Rapid transit has passed the acid test

I recently ran across a New Zealand Herald article from 2000 on the region’s plans to start building good rapid transit infrastructure. (Which, as Patrick highlighted in a recent post, is exactly what is holding Auckland back relative to its peer cities.) I noticed three things from the article:

  • We’re still having to scrimp and save and struggle to get good public transport projects built
  • This is in spite of the fact that the projects that have been built (against the odds) have been runaway successes
  • Many of the people who were urging caution back then are still around, but they haven’t acknowledged the evidence and changed their position.

On to the article:

The North Shore busway, allowing buses to travel faster than cars, will be the acid test for Auckland’s grand public transport schemes.

Planners are pinning their hopes on around $1 billion of rapid transit services running every five minutes along dedicated corridors as one answer to congestion.

The $130 million busway, a carriageway alongside the Northern Motorway, is likely to be first out of the blocks. It is being eyed to see how it fares for funding in about three months – and how many people it will coax out of their cars when it starts picking up passengers in three to five years.

Of course, the Northern Busway wasn’t actually completed until 2008, and the rest of the plan is still a glimmer in Auckland Transport’s eye.

Stephen Selwood, then of AA and now heading the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, was quoted extensively in the story:

The region’s Passenger Transport Action Plan set targets of doubling and tripling public transport numbers in several key areas by 2011.

Yet the Automobile Association’s northern regional manager, Stephen Selwood, is not convinced they will be reached.

“The key test will be the busway, because that is the one where we know there’s congestion and thousands of people go over the bridge. If we can’t make that one work, nothing will.”

What actually happened? Although the busway was constructed late, it worked like crazy. By 2012, actual patronage on the busway was almost double what the patronage forecasts indicated:

Busway Patronage vs projections Graph

More prognostications from Mr Selwood:

The Passenger Transport Action Plan’s market-share goals for the number of commuters headed towards the central business district range from 15 to 45 per cent, and Mr Selwood claims this shows an improved public transport system would cater only for a minority.

By 2012, public transport accounted for 44% of all motorised travel to the city centre during the morning peak. (Walking and cycling weren’t included in the data, unfortunately, but they account for a significant share of overall trips.) Since then the PT mode share has increased even further. Public transport, including the successful Northern Busway, has accounted for all of the net growth in city centre access since the 1990s:

CCFAS Modeshare 1990-2012

One last comment from Mr Selwood:

Auckland, with its traffic growing at 5 per cent a year, cannot ignore the motoring majority and a need for more roads, he says.

That might have been true back then. But it’s not true now. The most recent Census data shows that road traffic is growing at an anemic pace while all other modes are booming:

Census Auckland marginal transport user analysis

In short, Auckland has faced the public transport “acid test”, and it has passed, with flying colours. This is even more impressive in light of the fact that:

  • The key projects that have been undertaken, such as the Northern Busway and rail electrification, have often been finished far behind schedule. Rail electrification was supposed to be done in 2011, for crying out loud!
  • The successful Northern Busway hasn’t been followed with investment in other essential rapid transit projects, such as the (planned but not yet built) AMETI busway to the eastern suburbs and the Northwestern Busway on SH16.
  • Successive governments have spent billions on Auckland’s motorway network even after it became apparent that demand was flatlining.

In light of the results, I look forward to hearing the NZCID’s strong advocacy to stop building motorways and put the funding towards good public transport projects.

CRL the key to a unified city

Our good friend and director of Generation Zero, Sudhvir Singh wrote a fantastic op-ed for the Herald the other day on the City Rail Link. It was intended to be printed on Wednesday when councillors voted on whether to delay the project – which thankfully they didn’t – however the Herald ended up running it on Friday. I’ve included a few images from AT’s CRL page.

As Auckland councillors have been voting on a budget for our city, they must be commended for their continued support for the City Rail Link (CRL), a game-changing piece of infrastructure that will reduce traffic, revitalise suburban town centres and unlock Auckland’s potential.

A 3km rail tunnel connecting Britomart with the rail network at Mt Eden, the CRL will link the three disparate limbs of Auckland’s rail network into a coherent whole. It will serve motorists just as well as rail commuters, and benefit the suburbs just as much as the city centre.

Auckland already has a 100km rail network. While rail usage is growing at over 15 per cent year on year, as long as the network finishes in a dead end at Britomart, Aucklanders will only ever be offered services on an infrequent timetable.

The CRL will change all this: by breaking the bottleneck at Britomart, Aucklanders will have access to trains running at five-minute frequencies.

Outline-Train-Plan-31July2014

Any new rail lines such as the proposed airport and North Shore lines are not possible without the CRL. This is therefore the foundational project that Auckland needs to develop a true “metro” public transport system, like those seen in all the world’s most liveable cities. It’s at the core of the Congestion-Free Network, a plan laid out by Generation Zero and Transport Blog to address Auckland’s lack of public transport and show how major improvements are easily affordable within the current budget.

Investment in the CRL will not mean that Auckland motorists’ concerns are neglected. Quite the opposite: international transport system research shows that widening roads is not the cure for traffic congestion. By encouraging more people to drive and failing to provide transport choice, heavy investment in roads only adds to traffic problems. Investment in rail takes large numbers of people off the road and reduces carbon pollution.

What is more, the CRL will not see suburban development sacrificed in favour of city centre development. The best way to spur renewed investment and development in our suburban centres is to give people access to frequent, quality public transport and watch the private investment that follows. Britomart’s transformation since the opening of the rail station is an example of this – the CRL will be the impetus for similar town centre upgrades across Auckland.

In the short term, residents of West Auckland will arguably benefit the most from the CRL. Travel times by train from the west will be halved, in effect bringing this entire side of Auckland closer to the city. This represents an unrivalled opportunity for the west to prosper, particularly if a mix of affordable housing choices is offered near existing stations.

Let’s also stick to the facts when it comes to funding: the CRL is not one of the factors putting pressure on the council’s budget and leading to calls for motorway tolls and rate rises. Despite the alarmism promoted by its detractors, funding of the CRL will not influence rates in the city until it’s open.

As a piece of capital investment, it is funded by a combination of development contributions and debt. This is separate from the spending that our rates fund. Those who suggest that today’s funding for libraries and community services is to be sacrificed for tomorrow’s funding of the CRL are peddling falsehoods.

The Government has not had the foresight to plan a single piece of public transport infrastructure in the country’s biggest city during its six years in office. Instead, it has a myopic obsession with roading that sees it spend Auckland’s share of national transport funding exclusively on motorways. The council’s response needs to be to balance the transport budget with investment in public transport.

Auckland needs its rail link. Now is the time for the council to show leadership and not delay its completion.

Good work Sudhvir

We’re working with Generation Zero to try and come up with some more creative ways to highlight the need and the benefits of the CRL. We have already have one of these done which we will look to launch soon. If you also have a good idea on how we can help better explain the project then let us know.

A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.

 

While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

One sentence that explains what’s wrong with the discussion about intensification

Yesterday Bernard Orsman had an in-depth article in the NZ Herald about new apartment developments on Great North Road. Orsman, to his credit, considers the issue from several different angles and speaks to people with a range of views. He also rightly observes that the developments are a key part of the “vision of Great North Rd being turned into one of the city’s great boulevards with bus lanes, cycleways and well-designed apartments”.

Unfortunately, the article’s positive contribution to Auckland’s discussion about intensification comes to a screeching halt right there in the sub-heading:

Developers and council planners have sidelined the community over building heights for some new projects, say worried residents.

In one sentence, the article frames the issue as a conflict between ordinary people – the “worried residents” – and two spooky bogeymen – the “developers” and “planners”. Readers of a left-wing persuasion will read “developers” and think “greedy capitalists!”, while right-wing readers will read “planners” and think “Soviet Union!”

This framing misleads readers rather than enabling a better discussion about new apartments in the inner suburbs. From an economic perspective, the bogeymen invoked by the sub-heading are nothing of the kind:

  • Developers are out to make a buck, obviously, but they can profit off a development if and only if other people want to buy the places they’re building. Developers generally respond to demand in the market rather than creating it.
  • Urban planners, who are themselves Auckland residents, are trying to balance out amenity for current residents with the housing needs of a growing city. If no new dwellings were being constructed on Great North Road, it would probably mean that they were failing to do their job.

Which brings me on to one last point: It’s pretty bizarre to imply that relaxing the rules to enable buildings to go to six storeys rather than four is a case of regulations gone mad. From the sound of things, it wouldn’t be financially viable to construct a four storey building, as that would require an elevator and other expensive internal features that couldn’t be recouped without adding additional floors. It’s a good thing that Auckland Council planners are willing to consider applications on a case-by-case basis rather than just mindlessly applying the rules!

A targeted transport rate?

An article in last Friday’s NZ Herald provided an interesting insight into where the investigations into additional transport funding options are at. This is the second phase of the project to close the supposed $12 billion funding gap over the next 30 years. The article highlights that effort has been focusing on analysing different forms of road pricing and is perhaps leaning towards a motorway charging scheme:

Evaluating road tolls and fuel-tax rises and traditional funding methods such as rate rises and targeted rates is the job of the group due to report to the council next month.

The Herald understands that the independent alternative transport funding group is leaning towards motorway tolls. It will also provide options for targeted rates and extra rates rises.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated the Government’s pre-election position that there would be no regional fuel taxes or tolling of existing state highways in Auckland.

Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

I think tolling motorways could have some benefits but it also could have considerable downsides and we’ve outlined some of these before. The main problem with them is the potential for traffic diversion from motorways onto local roads. What also can’t be ignored is that a fairly high proportion of money raised from schemes like these goes into the administration of the system itself, this means it’s a fund-raising system that’s likely to be quite a lot less efficient than fuel taxes and rates. Some of the strongest proponents of motorway tolling has been the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) and I suspect this is two fold,

  1. their members want to build, maintain and operate any tolling system
  2. their members want the additional funding that flows from the tolls to help build more infrastructure

One of the key problems with the alternative funding exercise right from the start has been the ignorance of whether we actually need to raise the additional funding for transport. The Integrated Transport Programme, which outlined the full transport programme over the next 30 years, included a huge number of incredibly costly and stupid projects included within its project list:

Knocking out $12 billion from the project list above is a pretty simple exercise – as we highlighted in our detailed analysis of the Congestion Free Network‘s financials. Therefore, based on the Integrated Transport Programme’s list of projects outlined above there is a very valid question about whether any form of additional funding is necessary. In addition even if a funding deficit still exists, if it was considerably smaller it might have allowed for some of the earlier dismissed funding options to be viable once again.

Another major flaw in many tolling proponents arguments that could have a significant impact on what projects get built is that any tolling or road pricing schemes are going to change demand substantially and as such it is likely to reduce or remove the need for many roading projects. Conversely it is likely to shift many PT projects up the priority ladder.

I guess the big question that we will all need to grapple with over the next few months, as the alternative funding group makes a recommendation to the Council, who then decides what they want to include in the draft Long Term Plan, is whether anything has changed since the ITP came out last year. It’s possible that two things have changed, which could mean a greater need for extra transport funding than we had previously expected.

  1. We know from the agendas for Auckland Transport closed board meetings that a lot of work has been going on to update the Integrated Transport Programme and the list of projects. Hopefully this means a lot of the crazier projects (like $665m on Albany Highway or around $900m on upgrading Great South Road) have been removed or the figures corrected.
  2. We know from the LTP Mayor’s Proposal that a lower level of rates increase means less money available overall for transport from normal funding sources compared to what’s in the current Long Term Plan. At first glance, it seems like most of the good projects can be funded over the next decade but there’s still no word on how much can be spent on things like walking and cycling, or the timing of various bus lanes and interchanges needed for the new network.

So given we know motorway tolling is an idea with many flaws and that the government isn’t going to approve new funding sources like this anyway, but there might be a need for a bit more money for transport, it seems sensible to be looking at other options. Which, returning to Friday’s Herald article, seems to be what’s happening:

Aucklanders could pay a new charge on top of rates to fund transport projects.

A “targeted rate” is one option being considered by an independent group looking at alternative funding measures to plug a $12 billion-plus transport funding gap over the next 30 years…

…Auckland Council cannot introduce motorway tolls or a regional fuel tax without government approval.

The National-led Government changed the law in 2009. Acting Mayor Penny Hulse said the $2.4 billion city rail link had been included in a new 10-year budget and did not need a targeted rate.

It will certainly be interesting to analyse the details of the transport budget as they emerge in the coming months, to see what can be afforded in the baseline transport programme and whether any additional money is required.

Rail and congestion relief

A conference by the Traffic Institute – a group primarily made up of councillors and officers from a number of local authorities around the country to represent views on road safety and traffic management – held its annual conference earlier this week. There have been a few articles emerge from the conference and the one I’m going to focus on today is one titled Metro Rail won’t fix congestion which relates to a talk at the conference by Dr Dinesh Mohan from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

Metro rail systems such as Auckland’s proposed $2.4 billion link from Britomart to Mt Eden do nothing to reduce congestion in the long run, says a visiting international transport expert.

“With metro, all you do is create extra capacity,” Dr Dinesh Mohan told the Traffic Institute at its annual conference in Auckland today.

“Then, after two years, all the roads are congested again – and the metro is full.

“You just increase transport, you don’t reduce congestion.”

More total travel with the same amount of congestion/car use is exactly the point and primary purpose of the City Rail Link. The CRL network will move a lot more people around the region regardless of traffic. It’s also why we need greater investment in bus infrastructure both in the city centre and across the region as it allows us to get more use out of our road networks. The table below shows this, it comes from the City Centre Future Access Study released at the end of 2012. Regardless of the solution investigated (the integrated CRL and surface bus option was chosen as the best) vehicle traffic didn’t decline – although I think this is in part due to poor transport modelling.

CCFAS - City Centre Access
Of course it also means that if projects that don’t reduce congestion long term are not worth building then you can say goodbye to any future road widening programmes. Instead we’d look at getting a better outcome from the existing road resource, which leads us to this point.

“The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is to reduce road area, there is no other way.”

One way to do that was to allocate a lane along every road for buses, and another for cyclists and pedestrians.

Great we agree again, so when do we start? I look forward to a network of bus and cycle lanes made from reclaimed traffic lanes. Projects like painting new bus and cycle lanes often have very high economic returns due to being comparatively cheap to construct (often just some paint is needed) and benefiting a lot of passengers.

He also addresses climate change

Only 25 per cent of the “life-cycle” energy costs of underground passenger trains went on running them, but that left the production of concrete, steel and other infrastructure components contributing the remaining 75 per cent.

“Putting anything underground increases carbon dioxide,” he said.

I guess it’s a good thing then that the vast majority of the other ~90km of the Auckland Rail network ins’t underground.  As mentioned the point of the CRL is to unlock the latent capacity in the existing network so we can use it better. If we were building a full underground metro from scratch then he might have a point. But the City Rail Link is a mere 3km of tunnel turns that whole 90km legacy rail network into a highly efficient regional rapid transit system. To achieve the equivalent outcome with buses would similarly require a bus tunnel of some 3km, given that all the surface corridors are  busy carrying hundreds of buses already. But that’s not the end of it, a bus solution would also require the construction of three or four new busways, in addition to those already planned, to do the same job as the rail network with the CRL.

I’m pretty sure that a bus tunnel and three brand new suburban busways will result in a lot more emissions that a rail tunnel alone.

Also from this article he talks about his figures for carbon emissions being based on coal fired power plants which is something we have very little of.

So, he reasons, if you have a transport system that operates underground or is elevated there are huge amounts in investments in tunnels, bridges and so on. Much more cement, concrete, electricity (for air-conditioning, lighting and so on) gets used, all of which is related to life-cycle costs in which “anything that uses more infrastructure comes off worse”.

Therefore, since most of energy in India is from coal, the carbon emission and energy consumption per passenger in the metro is higher than a bus

He then suggests that deep down everyone wants to drive.

“You must have congestion for the public to use public transport – if you don’t have congestion, you would be very stupid to use public transport, because you could get there faster by car.”

I guess someone better tell the thousands of people who catch PT off peak when the roads are flowing that they are stupid.  The reality is that many people will happily use PT if it’s fast, frequent and reliable (not necessarily in that order). Increasingly people are just fed up of driving, parking and congestion, whatever the time of day. Classic examples of this are on the Northern Busway where there are often queues to get on even after hours as this tweet from the other day highlights:

And lastly

Told about Auckland Transport’s goal of making trains circulate through the central business district rather than having to back out of Britomart, he wondered whether the planners had considered running buses in a circuit instead.

Asked where London would be without its Underground, he said that was an unfair question as the system was built in the 19th Century when there were no buses, which did not become efficient people-carriers until the 1950s.

Well yes buses have been considered in depth, in fact buses featured strongly in the 46 different options considered as part of the CCFAS and enhanced bus operations are part of the preferred option together with the CRL. Bus options included the options below and multiple variations of each one:

  • Best use of existing infrastructure
  • Enhanced Bus operation – this builds on the previous options with additional bus priority through things like double bus lanes, bus priority at intersections etc.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – both surface BRT options and ones elevated through the city.
  • Underground Bus – various tunnel alignments and operating patterns.

Overall it seems like his quoted comments are a case of him making a judgement about solutions for Auckland without having looked at any of the details. On the positive side it seems the Herald are finally calling the CRL a Metro Rail system rather than a just a rail loop.

Freeing us from traffic

Yesterday the Herald ran a fantastic opinion piece from Dr Jamie Hosking who is a senior lecturer and health and transport researcher at the University of Auckland. As he says at the end, it’s “a timely reminder for the Auckland Council as it considers whether to reduce spending on big new roading projects. Liveable cities don’t try to make traffic go faster. They free people from traffic.”

We all hate being stuck in traffic. The usual response to congested roads in New Zealand, especially in Auckland, is to make the congested road bigger – turn a two-lane road into four.

Although at first sight this seems to make sense, it’s not the only solution, nor the best.

Building more roads in response to congestion is often likened to dealing with obesity by loosening your belt. This is a useful comparison because it shows that building bigger roads does not fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that there are too many cars.

But building more roads is even worse than loosening your belt because it encourages people to drive more.

Transport planners use terms such as latent demand and induced traffic to explain this, but it can be explained in plain language.

If a city’s population is growing, a road will become busier. This continues until the amount of traffic at rush hour can’t grow any more. The congestion stops any more people from using the road.

In other words, a congested road puts people off using it. So, if the Auckland Harbour Bridge is congested in the morning, people are more likely to catch the bus to work instead of driving across the bridge. If they were thinking of going shopping in the CBD, they might decide to go somewhere local instead to avoid the traffic. Or, if the trip wasn’t that important, they might just stay home.

The flipside is that if we make a road less congested, more people will drive on it. So if a road is expanded from two to four lanes, traffic speeds will increase at first, but as more and more cars use the road, congestion will grow again. The end result is a four-lane road with the same congestion and speeds as the original two-lane road.

If all we care about is how fast the cars are going, we’re no better off. We’re worse off. Because on the four-lane road, there are twice as many people stuck in traffic. That means twice as much time lost.

This reminds us that we need to think less about roads and cars, and more about getting people to where they want to go.

In Auckland, we’ve been building more and bigger roads for years, but at peak hours our roads are still clogged. If we remember that bigger roads encourage more cars, this isn’t surprising at all.

If we start thinking about people, instead of roads and cars, the alternative becomes obvious. Our goal shouldn’t be free-flowing car traffic, because we know in the long-term it will never happen. Our goal should be free-flowing people.

We’ve talked quite a bit about induced demand in the past as well as cities which are now starting up pull out some parts of their motorway networks and seeing no negative impacts from having done so. For example from this

before

to this

cheonggyecheon

The goal of free flowing people is a key driver behind why we created the Congestion Free Network and even why we named it Congestion Free as it refers to the people being free of congestion. He then goes on to suggest something very similar to the CFN.

One way to achieve this is building rapid public transport. This needs its own protected space, like trains, or buses on a busway.

Rapid public transport is a great answer to congestion, because the congestion proves there are a lot of people trying to go in the same direction, and this is exactly what public transport needs.

Another way to get free-flowing people is better infrastructure for walking and cycling. For example, routes through parks and greenways help people walk and cycle away from congested roads.

Maybe the best way of all is to design our neighbourhoods and cities better. The more things people can do locally, instead of having to travel across town, the less time they will spend stuck in traffic. Road building undercuts local businesses and services, because it encourages people to drive across town to go shopping instead. The opposite is intensification, which brings more people into a town centre to live in high-density housing and apartments, and attracts more local businesses and services.

That’s why neighbourhoods and cities that want to be more liveable are making roads smaller. This frees space for busways, cycleways or new public areas, it pushes people out of their cars or it encourages them to do things locally instead of travelling across town. The result is fewer people stuck in traffic, healthier local businesses and neighbourhoods that are much better places to live.

I think that if there’s one area he missed it was in relation to the potential benefits investing in the movement of people could have for the movement freight. A network like the CFN would allow us to be bold with how we deal with trucks and other commercial vehicles. In particular we could look at doing measures like the introduction of freight lanes on key routes or other similar measures that speeds up the movement of goods without spending money on wider roads only for it to be gobbled up by cars with only a driver in them.

So yes let’s start focusing on people.

Is Petrol cheap?

I don’t tend to look at the motoring section of the Herald much however every now and then something stands out – often for its comedy value – and that was the case yesterday in an article titled Motoring Mythbusting. The article covers off a number of areas but two in particular deserve some attention. The first one talks about the cost of petrol.

It’s easy to see why petrol is a grudge purchase for so many people: you keep pouring the stuff into the tank and then it just disappears as you drive around. With the cost of filling a 50-litre tank currently at about $108, it’s a big drain on your wallet.

But think of the wonderful things that mobility and the private motor vehicle bring us: that sense of control, the freedom to be in different places as we choose. Failing that, remember that New Zealand still has the fifth-lowest fuel tax in the Western world. Petrol is actually cheaper than a 750ml bottle of Pump water from the supermarket ($3.99 per litre as this is written), despite having more complicated packaging and distribution demands.

Something else to consider for new-car buyers. If you have a humble Toyota Corolla GX, it will cost you $5600 per year to fill it up every week. Given that 55 per cent depreciation over three years is a realistic figure for a new car, it’s costing you $5800 just to have the thing in your driveway (that’s before you even consider finance or insurance). So petrol is not necessarily even the most expensive part of running a car.

Almost not quite sure where to begin so this is basically just a dump of my various thoughts about the comments above.

Paying over $100 to fill a tank on a regular basis might not be a big burden for the author but for many households it is a significant cost and it’s a cost that’s been rising with the price now sitting firmly over $2 per litre. The impact of the rises in fuel price are being reflected the spending from peoples wallets. The Electronic Card Transaction data from Stats NZ shows that over the last 11 years the percentage we’ve spent on fuel compared to other retail activities has gone from 10.5% to 16.5%.

Card Spending on Fuel - Aug 14

For families on low incomes the percentage of their income spent on private vehicles is likely to be even higher which leaves them with less money to spend on other things, like food. But more often than not it’s not just about filling one car but multiple ones. In the 2013 census 257,856 households in Auckland out of the 469,500 (55%) had two or more vehicles. In many cases families simply have no choice but to have multiple vehicles due to the dispersed nature of jobs in Auckland and lack of viable alternative options, all of which means higher household fuel costs.

Access to Vehicles

The author then claims that petrol for a car isn’t really that much when you compare it to depreciation, insurance, licencing and other transport costs. Of course he compares the depreciation on a brand new car while many people buy cheaper second hand cars for which the amount of depreciation is less however it is an important point that the cost of fuel is just one part of the overall picture in owning a car. He’s also right that mobility and the ability to get to many places is a really important thing. I would suggest though that it isn’t just a car that can improve mobility and open up the places you can travel. A well designed PT network with frequent services and integrated fares can do that too. Combined with riding a bike or walking such a network can provide mobility options in the city and where PT priority exists can also do so free of congestion.

newnetwork

What’s more travelling on such a network can be comparatively quite cheap. For example a monthly pass covering the entire urban area is $190 a month or a maximum of $2300 per year. That’s less than half the cost of petrol mentioned in the article and combined with the abundant access the new network will provide will become ever more compelling for people. To me the huge benefit of the PT investment that’s happening or that we’re pushing for is not that it will force everyone out of cars but that it allows some people to reduce their level of car use. Perhaps a two car family will be able to go to a single car, or a three car family down to two cars.

The myth in the article that caught my attention was the last one.

SPEED KILLS

The late LJK Setright was arguably the most erudite motoring journalist of his time. Not to mention often quite mischievous.

According to the great man in one of his 1990s columns: “Speed does not kill. Speed saves time, which is life.”

I wonder how long it will be before the government start using this line?

Yet as Peter pointed out the other day, many people don’t value speed and choose to pay for travel with time, does this mean they value their life less or just differently to a motoring journalist.

City centre parking rates: economic literacy versus special pleading

This weekend the NZ Herald’s motoring correspondent Matt Greenop published an article denouncing the “insult” of parking fees. Now, at Transportblog we’re always up for a good debate over the merits of different parking policies, but this doesn’t add much to the conversation:

Parking used to be a doddle. Now it’s just another cost of car ownership that makes us feel we’ve committed a heinous crime against humanity by daring to buy and use our own vehicle.

Every little bit that gets added on to the cost of driving a car in the city is an insult — and the next insult we’re facing is another hike in parking fees.

From an economic perspective, this is a totally absurd statement. It completely ignores the supply and demand dynamics at play in urban areas. Parking takes up space, and as anyone who’s been downtown in the last decade has noticed, there’s a limited amount of space in the city centre. Demand for commercial and residential space in the city centre is increasing. The residential population tripled from 10,200 to 31,300 between the 2001 and 2013 Censuses; over the same time period, employment in the city centre rose by a quarter, from 81,000 to 100,100.

Using prices to manage demand for scarce resources is an efficient and sensible response. This is basic Econ 101 material, and we accept it in most areas of life. City centre office space is priced, and priced highly, due to the fact that a lot of people want to locate there.

It would be ridiculous if companies leasing space in the city centre to complain that a rent increase was an “insult”. And if they insisted on paying no rent at all, we’d recognise it as special pleading for a market-distorting subsidy.

It’s the exact same thing with parking. Essentially, the Herald’s using emotive language to demand a costly, distortionary subsidy for a small number of people.

If the Herald wants to avoid printing such embarrassing nonsense in the future, I strongly recommend that they run their articles by an economist first.