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Reflections on Constellation Station

I’ve been a user of the busway on and off since it opened, and recently I’ve been passing through Constellation station on a daily basis. This post is just a collection of my thoughts on how the station stacks up in my mind, particularly with regard to access to and from the station itself. I’d like to know what other people think.

Constellation

Pedestrian access: What pedestrian access? Well there is some, admittedly. If you walk across the bus access roads, and down through the Park and Ride lot you eventually get to a footpath where you can make a ninety degree turn next to a retaining wall and gradually make your way to Constellation Drive. So it’s there, but not necessarily legible or at all easy to find out where to go. Clearly people walking any further than the carpark were the last thing on the designers’ minds, despite the fact it is actually pretty close to a fair number of houses and jobs.

Pick up and drop off: Every time I get off at Constellation, which is just about every day, I see more people waiting to get picked up than those who walk down to cars in the parking lot. I’d love to see a proper survey, but from my observation far more people get dropped off and collected than use the Park and Ride.

The whole pick up / drop off access is something greatly missing in the station design. There are a handful of parking spots with five minute time limits for “Kiss and Ride”, but to get near them you have to stand in the middle of the carpark to get near them. Every day I see a dozen or so people milling around on an exposed section of kerbside footpath waiting where they can be seen by their drivers coming in to the carpark to collect them. In the wind and rain there is little to do but stand in the elements with an umbrella or coat. There is a series of canopies that provide a sheltered path from the station down into the parking lot , yet crucially there is nothing at the point where the Kiss and Ride access is. No shelter, let alone a bench or anything else to make life easy. I think that is a big design flaw and something that needs to be addressed.

A further issue is the route drivers must take in and out of the station to pick someone up, in through the same cattle run lanes as Park n Riders, and out via a circuitous tour of the carpark itself. Quite frankly it seems that such movements were simply not considered in the design. Nevertheless there are two bus only roads accessing the station from which you can’t get to the carpark, and vice versa. These come together just between the station and the carpark which I would say is the perfect place to have pick up and drop of bays, it would just be a case of allowing drivers to use those two bus only roads. Given that you can’t actually get anywhere else on those bus roads there is little chance of them becoming congested or cars getting in the way of buses, so why not open them up for non-parkers? There is even room to add some shelters for people waiting.

Park and Ride: This is full before 8am, which suggests that it needs to be priced to manage access and use. On the surface that sounds a little draconian, why slug bus users to park at the station, aren’t we trying to encourage people onto the busway? Well yes and no. For a start we don’t know how many people would otherwise just catch a connector bus, something that is fairly easy (at peak times at least) now Hop is in place. Is free parking at Constellation station just a subsidy to some drivers? Does it just encourage more driving? I’ve seen surveys that show that most parkers at Constellation are simply coming from nearby suburbs like Unsworth and Mairangi Bay, places that have good bus feeders already. The sorts of residents who really need Park and Ride, say those who live out the back of Albany of Schnapper Rock that are never going to get good bus connections, are a small minority. How do we prioritise these people over those who live in nearby suburbs with good bus links? Well the simplest way I can see is pricing. Set the price a bit too high to be good value compared to catching a quick feeder bus from nearby suburbs, but still low enough that it is better value that driving the whole way if you are commuting from Paremoremo or Kaukapakapa.

Another issue is that a full parking lot is one that nobody else can use, which is a stickler if you’ve got an urgent meeting or last minute appointment. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would be willing to pay quite a bit to park there, if there were some still available during the day.

It is obviously designed for boom gates to be added, so let’s do it already. For fairness we should charge at least the same as a single stage bus trip to the station to park at the station, or really just charge it as high as you can until it hits about 95% utilised. That way the people who really need to Park and Ride can do so when they need to, and for everyone else that last minute convenience is available… at a fair price.

There have recently been some ludicrous suggestions that 70% of busway users are park n riders. But if you use the station yourself you’ll quickly realise that is a physical impossibility given the numbers of people moving through. There are about 1,500 parking spaces on the Busway, all gone before the morning peak really kicks off. All day there are some 7,000 trips a day on the Northern Express alone and about 20,000 across the whole busway system. So you do the math on that one. I don’t know how anyone could calculate that actually, perhaps they surveyed people arriving at the station entrance from the carpark during one peak hour, and divided that by the patronage of just the Northern Express? Who knows?

Taxis: A simple question, why are there not taxis lined up at Constellation Station, particularly later in the evening? The NEX runs till about three in the morning on weekends but all it does is drop you at a station in the middle of nowhere. There would be plenty of folks who would be happy to spend ten bucks to get dropped home from the station by taxi, it would make a good alternative to the $60 or $70 taxi all the way from town to the East Coast Bays (or stumbling down back streets for an hour, which is my usual tactic). Taxis could meet each arrival of the NEX and shuttle people a few minutes home and be back to meet the next. They might do three or four runs an hour. That has to be more profitable than taxis waiting around for hours to get a single fare out of town, then dead running all the way back in.

The funny thing is that North Harbour Taxis have their depot a few hundred metres away just off Constellation Drive. Why not base some of their drivers at the station carpark instead? How about it AT, wouldn’t take much more than a phone call and a chat to set it up.

Bus connectivity: For the most part the busway currently runs like our train lines. Some buses come near the station, but basically you have to get yourself to or from the station some other way to connect the ‘mainline’ service. Despite always having an excellent paper integrated ticketing product and now with Hop fully rolled out, the network design just didn’t allow it to happen particularly easily. The main feeder route to Constellation is the 880, a two way loop that runs direct to Mairangi Bay, Rothesay Bay and Browns Bay on one side, and over to Unsworth and Rosedale on the other. The route is about as direct as possible between these suburbs and the station. It’s perfect, except for the fact it comes once every half hour at best, and hourly off peak and all weekend.

The very worst thing however is that it runs half hourly on weekday evenings, I’m frequently not back at the station by 7pm and if you miss that bus there is a thirty minute wait until the next with no other options for getting to the East Coast Bays. How many commuters could rely on such a service to get home? What good is the busway rapid transit running every five or ten minutes at that time, if you might have to wait 29 minutes to leave the station? Because of that, people are mostly stuck either taking a direct express bus, or driving or walking to the station.

My guess is that the focus on Park and Ride has meant that connecting buses were not a priority. Perhaps if we cared less about storing cars and more about moving people, they could have run the collector loops twice as frequently? Fifteen minute feeders would work wonders.

Personally I prefer to take the 86X express through the station from downtown straight to my neighbourhood, and most evenings more people get on at Constellation than get off. Yes, people get on an outbound afternoon express in the suburbs to head further out. This is actually a good sign for the value of Hop and the likely success of the New Network. Not long ago I would catch the 86X from Constellation outbound in the afternoons, and the driver and other passengers would look at me like I was insane. These days there are usually half a dozen other people doing the same (normal people too, not just transit nerds whose idea of fun is making funny connections).

Given the lack of frequency on the 880 feeder route it seems some folks have learned that they 86X follows the same route, so you can simply wait at the one stop and take whichever arrives first. A beautiful efficiency of hop. Bring on the New Network where every single route works this way.

This leads me to one other gripe. Of all the reviews of patronage and how people use the busway, they all seem to exclude all the patrons that arrive and depart on the same direct bus. They appear to count Park n Ride, Kiss n Ride and walk up (but how well?), and the few passengers transferring from a true feeder service to the NEX. But they seem to ignore all the patronage on through buses when assessing the relative use of the station. That’s a problem, because it overstates the proportion of Park n Ride users to total passenger numbers, and greatly downplays the value of connector buses.  If you simply ignore most of the passengers that catch the bus to Constellation because they happen to leave on the same bus again, then you have a very poor picture of how willing people are to catch a bus to the station.

So in summary all of these points indicate a clear picture: people are absolutely drawn to the frequent, fast and reliable service of the Northern Express on the busway. However, there is currently a big lack of effective connecting and feeding services. Now I’m not too concerned here because the New Network will change all of that and make the busway a leading example of how to do it right. Nonetheless, a little attention to walking, cycling, kiss and ride and taxi access would be a good thing. It looks like the gold plated the stations in terms of their amenity for waiting passengers and park and riders, but overlooked some pretty fundamental aspects of station accessibility. It wouldn’t take too much to fix that.

Northern Express free this weekend

Auckland Transport are running a free weekend for Northern Express services this weekend.

NEX Free Weekend

An excellent initiative by AT. I hope it’s something that becomes a regular feature along with other parts of the PT network (oh and I like the graphic too, shame the footer floated over part of it).

Bike the bridge this Sunday

I remember this from the past but didn’t realise it was on again so if you want to ride over the harbour bridge then here’s your chance. Of course at some point in the future Skypath will allow people to cross the harbour by bike every day of the year. In addition to cycling over the bridge you also get to cycle up the northern busway.

 

The 2013 edition of MS Bike The Bridge promises to be bigger and better than its predecessor. But entry is strictly limited. We have a maximum number of participants allowed to cycle over the Harbour Bridge. Once that number is reached the event is closed. The Auckland Marathon (that enjoys more than twice our limit) sold out within 3 weeks – so you must get in early to avoid disappointment! Enter Now and secure your place.

There is no excuse not to get into it! This year MS Bike The Bridge offers the following event options. These events all include the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge and Northern Busway.

- 115km
- 50km
- Harcourts Cooper & Co. 20km

Each of these distance options above include a division for Secondary School pupils. See our Event Information for more Details.

In keeping with the community ethos of MS Bike the Bridge our new finish line at North Harbour Stadium enables us to keep your whole family engaged and entertained with specific event options for Primary School kids, pre-schoolers and those who like to do their cycling a little on the edge!

Northern Busway Success

While searching for some images for a previous post, I happened to come across this cartoon from February 2008.

“And to think we should’ve won a Halberg racing that lot into town…” ‘New Northern Busway.’ 20 February 2008.. Emmerson, Rod, 1955- :[Digital cartoons published 3 July 2005 onwards in the New Zealand Herald.]. Ref: DCDL-0008859. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22501147

I doubt there are many today who would still suggest that the busway is a white elephant but the description of it as one back in 2008 doesn’t surprise me considering other major public transport infrastructure – like Britomart – also get similar labels but often turns out to be an outstanding successes.

With the hindsight knowledge that the busway has been extremely successful I wanted to see what caused the cartoon to be created and it was in response to this article in which herald staff compared a car trip to a bus trip on the first day of operation on a route that hardly even used the busway.

Auckland bus commuters soundly beaten to work by a Herald car on the Northern Busway’s first big morning can at least congratulate themselves on doing the right thing by the planet.

The car’s coverage of 15.8km from Campbells Bay in 37 minutes compared with a tortuous 52-minute trip suffered by a colleague in a crowded bus that turned up 10 minutes late.

This did not show the busway in a good light, even though only 2km of the bus route coincided with the new $300 million transit spine.

The 6.2km two-lane highway reserved just for buses fared somewhat better for a hybrid trip by a third Herald journalist, who used its full length while covering a more indirect route of 18.6km in 41 minutes.

That included a 4.7km leg by car to the Constellation Drive bus station, from where he caught a bus that did 13.9km in just 24 minutes down the uncluttered busway and across the harbour bridge.

Now I’m pretty sure the driver from Campbells Bay would have been none other than John Roughan who has long bemoaned public transport even as recently as May this year suggesting that intensifying the city around public transport nodes is swimming against the tide because everyone wants to live on a beach-front property and drive everywhere. Back in 2007 before the busway opened he also suggested that the Northern Busway was unlikely to work but in the end was only good because it was a road and that meant it could be changed to allow cars to use it too (because if there’s one thing he hates more than PT it’s rail based PT).

Interestingly in many of the articles and editorials I found the busway was often referred to as a bit of an experiment, perhaps the writers had little faith in the general public’s desire for real choice. While it is often mentioned how successful the busway has been, sometimes it’s hard to understand just how well it is performing.

While searching I also found this parliamentary question from the month the busway opened which helps give an indication of that success.

1239 (2008). Dr Jonathan Coleman to the Minister of Transport (27 Feb 2008): What is the predicted volume of passengers on the North Shore Busway each year for the next five years?
Hon Annette King (Minister of Transport) replied: Land Transport New Zealand advises me that the Auckland Passenger Transport Model is based on a forecast 2016 patronage growth horizon. North Shore Busway passenger numbers are expected to grow by an average of 9.89% per annum. Predicted passenger volumes for the next five years are therefore as follows: 07/08 = 832,000 08/09 = 914,280 09/10 = 1,004,708 10/11 = 1,104,073 11/12 = 1,213,266

When we put compare those figures to the ones from Auckland Transport the difference is striking – and even more so when you realise that the AT numbers are only for the Northern Express which is estimated to account for less than 50% of all patronage along the busway.

Busway Patronage vs projections

And as a graph.

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

While the Northern Motorway is still busy, where the busway has had a massive impact has been in making bus trips much faster and more attractive. As a result more people are heading from the North Shore to the CBD in the morning peak by bus than by car - the number is 41% when comparing the percentage of all trips across the bridge during the peak.

Harbour Bridge volumes

The one thing the busway is not is a white elephant, instead it’s a fantastic success and one we should try to replicate in other parts of the city. It does make me wonder if the Northcote Point residents ever regret opposing having a busway station in their suburb? Although with the way some of them act over the suggestion of even just a cycleway across the harbour I suspect the opposition would still be loud.

Another fares disaster?

Last month I highlighted the desperate need for Auckland Transport to develop a comprehensive public transport fares policy. One which looks at all the tricky trade-offs and compromises associated with setting public transport fares, highlights the need to balance competing interests and competing objectives (i.e. fairness vs simplicity, affordability for user’s vs affordability for ratepayers and taxpayers etc.) An online survey about fares shortly afterwards suggested that Auckland Transport is at least getting some public input into these tricky issues.

However, such a policy cannot come soon enough – as this past week has revealed what at first glance appears to be some counter-intuitive and pretty harsh fare changes:

Alex van der Sande fears abolishing weekly bus passes between North Shore and Central Auckland will squeeze student budgets for textbooks and other basic needs.

The first-year University of Auckland engineering student and former Long Bay College head boy has drawn more than 650 followers to a Facebook campaign opposing plans to axe the Northern Pass as the $100 million electronic Hop card is added to bus fleets.

That will raise his weekly bus bill from $33 to at least $44.20 for five-day travel between his Torbay home and the university, or more if he needs to visit the city at weekends.

“That’s quite a bit – at the end of the year that’s all our text books, really,” he said, while preparing to step up his campaign at a presentation to Auckland Council’s transport committee tomorrow.

The Northern Pass is a fantastic fare product, actually providing an integrated ticket and integrated fare allowing the same ticket to be used on multiple operators as well as providing for free transfers. It’s everything we need the rest of our fare system to emulate. The online description of the Northern Pass outlines its usefulness very well:

Northern Pass tickets make bus travel easy! The Northern Pass can be used for multiple rides, which is valid on all North Shore bus services as far as Albany in the North and Greenhithe in the West. Additionally, you can use it on buses to and from Auckland City, as well as on train services between Britomart and Glen Innes, Britomart and Ellerslie or Britomart and Kingsland.

With a Northern Pass, you only have to buy one ticket to make any number of trips around the North Shore – as well as to and from Auckland City – for as long as your ticket is valid. The Northern Pass is not a ticket for a specific journey. You pay once and keep the ticket to use again and again.

This means you can get on a bus in your neighbourhood, get off where you like and catch another bus or selected train service, as many times as you wish within your selected area and time frame. You don’t have to buy a new ticket when you board a different bus, even if the vehicle belongs to a different bus company.

Amazingly we’ve had the Northern Pass for about five years now and it was brought in at the same time as the Northern Busway was opened with my understanding being that it was a precursor to region wide integrated fares. The various agencies involved in the Busway wanted the investment to be a success and combined with the fact that a lot of routes needed to be added or changed, it presented what was at the time a unique opportunity to start integrating PT fares.

But while we are seeing a lot of noise and bad news around the roll out of HOP, I wanted to find out just how much impact the changes are having so I asked Auckland Transport. They have done some modelling based on existing ticket sales and believe that the changes being made to fare products have the following impacts.

  • 85.1% existing PT trips no price change
  • 11.5% will get a price benefit
  • 3.3% will see a price increase transitioning from current products with the majority seeing less than a 10% increase.

The first and third points made sense but I was keen to know about who was benefiting from the changes so after some more questions to AT and I was told the 11.5% was made up of:

  • 9% from getting AT HOP discounts – this comes in two forms
    1. Many people have operator specific tickets but either transfer (e.g. to a train) or catch the first bus that comes even if it is a different operator and so pay cash. They will now get the HOP discounted fares for all their trips.
    2. AT’s experience so far has seen the percentage of people paying with cash drop e.g. on Birkenhead the percentage of people paying the cash fare dropped from just over 50% to about 40%. In other words roughly 10% more trips are now getting discounted travel on Birkenhead services than they were before the change. AT expect this trend to continue, although the impact will be less for the bus companies that already have stored value cards.
  • 1% from getting the 50c transfer discount – currently only those who do transfer between services on NZ Bus services get a discount of 45c. There are some people who transfer from between services and modes and they will all get the AT HOP transfer discount (until integrated fares comes in and removes the penalty for transferring).
  • 1.5% from cheaper pass options – Some of the operator specific passes are more expensive than equivalent HOP passes e.g. to travel from the North, West or South to the CBD using the NZ Bus monthly pass (All Zones) costs $215 however a HOP zone A and B monthly pass costs $190. There are similar examples from other operators too.

What all of this means is that those experiencing increases in fares or pass prices tend to be where there are very specific pass options currently available rather than it being that large numbers of people are being disadvantaged.

So I wanted to look further into the issue of the Northern Pass in particular. Here is a map of the northern pass zones.

AT have said the biggest impact has been to tertiary students buying the weekly pass of which they estimate that there are around ~1650 users. In fact they say that of all Northern Passes sold, tertiary passes make up the vast majority. The reason why this would be happening becomes clear when you look at look at how many trips you could make for the same price under the HOP pricing compared to the pass option.

Northern Pass Fares

 

For Adults, children and one very small part of the lower zone, the price of the weekly pass is actually slightly cheaper to use HOP (or the current fare system with multi trip tickets) than it is to buy a weekly pass. The only people the pass becomes a good option for are those who use buses for more than just commuting to and from work or school each day, something that doesn’t happen that often due to crappy weekend and off peak frequencies. For those more than four stages from the CBD (north of Albany/Browns Bay there are some increases in prices but the biggest changes across all zones and areas is for tertiary students.

What you can also notice is that the tertiary pass is the same price as the child pass which is quite unusual as everywhere else in Auckland tertiary students don’t get as large discounts off fares as children do. That raises an interesting question of if North Shore students are getting penalised by the move to HOP or if they have been getting a better deal for a long time and this process is just evening out that inconsistency. In my mind it’s probably more of the latter and I believe that there may have been a technical reason for the prices being the same rather than a policy one.

To me there are two separate issues related to the removal of the Northern Pass that are being woven together.

Removal of the Northern Pass – As mentioned the Northern Pass itself is a great idea and a good example of what we should be aiming for with integrated fares. It works across all bus operators, allows free transfers and rewards people who want to do more than just commute to the city each day. AT currently have monthly passes and I believe daily passes are planned but the weekly pass option might be a nice balance for many. It is a pass that perhaps should be given some more consideration

Price of the Northern Pass – For most adults and children the price of a Northern Pass is roughly equivalent to 10 trips worth of travel so is only really useful for those that make more than 10 trips a week. My gut suggests that the number of people doing that will likely remain low until the new network is rolled out and AT have said a new integrated fare structure will be in place before that happens. For tertiary students it appears they have been getting a much better deal than what other students from the rest of the city can get. It would be great to be able to roll out cheaper prices to those on the isthmus as well the east, west and south but I guess the biggest issue of doing that is the cost. It would mean that AT receive less revenue and as such would need greater subsidies to continue to operate the services we have and that is something that seems very difficult in the current political environment. Given the choice of giving all students a greater discount and potentially cutting services vs. removing the current major price benefit for a select group of users I think the latter option is the better one.

At the end of the day, much of these problems come down to the years where local authorities had much less say over the operation of PT services. That we have the situation where every operator has different fare products and prices is a good example of why we need to reform the system. But inevitably any change is going to disadvantage some and that is what we are seeing happen. If there is one positive to come out of all of this it is that we will finally have a system that becomes a bit more understandable and hopefully more people are advantaged than those who are disadvantaged. One of the single worst things we could do is try to make the system more complex just to please a few small groups but only time will tell just how much difference these changes will make.

The future route for the extension to the Northern Busway

One of the key public transport projects on the books – and in our Congestion Free Network – is an extension of the Northern Busway to the north. Thanks to an Official Information Act request by reader Hamish O we now have a whole lot more information about the project. A study on the extension was completed for the NZTA early last year to look at the preferred route for the extension all the way from Constellation Dr to Silverdale. As well as the total route, for practical purposes the report also broke down the sections in Constellation to Albany and Albany to Silverdale. You can read the full report here (8.9 MB) however here is the executive summary.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (the NZTA) has engaged Beca Infrastructure Limited (Beca) to investigate an extension of the existing Northern Busway from Constellation Station to a future Hibiscus Coast Busway Station at the Silverdale Interchange (the NBE). The investigation by Beca involved: review and development of previously investigated and new route options for the NBE, to identify a preferred route; identification of land required to accommodate the preferred route; and consideration of station location and operational issues.

The investigation responds to the strategic objective of the NZTA to deliver an integrated, safe, responsive, affordable and sustainable public transport solution for North Auckland. The extension has been considered as a dedicated facility, separate to SH1 with associated stations being the responsibility of Auckland Transport and Auckland Council. These parties as well as local Iwi have been engaged throughout the project.

Increased population and employment growth is forecast for North Auckland and this will place increasing pressure on the transport network and available land. Current predictions to 2041 show increased SH1 traffic, resulting in congestion and varied travel times for people and goods moving through North Auckland. The need for additional dwellings and places of employment associated with the predicted population growth will require land which may also be necessary for an extension to the Northern Busway.

An extension to the Northern Busway would provide a public transport solution to accommodate some of the transport needs of a growing population within North Auckland. The Busway extension is not predicted to result in a significant decrease in traffic on SH1 because the number of people expected to use the bus rather than travelling by car is small in comparison to the overall number of vehicles using SH1. However, the NBE would improve travel times for people travelling by bus in the future.

To ensure an extension to the Northern Busway can be built in the future there is a need to allocate land for this purpose. This can best be achieved by introducing a new designation for Busway purposes and purchasing required land. It is recommended that the land purchase initially focus on properties where there is likely to be an increase in land value (as a result of population growth placing pressure on available land) and/or where negotiations with land owners may require significant time.

Through investigation and evaluation an eastern aligned option has been identified, and is recommended for the future extension of the Northern Busway. Being aligned to the east of SH1 the option:

  • avoids a site of ecological significance at the Lucas Creek West Bush (located just north of the Oteha Valley Road Interchange to the west of SH1) providing for the protection of the environment;
  • provides the greatest flexibility for future State Highway improvement projects;
  • provides a bus only road link across SH1 to serve the Albany Station, enabling this station to support the future growth of the Albany Centre; and
  • is cheaper to construct as it avoids the need to construct one or more major structures across SH1.

Based on economic investigations, the full NBE would likely be economically justified as early as 2019. Should the NBE be constructed in stages, a first stage from Constellation Station to Albany Station could be economically justified as early as 2015. The construction of the Busway during the indicated years would support the growth of the Albany Metropolitan Centre, Silverdale and Orewa in accordance with the emerging strategic direction for growth in Auckland.

The analysis undertaken as part of this project demonstrates that there is little benefit in providing bus shoulder lanes to Silverdale or incrementally. However, the case for bus shoulder lanes should be considered further when the project proceeds to preliminary design, and better information is available as to the associated costs and the effects on the network following completion of other projects (i.e. SH1 to State Highway 18 connection, Constellation to Greville improvements, SH1 to State Highway 17 connection and Penlink).

Prior to confirming the preferred option for a future extension of the Northern Busway and setting aside land for this purpose, it is recommended that NZTA undertake further consultation with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Hokai Nuku, in addition to initiating consultation with other Stakeholders, such as Watercare, and the community.

There are two really interesting outcomes to the study that are mentioned in the summary above. The first and most significant is that the preferred alignment is not to the west of the motorway like many people have long assumed but to the east. The second is that extension from Constellation to Albany could be economically by 2015.

So let’s look at the alignment options. The study into alignments needed to take into account the following potential projects.

  • Three Laning of SH1 – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed in a manner that would enable three lanes in each direction to be provided continuously on SH1 as far north as Silverdale without disruption to the Busway in the future.
  • SH1 to SH18 Motorway to Motorway Connection – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed to accommodate a future State Highway 18 (SH18) to SH1 motorway to motorway connection upon completion of the Auckland Western Ring Route (based on current design information).
  • SH1 Greville Road Interchange – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed so as not to preclude improvements proposed at the Greville Road Interchange in the future (based on current design information).
  • Penlink (or Weiti Crossing scheme) – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed so as not to preclude a proposed connection between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and SH1 (south of Silverdale) in the future (based on current design information).
  • Weigh Station – the proposed NBE design and designation footprint has been developed toaccommodate a future weigh station (compliance checking site) located to the east of SH1 and north of Bawden Road, which would enable overweight vehicles to be diverted onto the Western Ring Route away from SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge (AHB) should this be required in the future.
  • Hibiscus Coast Busway Station – the proposed NBE design has been developed to accommodate and connect with the Hibiscus Coast Busway Station.

The team investigating this then came up with 5 potential options.

  • Option 1: Offline facility primarily on the western side of the existing motorway corridor (crossing north of the Rosedale Oxidation Ponds);
  • Option 2: Offline facility wholly on the eastern side of the existing motorway corridor;
  • Option 3: Offline facility crossing from east to west beneath SH1 in a covered trench or tunnel and returning to the east by way of a bridge to the north of Lonely Track Road;
  • Option 4: Online facility comprising bus shoulder lanes in both directions, accessed via the existing motorway on and off ramps; and
  • Option 5: Central median Busway, accessed at Silverdale interchange and Constellation Drive.

After initial screening, options 1, 2 and 3 were considered the best to take forward for more detailed study which assessed them based on integration, social, environmental and economic criteria. I won’t bother going through details so feel free to read the report if you want more info but as mentioned earlier, option 2 was considered the best. Probably the most interesting part of it is how it would access the existing Albany Busway Station. The answer is it would be done by way of a bridge across the motorway which would able to be used by both buses from the south of Albany and those from the North. Essentially it means that only one crossing of the motorway needs to be made.

Northern Busway Extension - Eastern access to Albany

As for costs it is suggested that the section from Constellation to Albany would cost just over $200 million to construct while the section from Albany to Silverdale would cost just over $300 million although the report does note that the figures have been rounded to the nearest $100 million. A separate report from 2011 also released with the OIA request suggests the costs would be $249 million for the Constellation to Albany section while the Albany to Silverdale section would cost $304 million.

Northern Busway Extension - costs

To put things in perspective the original busway cost around $220 to build the roughly 6.5km of busway from Constellation to Akoranga. The study – as well as a separate one done at the same time by Auckland Transport – also considered whether any new stations could be justified along the route. The only one that was considered to be potentially viable was one at Greville Rd

One other comment really caught my attention in the report. It is this from page 18 and 19 and it explains quite nicely just how successful the existing busway and associated improvements have been.

Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.

Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.

Personally I think that the extension from Constellation to Albany needs to be built as soon as possible and is far more important than the works the government is proposing in the area with the motorway upgrades (which to be fair do mention Northern Busway improvements).

Lastly thanks to Hamish O for putting through the OIA request for this.

Auckland Transformed: The Congestion Free Network

Auckland Map with Type size same

As hinted at in these posts here and here the editorial team at ATB in collaboration with Generation Zero believe there is a much better way forward for Auckland than the expensive and ineffectual road-heavy ‘build everything’ transport scheme identified in the Auckland Plan, and set out and analysed in the Integrated Transport Plan. This post describes how Auckland can build a world class public transport network that is both affordable and will be the envy of every comparable city worldwide. How in only 17 years Auckland can leapfrog its rivals and transform from a very inefficient mono-modal auto-dependent city to a much more dynamic, multidimensional, and effective and exciting place.

Our plans isolate the top layer of the Public Transport Network and show how these can be expanded and connected while remaining integrated with the other layers of the public transport system, especially the Frequent and Local Bus Networks, to form a complete system to compliment the existing and mature road network. It is important to note that this should also be developed in parallel to a region wide cycling network which both ATB and Generation Zero are extremely supportive of but is outside of the scope of this project [but complimentary to it]. Perhaps Cycle Action Auckland will take up this challenge?

In order to show how we think we should do this we have developed a staged process at five year intervals from 2015-2030 illustrated in four maps below [big thanks to Niko Elsen from GenZero for the graphics and to the great Henry 'Harry' Beck for the inspiration of his genius London Underground map; a project also produced without official sanction but eventually adopted to great success].

Over the coming days we will analyse the costs and benefits associated with our plans and show that they will not only lead to a higher quality and better functioning city but are also more affordable than the ineffective current plans as described in the ITP [Link here]. In fact investing in the ‘missing modes’ in Auckland’s transport mix before further expanding the road network so expensively will almost certainly turn out to be much cheaper and more efficient for the city and the nation as well as actually being more in sync with the times. Especially as many of the most expensive and invasive road projects will prove to be unnecessary once Auckland has this powerful additional network in place. Our plan will also greatly improve Auckland’s performance in other harder to calculate but vital areas such as air quality, carbon emissions, oil dependency, urban form, and public health outcomes.

Before we get to the maps it’s important to clarify that the networks we are showing are built on what we already have in Auckland and what is proposed in varying senarios by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, and other professional bodies, and are all predicated on maximising value from existing infrastructure. In other words these are all possible and realistic projects. They are both buildable and fit into efficient operating models as well as being focused on unlocking hidden capacity and other benefits latent in our existing networks. They are in sync with the proposed directions of Auckland’s future growth [both up and out] and have been selected with quality of place outcomes in mind as well as likely changes in movement demand.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors, what are known as Class A routes, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes, Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case process. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At once taking pressure off the increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether for many more people at many more times and for many more journeys.

Definitions and Qualifications

To qualify for the Congestion Free Network a Transit service needs to fulfil two conditions:

1. It should have its own separate Class A Right of Way.

2. And offer a high frequency service, the ‘turn-up-and-go’ rate of a ride at least every ten minutes or better.

In other words these are the top of the line services from Auckland Transport and their partners. As we will explain we have taken some liberties with these two definitions out of necessity, with some services for various reasons not quite fulfilling one of the criteria above. But where we have opted to bend the definitions a little there is good reason to believe that the deficiency can be fixed on the route in question, and in fact its inclusion on the CFN map is part of the process for showing why that should be the case.

There is a third condition that we are confident will be maintained on this network and that is the quality of the vehicles themselves along with important attractors such as free WIFI on board and at stations:

metrolink-double-decker

EMU painted 3

 

OK, to the maps. On all maps Rail Lines are solid, Bus Lines are striped, and Ferry routes dashed, but all should be considered as approaching as much as possible those two main criteria above in order to qualify as Congestion Free.

1. CONGESTION FREE NETWORK 2015

CFN 2015

This is all on the way: The the newly electrified rail network with its higher frequency brand new electric trains plus the Northern Busway, and the Devonport Ferry. These are as close to the only Class A and high frequency dedicated transit routes that we will have in Auckland at this time. We have taken some liberties with our definition of some services above. The trains on the Onehunga Line cannot be frequent enough to qualify until the track is improved, and the Devonport Ferry does not run at ten minute cycles all day, but it is frequent enough at the peaks to just qualify. And the Busway, although running at very high frequencies, suffers from an inconsistent degree of separation from traffic, once it gets to the Bridge and through the city, but we are confident that by 2015 or soon after the level of bus priority will have improved especially through Fanshaw and Customs Sts.

We are also confident that these improvements plus the others already underway now and rolling out through 2013-2016, such as integrated fares and the New Bus Network at the next layer down, will mean that more and more people will be choosing to use our nascent core network and it will justify rapid extension.

So how could we extend this next, and which projects are the most urgent? Here’s what we think: Filling in the Gaps:

2. CONGESTION FREE NETWORK 2020

CFN 2020

This is in many ways is the biggest jump; but then it’s really seven and a half years from now so is the longest time period covered and shows the completion of a whole lot of projects that are already at least in the planning stage right now: Unlocking the Core and Accessing the Suburbs:

1. The CRL; the ‘Killer App’ for unlocking capacity and value in the rail network, and all the improvements we have invested in on the whole rail network this century.

2. Two relatively cheap and easy rail network extensions: The Mt Roskill branch line and electrification to Pukekohe and new stations to serve planned new housing in the south.

3. Extensions to each end of the Northern Busway; from the new bus lanes on Customs St up the Central Connector through the University, the Hospital, Grafton Station and the adjacent new Uni Campus, and on to Newmarket. And in the north; extension from Constellation Station to Albany and three new stations to serve the expanding suburbs there.

4. Forms of high quality bus priority on Great North Rd through Grey Lynn, up the North Western motorway all the way to Westgate. Not completely grade separate all the way but proper new stations to connect with new bus services on the Frequent Network and;

5. The Upper Harbour Bus Line, running from Henderson Station up Lincoln Rd, Westgate, and across to connect with the Northern Busway at Constellation on SH18 with new stations.

6. Further south the extension of the AMETI project both past Panmure along the Mt Wellington Highway on dedicated lanes to link with Ellerslie Station and looping the other way down to Botany and on to Manukau City and the Southern Line at Puhinui.

The next phase is all about consolidation and extension, most notably though the neglected Southwest: Mangere and the Airport:

3. CONGESTION FREE NETWORK 2025

CFN 2025

1.The Airport is connected by both the extension of the Onehunga Line through Mangere with important local stations and the extension of the South Eastern Bus Line from Puhinui.

2. The south east also gets proper bus priority up the Pakuranga Highway to Howick, linked through a Pakuranga interchange all the way to Panmure and Ellerslie.

3. The North Western gets extended to the growing hub of Kumeu/Huapai

4. The Northern Line now reaches Silverdale.

5. More frequency is presumed to be required by this time on the ferries heading up the harbour to complete a useful circuit on the Waitemata.

One project dominates the next period: The Shore Line:

4. CONGESTION FREE NETWORK 2030

CFN 2030A

1. The Shore Line. There are various versions of this important project, but it is clear that no version should add any more road lanes. The one illustrated here is a rail only crossing and the track doesn’t join directly with the existing rail lines so can be a completely separate technology like the system used in Vancouver’s extremely cost effective SkyTrain [as well as elsewhere], commonly known as Light Metro. This line could be staged by first building the Aotea-Wynyard-Onewa-Akoranga-Takapuna section and keeping the best part of the busway going with a transfer station at Akoranga, but one of the great advantages of the Light Metro train technology is that it can fit on the existing alignments of the busway with very little alterartion and therefore can be extended all the way to Constellation, Albany, or beyond at much lower cost than the Standard Rail used elsewhere on the Network.

2. Also included here is the suggestion of Light Rail for the important Dominion Rd/Queen St bus route.

Notes and Queries.

There are a number of  differing options in many parts of these schemes all with various advantages and disadvantages and many have been debated sometimes fairly vigorously amongst those of us working on the maps. These conversations are still ongoing so the maps as they are now should not be considered some kind of final position by the members of either ATB or Generation Zero, but certainly do represent the areas of focus with top contenders for the best solutions. For example here is an alternative city extension of the North Shore Line:

Auckland Map with Type size same

There also is much to be discussed around the detail and the timing of these projects, and we look forward to your views on all of that. To finish it’s probably worth reminding everyone that what is shown here in all these maps are only the best of the best Class A, fast and frequent Transit services that sit at the very top of the public transport pecking order. Below them sit other much more widespread and also improved more widespread services that will still also be running and linking up with these new flash routes. Here is the official AT map of the bus system for 2016, that includes services on our Congestion Free Network but that also shows the wider Frequent Network, and of course there even more local services beneath these:

New FTN Network

Mode Selection and the Conceptual Foundation of the Network.

We know there is a lot of attachment to various transport modes by experts and laypeople alike, we experience this everyday in the comment section on this site. There is a tendency for people to focus on the advantages of their favoured mode in a way that expresses their general priorities; some feel spending less on capital works is always the most important issue and others value the quality of the ROW and the permanence of the investment above all else so take a longer view on the costs. We have sought to balance all these considerations when deciding on the most appropriate technology for each corridor. We know that train fans will be disappointed by the amount of bus routes above and that the budget obsessed will be appalled by what they will see as lavish spending on ‘expensive’ rail. And of course the road lobby will see no need for any of this especially as we wish to downscale, delay, or delete many of their pet motorway projects in order to fast track it all and to reduce the disbenefits of reinforcing auto-domination and auto-dependency on Auckland that their projects also bring.

We also have ignored the current government’s particular obsession with only using the National Land Transport Fund for road investments, for, as we have just seen, governments are capable of changing their policies, but also because the public are more than capable of changing governments, and will have at least five such opportunities to do so throughout this period.

The 2016 FTN map directly above clearly shows that a number of the new routes on our maps are current or planned bus routes that we are picking to deserve a greater level of quality as time goes by, maybe not as early as we have by demand alone, but when seen in the context of this new conceptual reading of the city that is The Congestion Free Network, we believe there is additional value in completing parts of this network occasionally ahead of demand [especially where it is more cost effective to do so]. The CFN is a city-shaping tool as well as a movement programme. As of course are all transport networks. This is, in many ways, the most critical point about the changes required in Auckland now. Transport funding decisions must not remain siloed in the transport sector, or worse be captured by institutionalised mode bias as has been the case for most of the last 60 years. Urban transport is, after all, simply a means to an end. And that end is the quality of life for all those in the city and beyond. These involve much wider issues than we have been considering in Auckland in the recent past. It’s time we got more sophisticated.

So in many cases, especially towards the edges of the city, the best way to achieve completion of the network is simply to upgrade the quality of existing bus routes by improving the physical separation of the route and the efficiency and frequency of their running patterns as well as the provision of interchange stations. These routes tend to be further into the suburbs usually where there is freer available roadspace [eg SH18] or closer in where because of new routes older roads have space that can be repurposed for transit [and cycleways] like Great North Rd through Grey Lynn.

However in a few high profile cases the demands and conditions are different, on these routes it could be there is demand for a very high capacity system and just no spare roadspace [the CRL] or where there is already a rail RTN that is worth extending or improving [The CRL, Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, the Mangere and Airport Line], or a combination of the two plus a unique physical barrier [The Shore Line]. In these cases we have, on balance, agreed that the particular characteristics of rail provide solutions that justify the higher capital cost.

It is also worth noting that the three major rail investments, one in each of the three time periods, are the ones that Mayor Len Brown campaigned on to become the first leader of a unified Auckland. So we know they are popular, but their inclusion here is not just because of that. They are here because they are also the rational choice when all issues are considered. The same cannot be said for the congestion promoting motorway projects that Len Brown has subsequently signed up for in some kind of Faustian trade off as expressed in the ITP. So part of this campaign is to get the Mayor, as he faces re-election, to get his transport thinking ‘back on track’.

So lets leave the last word to Len Brown from his inauguration speech in 2010:

it is time to stop imagining how to improve Auckland’s transport system and other infrastructure and time to start acting.”

Web

 

CFN_4_SMALL

Note: the maps can be accessed in PDF form by clicking on the titles above each one- feel free to download, print, distribute, draw on, set alight, decorate your room, or re-blog….

Further thoughts on the “transport package”

Unsurprisingly last week’s transport announcements were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to transport spending in Auckland. Overall I guess the good news is that central government finally supports the City Rail Link – making opponents of the project look pretty isolated. Judging from Dick Quax’s tweet the opposition is already fading away:

Critically, the announcements also highlight that the government has backed the previously most controversial part of the Auckland Plan – it’s transport chapter. Finally, after two and a half years of arguing, it seems that central government and Auckland have a similar vision for the city’s future. The Herald is right in noting that this is undoubtedly a massive victory for Len Brown – the result that he’s been pushing for basically ever since he was elected mayor.

Looking in a bit more detail, we start to see that in every section of the major announcements there’s generally a bit of good news but also some pretty dumb aspects of many of the projects that presumably will get weeded out as time goes on. Let’s work north to south – starting with the link up of State Highway 18 and State Highway 1:

sh18-sh1-linkMention of improvements to the Northern Busway is a big positive here – hopefully that means extending the busway right through to Albany, a project that seems like it’s utterly essential in the near term but for some reason has dropped off the radar in the past few years. Probably because it stupidly gets lumped together with further extensions to Silverdale or Orewa which will only make sense in the much longer term.

Furthermore, there’s a pretty good case to do something around here to improve the way SH18 links with SH1 as the current Upper Harbour Highway is a bit of a mess, plus the section of motorway between SH18 and Greville Road seems to suffer from a lot of merging issues. I just struggle to see whether that something has to mean a $500 million or more giant motorway interchange as per the current plans:package3-sh18Presumably some further options analysis will occur here as NZTA figures out how to make its budgets work with all these new projects being lumped in – and perhaps we might end up with something a little more sensible and less expensive.

We’ll come back to how we could do an alternative Harbour Crossing better in a future post, and obviously most of our focus in the past few days has been on the City Rail Link, so let’s shift our focus to the southeast and the AMETI/East-West Link project. AMETI is a series of projects between Panmure and Botany – most crucially including a full busway from Botany to Pakuranga and onto Panmure. While there are some pretty dumb bits of AMETI, like the ugly Reeves Road flyover, generally the approach of the project has morphed over time and a strong component now is to provide the additional capacity for public transport (in the form of the busway) rather than road widening, with the project’s spending on roads generally being on new connections that enable the bypassing of busy town centres. It’s just a shame how horrifically ugly that flyover’s going to be:

reeves-rd-flyoverShifting on to the East-West Link project, it was only fairly recently that we began to learn the details about this project and the different options being looked at. All the different options look overblown and really destructive in terms of their environmental and community impacts – particularly the options which it seems the government wants to see, full motorway links between SH20 and SH1:

So another Tamaki River crossing, massive demolition of housing along Panama Road, a big motorway junction through the volcanic crater and Onehunga in option 3. Option 4 is perhaps even worse:

The same issue at Onehunga. Perhaps close to the same issue around Panama Road plus untold demolition of houses through Mangere East as the previously protected motorway corridor through here was sold off decades ago and put into housing.

The big issue I have with the East West Link is that we don’t actually even know whether this level of destruction, and the costs associated with it, are actually necessary or not. Of course there are lots of stories about trucks getting stuck in congestion along Neilson Street and clearly freight volumes are high through this part of Auckland – but what about some smaller scale interventions?

  • Truck lanes on Neilson Street?
  • A signalised intersection providing access into Metroport from Neilson Street?
  • Widening the Neilson Street bridge over the railway line?
  • Smaller scale interchange improvements at Onehunga?
  • South-facing motorway ramps that link into the Southeast Arterial?

For this reason the East West Link actually reminds me quite a lot of the Puhoi to Wellsford project. In both cases there’s a definite problem that needs to be solved but in both cases smaller scale improvements that may deliver really significant benefits are being completely ignored in favour of massively expensive and destructive motorway options – seemingly for political reasons only.

Shifting further south again, a fairly major widening of the Southern Motorway from Manukau through to Papakura was included in the announcements:

southern-motorway-wideningOnce again there’s quite a good argument that something needs to be done on this part of the motorway. Where SH20 and SH1 come together in the southbound direction you go from five lanes (three on SH1 plus two on SH20) down to two lanes in a pretty short space of time. This creates massive problems in the evening peak period. Furthermore, the Takanini interchange has some pretty substandard and unsafe parts to it – particularly the northbound onramp which has a very short merge. We’ll probably wait and see the details on this one but I suspect once again the approach is probably overblown: heaps of new lanes everywhere just to shift the queue slightly north or south depending on the peak direction. Adding lanes northbound in particular seems pretty stupid as it’ll just get cars to the Mt Wellington bottleneck faster. Of note the ITP lists the project as costing over $500 million

Finally, we come to SH20A improvements – the road to the Airport.sh20a-upgrade

I guess it’s because politicians spend such a lot of their time travelling to and from airports that these routes tend to get a rather stupid amount of attention. Just a few years back the Mangere Bridge was duplicated, which added an absolutely crazy amount of additional capacity and freed up SH20 during peak periods (at least for a few years). While it’s a bit strange the Kirkbride Road intersection isn’t grade separated, I tend to think that the real transport bottleneck actually occurs at the Airport because all the roads effectively feed into a single roundabout and then one signalised intersection. Once again, making it quicker to get to the bottleneck seems like a waste of money to me. It’s also frustrating that there’s not even any mention (even in a route designation way) of Airport Rail. What on earth has happened to that project – I might need to LGOIMA Auckland Transport over it to see what they’ve been doing for the past two and a half years.

Overall, as I said at the start of the post there are useful bits of the announcements (CRL aside which is obviously a massive positive) in that we might see a Northern busway extension and an AMETI busway happen faster now. But there’s also a whole heaps of “over the top” projects which are pretty unlikely to achieve lasting benefits or could be replaced by far far cheaper projects which would deliver most of the benefits at a fraction of the price. It will certainly be fascinating watching the details of all this unfold over the next few months in particular.

Train, Bus, Tram, or Camel?

We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.

And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.

It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….

ROW_Alfred Twu

Above is a chart  from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].

Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].

Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.

Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.

And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.

There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!

There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.

Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.

Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.

metrolink-double-decker

We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand

So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.

Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.

Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.

Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].

EMU painted 3

Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.

But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?

-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe

-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this

-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.

-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.

I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.

But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.

queen-st-tram

My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.

And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.

So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.

camel-caravan-crossing-desert-dunes

* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.

A ride on our first Double Decker

This morning I managed to drag myself out of bed a bit earlier than usual to make my way to town. The reason for this was to ride on the first double decker bus that is going to be used in Auckland and I was very impressed by it. The bus looks and feels superb, both inside and out.

NEX Double Decker 1

NEX Double Decker 2

The bus definitely turned a few heads as we drove past.

A view outside the upstairs window with the single level NEX bus off to the right. I bet there will a lot of people wanting these seats on a nice day like today.

NEX Double Decker 3

From about the middle of the top level, looking back. One of the great things is that the seats are more spaced out than other buses giving passengers more room. It was much more like you get on a train. The great thing is that this is apparently now a requirement in the NZTA spec so we should be seeing it in other new buses in the future. All up the bus has 86 seats compared to the 51 on other NEX buses.

NEX Double Decker 4

The stairs to get to the top level, to the right there is even a little luggage area.

NEX Double Decker 5

And looking in the other direction on the downstairs level of the bus.

NEX Double Decker 6

Another great feature is that both of the doors are wide enough for two people to board or alight at the same time which will definitely be useful once HOP starts rolling out next month.

NEX Double Decker 7

Lastly from the upper level you get a stunning, unobstructed view across the harbour on the journey.

NEX Double Decker 8

All up, a very welcome addition to Auckland.  The first normal run will happen next Monday.