Waterview reckoning

On Friday afternoon, Newstalk ZB reported, and followed up by the Herald yesterday that the Waterview Tunnels will have lights to control traffic both accessing the tunnels and on the connection out of the tunnels onto SH16 eastbound.

Auckland’s new Waterview Tunnel will speed up travel times, but motorists will have to wait in queues at traffic lights to enter it.

The tunnel connecting the North Western and South Western motorways will open in April, creating the Western Ring Route around the city.

Ramp signals will operate on both of the ramps into the tunnel, and on the longer east-bound tramps out of the tunnel.

But motorists turning west out of the tunnel won’t have to wait at signal lights, so queues of traffic are unlikely to build up inside it.

Signals will also operate on the other side of the tunnel, like at the on-ramp at Maioro Street.

New Zealand Transport Agency Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon said the signals will be able to control traffic through the tunnel in both directions.

Delays caused by traffic signals will be offset by major improvements to travel times and traffic flows.

While this is the first time this has appeared in the media, it isn’t new entirely new as in September last year we revealed that the NZTA had underestimated traffic demand for the Waterview Connection and were undertaking a series measures to try and mitigate the traffic volumes they now expect will occur after opening. These mitigation works included ramp signals as well as emergency widening of some sections of motorway.

What’s interested me the most has been some of the comments from the NZTA in relation to all of this. First up:

Mr Gliddon said completing the connection will allow more cars to travel on motorways, and reduce the number of cars on local roads

If the intention is to reduce the number of cars on local roads then it’s important that the NZTA and Auckland Transport capitalise on that by refocusing them on supporting local movements. That means prioritising walking, cycling, public transport and local access instead of a focus on pumping as many cars along them as possible. Given Waterview has been under construction since 2011, there’s been plenty of time to prepare for this, so surely AT and the NZTA have plans to do this?

Unfortunately, it seems that other than bus lanes on Great North Rd, there are no other changes in this direction planned for local roads, and in fact some of their proposed emergency mitigation was in direct conflict with this, for example AT wanted to put bus lanes citybound on Blockhouse Bay Rd but the NZTA want it kept car focused as an “incident diversion route”.

Next we have:

“It is not a means of removing congestion altogether, especially in peak periods, which is no different to other major cities across the world.”

In many ways this is a very significant statement, like an addict admitting they have a problem, the NZTA have taken the first step by admitting that roads will still be congested, especially at peak times. This is of course a positive first step towards getting a more balanced transport system but it doesn’t do anything to make up for the fact that the NZTA let a golden opportunity to provide people with a genuine option to opt out of congestion, in the form of full busway along SH16. While they have built some bus lanes, they are inadequate, stopping at interchanges and already suffering from being clogged up with vehicles in places. Not building a full busway is a massive failure from all of our transport institutions, especially as ATAP recently recognised that the first parts of it will be needed within a decade, meaning the diggers will need to back in just a few years.

It’s also worth pointing out old project documents like this one that claims Waterview will “relieve congestion“. It also notes that it will reduce traffic on Maioro Rd by 20%, yet as part of the emergency mitigation one of the actions was to ask AT to make changes to increase “off ramp discharge capacity” – in other words to pump more traffic down there.

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to realise that if SH16 is already clogged every morning towards the city that adding two lanes of traffic from tunnels isn’t going to work well.

These claims of relieving congestion come from a long line of similar type comments from the agency and politicians, including Steven Joyce and others claiming numerous times that Waterview was the “last link” in the Western Ring Route, only to announce the Northern Corridor project just a few years later.

Following on from the initial articles, including the herald’s somewhat alarmist title of “Warning: Waterview tunnel will open to gridlock“, the NZTA issued a press release about it yesterday. It’s quite unusual to get press releases on a Sunday which makes me think some senior managers and/or politicians were not happy. In it, they defended the project and called some of the reporting “misleading”.

Ramp signals at Waterview one way of optimising traffic flows across motorway network

The NZ Transport Agency says ramp signals are just one tool to optimise traffic flow and ensure the safe and smooth running of the entire Auckland motorway network.

Ramp signals similar to those already operating where State Highway 20 joins State Highway 1 will help to regulate traffic flow on both ramps leading in the Waterview Tunnel and the east-bound ramp out of the tunnel.

“Like all the other ramp signals on the motorway network, they will only operate when there’s a need to optimise traffic flow, that could in reality mean they are used very infrequently,” says Brett Gliddon the Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager.

“We don’t expect this to lead to significant queues and headlines suggesting the ramp signals will create gridlock are misleading.”

I found it particularly odd that of all ramp lights around the motorway network they chose to highlight the SH20 to SH1 ramp signals. If you recall that too was promised to be a free flowing connection but the NZTA had to put signals on it after it caused massive congestion on SH1 when it opened.

A new $220 million Auckland link road designed to take the pressure off State Highway 1 is having the opposite effect, forcing transport bosses to install traffic lights to ease congestion.

Ramp signals will be erected to give traffic travelling south along SH1 a chance against motorists muscling their way on to the road from the Southwestern Motorway at Manukau.

The signals are expected to be running within three months, at a point that was originally intended to be a seamless connection.

A recent post implementation review found that some of this issue came from not properly assessing the impacts the project would have which is notable because the emergency mitigation being undertaken only came about due to a new traffic assessment as these issues or other works weren’t identified in the reports used to obtain consent.

Ultimately the issue isn’t about whether the project has ramp signals or not but how these mega road projects are sold and communicated to the public. If our institutions were more honest about the what the real impacts of these mega projects were, it would likely change how many of these projects are viewed.

Now NZTA, when are you getting started on that busway?

Warkworth to Wellsford boondoggle route announced

Since 2009 when the Roads of National Significance were first announced we’ve talked a lot about the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway the NZTA has now started building. We’ve long had issues with the project, mainly due to its high cost for comparatively little demand outside of a few holiday periods. But the project was only ever the stage one of a larger scheme to extend the new road further north to also bypass Wellsford.

Not long after originally announced, the section from Warkworth to Welllsford appeared to have been relegated into a vault somewhere at the NZTA. That’s in part because the last we had heard, it was that they were struggling to even find a route to use thanks to the tricky geology in the area. Here’s what they said in 2011 about it.

“Every time you put a spade in the ground up there you’ve got to put in retaining structures, or tunnels or something.

“The level of ground movement is more than we had anticipated, which makes huge problems and huge costs.”

In fact we thought it had been put so far to the back of the vault by the NZTA that it might not surface again, and that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Despite the challenging ground conditions, on Tuesday, the NZTA announced that they now have an indicative route for the project

The NZ Transport Agency says the proposed route for a new road between Warkworth and Wellsford announced today will make traveling between Northland and Auckland safer, faster and easier.

It has shared an Indicative Route for the Warkworth to Wellsford section of the Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.

“Building an off-line motorway, completely separate from the existing State Highway 1 will improve safety, reduce congestion and support Northland’s economic growth,” says Ernst Zollner the Transport Agency’s Northland Director.

“Removing sharp bends, providing better passing opportunities and a dual carriageway to separate north and southbound traffic will improve safety and is predicted to reduce the fatal and serious injury crash rate by 80% through this area.”

Due to the natural environment through the Dome Valley, State Highway 1 is susceptible to flooding, slips and ongoing repairs. The location of the new motorway, to the west of the Dome Forest, will provide a reliable alternate route between Northland and Auckland.

The Indicative Route ties into the local road network helping to connect local communities.

It joins the Pūhoi to Warkworth section of motorway near Kaipara Flats Road. It will then travel on the western side of the Dome Valley until it reaches the Hoteo River where it will cross eastwards over the existing SH1 to an interchange proposed at Wayby Valley Road in Wellsford. Another motorway interchange is proposed near Mangawhai Road, with the motorway then meeting the existing State Highway 1 north of Vipond Road.

“Once the motorway is built travel will also be safer for local road users because 90% of regional traffic, especially heavy traffic, can avoid townships making their main streets safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.”

The Indicative Route will be shared with the public for their feedback which will help further refine the route. If the route is confirmed it will be taken forward for consenting and route protection by 2018.

While the NZTA don’t plan to officially release the route till this weekend when they hold the first of their public open days (see here for them), Local Matters which covers the North Auckland area has published this map showing the route which even suggests a potential tunnel along the route.

Like with the Puhoi to Warkworth section, our major problem with this project is the share cost of it compared to how much it will be used. The Puhoi to Warkworth section is around 18km and costing, though a PPP, about $710 million. Currently just over 21,000 vehicles travel the road south of Warkworth daily. It had a benefit cost ration of about 0.9 so in other words we get about 90c of benefits for every dollar we spend on it.

By comparison this new section is about 24km in length, though what sounds like even more challenging terrain with potentially a tunnel meaning the cost will almost certainly be much higher than the Warkworth leg. Earlier estimates put this section at about $1 billion but I suspect it could now easily top that. What’s more the current segment of road this is intended to replace carries only about half the traffic of SH1 at just over 10k vehicles per day.

Here’s a comparison of the vehicle volumes for the 20 years showing this section sees just over 10k vehicles per day with possibly slightly more. To put that in perspective, some of our urban roads in Auckland carry more traffic than each sections of roads

Here are a few other quick thoughts that have run though my head about this project.

It’s not about Northland – The government, and those who have pushed the project the hardest, love to claim that the point of the project is to improve the economy of Northland. Spending this money this project in Northland itself would provide better outcomes. As Peter suggested the other day.

Why Now? – It’s been almost nine years since the Government launched the RoNS and I can’t help but wonder if the NZTAs latest push on this project is related to the election later this year. The government will of course be keen to reclaim the Northland seat off Winston Peters.

Where’s the business case – surely self explanatory

Operation Lifesaver – Based on other projects and even if the NZTA push on at this time, it’s likely to be a decade or more before complete. This once again raises the issue of Operation Livesaver, the purpose of which is to implement a range of safety and other enhancements to the existing route which could be done now. Given it would also be much cheaper it could see improvements extended further closer to Whangarei.

Any bets on the cost of this and the BCR?

Dwelling on dwell-times — Estimating the economic benefits of speeding up Auckland’s trains

Introduction

If you’ve been reading TransportBlog for a while, then you may have noticed that the term “dwell-times” crops up relatively frequently. The term describes the average time that trains are stopped at stations. In several previous posts, we’ve discussed how average dwell-times on Auckland’s new electric trains are approximately 50-60 seconds per stop. In contrast, best-practice dwell-times on rail systems overseas are in the order of 20-30 seconds per stop, so 20 – 40 seconds faster than ours.

In this recent post, I suggested something “had to be done” to shorten dwell-times, to which one commenter (quite reasonably) asked “why“. I was surprised by their question, because to me the benefits of reducing travel-times by 30 seconds per stop seemed obvious. It means that we take Auckland’s trains out of the steam age and into the electric age.

Upon reflection, however, I realised that it wasn’t immediately obvious how apparently small delays of 30 seconds per stop would incur economic costs that warranted action. This realisation motivated me to write this post, in which I attempt to estimate some of the economic benefits of shorter dwell-times on Auckland’s train.

Note that this post does not consider how we might go about reducing dwell-times, and I’d like to ask people who comment not to de-rail the post with such technical matters. The point I’m trying to convey, and which I am interested in discussing, is the economic benefits that flow from running trains faster. Similar arguments apply to efforts to close small intermediate stations, such as Westfield and Te Mahia.

When I think about reducing dwell-times, four obvious sources of economic benefits spring to mind: 1) Reduced costs; 2) Existing user benefits; 3) New User Benefits; and 4) Decongestion benefits. Let’s now dive into the data (hand-waving?) ….

Cost savings: The total cost of running Auckland’s rail services is likely to be in the order of $125 million p.a. Various factors contribute to these costs, but major componenets are likely to be:

  • Staff, including drivers and train managers;
  • Operating costs, such as fuel, mainenance, and track access charges;
  • Asset depreciation, especially on the rolling stock, electrified infrastructure, and depots; and
  • Station operations, such as ticketing and security services.

Different places account for these costs in different ways, which can end up making things quite complex. To simplify things, it’s common to analyse public transport costs in terms of three underlying drivers: 1) vehicle-kilometres; 2) vehicle-hours; and 3) peak fleet requirements. These cost drivers are, more-or-less and to varying degrees, what determine the costs of the services that we operate. Shorter dwell-times won’t, of course, affect the distance that trains travel, even if they will reduce vehicle-hours and/or peak fleet requirements.

To estimate the cost savings from shorter dwell-times, I assumed that measures are taken to reduce dwell-times by 30 seconds per station. If I assume there are 15 stations on the average rail run from Swanson/Papakura/Manukau to the City, then this saves 7.5 minutes on every 55 minute run, or ~14%. I then assume that one-third of this 14% reduction in (in-service) vehicle-hours flows through to the operating cost bottom-line, that is, shorter dwell-times reduce total costs by 4.5%.

Given a total annual spend of $125 million p.a. on operating rail services in Auckland, normal practice dwell-times would reduce costs by $5.68 million p.a. If I then assume an 8% discount rate over 30 years, then this has an NPV of $69.1 million.

That’s the first example of how an apparently small number can lead to a large number when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective …

Existing user benefits: The second effect of shorter dwell-times is to expedite journeys by rail. That us, existing rail users will also benefit from faster travel-times. Current rail patronage is about 18 million journeys p.a., which is predicted to grow to 40 million in a post-CRL world. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that Auckland averages 30 million rail passengers per year over the next 30 years.

Moreover, I now assume these passengers travel an average of 15km per rail journey. If I assume rail stations are spaced, on average, at one station per 3km, then this implies there are 4 intermediate stations per journey (NB: Remember that users will not benefit from faster dwell-times for the last station). Saving 30 seconds over 4 stations equates to a time saving of 2 minutes per journey. If I assume a value-of-time of $10 per hour, then we can monetize the value of these time savings as follows: (2/60) hours per journey x $10 per hour x 30 million journeys per year = $10 million p.a. This has an NPV of $121.6 million. Happy train users are valuable train users.

New User Benefits: Faster trains will, of course, also attract new users. Let’s assume the elasticty of demand with respect to in-vehicle travel time is -0.50. That is, a doubling in travel-time leads to a 50% decline in patronage. In turn, this means that the 14% reduction in travel-time associated from shorter dwell-times would be associated with a 7.0% increase in patronage, or an additional 2.1 million journeys p.a. If I now apply the rule-of-half, that is 2.1 million x (2/60) x $10 per hour x 0.5 = $0.35 million p.a. Or $4.3 million over 30 years.

Decongestion benefits: Some of the additional rail journeys undertaken as a consequence of faster travel-times would have otherwise been loaded onto the road network. This in turn means congestion would be higher. If I assume that 60% of new rail journeys occur in peak periods, and that 25% of these journeys would have otherwise been placed on the road network, then this suggests faster dwell-times diverts 315,000 vehicles off congested roads every year. If we again assume the average rail journey is 15km long, and that decongestion benefits are valued at $0.40 per kilometre, then I find that decongestion benefits are valued at $1.8 million p.a., or $23.0 million over a thirty year period.

Summary

Let’s summarize the estimated economic benefits of faster dwell-times:

  • Cost savings of $69.1 million
  • Existing user benefits of $121.6 million
  • New user benefits of $4.3 million
  • Decongestion benefits of $23.0 million.

Yielding a total of $217.9 million. I must acknowledge these are extremely rough and ready estimates and I could well be wrong and/or out by a decent margin of say +-50%. So don’t anyone go quoting me to the decimal point.

Notwithstanding their approximate nature, the order of magnitude of the estimate is significant. To put it in context, an economic benefit of $217.9 million is equivalent to approximately $7.3 million for every second we cut from average dwell-times. Another way to look at it: I understand the total cost of Auckland’s new trains was in the order of $500 million. Cutting 30 seconds per stop is then worth approximately half of the cost of buying completely new trains. This seems plausible to me; I suspect that a large component of the anticipated benefits of electrification would stem from faster journey times, which have not as yet materialized (NB: In some ways you could argue it’s impressive Auckland has achieved so much patronage growth despite the slow travel-times.

Anyway, the main point is to demonstrate how small time savings can quickly add-up to large dollar values when you take a network-wide, long-run perspective. This is why we harp on about dwell-times and why it’s heartening to see Council putting pressure on AT to sort this mess out. Indeed, cost savings of $69 million above would go straight to Council’s bottom-line, as would approximately $100 million in additional fare revenue over 30 years (NB: This is not an economic benefit per se at it’s simply a transfer from passengers to Council — even if it is of course a fiscal benefit). These fiscal cost savings would result in either lower rates and/or improved services.

In our increasingly resource-constrained world, I consider frugality to be not just prudent, but indeed relatively noble. This is especially true when it comes to other people’s time and money. On this topic, Benjamin Franklin, once said “The way to wealth … depends chiefly on two words, industry and frugality: that is, waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.” Confucius put it even more succintly when he said “he who will not economize will have to agonize”.

Or, if you prefer the words of Bruce Lee.

On that note, I suspect my marginal utility of spending more time on this post is by now lower than my next best alternative option.

Have a good ‘un.

Applying for Motorways

A few days before Christmas and the NZTA have been busy little beavers, lodging not one but two consent applications for major Auckland projects last week. the Northern Corridor and the East-West Link (despite the council asking them to hold off for just a few more months). With thousands of pages worth of reports in each of the applications plus their supporting documents, perhaps the NZTA were targeting those looking for something to do over the Christmas/New Year period. Due to the volume of information I’m not going into much detail about each of these but you can be sure we will in the new year.

The Northern Corridor is expected to cost around $500 million and is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • SH1 widened to include extra general traffic lanes in each direction between Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation) and Greville Road;
  • A new dual direction busway adjacent to the southbound carriageway shoulder of SH1;
  • Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station, further north to Albany Bus Station;
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycleway adjacent to the southbound carriageway of the Northern busway extension;
  • SH18 upgraded to full motorway standard from the Albany Highway interchange to SH1, with a motorway to motorway connection to SH1 (north facing SH1 – SH18 ramps only);
  • Direct connection of Paul Matthew Road to Upper Harbour Highway;
  • Local road intersection improvements; and
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycle way initially tracking from Albany Highway along SH18 and up the length of SH1 to Oteha Valley Road.

Unlike the East-West Link further below, there isn’t much in the way of images for the Northern Corridor showing what it will look like. The images do show a couple of important things though, such as that the Constellation Busway Station will get an outbound platform accessed by an over bridge, like Smales Farm and Akoranga. As you can see the Rosedale drawing doesn’t include details about the proposed busway station as mentioned the other day.

While this one shows the proposed bridge that will give direct access from the busway to the Albany Busway station.

Here’s the plan version of that

The East-West is now expected to cost up to $1.8 billion, about three times what it was originally expected to cost. It is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • A new four lane arterial road between SH20 at the Neilson Street Interchange in Onehunga and the on and off-ramps on SH1 at Mt Wellington Highway;
  • SH1 widened in each direction between Mt Wellington Highway and Princes Street to increase capacity to allow connection to the Project. Several bridges will either be upgraded or widened to facilitate this;
  • Major upgrades to the Neilson Street Interchange to enable direct access between SH20 and EWL through free flow ramp connections in all directions;
  • A full pedestrian and cycling link between Māngere Bridge and Onehunga through to Sylvia Park Town Centre;
  • Local road improvements at Galway Street, Captain Springs Road, Hugo Johnston Drive and a new access road for the existing ports; and A grade separated intersection of Great South Road and Sylvia Park Roads to provide improved reliability and future resilience.
  • Landscape and recontour the coastal edge of Māngere Inlet to reflect the original foreshore which existed before extensive historic reclamation; and
  • Incorporate stormwater treatment wetlands located within new headlands on the foreshore of the Māngere Inlet.

 

Below are some images of what the East-West Link is meant to look like when finished.

This is the proposal for the Onehunga Interchange looking North and South. Notice in each of them how they show rail in the plan, which is now planned to go over the top of some roads. The also show the replacement walking and cycling bridge which the NZTA have gone very quiet on.

And here’s a shot showing the new road alongside the Mangere Inlet.

The map below shows the entire East-West plan which also includes widening of SH1 and upgrading the Princes St interchange. Click the image for a larger version or go here for the original (8.2MB)

This is a close up of the Onehunga Interchange.

As mentioned we’ll go into more detail about these posts in the new year, in the meantime, let me know if you see anything interesting in the technical documents

Rosedale Station decisions

The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s major public transport success story’s, helping ever increasing numbers of people get around the city while avoiding congestion. It’s been a key factor in seeing around 40% of people crossing the harbour bridge in the morning peak now doing so on a bus. And despite the busway itself opening in 2008, there’s been seeing a surge in usage over  the last year or so which has coincided with the introduction of Double Decker buses – which are now standard on almost all Northern Express services.

Yet this success comes despite the busway only being about 7km long, just 41% of the distance between Albany and the city.

One important win that’s occurred in recent years is that the NZTA will extend the hugely successful Northern Busway all the way to Albany in the coming years – although it only comes alongside a massive motorway project. However, an article on Stuff raises concerns about an important aspect of those plans, that authorities can’t seem to agree on where to put a new station.

The exact location of a new bus station on Auckland’s North Shore will finally be decided in 2017.

First mooted in 2015, the bus station is part of a project to improve the Northern Busway and has received “overwhelming” public support.

But, after two years of investigation by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and Auckland Transport (AT), a precise site for the new station has still not been chosen.

The Northern Corridor Improvements project will see the Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station in Mairangi Bay all the way through to Albany Bus Station.

Original project plans proposed the new station at Rosedale, as part of the wide-ranging works.

However, the new bus station has been left out of plans that were lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in November.

NZTA’s Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon says the bus station is still being “actively investigated” and a final decision on the location will be made next year.

This is what the NZTA have said in relation to the busway in the past and it also hints at what some of the problem might be.

A station linked to Rosedale Rd makes a lot of sense, given there’s a decent little patch of employment within easy walking distance.

I suspect part of the problem of why it’s taking so long to make a decision might be hidden in the text from the NZTA, specifically:

Auckland Transport are also investigating a new bus station and Park & Ride options at Rosedale. It is envisaged that, like Smales Farm, this proposed station will be a destination station for the many people who work, go to school or attend sporting activities in Rosedale.

Destination stations are usually reserved for important locations such as large centres or interchanges, for example, New Lynn, Newmarket, Otahuhu, Panmure and of course, as mentioned in the text, Smales Farm. These stations are normally impressive but are both costly and/or where bus interchanges are concerned and they can consume significant amounts of land. This would be especially so if they also plan to include a park & ride. As such, it would be no surprise if we were to learn that cost of such a station, both monetarily and in land use, was a sticking point in the decision.

In my view a destination station is wrong for Rosedale and instead something more akin to the Sunnynook Busway Station, a fairly simple but efficient station, seems more appropriate. What’s more it could span Rosedale Rd to give easy access to footpaths on either side of the road and to bus stops for local bus services.

Let’s hope they can get the details of this busway station sorted soon so the NZTA don’t leave AT behind.

ATAP Indicative Projects Costings

In September the Final Report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released and we’ve talked about it a lot since then. It focused on strategic recommendations following multiple rounds of modelling of packages of projects and with & without Smarter Pricing. The Final Indicative Package can be seen on the map below, however please note these are indicative and may change as each project goes through the necessary business cases.

ATAP Indicative Interventions

The ATAP report found that in the first decade alone, there’s a $400 million funding gap and while the aggregate costings where available, the estimated cost for each project where not. So, I decided to OIA that very information & thankfully the NZTA were happy to oblige, giving us this information in a very nice format which you can see below.

Please note the projects are indicative and subject to the regular business cases, the costings are preliminary estimates for example the ATAP team did not receive the information regarding updated CRL costings until after the Report had been finalised, the costings are also not inflation adjusted which is why some in the third decade in particular look cheaper than previous estimates you may have seen.

ATAP Projects Estimates

ATAP Project Costs Page 1

ATAP Project Costs Page 2

Rail Development Programme

Rail Development Programme

I wont go into to much regarding the information, as this is best done in a series of follow up posts on ATAP, but some things to note are

  1. A (Road Only) Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is $3.7b but will be much more with inflation.
  2. They budget $585.3m of level crossing removals.
  3. There is over $4b in state highway widening projects (Does not include East West Link & AWHC), those projects bring it up to over $9B.
  4. $784m to four track Westfield-Papakura.
  5. $503.7m for Isthmus Mass Transit is budgeted in the first decade meaning only $622.5m needs to be accelerated to make it a first decade project.
  6. Mass Transit between Wynyard Quarter – Takapuna is budgeted at $1.8b.

What do you think of the costs and what stands out to you?

Could the government fund light rail

Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.

The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.

The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.

The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.

The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.

There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):

Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:

a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded

By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.

Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.

Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.

One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.

But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.

Airport Anarchy

For years, we and many others have been saying that better options are needed for accessing the airport and for even longer, politicians, officials and experts have either wilfully ignored the need to serve one of Auckland’s major destinations with public transport or have actively opposed and sabotaged it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with roads reportedly clogged so bad that many are missing flights or commenting that it took longer to drive home from the airport than fly to Auckland from Sydney. It seems even Mayor Phil Goff got caught in the mayhem. And things could get worse with the airports busiest days of the year coming up.

The transport planners from the NZTA have pinned their hopes on upgrading the motorway to the airport by grade separating Kirkbride Rd – due to be completed next year some time – but one of the major problems with it is that while it removes an intersection, it doesn’t really add any extra capacity to the road network so going to do bugger all to solve congestion within the airport itself. There are of course some bus options but they suffer from the same congestion as cars.

To really have a chance of making a difference in getting to the airport, we need good alternatives. Perhaps one of the issues we’ve had is that almost all of the discussion is focused on long term solutions, currently expected to be light rail (we don’t need another debate about rail mode in this post thanks). Yet despite this route being a major issue for Aucklanders, in the six years since Auckland was amalgamated, almost nothing has been done to protect the route and ATAP doesn’t suggest anything will be build (from the north) till after 2026. That’s simply too far away.

 

One of the reasons things have come to a head so rapidly has been due to a surge in airport usage. In the 12 months to the end of October, 17.3 million people passed through the airport (domestic and international), an impressive increase of 11% over October 2015.

Essentially it appears that a tipping point has been reached where growth at the airport, along with the heavily auto-dependent development around it, have combined to cause chaos. It now appears to have caused enough embarrassment that authorities are pretending to do something about it.

Transport authorities and Auckland Airport have set up a taskforce to tackle traffic chaos that has led to some passengers missing flights.

The NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and the airport company have established a group to find immediate ways to improve travel times and congestion on the roads and state highways to, from and around Auckland Airport.

Of course, what’s proposed is mostly nothing more that tinkering around the edges.

The taskforce had agreed to accelerate a number of planned initiatives, including:

  • changes to lane configurations at the State Highway 20B (Puhinui Rd) / State Highway 20 interchange before Christmas to increase traffic flows through the intersection;
  • the Auckland Transport Operations Centre will optimise traffic signals to increase traffic flows at peak times on the state highways and airport roads, and publish additional airport-specific travel time information;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Tom Pearce Drive to improve traffic flows to both airport terminals;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Laurence Stevens Drive roundabout to improve traffic flows to the domestic terminal; and
  • deploying special temporary traffic management plans on Auckland Airport’s roads to increase the network’s resilience.

The immediate solutions are in addition to the major improvements already underway to deliver additional network capacity and improve travel times, including:

  • the $140 million upgrade of State Highway 20A and improvements to the State Highway 20A / Kirkbride Road interchange which will create significant extra capacity;
  • the upgrade of the George Bolt Memorial Drive / The Landing Drive / Verissimo Drive intersection; and
  • new bus lanes heading towards the airport on State Highway 20A.

So here are my views on solutions that need to take place.

Long Term – and that needs to happen within the next decade, not remain over a decade away like ATAP suggests, a dedicated Rapid Transit line is needed. As mentioned earlier that is currently planned to be light rail but the government and their agencies are trying to get that downgraded to just a bus connection.

Medium Term – As Patrick pointed out in this post, a quick first stem to getting an RTN style connection to the airport would be to build a busway connecting the Puhinui Train Stations with the airport. This would require a busway alongside Puhinui Rd (SH20B).

Short Term – Here are a few thoughts on some short-term options.

  • Skybus – Skybus operate services to the city with fares of $18. Unfortunately, like cars these buses also gets caught in congestion on the motorway. Further I’ve seen a number of comments in months that the quality of the service has been decreasing. Perhaps Skybus could be encouraged to run more services and with AT/NZTA covering some of the costs.
  • The 380 option – The 380 bus runs from Manukau to the airport via the Papatoetoe Train station which can have trains stopping in each direction to/from Britomart every 5-minutes. This could be a great option but it currently suffers from a few issues.
    • AT don’t market this option very much so many people don’t know it even exists – this could be easily fixed.
    • Last I heard, transferring between the train and bus wasn’t well advertised or signposted – this could be easily fixed
    • Unfortunately the congestion referred to above affects both SH20A and SH20B. With no bus lanes on the latter it means the bus gets caught in the same congestion as the cars.
    • The service is nowhere near frequent enough, only running every half hour during the day and this is an issue that we shouldn’t even have. Back when AT announced the result of consultation on the new bus network that has just rolled out in South Auckland, the ’30’ bus (a new name for the 380) was listed as one of the frequent services that would see a bus running at a minimum of every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7-days a week (as shown below). Yet after AT finished tendering for services this was dropped back to a secondary route running only every 30 minutes, despite AT crowing about saving money. As such, as a first step they should implement the new network as they told the community it would be and improve the frequency of this service back to frequent status.
      • The article says this: “Auckland Transport’s chief executive, David Warburton said AT would continue to focus on how it can increase public transport services to and from the airport “. So I’m sure David will be announcing improved services soon?

 

 

 

  • Interim priority lanes – If the NZTA were really serious about improving options, perhaps they could dedicate one of the motorway lanes to high capacity vehicles. This would obviously include buses but could also include other vehicles with a lot of occupants, perhaps T4 and above.
  • Park n Ride – Even if the NTZA got underway now with their plans to widen SH20B, it would be years before that work was finished. We don’t normally advocate for Park n Ride but perhaps in this situation, one along Puhinui Rd, near the whereas it could be justified along with a shuttle – or ideally a much more frequent 380 bus.

Those are just a few thoughts, what do you think should be done to make some quick wins?

Transport Spending in NZ in 2016

More was spent on transport in Auckland during the last financial year (to end of June 2016) than any time in the past, at least in nominal values. Based on the NZTA’s funding data, $1.435 billion was spent in the region in the year to June-2016, up slightly from $1.414 billion spent in the 2015 financial year. Although it’s quite likely that these figures only include spending associated with the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and not council direct spending, such as has been happening with the City Rail link where the council funded 100% of the early works (which the government will share the costs of in the future).

The graph below shows how much the council and the NZTA say they spent and it’s risen substantially from a comparatively paltry $400 million in 2002. Also on the graph you can see Auckland’s share compared to the entire country which has been hovering around the 35% mark. This is slightly more than Auckland’s share of the national population (over 34%) but below Auckland’s share of GDP (36.6%). Of the over $1.4 billion spent, 51% of it went on various state highway projects and maintenance.

transport-spending-akl-2016

Below is the same data but at a national level, although I only have it back to 2005. It shows that at $3.94 billion, we spent slightly less than the previous year. At a national level, an even greater share went on state highways with 55% of all spending going on them.

transport-spending-nz-2016

So how did other regions fare? Here’s how the 2016 figures broke down by region.

transport-spending-regions-2016

Because regions vary so much, I’ve also broken this down per capita to get a better picture of where the spending occurred. Like last year, the West Coast seems to dominate but this will be mainly due to the maintenance needed on a large road network covering a very low population base. Also like last year, the Waikato comes in second on the per capita stakes but this is more due to the large amount of construction going on with projects like the Waikato Expressway.

transport-spending-regions-per-capita-2016

I’ve also looked at the results based on spending per vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), as a proxy for spend per travel. This method is probably a little unfair primarily to Auckland and Wellington which have larger uses of public transport than other parts of NZ.

transport-spending-regions-per-vkt-2016

Next, I’ve taken a look at what the money is being spent on however I’ve excluded the small ones such as transport planning as it’s difficult to see them on the same scale as road spending. You can see that spending on new and improved roads increased in the last year while the opposite was true for road maintenance. Combined both road spending was slightly less than last year which is in line with the overall results above. But PT spending was also down too and down substantially. I’m not sure of their reason for this but as you’ll see shortly, it wasn’t the result of changes in Auckland. You can also see spending on walking and cycling becoming more visible.

transport-spending-nz-by-activity-2016

Here is just the cycling info showing how dramatic a change it has seen in the last few years.

transport-spending-nz-on-cycling-2016

Finally, here is the same break-down by activity for Auckland. The thing you notice compared to the whole of NZ one is the difference in the levels of new road spending vs maintenance. Of course, public transport is also more of a factor in Auckland, as you would expect.

transport-spending-akl-by-activity-2016

 

Overall some interesting data on what we spend our transport money on.

Why we do this

Here is a great 15 minute look back at the work of Streetsblog and Streetsfilms from New York, that articulates the motivation behind what we do here at Transportblog. However modestly compared to their output. This is a worldwide movement; the profound improvement of lives, one street at a time. It is also, I believe, unstoppable, simply because it is so effective, so overdue, and therefore so powerful.

And it is, ultimately, about ending the dominance of our streets by traffic, about returning balance to this easily overlooked but vital slice of public space. Everything is interconnected in this increasingly urban age, and the street is really were it all comes together in the city. Get the streets right and so much else will follow; from human wellbeing to wealth creation and equity, from public health to personal freedom and opportunity, from environmental sustainability to social resilience and security.

A great thing in the film is also something we are seeing here; the mainstreaming of these ideas into our institutions. This does sometimes lead to confusion for some people, as when the Council, Auckland Transport, or NZTA do something we agree with we do of course praise them, yet some people think we should only ever be critical and never supportive. This is naive and would be counter-productive. Rather we would love to be made unnecessary; we believe our views are rational and supported by evidence and deserve to be the official ones. Here’s to the next decade and more of constant improvement and reasoned and evidenced activism. And thanks for reading.