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.

You really want more roads

Another great cartoon from Emerson in response to the governments package of rural roading projects

image

Time for the Canary Test?

Brian Rudman asks if it’s time for the Canary test.

A sitdown on crowded, polluted Customs St will show minister why Auckland needs money for rail link urgently.

The ping-pong marathon between Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Mayor Len Brown over the start date for the $2.86 billion City Rail Link staggers on. This week the mayor unveiled a commissioned PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report claiming the rail patronage and downtown employment targets set by the Government for the project were unrealistic.

It said the 20-million trip trigger point would be achievable only after full introduction of the new electric train service in 2016.

Last year, the Government said the project could start earlier than its preferred 2020 date only if patronage was on track to 20 million trips a year well before then and city centre employment was up by 25 per cent.

Mr Brown says the tunnel has to be started by 2016 to prevent crippling peak hour road congestion by 2020. And PwC says the 25 per cent employment increase is unachievable because of falling office vacancy rates and a shortage of new office space in the pipeline.

Mr Brownlee remains unmoved by the PwC arguments. So what now?

Perhaps it’s time for Mr Brown to challenge the minister to the canary test. Challenge him to sit in one of the downtown Customs St bus stops at peak hour and breathe deeply of the noxious fumes.

Rudman goes on to talk about noise emissions from buses in the city centre. I don’t think it would just have to be at a bus stop. Sitting in Britomart would be good for breathing in fumes – although only for another 15 months or so. However one thing that perhaps Rudman perhaps isn’t aware of is that even with the CRL, the number of buses is set to increase in the city centre, it’s just that they will be from areas that aren’t served by the rail network running at higher frequencies than they do now. That means it’s going to be equally important to look at how we can improve the standards of buses.

What should be alarming Aucklanders is that the longer the CRL is delayed, the more buses and cars will try to cram into this de facto, roadside main downtown bus interchange. Not only will the noise and air pollution increase in Customs St, but it will spread out along the adjacent streets as the bus depot slowly expands. Lower Queen St, Albert St, Commerce St … the pollution will quickly spread.

Add the fumes from the expanding fleet of private cars squeezing into this increasingly congested bottleneck and the strip between the “world’s greatest harbour” and the centre of “the world’s most liveable city” will become, at peak hours, a fetid no-go zone.

While vehicle numbers have increased in the region/country, they have actually dropped coming into the city centre over the last decade or so and AT’s modelling is suggesting that the drop will continue over time as better PT is provided and the city is made more friendly for people.

modalshift-2001-2012

Arrivals in the CBD from the annual screenline survey

Back to the canary test, if he came sat in Britomart he could also see the thousands upon thousands of passengers who already stream off train services in the mornings. Pictures like the one below are now a common sight at Britomart.

And if Brownlee could be persuaded to come and see Auckland’s rail network in action in a bid to get a project over the line he wouldn’t have been the first to do so. Back in 2006 when double tracking of the western line was getting underway the initial plan for New Lynn was for the tracks to remain on the surface. Michael Cullen was dragged down to New Lynn by former Waitakere City mayor Bob Harvey to witness the impact that even a small number of trains caused to the local roading network. He eventually agreed to the tracks and station being put into a trench and although it was more a roading project than a PT one we still got a great integrated rail and station as a result.

Unfortunately the chances of getting Brownlee to witness our PT network in action are very small. He’s shown no interest in it so far and generally seems to avoid Auckland as much as he can. I know the Campaign for Better Transport have tried to have a meeting with him and he always says he is too busy – even Steven Joyce was at least prepared to meet advocacy groups. Interestingly enough Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Brownlee about being in Britomart at peak times last week in a select committee.

She also tweeted a few other comments from it that were interesting.

I think one of the fundamental problems we have with the discussion on PT is that in general politicians (from all parties) have a lack of understanding about the impact it has and the potential it provides. Unfortunately that’s not an easy problem to solve.

CRL back in the spotlight

After a few months of relative silence, discussion about the City Rail Link has been sparked again by a handful of articles.

The most interesting item is that the Mayor has had PWC look into the criteria set by the government to enable a start earlier than the government’s suggestion of 2020 after what would effectively be another review in 2017. I am yet to see the actual report and that will hopefully be made public later this week however Radio NZ have reported on it.

A report for the Auckland Council by the consultant firm PWC says the Government should drop inappropriate targets for rail patronage and downtown employment, and back an early start to the $2.8 billion project if growth trends are on track.

The Government has said a start earlier than 2020 could happen only if rail patronage and city centre employment hit pre-determined targets. Mr Brown wants a start to the City Rail Link (CRL) late next year or in 2016.
The report says the Government based its targets on the City Centre Future Access Study, which had a much narrower scope than a full assessment of the viability of the CRL.

Mr Brown argues that new central city property developments unveiled along the rail tunnel route underline the need for a start earlier than agreed by the Government in July last year.

He told a transport conference on Monday the rail link will be needed before the patronage and employment targets can be met, and the Government should be more flexible.

“If we are on trend and on track, then why wait ’til 2021 to confirm that in fact there is a significant lift in public transport and train usage in our city. Why not just clear the decks and jump in behind the private sector with the type of investment they are making around the precinct properties.”

There seems to be a couple of issues at play. The government are saying that they don’t think the numbers stack up till closer to 2030 yet PWC seem to be saying that the numbers the government are using can only be reached if the CRL is already in place. I think it’s certainly possible – albeit it challenging – for us to reach the 20 million target but I think it’s extremely unlikely we will meet the employment one. The key reason for this is that there simply isn’t enough office space set to come on stream in the next few years to enable that employment growth. There are also other factors at play changing the market, for example there’s an increasing trend to converting some older offices to apartments.

Of course Gerry Brownlee has already dismissed the report.

Perhaps the project that will deliver the biggest single increase in office space also happens to be a project tied intimately to the CRL. Precinct Properties plan for the Downtown Shopping Mall involves building a large tower on the site with the CRL passing underneath it. Precinct are looking to start next year and that is one thing that will only add to the pressure to get on with at least the first section of the tunnel and at least getting it from Britomart, under the Customs St/Albert St intersection and to some point up Albert St. One of the benefits of Precinct’s plan is it no longer requires Auckland Transport to purchase the entire property for what would have likely been $70 million+. One reason that’s important is that while the purchase of the land is included in the project costs, the sale after the project has been completed isn’t subtracted in the economic criteria.

CRL Alignment

Other properties are being purchased though and the Herald reports that so far AT have spent $35 million on buying up properties along the route.

Properties worth $35 million have been bought to secure the route for Auckland’s proposed $2.86 billion City Rail Link.

Although it would not list them, Auckland Transport told the Herald it had bought 27 of 73 above-ground properties it needs to create entranceways to proposed underground stations and train lines along the 3.4km route from Britomart to Mt Eden. It also needs land for its major construction yard at Eden Terrace.

The Auckland Council-owned authority said the most expensive property it had bought was an empty site near Mt Eden Prison for just over $6 million.

It was bought “as an advance agreement with the final amount to be determined by the Land Valuation Tribunal”. The tribunal, under the Ministry of Justice, hears cases where buyers and sellers can’t agree on prices and terms.

I’m not sure how these things normally go but 27 properties seems like a decent number so far. Of course whenever we have the CRL come up we also get at least one councillor make a stupid comment and today was no exception with the prize going to Dick Quax.

Auckland councillor Dick Quax said it was wrong that properties were being bought before funding from the Government had been secured.

“We’re boxing ahead and we don’t have any money for it. It’s a silly thing to do,” he said.

In my view it would be sillier not purchase the properties as land values have continued to rise and by the time the government finally accepts the project and will likely to keep doing so. In fact even the government back when they were still opposing the project said it was worthwhile securing the route which means designating it and buying properties. It’s quite head in the sand stuff from Quax. It’s about as almost as silly as this tweet from Tau Henare yesterday suggesting that the CRL doesn’t do anything for West Auckland.

The last piece yesterday was this one on the council’s next long term plan (LTP).

Planning is under way to slash $2.8 billion of new spending at Auckland Council to control soaring debt and rates while pushing ahead with the $2.86 billion City Rail Link.

The fiscal shake-up will come at a cost to core council services, such as new libraries, swimming pools and playing fields, which face being pushed back or canned altogether.

An early start to electrification of rail to Pukekohe now appears highly unlikely and bus and ferry improvements could take a back seat to the rail link.

The Herald has obtained a copy of a confidential briefing by council officers to councillors, which outlines four scenarios for next year’s 10-year budget review.

The first two are based on updating the first 10-year budget and the second two are based on locking in rates at 3.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent over the next decade by cutting capital spending by $2 billion and $2.8 billion respectively.

Orsman seems to be trying to suggest that the CRL is solely responsible for the cuts to other areas of council spending however it has to be remembered that the council is only going to be covering about half of the costs of the project with the other half coming from the government. What the rest of the article does highlight is that the council are getting to a point where they are going to need to make some tough decisions on what projects they actually build. Carrying on trying to do everything simply isn’t possible so the council will need to prioritise what they do. This is something we’ve been saying for some time and is a basis to many of the things we advocate for including the CFN and walking and cycling.

One last comment from someone who spoke to Bill English on the subject recently

I was just at a function with Bill English. I had a bit of a chat to him in private about the CRL. His views on it:
“It will happen. Its just a matter of when”
“There is a bit of back and forth between the government and the Auckland council on who is going to pay what portion. Our argument is that the public as users should pay a little more, and the public through government taxes should pay a little less.”
“There are a number of milestones for starting the project that the council realise are just never going to be able to be met. So we are sitting down with them to work out a more reasonable structure for the whole project”
“Whether its 2016, 2017, or 2022, it’ll happen.”
He then asked me if i wanted it to go ahead. My reply:
“Absolutely. My vote this election will be decided based on it”
He didn’t seem to impressed and thats where we left our conversation

Herald confirms our electric trains are quiet

The Herald yesterday ran a story on just how quiet the new electric trains are. In a polar opposite there was a lot of noise on twitter about how the article was initially presented but after getting past that it provided some really useful information on just how good these trains are. Here’s the useful bit:

Informal noise sampling by the Herald measured the highest level inside electric multiple unit (EMU) number 129 at 72.9 decibels, compared with 83.6dB reached inside a locomotive-hauled train and 92dB in a diesel multiple unit between Puhinui and Homai stations on Auckland’s southern railway line.

With just the air-con switched on before the electric motors kicked in, the top level was 69dB.

A rule of thumb is that every increase of 10 decibels represents a doubling of noise, meaning a jet aircraft taking off at 100dB is roughly eight times as loud as a passenger car clocking 70dB at 105km/h.

Differences were even more pronounced outside the various trains, where the electric was at least four times quieter than diesels accelerating out of stations.

It reached a top count of 77dB when pulling out of its Wiri depot, compared with a high of 99.6dB for the DMU and 101.6dB for a loco-hauled train thundering away from Puhinui Station.

But being far quieter than the trains they will be replacing in a line-by-line rollout to mid-2015 presents a serious new challenge for the electrics, as they will be harder for pedestrians to hear coming.

That means rail operator Transdev is asking its drivers to take extra care to sound warning alarms when approaching level-crossings.

The differences in noise levels are substantial and it’s something I’ve noticed on the few times I’ve been lucky enough to have a trip on one of the EMUs. It’s quite telling also as I still remember a conversation with a one of the senior engineers involved in the project over a year ago. He told me that while they knew these trains would be quieter, they weren’t sure just how they would compare to a carriage in an SA set (the loco hauled ones) which are noisy if you’re in a carriage near the locomotive but can be quite as you move away from it. I’ve graphed the results the Herald recorded.

Note: This chart has been updated to represent perceived loudness rather than simple decibels.

The vast improvement in the exterior noise is impressive and something that is bound to be a welcome relief for those that live, work or play alongside a rail line. In fact if the figures are right then the new trains are quieter on the outside than the existing trains are on the inside. I think it will hugely improve the viability of increased densities along the rail corridor. You can get a sense for how quiet they are from this video

Another good example is this video from TVNZ during the testing.

What caused attention on twitter though was the attention on the noise of the air-conditioning. Basically the trains are so quite that when first turned on the air-con is slightly audible. To me it’s actually a good sign as it shows the rest of the train is of such a high quality that the only issue able to be picked up was air-con noise. What’s more it appears that the engineers are working hard to improve it further.

Acoustic engineers have been trying to soften the air-conditioning noise on Auckland’s new electric trains with a week to go before they are rolled out for commuter use.

A constant air-conditioning hum overlaid the gentle whirring of electric motors and clickety-clack of rail tracks as the Herald joined trainee drivers on a test run of one of five trains being readied to carry passengers between Onehunga and Britomart next week.

Auckland Transport, which is importing 57 three-car trains from Spain for about $540 million in a cost-sharing purchase and maintenance deal with the Government, insists their air-con units already meet noise and efficiency specification limits for both heating and cooling.

That follows considerable design work and the installation of noise-reducing material, said a spokesman for the council body.

But he acknowledged engineers were still fine-tuning the systems to maximise passenger comfort.

He suggested it would be unfair to represent the air-conditioning noise of an empty train heading out of its depot into humid outside conditions as typical of what passengers should expect from next Monday.

“The air-con would have been working very fast until the train reached normal temperature.”

He also believed it would have been more noticeable in an empty carriage with little background noise.

I like the fact that the engineers are working to improve the customer experience further where they can. I just hope that AT manage to start paying this much attention to the customer experience across all of their operations because if they do then there will be a bright future ahead.

Only 5 days to go till these trains start carrying fare paying passengers for the first time

SECOND EMU_7040

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

Petrol use falling

Even petrol companies are now talking about how fuel use and driving are falling. The Herald reports:

Z Energy says petrol consumption is falling in relation to increasing availability of broadband.

While more fuel-efficient vehicles and rising petrol prices have also contributed to consumption falling from its 2007 peak, Z’s chief executive, Mike Bennetts, said demand was more sensitive to broadband connectivity than these traditional factors.

“People are doing less discretionary motoring and that may be about the price but what we have found is quite a strong link between broadband connections and fuel consumption,” he said.

“People are doing online shopping and Skyping granny rather than making the fortnightly visit.”

A 1 per cent improvement in broadband connectivity is estimated to cause a drop of 200 million litres a year in national fuel demand, more than the impact of GDP growth, population, fleet turnover, vehicle efficiency and the petrol price.

This is very much in line with some of the things we’ve been saying for a while. The world is changing and the Internet in particular is having an impact on how much and often people travel. This is especially the case amongst young people. This also matches what we’ve seen in other transport metrics with the number Vehicle Kilometres Travelled per capita (VKT) falling back to below its 2001 level.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) publish regular information about fuel consumption and this is shown in the graph below by fuel type.

Fuel Consumption kt

Z are also predicting that petrol consumption will continue to fall

Fuel consumption peaked at 4.2 billion barrels a year in 2007 but is estimated by Z and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to fall to 3.6 billion barrels within the next 10 years.

Z has between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of fuel sales, and data compiled for an investor day shows light vehicle travel per person has fallen 6 per cent since 2005.

However, diesel use is increasing and while historically pegged to GDP growth is now surpassing that.

Undoubtedly there has been some shift from petrol to diesel which has contributed to the faster than GDP growth.

Of course one thing that isn’t mentioned in the article but will likely be having a small but growing impact will be that of the growth in PT in Auckland which has tended to outstrip population growth in recent years. About the only thing certain in transport these days is that we can no longer just assume things will just be a continuation of past trends.

Better or cheaper public transport?

With the great news that the Hop Card has finally been fully implemented, attention now turns to complementing integrated ticketing with integrated fares. Integrated fares is all about ensuring that you pay the same amount for a trip from A to B regardless of how you got there: a single bus, bus & train combination or whatever. The Regional Public Transport Plan indicates that Auckland Transport want to implement integrated fares through a zone based fare system – with latest board reports noting a couple of options still being analysed.

With my trying out of various options to get to and from Takapuna it has also highlighted just how important integrated fares are. With HOP to go via the 130 bus like I described yesterday it cost me $5.04. By comparison to catch a train to town and then get a bus to Takapuna – a journey that takes about the same length of time but doesn’t feel like it due to at least feeling like you are moving – costs $8.68. That’s a difference of $3.64 just to get to the same location. Even worse another bus I accidentally tried from town to Takapuna (which I will discuss in a separate post) cost a grand total of $9.67. That’s three completely different costs to go between the same two locations.

HOP costs to Takapuna

The fare zones originally proposed in the draft Regional Public Transport Plan looked at using geographic boundaries largely reminiscent of the old council areas however that didn’t receive a lot of support and sent AT back to the drawing board.  The latest board report suggests that AT are looking at two different concentric zone models like this one from a survey in August last year which I understand was much preferred over the geographic boundary option.

Concentric Zone structure

In Wednesday’s NZ Herald, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy discusses the potential for the integrated fares system to result in cheaper travel on public transport:

Aucklanders are being offered hope of cheaper public transport now introduction of the region’s $100 million electronic ticketing scheme is complete.

A report that Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy expects will recommend lower fares to help meet ambitious patronage targets is due before his council body’s board in two months…

…Dr Levy told the Herald after yesterday’s meeting that the card was a stepping stone to a simpler fare structure, which he hoped would give passengers cheaper trips.

The prospect of cheaper public transport is obviously appealing in some respects – and perhaps for some people the cost of public transport is what stops them from using the system. For most people though, I think the bigger issue is simply the usefulness of the system. When the system is full of routes like the stupid 130 that I talked about yesterday and/or routes with such low frequency meaning you have to plan your life around a bus timetable then no amount of price reductions is going to get lots more people using services.

Furthermore in the past I’ve looked into a number of Canadian and Australian cities and interestingly despite different fare structures and prices, the average fare paid by passengers is actually very similar to that in Auckland. These cities have much higher patronage than Auckland and some of the key reasons are the more developed Rapid Transit services and the connective bus networks. In other words they have developed a higher quality PT network and people are prepared to pay to use that.

There has also been some interesting research into this area by the NZTA. For example this paper found that while fares did play an important part, service was the key driving factor for patronage while this one notes that initiatives like free transfers, ticket promotions, improvements to hours and better timetables may have had a profound impact on patronage.

In saying all of this, I do think it’s possible that cleverly lowering some fares might lead to patronage growth significant enough to more than make up for the loss of per passenger revenue – particularly during off-peak periods where spare capacity already exists on many services.

However, clearly any reduction in fares that leads to a requirement for more operating subsidy is potentially taking money away from where it could otherwise be used – particularly in two areas:

  • Improving service frequency. The flip-side of this is that any lowering of revenue from PT fares could necessitate cutting of services to fund the extra subsidy requirement – which would be a pretty crazy thing to do if patronage increases.
  • Investing the money in infrastructure improvements to make public transport more attractive by being faster, more reliable or with higher quality facilities.

Obviously there’s the potential for money to be redirected away from building unnecessary motorway projects and into lowering PT fares, but one suspects that would require a change of government to occur.

All of the above doesn’t mean it’s impossible for Auckland Transport to change the way it prices public transport to be more attractive and offer better value for money. A few suggestions for how fares should be improved while not necessarily breaking the bank are:

  • Fixing up fare irregularities like mentioned in my example to Takapuna
  • While average fares are similar, compared to overseas cities, fares for short trips in Auckland are unusually low while fares for longer trips are unusually high. This could be redressed – although perhaps not to the extent of Melbourne’s flat fare proposal – in a way that’s ‘revenue neutral’.
  • As already mentioned, fares for off-peak travel could be lowered to ‘smooth out’ peaks in demand that require very expensive peak services to be operated.
  • The price difference between cash fares and Hop Card fares could be substantially increased to encourage greater use of Hop (which means faster boarding times and a more efficient system).
  • Monthly passes could be made more price attractive, to encourage higher levels of PT use by existing users.

As Jarrett Walker often mentions, every public transport user benefits from better public transport and improved public transport makes it more likely for anyone to use the system. Cheaper fares, particularly if achieved in a way that comes at the cost of lower overall revenue, only help a much smaller section of society and therefore are less likely to boost public transport use than improving service through bumping up frequencies or building better infrastructure.

Ultimately I think we have an important choice to make, do we choose between better or cheaper public transport. Personally I would rather a better quality service but I realise not everyone will agree.

Rudman on the current Transport plans

It’s almost as if Brian Rudman had been reading the blog (I’ve heard that he does).

Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, says Labour now backs Mayor Len Brown’s bid to levy an extra charge on Auckland road users through road or congestion charges or a regional fuel tax.

He said Labour had been wary of road-user charges in the past because of the effect on working Aucklanders, but now says they are already paying a high price for congested roads and lack of public transport.

But by buying into Mr Brown’s road-bloated transport plans, Labour is only preventing the short sharp shock in favour of public transport that is long overdue. Of course the city rail tunnel is a no-brainer. As was the electrification of the rail network, integrated ticketing, revision of the bus networks and the other public transport reforms which, let’s not forget, pre-dated Mr Brown’s emergence as chief cheerleader.

The problem is the $12 billion to $15 billion that Mr Brown wants to raise via road charging and tolling is needed only because of a huge funding shortfall in Auckland Transport’s proposed 30-year “integrated transport programme”.

It’s a flawed, road-dominated programme which, if achieved as planned, will leave the next generation of Aucklanders stuck in worse traffic jams than we have now. The plan admits that once it is completed, “road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road networks by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.

Despite all the mayor’s promotion of his rail tunnel, the underlying emphasis of this grand plan is still on roads. This is underlined in the regional land transport programme.

This is what we’ve been saying for almost a year now. Personally I think that road pricing should take place but not as a revenue gathering exercise but for the congestion relief benefits it provides. To do this it could be done in a revenue neutral way by reducing household rates instead. It is the rubbish Integrated Transport Programme that was one of the driving factors behind us creating the Congestion Free Network which does include still building a substantial number of roading projects but not to the same scale as currently proposed. We’ve even estimated the costs out over each and every year.

CFN Costs by year - 2 CFN Costs by year totals

Rudman continues

Aucklanders have proven that given a train service, they will use it. In 1993, after the purchase of Perth’s secondhand diesel fleet boosted Auckland’s puny rail service, passenger numbers rose from 1 million to 2.5 million over 10 years. In the 10 years after the opening of the Britomart station in 2003, passenger numbers quadrupled to 10 million.

The first of the 57 new electric trains will enter service in April. With the new Hop card integrated ticket finally operating and a redesigned network of bus routes in the wings, Auckland public transport is finally emerging from a half-century of neglect. With the improved train services and the Northern Busway, Aucklanders have voted with their feet. Provide a service and they will use it.

The trouble with the politicians and the bureaucrats is that after 60 years of addiction to petrol, they can’t break the habit. True, they’ve conceded that a liveable city needs a modern public transport system. But when did you ever see a politician on a bus or train – except for a photo opportunity?

More to the point, when did you see one vote to chop the roads budget in favour of public transport? Instead they try to support both, which is why Mr Brown and the “consensus building group” of mainly road-lovers he set up to find new funding is trying to bully Aucklanders into paying another $12 billion to $15 billion for a 30-year plan that’s designed to fail.

There are a few politicians that do use PT. The most prolific is actually George Wood who I know uses it to get all around the region and not just for getting to and from the CBD, even doing trips that most readers wouldn’t bother attempting like yesterday when he used PT to get from the Airport to the North Shore.

Yesterday the NZCID also released an “independent report” on infrastructure. I haven’t read through it yet but some of the comments in the press release definitely caught my eye.

However, SGS found that the Auckland Plan objective of a quality compact city was unlikely to be achieved without increased investment in city shaping infrastructure, identification of the means to fund that investment and policy reform to support road pricing and value capture mechanisms.

On current plans there simply is not sufficient investment in transport infrastructure to support a transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form, Selwood said.

To reverse many decades of low-density, motor-vehicle oriented growth will take much more than the city rail link and other projects prioritised in the Auckland Plan.

This finding helps explain why transport modelling of future land use and transport investment completed last year showed Aucklands congestion worsening significantly over the course of the next thirty years, even with all proposed investment committed.

So how does this plan look for some city shaping infrastructure that helps us transition to an efficient and competitive higher density urban form that will help to reverse many decades of low-density, motor vehicle oriented growth?

CFN 2030AEdit: Also worth including a couple of comments from Phil Twyford on the issue