ATs Parking App is live

The days of parking meters are numbered now that AT have released their parking app.

Back in May last year, Auckland Transport released a video about their new parking strategy and in one part of it they mentioned they were working on a mobile app to let you pay for on-street parking without having to go to a machine to buy a ticket. This is part of a plan to thin out parking meters, which I understand are obsolete, before eventually removing them completely. In January it was reported that it had been delayed till late February or March.

Well it appears that AT have quietly launched it, with a more formal launch coming in a few weeks time. Given I don’t often drive to work, and definitely wouldn’t in March, I haven’t had a chance to check it out properly but based on the video it seems like they’ve done a good job with it. It certainly seems like a better job than their public transport apps. A few things I noticed included:

  • If you’ve set up an AT account for your HOP card the parking app can be linked to it so you can see both services from AT. However it’s clear both have been developed completely independently from each other and if it wasn’t for the name and access via the AT account you’d never know they were from the same organisation.
  • As an example of the above, the app is tied into the MyAT account but you have enter your credit card again. It also can’t be tied to your HOP balance.
  • It has much better functionality for searching for transactions and even appears to let you search your transaction history and even download.

I’m keen to hear the thoughts of anyone who has actually tried it but so far, it seems like a good step forward. Now if only they could make a decent PT app.

AT’s Parking App delayed

Auckland Transport’s interesting looking parking app appears to have been delayed again. If you don’t recall, the app was first mentioned last year in a video about their recently adopted (and good) Parking Strategy.

In the video, it appears that you simply tag on within the app when you arrive and tag off again when you get back to your car so no need to fiddle around with parking machines or paper tickets.

Here’s what Stuff reports:

An app designed to replace pay-and-display parking machines in Auckland is facing delays of several months.

Auckland Transport’s $300,000 AT Park app was initially set to launch in September 2016 but was put off until early this year and now postponed again until late February or March.

The app, which will let people pay via credit card for on-street parking, would eventually phase out parking meters in the city.

Users would be able to log their location and car registration and then tag on and off.

Once the app was released AT would “thin out” the number of pay-and-display machines before scrapping them altogether over the coming years, AT’s parking design manager Scott Ebbett said.

Thinning out and then scrapping the parking meters sounds like a great long term goal as for one, it means one less thing to clutter up footpaths. I recall a few years ago reading that the parking meters we have are effectively obsolete and were in need of replacement. So replacing them with a phone app also sounds positive from a financial perspective, allowing more investment to be put into other areas of the transport system. Of course, I doubt removing all parking meters is something that will happen any time soon because smartphone usage is high but it isn’t 100%.

Based on these comments, I remain hopeful the app will integrate with HOP balances, plus also good to see that while delayed, the app has come in under budget.

An AT spokesman said it was “technically ready” for release but they were waiting to integrate it with the MyAT portal, where people can top up their HOP cards.

He said the app went through changes after its trial period, while technology for MyAT was also upgraded.

It had so far come in under the $300,000 budget, he said.

AT figures show there are 810 pay and display meters in the city, with the majority more than 10 years old.

 

Guest Post: Airport parking idiocy in Wellington

This is a guest post from reader Andy C

According to media reports, there has been ‘an outbreak of tyre slashing’ in the residential roads around Wellington airport recently. And the cause – people parking legally (yes, within the law) on residential streets.

Like most Wellingtonians (I suspect) I’m keen to see this issue resolved, but I the potential solutions I outline below may not go down too well with some of my fellow local residents as they are a change from the current situation.

But let’s back up a bit and examine what the problem actually is.

For many years, astute Wellingtonians (and some out of towners) have been known to park on the streets around Wellington airport to avoid paying airport parking fees. It seems that in the past three to four years, with passenger numbers increasing markedly, that many more people have started to do this. And in some cases, it is alleged that cars are being abandoned by international travellers when they leave the country. And it is this that has got locals upset.

The main flashpoint has been around Kauri St, marked in red in the image. From there, it is about a 500m walk to the main airport terminal, marked with the red star. And with parking rates at the airport starting at around $33 a day for casual parking, you can see why people are avoiding paying. It is a rational decision and I have been known to leave my car on the local streets for a day or two when I’ve had to fly out of town.

Unfortunately, locals are so upset that all ‘their’ parking is being used by others that they have resorted to putting up barriers on the grass verges (one of which was ruled to have caused the death of a cyclist way back in 2013). And someone has clearly decided to slash tyres, with police confirming they have received ten reports of damage between Nov 26 and Dec 5.

Meanwhile, it feels like Wellington City Council have been sitting on their hands about the whole issue, and in their most recent statement say they will undertake community consultation sometime in January. To me that is an appalling lack of decision making by a Council, given that this issue has been running for some years now.

I have to say, in some ways I am sympathetic to the locals, who are dealing with alleged issues of cars being allegedly abandoned on their streets or blocking their driveways. But at the same time, streets are public spaces and do not belong to any one person. And a quick look at google streetview shows me that the majority of houses along Kauri St (and other local streets) have off-street parking, as you can see in the image below (which is a rarity in most of the rest of Wellington I can personally attest).

So here are my thoughts on some simple ways to reduce the heat in this battle.

Residents parking zone

If residents really are struggling to find a park, then the simplest thing the Council could do is introduce some designated residents parking areas. For years I lived in Mt Victoria in Wellington and paid a yearly fee for a residents permit. Yes it is over $100 a year, but if properly policed, it can work effectively. Yes it would mean that some locals might not be able to park directly outside their houses, but it sets aside space for them if they need it.

3-hour limit on parking

Another option would be to introduce time-limited parking in the area. Perhaps a 3-hour maximum during week days between 9am and 5pm. Again, if properly policed this could work, and it also means locals should not be able to claim that ‘people who come to visit us can never find a park’ as they do at the moment. And best of all, there would be no cost to locals for this (and potentially even some revenue for the Council from issuing parking infringement notices).

Making use of the old school playground

Finally, some people have suggested the large piece of empty land on the left Kauri St in the image above (which used to be a school) could be converted into an open air car park with at a simple daily rate. I understand the land is Crown owned and has been land banked ahead of a possible treaty settlement, so is currently not used. However this would only be a short to medium term solution I suspect and doesn’t introduce any penalty for parking on the street.

Other less effective options

One option raised earlier this year was to offer residents specific parks in the new car parking building being built on airport land. But the reality would be that few would even use it, because it would mean a longer walk home than simply parking in their own driveways.

Another option might be to offer some cheaper parking options at the airport itself to reduce the incentive to park for free, but given the Council owns a reasonable shareholding in the airport, it seems unlikely that they would want to risk cutting down the revenue they receive from that.

My choice

Personally I am all for either a residents parking scheme, a time limit on parks in the area, or a combination of the two. And as a local, the last thing I want to see are any more people being injured or killed because the Council is sitting on its hands leaving locals to do what they like.

So come on WCC, stop wringing your hands, and actually make some decisions.

Park and Ride not really a no-brainer

Building more Park & Ride is often cited as a “no-brainer” way to get more people using public transport – especially by politicians. This election we’ve got a number of political hopefuls promising to build a lot more of them as a way to get many more people using PT, a stance also echoed by the likes of the AA. In a way it’s positive as it at least shows they recognise that PT, and particularly busway, train and ferry services are useful, popular and there is a demand for them. But is it really a no-brainer or are those promoting the idea perhaps guilty of not engaging their own brain first before making these promises.

According to Auckland Transport’s Parking Strategy, there are currently around 5,500 park & ride spaces across the region with the biggest single facility being Albany with 1,100 spaces – those people parked at the northern end are walking over 300m to get to the platforms.

Albany Park and Ride 2

The Albany Park and Ride’s 1,100 fill up early most work days

AT have also said they want to see another 10,000 P&R spaces across the region by 2046, as shown in the map below.

AT PnR strategy map

Before jumping in and building a lot of carparks we first need to question whether they will be effective. The issues generally fall into two categories, patronage and the cost. So let’s look at those two aspects.

Patronage

Despite the presence of huge carparks, the number of PT trips generated by P&R is surprisingly small. For the most part these carparks will only ever be filled once day on the approximately 250 working days each year. I would assume there is a higher number of single occupant vehicles than normal but let’s use a fairly standard 1.2 people per vehicle. That means each carpark likely generates about 600 PT trips per year (250 days x 1.2 people per car x 2 PT trips per day).

So a large P&R like the one Albany might account for about 660k trips per year. It might sound like a lot but remember we recently saw the latest station boarding stats and it showed over 1.8 million trips began or ended at Albany. In other words, the P&R accounted for only about 36% of all trips to or from the station. Furthermore, Albany is one of the highest percentages of P&R use, for the busway and train stations for which the number of P&R spaces are available, the average number of trips generated is just 19%. Expanding the calculations, the current 5,500 carparks contribute just 3.3 million trips per year while patronage across the entire PT network was 83 million trips. An extra 10,000 would add only 6 million trips, only an extra 7%

Of course all of this assumes that all users of new park and ride facilities are new users. The provision of more carparking is also likely to have the side effect of encouraging some of those who access stations by other means to change their behaviour so the actual gains in patronage are likely to be much less.

Thinking about the future, improving walking, cycling and bus connections (Simplified Fares and New Network) are likely to have a much greater impact. Further for those that believe autonomous vehicles are just around the corner, one of the biggest areas they’re could have a quick impact is in solving the first/last mile problem, shuttling people to and from stations. Of all ways of accessing PT stations, driving and parking is probably the one with the poorest future.

 

Cost

Even basic P&R’s can be incredibly expensive. the most recent one completed was at Swanson where 136 carparks were added for a cost of $2.5 million. That works out as a cost of $18k per space and that’s just for a seeming simple surface level carpark.

Swanson Park n Ride 1

The extension of the Albany carpark a few years ago cost $5.5 million for 550 carparks, or $10k per space – although that may have excluded the cost of the land. More intensive parking facilities such as multi-storey carparks can cost $25,000 per space or more. Then there are the opex costs for lights, security, cleaning etc. Even at $10k per space we’re looking at a minimum of $100 million to add the 10k carparks AT plan, given the more recent figures $200 million+ seems more appropriate and that’s if we can find the physical space for them.

But it’s not just the physical construction and opex costs that need to be considered but also the land use ones too. As the Albany carpark shows, it a lot of space to hold that many cars and the Albany site is about 37,000m². Last time I looked there simply isn’t masses of vacant land just waiting for a carpark to be built next to stations so adding them will require removing existing buildings. Removing houses (in a housing crisis) to provide carparking for a PT station would look as stupid as sounds. Furthermore, more intensive land use next to the station could encourage just as many PT trips, possibly more plus could have other benefits too, such as housing people.

Another issue and also a potential cost is that large carparks can create localised congestion issues which may require expensive road upgrades to address.

Candidates promising prudent financial management and also massive P&R expansions are contradicting themselves. Yes, we absolutely need to improve access to PT stations but the cost of building a carpark should be weighed up against the cost of improving access by other methods. For example, how many new trips could be achieved by focusing that $200m on great walking and cycling facilities to stations (AT are looking at improving access to two stations as part of the Urban Cycleway Fund programme).

High Density Bike Rack - Akoranga 2

At the Akoranga Busway station it can sometimes be hard to find a park

All of this isn’t to say that P&R isn’t useful in some situations. These can include:

  • On the outsides of the main urban area where land is cheaper, PT feeder services poorer and where it is also serving nearby rural populations.
  • Where the parking can be priced appropriately. This can offset some/all of the subsidy to providing parking, encourage use of more efficient modes for accessing stations and also address those local congestion issues. I’ve written before about how Calgary implemented charging.
  • Particularly where the station is provided ahead of surrounding land use – such as at Albany – it can act as form of a landbanking until a high enough land use intensity becomes viable.

 

Guess you could sum it all up as park & ride is not quite the ‘no-brainer’ some claim.

 

While on the topic of P&R, A few weeks ago Auckland Transport put out a press release stating they were looking to expand the Papakura Park & Ride and in the process highlighting they’re bloody expensive.

Auckland Transport (AT) is looking at ways to extend one of its busiest park and rides at Papakura Railway Station. AT is set to issue a tender which could see a significant increase to the 327 parking spaces currently at Papakura.

The extension is to cope with the large jump in numbers of people using the Southern rail line; passenger growth has been 19 percent in the past 6 months.

Auckland Transport’s Group Manager Strategic Development, Chris Morgan, says traditional park and rides are expensive because they rely on buying land. “With Auckland’s high land values, a parking bay can cost $25,000 or more, so we are looking at a number of options including the possibility of using pre-fabricated steel decking.”

He says Auckland Transport is in the early stages of investigating a trial for Papakura, but there are still a number of issues to be worked through like design and traffic assessments for the site.

“We want to look at trialling innovative ways to provide more parking at key locations.”

Barney Irvine from the Automobile Association (AA) says the AA supports moves to expand park and ride facilities. “There’s clear demand from our members for more park and ride, and we see it as an excellent way to increase the appeal of public transport.”

In Auckland, there are currently 5,500 park and rides bays. Chris Morgan says there needs to be almost double that number by 2040 and there are plans to put in 800 more bays within 2 years including 400 at Westgate and new spaces at Silverdale, Pukekohe and Hobsonville.

Parking Shuttle flop

Back in March, Auckland Transport announced a special shuttle to link a Park n Ride at Lloyd Elsmore Park to the Half Moon Bay Ferry Terminal. At the time it was announced I thought it was a silly idea but said that at least AT were trying things.

Half Moon Bay P&R shuttle route

A  LGOIMA request from reader Felix Lee has discovered just how silly the idea is.

He asked:

  1. For the 5 trips being operated each day, can you tell me the average passenger number for each trip?
  2. Can you tell me the cost to operate this service?

The response from AT is below. It covers the period from 21 March when the service started to 21 May, a total of 42 working days (which is only when the service runs).

Half Moon Bay park n ride shuttle patronage

So a grand total of just 23 trips and it would seem that about 9 people didn’t even make the return journey. That seems like an abysmal failure to me.

But then we also need to consider the cost. AT say:

Half Moon Bay park n ride shuttle Cost

So over the 42 days covered above it cost about $7650 to run services on which just 23 trips were made so just over $330 per trip. Based on a quick search, at $175 for a 12 minute flight, it would have been almost half the cost to helicopter them directly to the city.

As I’ve said a number of times before, I believe that park n rides are often over-rated and clearly this example shows that parking then taking a shuttle to catch another PT service just isn’t attractive.

As I also said when this was announced, I think using the park as a park n ride is not a terrible idea but it should really be linked to bus services along Pakuranga Rd which AT have confirmed needs bus lanes in the recent information released about the Reeves Rd Flyover.

One other thing this episode highlights is the arguments over the bus colours recently. If you recall, those opposing the changes baulked at the suggestion that it might cost $9,000 to paint a bus and claimed that money could be better spent on new services instead. Here we have a service that runs just five times a day over ~2.6km for two months costing almost the same amount. This suggests that any meaningful addition to services on other routes will cost a lot more in a year than painting a few buses, the cost of which can be spread out over multi-year contract.

Coming back to the shuttle, the whole thing seems to have been a thoroughly predictable outcome. I guess the only real question is how much longer will AT keep the service running before they finally pull the plug on it?

AT Parking Strategy video

Auckland Transport have put together a pretty good video to explain the parking strategy they adopted late last year.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome from the video is that AT are developing a parking app that will let people pay for an on street carpark. It appears that you simply tag on within the app when you arrive and tag off again when you get back to your car so no need to fiddle around with parking machines or paper tickets. I would hope that it somehow integrates with HOP balances as it would be incredibly stupid and annoying to have to have multiple accounts for different AT services.

Sylvia Park growth plans

Sylvia Park is already Auckland’s largest shopping centre, but it’s likely to get even bigger in the next few years. Kiwi Property, who own the centre, have plans to expand the retail offering, as well as adding office buildings. In the long term, even things like apartments or hotels could be added, although those aren’t part of the current plans.

A recent Kiwi Property presentation shows what’s planned for the ground floor of the centre:

Sylvia Park 1

On the ground floor, H&M and Zara are already under construction, but there are plans for a major new office building of 11,200 square metres (about half the size of ASB North Wharf, or a little smaller than the new Fonterra building). The building will be next to the “dining lane” area which will also be given a makeover – perhaps something like the new Brickworks precinct at Lynnmall, also owned by Kiwi Property.

The office building could get underway as early as late 2016, wrapping up in 2018.

From the same presentation, showing the upper floor:

Sylvia Park 2

This is a major retail expansion, with 20,000 square metres – adding another 25% to the existing mall. Next to it, there are plans for a multi-deck carpark, adding another 500 parks to the current 3,900. Multi-level retail has had a pretty mixed history in New Zealand, and there aren’t that many examples where it’s been successful (St Lukes is one). Kiwi Property will be hoping that they can support the new upstairs shops by connecting them to the new carparks, and I’d expect that those two developments would happen at the same time.

Although the total number of carparks is increasing, Kiwi Property is adding many fewer parking spaces than would have been required under the old Auckland isthmus plan. The mall expansion will add one new carpark for every additional 40 square metres of retail space.

By contrast, Section 12 of the old Auckland isthmus district plan, which dealt with parking requirements, required one parking space for every 17 square metres of retail space:

Auckland isthmus district plan MPR for retail

Before the Unitary Plan, which will remove MPRs from major retail centres like Sylvia Park (assuming the hearings panel approves the change), Sylvia Park basically hewed to those ratios. At present, it’s got one parking space per 18.5 square metres of retail space.

The Unitary Plan seems to have changed that – Kiwi Property is planning to expand retail space while providing less than half as much parking as would have been required under the previous district plan. This isn’t a case of maximum parking rules restraining development, either. The proposed Unitary Plan sets a maximum parking rate of one carpark per 20 square metres – a lot more parking than Kiwi Property is planning on building.

The irony is that Kiwi Property was among the major retailers arguing against the removal of MPRs from retail centres in Unitary Plan hearings. In their corporate submission and in their planning evidence, they argued that removal of MPRs would make it difficult for retailers to invest in centres:

Kiwi Property Group planning submission PAUP 1

Consequently, they proposed a minimum requirement of one carpark per 30 square metres of retail space – i.e. a higher ratio than what they’re now planning to build, although the centre as a whole will still fall within these ratios:

Kiwi Property Group planning submission PAUP 2

Now, it looks as though Kiwi Property – and their customers – stand to be among the first big beneficiaries of a policy change that they opposed. But while that’s ironic, this is an excellent development. It’s a perfect illustration of the benefits of a more light-handed approach to parking policies – and of the benefits of providing good transport choices to retail centres.

Sylvia Park is lucky enough to have a train station right next door, and bus links which are likely to get a boost in the next few years. As the centre keeps growing and public transport keeps improving, Sylvia Park will increasingly rely on its transit links to support its growth. Other retail centres are likely to follow the same pattern as Auckland rolls out its new bus network and continues integrating rapid transit into the city fabric.

The strange side effects of parking subsidies

Parking policies are frequently bizarre. Parking is, after all, a private good – it is both rivalrous (two cars can’t park in the same space at the same time) and excludable (if you don’t want someone parking in your space, you can keep them out). In that respect, it is more like a refrigerator than a public park.

But unlike a refrigerator, there are all sorts of public subsidies and regulations affecting parking. Although refrigerators are arguably more of a necessity of life than parking, councils don’t impose minimum refrigerator requirement for homes and offices. Central government doesn’t provide a tax subsidy for employer-provided refrigerators. And councils don’t invest in (or subsidise) public refrigeration facilities.

And if they did, it would almost certainly result in some perverse outcomes.

A recent NZ Herald story provided an example of how parking subsidies can lead to odd outcomes. (It was also a fine example of meaningless “gotcha” journalism, but never mind that!)

They are the crack team of economic and planning experts charged with sorting Auckland’s future growth.

But a member of the Unitary Plan independent hearings panel has fallen foul of the city – after sneakily parking a jetski in a central city council carpark for almost a month.

The mystery jetski appeared three to four weeks ago, taking up a Queen St park reserved for the panel listening to submissions on the future of the city.

Here’s the jetski in question:

IHP jetski

The article implies that the panel member in question is rorting the system or acting unethically by using their employer-provided carpark to store a jetski. But, if you think about it, it’s actually a good illustration of the poor logic behind many existing parking subsidies.

Let’s back up a step: what subsidies are we talking about, exactly?

In the Auckland city centre, carparks have a market value, which is a good thing. The removal of minimum parking requirements in the 1990s led to an increase in the price of parking – and also to increased development as new buildings weren’t encumbered by the need to provide unnecessary but costly carparks. At present, Auckland Transport is leasing downtown carparks for between $110 to $490 a month – although the cheapest ones are fully sold out. Private operators seem to be supplying them at around $250-$300 per month.

So an employer-provided carpark in the city centre is likely to be worth somewhere in the range of $3000-$6000 per annum. Because fringe benefit tax isn’t levied on carparks, this is worth the equivalent of $4500-$9000 in salary for people paying the top marginal tax rate (33%). (As the panel members probably do.)

That’s a large public subsidy for a small bit of concrete!

In theory, the rationale for the tax subsidy on employer-provided carparks is that it makes it less costly for people to commute to work, and hence encourages people to enter the workforce. But the panel member’s jetski illustrates the absurdity of that approach.

For one thing, people have (or should have) a range of choices about how to commute. Some prefer to drive. Others may take the bus, train, or ferry, or walk or cycle to work. Consequently, a significant share of commuting trips don’t end in a carpark. Based on Census data, around half of the people working in the city centre in 2013 didn’t drive to work. A bit over one in four workers throughout Auckland didn’t drive to work.

Census journey to work Auckland mode share chart

Consequently, trying to subsidise commuting by subsidising parking is likely to be a distortionary and inefficient policy. Some people will change transport modes in response to cheaper parking, resulting in additional road congestion in peak periods. Others will be left with a subsidised parking space that isn’t much use to them.

The panel member who used their parking space to store a jetski probably falls into the latter category. They might walk to work, or take the bus or train. This leaves them with a bit of costly concrete that they don’t need to store a car – so why not use it to store another vehicle instead? I can’t blame them for that.

The jetski has apparently been removed from the parking space, but the policy distortions that led to it being there in the first place remain. So what could we do about that?

The key is to realise that our ultimate aim is to enable mobility, not to simply provide carparks, and make policy accordingly.

For some people, mobility means a monthly public transport pass, or a bicycle and access to a shower at work. But current fringe benefit tax policies discourage employers from offering those solutions to their employees – an employer-provided PT pass would be taxed as regular income, while a carpark is exempt from tax. We need to level the playing field.

The best way of doing so is by removing the fringe benefit tax exemption for carparks, but if that’s not political possible then a good alternative would be to exempt PT passes from FBT, as the Green Party has proposed.

Another alternative would be to offer people the option to “cash out” employer-provided carparks. It’s especially bizarre that employers aren’t required to offer this choice, as the current government changed employment law to allow people to exchange one week of annual holiday for the equivalent in cash. Why not adopt the same approach for carparks, which could easily be worth more than holiday pay for many workers?

Lastly, we also need to make some choices beyond how we price and subsidise parking. Getting a great range of transport choices will often require us to use existing road space differently. Sometimes the only way to get a dedicated bus lane or a safe, separated cycle lane is to remove a few on-street carparks. We need to look at those choices in a holistic way – i.e. do they improve overall mobility and access to destinations – rather than simply insisting that all carparks must stay in place.

How do you think we should address parking subsidies?

Park and Ride Shuttle

Auckland Transport started a unique park & ride and shuttle today in East Auckland. It’s something we first learned about in the board report last month. Auckland Transport will use the parking in Lloyd Elsmore Park for commuter parking with a shuttle to the Half Moon Bay ferry terminal for users to connect to ferries.

In a first for Auckland, a local park is being used as a park and ride to service public transport in the eastern suburbs.

The free park and ride at Lloyd Elsmore Park in Pakuranga will have a shuttle bus running to and from Half Moon Bay Marina on weekdays. The six month trial begins on Monday (21 March), providing a safe and convenient place for people to park for the day.

AT is providing the service at the request of the Howick Local Board in an attempt to mitigate a lack of parking at the marina.

There will be two trips in the morning and three trips in the afternoon to meet the 8:15am and 10:15am departing ferries and the 5:45pm, 6:20pm and 7:05pm arriving ferries.

Howick Local Board Chairman David Collings says it will provides people living in Pakuranga, Howick and surrounding suburbs with a great option for getting into the city.

“This initiative provides additional parking for ferry users, but simply at a different location. Ideally long term I’d like to see commuters consider walking, cycling or even car-pooling to the ferry.”

“Driving into the city centre from this part of Auckland is time-consuming and costly by the time you take into account car parking. Catching a ferry is a great way to travel and with AT providing this park and ride, it makes it even easier,” he says.

The park and ride is a point-to-point service with no stops along the way and is dedicated which means it will wait for ferries if required. It is free of charge until Zonal Fares are introduced in late July. Trip durations are expected to be 10-20 minutes depending on traffic conditions.

Mark Lambert, General Manager at AT Metro, says the service adds to the numerous successful park and ride services around the city.

“The park and rides at bus, train and ferry interchanges have proved incredibly popular especially the Northern Express. This trial is a slightly novel approach in that we are providing a shuttle service to a ferry terminal.”

Half Moon Bay P&R shuttle route

And here are the shuttle times – for some reason there is no shuttle to the earlier sailings or the midday ones.

Half Moon Bay P&R shuttle timetable

Regular readers will likely be aware that we’re not a huge fan of park & ride as they can be very expensive and not deliver all that much patronage. But I think the idea of using infrastructure that may have otherwise been sitting idle is a good one – although that changes again when it requires a dedicated shuttle to operate. In many ways it’s good that AT are at least trying stuff.

In saying that the situation also highlights one absurdity with the East Auckland situation. Pakuranga Rd at this point is a 6 lane road plus median – there are no bus or bike lanes. As part of AMETI, Auckland Transport have suggested putting bus lanes on Pakuranga Rd as far as Highland Park. If they did that it would probably be faster to catch a bus to Panmure and then transfer to a train than it would to catch a bus to the ferry and then ferry to town.

AWHC: Where Does all the New Traffic Go?

The Additional Harbour Crossing as currently proposed is a pair of tunnels containing six traffic lanes between the motorway at Esmonde Rd rejoining it at Spaghetti Junction [The CMJ] in the city. The publicly available schemes also show additional rail tunnels between Akoranga and Wynyard Quarter, but no connecting network for any trains to actually use. It is clear to see the appeal for NZTA of straightening and simplifying SH1 past the bridge, but the outcomes for the city are much less certain. Below for example is version T1:

AWHC T1

Clearly this or the other versions that date from 2010 are not the current versions NZTA are developing now, but until new versions are released these are still worth looking at in some detail as neither the various physical constraints or the overall aims that drive these options have changed. The options can be seen here.

Considering these there are several high altitude observations I think are important to begin with:

  • This will be the most expensive urban transport project ever undertaken in NZ; claimed to be $4-$6 billion. Two to three times the cost of the CRL.
  • Not least because of the massive cost it is extremely unlikely that both sets of tunnels and systems would be undertaken at the same time. They will be staged; one will precede the other.
  • The road scheme is essentially a SH1 bridge bypass, and therefore optimises through traffic, however it does not make any new connection that is not currently available nor in fact any increase in capacity on SH1.
  • There is little spare capacity in the CMJ for additional vehicles so the new connection will remain the current three lanes north and a reduction from four to three lanes south.
  • Essentially the bridge becomes a massive on/off ramp for city traffic and unless and until the rail tunnels and line are built more buses on bus lanes across the bridge will be the PT part of the project.

Here’s the set of variations currently available for the city end, all versions involve four tunnels under Victoria Park [3 new ones]:

AWHC Tunnell Options

All schemes also involve massive new interchanges on new reclamations at the North Shore end with flyovers and multiple connections between crossings, not unlike the new interchange at Waterview currently being built. Like the outcomes for traffic on North Shore local roads, the impacts of this project will be neither small nor all positive north of the bridge. However for this post I just want to focus on the city-side implications.

Assuming the road crossing is built first, which is consistent with assertions by politicians and officials with phrases like it will be ‘future proofed for rail’, as well as the lack of any real work yet on a rail crossing, it is worth asking exactly where will the new traffic enabled by the extra capacity across the harbour go once in the city?

Because the new crossing plugs directly into the CMJ, three lanes in and three lanes out, and because there are no planned increases in capacity through the CMJ, nor any space for any without further massive tunnelling, in effect the new capacity will be all on the bridge, so coming from the Shore this new traffic will all have to be accommodated by just three off ramps [same in reverse heading north]:

  • Cook St; with new direct connections through Victoria Park
  • Fanshawe St, especially for buses on new bus lanes
  • Shelly Beach Rd, and then on to Jervois and Ponsonby Rds.

None of these exits can accommodate any increasing in traffic well, or without considerable disbenefit, especially if that increase in traffic is large.

  • Cook St is pointed directly at the heart of the city, so this contradicts policy of reducing vehicle volumes in the city centre and is likely to infarct daily at the peaks as Cook St is close and perpendicular to Hobson and Nelson Sts which serve the Southern and Northwestern motorway flows. Gridlock is likely at the controlled intersections unable to handle large and peaky traffic volumes to and from these motorways. Additionally land use in this area is changing and intensifying making it even less suitable for the high speed motorway offramp it already hosts.
  • Fanshawe will have reduced capacity for general traffic as a multilane Busway will be required to take the increased bus volumes from the bridge, and anyway is already at capacity at the peaks.
  • Shelly Beach Rd is a narrow residential street not suited to the high volumes and high speeds it already suffers from the bridge now. Furthermore there is no benefit and little capacity for the streets beyond Shelly Beach Rd, particularly Jervois and Ponsonby Rds for a large increase in vehicle volumes.

Nonetheless, here are the forecasts they have come up with, Shelly Beach Rd with a 63% increase, is basically filled with bridge traffic by 2026 and the new crossing:

AWHC Forecast Daily traffic flows

20,300 additional cars modelled for Fanshawe + Cook St with the AWHC option (assume that is all day on a weekday?). Even at the best sorts of turnover that would require around 10,000+ new carpark places. The downtown carpark has 1890 spaces. So where exactly do we put six new downtown carpark buildings? And what six streets get sacrificed to feed them?

20,300 cars carry perhaps 25,000 people. The CRL at capacity will carry that entire amount in 40 minutes. As could a North Shore rail line of similar specification. If the net outcome of this project is to take 20,000 commuters to midtown, why not do it with rapid transit at a third the cost with none of the traffic congestion?

“The significant increase in traffic movements conflict with many of the aspirations outlined in current Council policies, strategies, frameworks and master plans.”

P 65 Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, NZTA, 2010.

Obviously these higher traffic volumes are not good for every pedestrian, resident, and general city user in these areas but there is one other group that this situation in particular is going to make miserable, and that’s the motorist. There is a word for all this additional driving everywhere on city streets: congestion. Yup this increase in capacity across the harbour may speed that part of the journey but it’s going to make arriving anywhere in the city in your car much more hellish than it is now. And don’t even think about finding or affording somewhere to park.

What NZTA’s consultants say about this:

AWHC City exits

The increased traffic flows through St Marys Bay on both Shelley Beach rd and Curran St look to lead to particularly poor and unfixable outcomes:

AWHC Local Roads

It seems optimistic to say that because there are cafes, and strongly increasing pedestrian volumes, on Ponsonby Rd, that drivers won’t try to drive there, especially if other bridge exits are controlled or too busy. After all the first rule of urban traffic is that it will expand to wherever it is allowed to go. So, in the end, taking measures to dis-incentivise drivers to use these exits, is the consultant’s advice:

AWHC City Streets

It does seem kind of odd to spend $4-6 billion to increase capacity across the harbour only to then introduce other measures to try to stop people using it.

And it won’t be just parking, there’s also likely to be tolls, it appears the model says they can pretty much eliminate the traffic problem with an $8 toll!:

AWHC Tolling both crossings

If only there was a way to enable more trips without inducing more and more cars to also be driven into the crowded city streets. After all the City Centre has been growing strongly without adding more cars most of this century:

CBD Transport Change

In fact it looks like we are already at or even above the limit of desirable vehicle numbers in the city, and future developments like replacing car access to Queen St with Light Rail are likely to make even current numbers face pressure.

Additionally there is an issue with bus volumes as well as car numbers on the city streets, even though the New Bus Network, the CRL, and Light Rail, if it happens, will reduce bus numbers from other parts of the city, there is certainly a limit to the numbers of buses from the Shore that can be comfortably accommodated too. Below is the predicted year of maximum bus capacity at major entry points to the city. The role of the CRL in reducing bus number pressure from the Isthmus is obvious, so why not do the same thing for buses from the Shore?

AWHC Year of Buslane max capacity

So perhaps the answer is to reverse the assumed staging and build the rail Rapid Transit tunnels first, leaving space for the road crossing to come later. This certainly looks physically possible in the maps above. This would enable all of those possible trips across the Harbour that NZTA identifies to still be served but without any of the traffic disbenefits that so clearly dog the road only crossing. In terms of people capacity two rail tracks can carry twice the volume of six traffic lanes. Furthermore it can be built without disturbing the current crossing and its connections. And rail crossings have proven in the past to be good alternative routes in an emergency.

This would add the real resilience of a whole other high capacity mode across the Harbour instead of simply more of the same. It would make our Harbour infrastructure more closely resemble Sydney’s where most of the heavy lifting in terms of people numbers is done by Rapid Transit, as shown below. We already have ferries, buses, and cars bringing people across, isn’t it time we added the particular efficiency of electric rail?

Sydney Harbour am peak

It seems particularly clear that whatever we add next really can’t involve trying to shove ever more vehicles [cars and buses] onto our crowded city streets; that will simple hold everyone up.

All the information above was gleaned from the work done some six years ago for NZTA, from here, and Auckland has moved on a great deal from where it was then. Among other things that have been proven recently is that when we are offered a high quality rail system we will use it. We are also discovering the value of our City Centre as a place to live, and work, and just be in, and how this is only possible to continue this improvement with fewer cars on every street. We certainly believe that there are more options for a far greater Auckland than the simple binary ones studied above: the road crossing ‘future proofed’ for rail, or the ‘Do Minimum’ which is nothing.

So we have asked, as part of the Auckland Transport Alignment Process, for a Rapid Transit crossing as the next additional crossing to be modelled too. So we can compare the status quo with the road crossing, and with a Rapid Transit crossing separately. Additionally we know that AT are now working on how various rail systems could work so in time there will be properly developed rail options to compare with the road one.

There is time as well as the need to get this right, the Western Ring Route will begin to become more complete next year with the opening of the Waterview tunnels, and that whole multi billion dollar system is of course an alternative harbour crossing system and will alter both the performance of  both the Bridge and the CMJ. Similarly decisions about AT’s proposed LRT system too has a bearing on options, as will the opening of the CRL next decade. Not least because the addition of these high quality systems will make movement through the city without a car much more common, as is the case in many overseas cities of Auckland’s size and quality.

The road crossing looks very much like an extremely expensive ‘nice to have’, that duplicates and tidies up the State Highway route, something to add when the missing alternatives have been built and there is spare budget to spend on duplication. Because on balance the road first additional crossing proposal really achieves little more than this:

AWHC 'City Roads' image

end.