congestion and how often we just need to accept that an issue (like transport) is really really complicated and instead of coming up with a grand plan to “solve it” we should rely upon little incentives and nudges that can lead to better outcomes. It’s also very clear that road pricing is very effective at reducing congestion.
What I always find interesting though in road pricing debates is to look at the cities where schemes have been successfully implement, and to think about their existing public transport (especially rail) systems at the time of implementation. Let’s take Stockholm for example, which has the excellent Tunnelbana system:
Or the London Underground, providing a part of the PT system that enables around 95% of people entering the “congestion charging zone” to not actually have to pay for it because they’re not driving.
The situation in Singapore is similar as well, with excellent public transport alternatives to driving available throughout the city-state.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that cities which have successfully implemented road pricing schemes also have superb underground rail systems, but I tend to think that’s not the case. I don’t know whether it’s because the population looks more kindly on road pricing schemes when they know there are high quality alternatives, or whether it’s because those adversely affected are a pretty tiny minority or whether the presence of the underground rail system meant – in more of a technical than political sense – the alternatives exist to enable the scheme to be implemented in a way that doesn’t generate a lot of negative consequences.
Because of this, I do tend to think that the chances, or even the merits, of introducing a road pricing scheme to Auckland before the CRL is in place, is a risky business. Particularly a scheme which created some sort of cordon around the city centre like what’s been done in London and Stockholm. So perhaps overall my feeling is that road pricing is a good idea, once we’ve got the good alternatives in place.
In an upcoming issue of Urban Studies, researchers Zhan Guo and Shuai Ren of the Rudin Centre for Transport Policy and Management at NYU consider two core questions when it comes to London’s reform. First, does the parking minimum truly create more parking than people want? Second, is a parking maximum necessary to promote sustainable transport, or will the market alone take care of it?
On the first question, Guo and Ren returned a pretty definitive yes. They examined parking supply at 216 residential developments in London approved from 1997 to 2000, when the parking minimum was in effect, and then roughly 8,250 developments approved from 2004 to 2010, after the minimum was removed and the maximum imposed. Before parking reform, developers created 94 percent of the required minimum; after it, they created just 52 percent of the old minimum.
In other words, parking reform reduced the parking supply roughly 42 percent, the researchers report. Additionally, about two-thirds of developers provided a supply below the old minimum — further evidence that the minimum encouraged the construction of excessive parking spaces. Guo and Ren conclude that 98 percent of the reduced parking supply came from removing the parking minimum.
While London is certainly a different world to Auckland when it comes to urban form and transport, what the study really highlighted was how interested developers were in cutting the number of parking spaces they provided, once they had the opportunity. Furthermore, the removal of minimums seems to have been much more important than the application of maximum parking requirements – I guess because the market wanted to provide the lower number already. The Atlantic Cities article also pontificates whether the maximum rates were a bit too generous.
What’s perhaps a bit more surprising is the second finding of the study, which looked in more detail at where the removal of minimum parking requirements had resulted in the biggest changes to the level of parking provision:
Onto question number two: the effectiveness of the new maximums. Since the purpose of London’s parking reform was to promote alternative transportation, the researchers looked at how parking supply fluctuated in areas with high density and transit access after 2004. What they found is that that the actual parking supplied was higher in Central London, where density and access are greatest, compared to adjacent outer areas.
Guo and Ren call this finding “unexpected.” They suspect that local authorities may want to keep a high maximum (and therefore allow more spaces) to avoid a parking spillover onto already crowded streets in Central London. Another explanation is that the market simply wants more spaces there: people who can afford to live downtown are willing to pay a premium for parking.
What the second finding highlights to me is that perhaps the removal of minimum parking requirements will have benefits in the places we don’t quite expect (lower density places with less access to public transport), potentially (and this time it’s me pontificating a bit) in places where the provision of affordable housing is assisted by the removal of minimums. This reinforces that ultimately we should get rid of minimums everywhere, because it really does make a positive difference.
In transport planning there’s a lot of talk about ‘cost-benefit analyses’, leading to a “BCR” (benefit cost ratio) for a particular project. Projects with a BCR of greater than 1.0 deliver more benefits than the money expended upon them (and any disbenefits the project generates) and are therefore worth considering spending money upon. In terms of transport projects, the BCR is used to measure a project’s “efficiency” – which together with an analysis of “strategic fit” and “effectiveness” determines whether that project should happen or not. BCRs of between 1 and 2 get a “low” ranking, 2-4 for a “medium” and above 4 for a “high”.
To calculate a benefit-cost ratio there are obviously two things you need to know – one is fairly easy, being the costs. The other, the benefits, is much more complex. Economic theory says that the best cost-benefit analyses capture as many costs and benefits relating to an intervention as possible, but when it comes to transport matters things are a bit narrower.
The “Economic Evaluation Manual” – an incredibly long and complex document, is used for this process. The EEM outlines which benefits are relevant for measurement and how one goes about measuring them. The main benefits are typically the following:
Travel time savings
Vehicle operating cost reductions
Travel reliability benefits
For public transport projects, benefits are split into those enjoyed by the PT users themselves and those enjoyed by other people as a result of a PT improvement (people changing mode from driving will mean everyone else can drive a little bit faster). In recent times a lot of thinking has gone into analysing “wider economic benefits” of transport projects – with “agglomeration benefits” (being the benefit arising from economic activity being more closely located) now able to be included in the EEM calculation of any project’s benefit. Agglomeration benefits are usually calculated as a proportion of the travel time savings benefits, with that portion dependent on the type of project being considered.
While a fairly wide range of benefits are outlined above, in the calculation process they are certainly not all considered equally. For most projects, the vast majority of benefit arises in the form of travel time savings – an extrapolation of the old saying “time in money”. A transport project that makes it quicker to get from A to B is said to generate a dollar benefit. This benefit varies depending on whether the trip is for business, commuting or “other” purposes. Add up all the minutes saved, multiply by the dollar amount and you have a project justified.
The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it does not properly capture many other benefits and costs. Widening a road to shift traffic faster not only comes at the cost of construction, but also at the cost of a street that’s now probably less friendly for pedestrians and cyclists and has less general amenity. This amenity loss is likely to only show up in analysis of the impact of a project on property values, but that’s not something able to be captured in the evaluation process.
Similarly, a project which slows traffic down to improve things for pedestrians, cyclists and to boost the attractiveness of an area will come out of this process with a negative BCR (not just below 1, but actually below zero) because it slows vehicles down – even if it generates a whole pile of other benefits. This is why NZTA makes no contribution to footpaths, why it is so often extremely difficult to get additional traffic signals put in place for pedestrians and why we end up with horrible roads like Mayoral Drive, Hobson and Nelson streets: because vehicle speed is valued above everything else.
Creating this road would have had a fantastic BCR, but was it worth it?
Let us think for a minute what the real benefits of something like the London Underground of New York Subway really are. It’s not in the reduction of congestion: the roads are still full of traffic. It’s not in making traffic go faster: as I said, the roads are still full of traffic. But rather, the real benefit of both projects is that they have enabled each city to grow far bigger and far more prosperous than would have ever been possible without that infrastructure being in place. These underground rail systems enable a simply huge number of people to travel around the cities without destroying the fabric and attractiveness of those cities and without requiring utterly incomprehensibly large amount of space for parking.
These are a different kind of transport benefit from what we’ve measured in the past, and really get to the crux of transport being a “means to an ends” rather than an ends in and of itself. While roading projects could very well be measured in the same way, for some reason they’re not – perhaps because they’d perform rather badly in comparison (they require such a huge amount of space for the benefit they bring).
The crux of this issue is that when the government says that various public transport projects don’t “stack up”, it’s largely because they are being assessed against a system that is flawed and misses out so many of the most significant benefits that something like the City Rail Link would bring. Where’s the assessment of the benefit provided by Auckland’s city centre being able to double in employment count? Where’s the assessment of the benefit from not needing to waste so much space on tens of thousands of carparks? Where’s the assessment of the benefit to property values – not just in the city centre, but also along all the rail corridors?
After a link to this series of videos was posted on the CBT forums, I’ve spent much of the last few days enjoying this detailed insight into the operation and improvements being made to the London Underground. The series is from 2012, so right up to date too:
On Tuesday night Patrick, myself and a number of readers attended the Auckland Conversations event about transport. The guest speaker was Daniel Moylan who was the deputy chair of Transport for London (TfL) and he was talking about how effective transport has transformed London, he was a great speaker and it was a really interesting talk. It was also pleasing that many of the things that he said that are needed for a good PT system are the same things we talk about on here about frequently and are also things that we know AT want to implement as well. One thing that I think is important to remember is that Daniel is a conservative which reinforces to me my belief that good transport solutions should cross the political divide, I would love for the debate in NZ to move above the petty levels it seems stuck at.
Click on the images to bring up the videos (sorry they can’t be embedded). Video 1 is 41 minutes long and is his talk and Video 2 is 30 minutes and the part where he answers questions. Also some comments from a few readers that also attended are in the link above.
Following on from yesterday’s post about possible future projects that would make up Auckland’s rail network, in this post I’m going to put them all together to give us an idea about what infrastructure there would/could be. I’m then going to start looking, only conceptually for now, at the kind of service patterns we could run on this future network. As always, I don’t know the answer, I don’t have a perfect future network laid out in my mind – I’m just trying to stimulate discussion, debate and perhaps at the end of it all have some kind of future network that is generally agreed upon as the way forward. Of course that’s probably quite unrealistic to expect agreement, but one can always hope!
In the comments thread of yesterday’s post there seemed to be general agreement that the series of projects I had come up with was a pretty comprehensive list. There was a fair discussion about whether some would be built as busways or rail – both making up rapid transit, and this is a fair point as we have not yet even built either the AMETI Busway or the Northwest Busway, so it seems vastly premature to be thinking of the day when those busways may need upgrading to rail! Putting together projects listed in the Auckland Plan and you end up with rail infrastructure shown in black and busway infrastructure shown in blue (I’ve taken a few minor liberties):
The above map, of course, creates more questions than answers – how to connect the southeast leg of the Airport Line with the Southern Line? How to get North Shore trains through the city centre? What to do to service Takapuna? How do you get the Avondale-Southdown Line to link up with the Southern Line? How many connecting options do you provide at Onehunga? So, a whole pile of questions around those connection points – something that I may need to work through one by one in future posts: A particularly interesting question is if you ever did upgrade the Northwest Busway to rail, would you want to somehow join it with the Western Line by way of a (probably tunnelled) connection around St Lukes Road? Or do you run a fairly close parallel route to the north of the Western Line?
Now if we shift onto looking at how we might use this infrastructure to provide a really top quality rail network, I think a good place to start is by looking overseas. There are plenty of possibilities: run a whole pile of circular routes, run many different point to point routes, run a pile of branches that come together in the central area then branch out on the other side of the city, and so on. The Outer Link discussion makes me think that loop routes are perhaps to be avoided for operational purposes, so let’s leave aside the whole pile of circular options for now. The next step is to look at how this is done internationally with the kind of commuter/metro hybrid system that Auckland’s rail network is.
RER A & B in Paris: The BART System in San Francisco:
One thing common to all these maps, all these lines and all these systems, is the way in which you have effectively one main line which splits out at each end, running through the centre city. Even many lines in Metro systems do this – the Piccadilly and District Lines in London, many of the routing groups on the New York subway, even the often discussed Canada Line in the Vancouver Skytrain system splits at its southern end. The reason behind this approach seems fairly obvious – demand is always likely to be highest in the inner parts of the system so you want to have high frequencies there, which you can achieve by effectively bringing together a pile of branches to offer that frequency. In the more outer areas you typically want your service to reach a lot of places, but those places are less likely to provide sufficient demand to justify the kind of frequencies available on the inner part of the network.
We already see this approach a bit in Auckland, although more in terms of where the trains begin/end their run rather than through branching. Western Line trains begin/end their run at Henderson, Swanson or Waitakere – because there’s less need further out to offer such a high frequency of service.
In the longer term, I can’t see Auckland being able to cope with the BART-like system, which is basically just a single line with a splits at each end. It seems like we’re likely to need/want a general ‘north-south’ line and a general ‘east-west’ one. Previously a lot of options proposed on this blog have looked at west-south and east-Onehunga/Airport routings, but those typically seem to work best only without the North Shore being thrown into the mix. Here’s a possible north-south route grouping: Within this grouping there’s obviously a couple of service patterns. To ensure that neither are too long, I’d say the obvious two services are Papakura/Pukekohe to Takapuna and Albany to the Airport, with both services overlapping between Penrose and Akoranga on the core part of the north-south network. How this gets through the city centre is, of course, a very interesting question – something to come back to in a future post I would think.
East-West route groupings are a little more complicated, especially if we want to include a SH16 Northwest route linking into the Western Line. Heading east we obviously have the existing eastern line and then a southeast line (if it doesn’t stay as a busway in the longer term). This creates the following ‘east-west’ network: To ensure the system is not too “CBD focused” there are a couple of obvious “cross-town” routes that join together key metropolitan centres – with the northwest one probably being a busway: In my next post I’ll look at putting all of this together into some kind of future service plan – as well as a progression plan towards the final plan.
The Department of Transport published last January, with no publicity, its latest National Road Traffic Forecasts. This is an output of the National Transport Model. Although traffic levels have levelled off in recent years, the projection is for a 44% increase by 2035, even though population growth is assumed to be only 18%.
Car traffic in London is projected to grow by 36% by 2035, even though the number of car trips (driver and passenger) has held constant at about 10m a day since 1993, according to data from Transport for London. This finding suggests that road capacity is limiting car use, taking account of the impact of parking restrictions, bus lanes, traffic signals and the congestion charging zone. So it is hard to see how the DfT projected traffic growth could be fitted in.
My view is that DfT, having built a national transport model at considerable effort, are reluctant to question the behavioural assumptions underlying the inputs and the face validity of the outputs. Doubtless it suites the Department to project substantial traffic growth when bidding for funding from the Treasury.
The last sentence is critical. I’m yet to work out whether this whole denial of stalled traffic volumes in both the UK and New Zealand is simply institutional inertia or whether it’s something far more sinister.