Western Line Timetable padding

Regular users of the western line will know that in the services have been struggling in recent months and that’s even when trains aren’t breaking down. It’s especially noticeable in the morning peak when and while there’s been a little bit of relief during the school holidays, with schools back today I’m expecting services will have been chocka again (I say that having written this post on the weekend).

Over the last few years patronage has been growing strongly and in the last 12 months trips up over 16%. That’s increase is not quite as high as the lines which have been electrified but is still a very significant rise. This is even more so considering that there hasn’t been an increase in peak frequency since 2008 despite during that time double tracking has been completed. The timetable changes that have occurred over the years have extended the length of the peak and improved off peak frequencies which only a few years ago improved to half hourly.

2015-03 Western Line Patronage

The yearlong bump was due to the Rugby World Cup

 

One little side note is that based on a patronage per service measure the western line carries about 60% more passengers on each train than what is seen on the other lines. I suspect that this is in part due to the Western line having a higher number of trips to destinations along the line rather than just to Britomart. This is kind of shown in the great visualisations put together by Aaron Schiff

Aaron Schiff Visualisation - away from Britomart

 

While increasing patronage is a good thing, at peak times the lack of improvements in capacity – with the exception of a few extra carriages – has had some negative effects. Now trains are regularly crowded with some passengers sometimes standing from as far as Glen Eden or even Henderson. Those from even closer in such as Kingsland sometimes aren’t able to get on at all – and before anyone mentions it, the buses going past on New North Rd or Sandringham Rd are also full. This is obviously bad for customers but it’s also bad for operations. It means more time needs to be allowed at each station for people to push their way to the doors or find a space to squeeze on while they wait for people to reluctantly move away from the doors and down the aisles. This slows the trains down and therefore increases chance that the service will run late.

Poor punctuality frustrates people and in some cases will put them off using the service altogether. In recent months punctuality has declined and in February it was less than 80%. In other words more than 1 in every 5 trains will run late. The performance results for February are below

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

When delays are occurring due to busy services – or “heavy customer demand” as Transdev would say, there aren’t always that many solutions. The most obvious would be to increase capacity but that isn’t frequently something that can happen quickly. I’d also point out that it was promised that the western line would move to 10 minute services in the peaks in 2010 when double tracking was finished but numerous excuses have continued to be created as to why that can’t happen. The latest excuse is the Sarawia St level crossing and I suspect that once that’s sorted I’m sure they will find another one such as capacity constraints at Britomart or Newmarket or perhaps the CRL works.

A shorter term solution is to simply extend the timetable by padding it out further and it appears that’s exactly what AT have done. This poster started appearing on trains last week.

Western Line Timetable increase poster

The new timetable is here and as it says, travel times are extended by up to three minutes. Below is a quick comparison of travel times between the December 2014 and April 2015 timetables and as you can see a minute has been added between:

  • Sturges Rd and Henderson,
  • New Lynn and Avondale
  • Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave

Western Line Timetable increase num

 

I have a few issues with this approach. While the timetable might more accurately reflect the times that customers will see it does so by making the services slower and therefore less attractive to potential new customers. It also improves AT/Transev’s performance results by simply shifting out the measurement.

Of course this isn’t the first time the timetable has been padded out. The graph below shows the travel times from Swanson of a few of the different timetables that there have been on the Western Line since Britomart opened. In total the new timetable is up to 8 minutes slower than was achieved back in 2003.

Western Line Timetable time changes

Despite what’s been mentioned above the timing of the change suggests there’s possibly another reason for the timetable increase and it’s one I certainly hope I’m wrong about. AT have said recently that they now intend to have electric trains running on all services by August. From what we’ve seen on other lines that should mean we start seeing electric trains running off peak shortly and given that it would seem odd to increase the timetable now. That is unless the testing of the trains has revealed that they’ll be even slower than the old diesel units they’re replacing. It would be seriously disappointing if this were the case as times should be going the other way. As I said, I really hope I’m wrong (and that AT clarify this).

What’s with ‘The Void’?

Could Auckland have something like this running on a couple of major city routes before this decade is out? The AT board is to decide later this month how to proceed with its Light Rail plan and with what sort of pace. Everybody it seems loves trams, but why now and why there? What problem are they addressing? In a follow-up post I will discuss the financial side of the proposal.

CAF Urbos Light Rail for Utrecht

CAF Urbos Tram recently ordered by Utrecht

First of all lets have a look at Auckland’s situation in general terms. Auckland is at a particular but quite standard point in its urban development: 1.5 million people is a city. The fifth biggest in Australasia; behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. But on the location with the tightest natural constraints of the group; squeezed by harbours, coasts, ranges, and productive and/or swampy farmland, it shares the highest density of the group with Sydney in its built up area. And is growing strongly. It also has the poorest Transit network of the group and consequently the lowest per capita Transit modeshare [although the fastest improving one].

So these three factors scale, growth, and density are all combining to create some serious pressure points that require fresh solutions especially on existing transport routes, and particularly on the harbour constrained city isthmus.

This pressure is on all transport infrastructure, at every scale from footpaths [eg Central City, Ponsonby Road]; the desire for safe cycling routes; on the buses, trains, and ferries; to road space for trucks and tradies, and of course road and street space for private vehicle users. Transit demand in particular is going through the roof and this is way ahead of population growth and traffic demand growth, especially at the higher quality Rapid Transit type of service where growth over the last year has been at an atsonishing 20%.

This is to be expected in a city of Auckland’s current state as Transit demand typically accelerates in advance of population in cities of a certain size, because of the universal laws of urban spatial geometry, as explained here by Jarrett Walker;

This problem is mathematically inevitable.  

As cities grow, and especially as they grow denser, the need for transit generally rises faster than population, at least in the range of densities that is common in North America.  This is completely obvious if you think about it, and I stepped through it in more detail in Chapter 10 of Human Transit.  In brief: Suppose a particular square mile of the city doubles in population.  Transit demand would double because there are twice as many people for whom transit is competing.  But independently of that, if density is higher, each person is likely to find transit more useful, because (a) density creates more disincentives to driving and car ownership while (b) density makes it easier for transit agencies to provide abundant and useful service.   Those two separate impacts of density on transit, multiplied together, mean that transit demand is rising faster than population. Again, go to my book for a more extended and thorough argument.

And that this means that the infrastructure needs of our growing city is likely to be ‘lumpy’. Big long lasting kit that is costly and disruptive to build become suddenly urgent:

As transit demand grows in a growing city, it hits crisis points where the current infrastructure is no longer adequate to serve the number of people who want to travel.  Several major subway projects now in development are the result of transit’s overwhelming success using buses.  I’m thinking, for example, of Second Avenue in New York, Eglinton in Toronto, Wilshire in Los Angeles,  Broadway in Vancouver, and Stockton-Columbus in San Francisco.

Broadway, for example, has local buses running alongside express buses, coming as often as every 3 minutes peak hours, and they are all packed.  In that situation, you’ve done just about everything you can with buses, so the case for a rail project is pretty airtight.   In all of the cases I mention, the rail project usually has to be a subway, because once an area is that dense, it is difficult to commandeer enough surface street space, and we tend to have strong aesthetic objections to elevated lines in these contexts.

As driving amenity is very mature in Auckland there is very little opportunity to add significant driving capacity to streets and roads to much of the city at any kind of cost, and certainly not without a great deal of destruction of the built environment. This has long been the case so in a desire to solve capacity and access issues with a driving only solution we did spend the second half of the last century bulldozing large swathes of the Victorian inner suburbs into to make room for this spatially very hungry mode. This solution is no longer desirable nor workable. Below is an image showing the scar of the Dominion Rd extension citywards and the still extant Dom/New North Rd flyover. These were to be the beginning of a motorway parallel to Dominion rd to ‘open up’ or ‘access’ the old isthmus suburbs.

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

1963, Dominion Rd flyover in the foreground

Where we can’t nor want to build ever wider roads we can of course add that needed capacity though the higher capacity and spatial efficiency of Transit. Most easily with buses and bus lanes. There are also potential significant gains to made at the margins by incentivising the Active modes with safe routes especially to Transit stations and schools and other local amenity.

However as Jarrett Walker describes above there comes a point where buses, through their own success, cannot handle the demand as the number of vehicles required start to become both less efficient and more disruptive than is desirable. At this point demand can only be met with higher capacity systems with clearer right of ways. Such systems require expensive permanent infrastructure and are never undertaken lightly.  The CRL, being underground, clearly fits this definition and is due to begin in earnest in the new year. And although the physical work and all of the disruption of the CRL build occurs in the Centre City, the capacity and frequency improvements are to the entire rail network, and therefore much of the city: West, East, and South.

But not everywhere. Not the North Shore, not the North West, and not in ‘the Void’, as AT call it, the isthmus area between the Western and Southern Lines. Shown below in purple with the post CRL Rapid Transit Network. This area has a fairly solid and quite consistent density, housing about the same number of people as West Auckland, around 150,000. Note also the South Eastern Busway [AMETI] plugging directly into Panmure is very much a kind of rail extension for the Transit-less South-East, as is the Manukau spur further south.

RTN Void

The Void

These three major areas will still be relying on buses. The CRL, New Bus Network, and Integrated Fares will enable and incentivise more bus-to-train transfers that expand the reach of the core rail network and that this will help limit the numbers of buses going on all the way to the city. But this is primarily for the South, South-East, and West of New Lynn, there will still be an ever increasing number of  buses with from the remaining areas converging on the City Centre. AT calculates that we need to act now to cut the bus numbers from at least one of these major sources to leave room for growth from the others, and all the other users and uses of city streets. [More detail on this in Matt’s previous post, here].

The North Western is currently getting more bus priority with the motorway widening, and hopefully proper stations at Pt Chevalier, Te Atatu, and Lincoln Rd [although NZTA and/or the government are showing little urgency with this aspect of the route]. Also priority improvements to Great North Rd and further west too. The North Shore is the only one of the three with a Rapid Transit system [which also should be being extended now], and while there is still plenty of capacity on the Busway itself, like the other routes these buses are constrained once in the city. This leaves the very full and frequent ‘Void’ bus routes as the ones to address with another solution first.

So essentially LRT for this area has been selected because of the need:

  • for higher capacity and efficiency on core Isthmus bus routes
  • to reduce bus numbers on these routes and especially in the central city
  • adds Queen St as an additional high capacity North-South city route
  • for extra capacity both before and after CRL is operational
  • to address Auckland Plan air quality, carbon emissions, and resilience aims
  • to enable major public realm improvements along routes, especially Queen St

and possibly because:

  • it may be able to be financed as a PPP so helps smooth out the capital cost of building both projects [more on this in a follow up post]
RTN + LRT
Above is a schematic from AT showing the two proposed LRT branches. The western one leading to Queen St via Ian Mackinnon Drive from Dominion and Sandringham Roads, the eastern one down Symonds St from Manukau and Mt Eden Roads, some or all routes connecting through to Wynyard Quarter. More description in this post by Matt.
It is worth noting that this area, The Void, gets its very successful and desirable urban form from this very technology; these are our premier ‘tram-built’ suburbs. With all the key features; an efficient grid street pattern, mixed use higher density on the tram corridors, excellent walking shortcuts and desire lines. So what the old tram made the new tram can serve well too.
Auckland Isthmus tramlines

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

With all door boarding and greater capacity LRT will speed more people along these routes with fewer vehicles and lower staffing numbers. Frequency will actually drop from the current peak every 3 minutes down to 5 or 7 minutes [I’m guessing]. This along with the narrower footprint required by LRT is a big plus for other users of the corridor. But the huge gain in travel time comes from improvement to the right of way and intersection priority that can be delivered with the system. Stops are presumably to be at intersections, instead of midblock as buses are, so the passenger pick-ups are coordinated with traffic lights.
But best of all for this writer is that LRT is a tool to drive enormous and permanent place uplift. The removal of cars and buses from Queen St, improvements to New North and Dominion Rds, hopefully including that intersection itself, a fantastic new Dominion road with the potential for real uplift to premier status.  It will spur the redevelopment of the mixed uses zone all along Dominion Rd. This is real place quality transport investment. And all of course while moving thousands and thousands of people totally pollution free and with our own mostly renewably generated electrons. Breathing in the Queen St valley will become a fresh new experience.
Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut
We all look forward to hearing the proposed details of the routes and of course the financials. I will follow up this post with my understanding of the thinking on this next.
Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut
Finally it is very good to see that there is no dispute over the necessary solutions to Auckland’s access and place quality issues, just the details and timing. Auckland Transport’s map above is pretty much the same as our solution in the CFN. We are delighted that AT are planning for four light rail routes were we proposed one.
CFN
There are of course plenty of debates to had about further extensions to the Transit networks that this proposal invites; LRT in a tunnel from Wynyard to Onewa, Akoranga, and Takapuna? Then up the Busway? From Onehunga to through Mangere to the Airport? Along Grey Lynn’s apartment lined Great North Road, to Pt Chevalier, and the North Western? Panmure, Pakuranga, Botany, Manukau City Airport? Which of these need to be true grade separate Rapid Transit and for which are bus lanes or busways a more cost effective option? Are their others that would be better suited to extending the rail network? Is there enough density elsewhere in the city to justify other LRT routes?
CFN 2030 + Light Metro

Massive March Patronage

We were expecting public transport in March to be mad and throughout the month we certainly saw it living up to that expectation with daily reports of full services. Some people watched up to 12 full buses go past their stop before one with enough space arrived for them to squeeze on. On the parts of the rail network not yet served by electric trains services were also overflowing – and that was when they weren’t being cancelled or severely delayed.

Auckland Transport have today released the patronage results showing just how busy the month was and the results are astonishing. Across all modes there were an extra 1.1 million trip taken compared to March last year which at 15% is a huge increase. The annual result increased by 10% in comparison to the year to March 14. The results were helped by there being one extra business day plus events such as the Cricket World Cup, Volvo Ocean race and the Auckland Arts Festival.

2015-03 - AKL - Total Patronage

Once again the star performer was the rail network which increased by a massive 33%. At 1.56 million trips in the month we finally surpassed the one month record of October 2011 which was from during the Rugby World Cup (although we got very close in February). Patronage for the last year is now at 13.4 million (up 21%) and at this rate we could see it top 14 million by the end of the financial year in June.

2015-03 - AKL - Rail Patronage

Of course with rail patronage growth accelerating it continues to reinforce our view that we’ll likely hit the CRL patronage targets well in advance of the 2020 date set by the government. At this stage it’s still looking like it could be in 2017 that we cross the 20 million mark. I wonder what the Ministry of Transport will say about it in their next report due August which will use those June numbers.

2015-03 - AKL - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target-1

The other modes aren’t standing still either, bus patronage is also growing strongly. Patronage on the Northern Express is up over 14% and on other buses it is up over 11% compared to March last year. The 12 month figures are up 16.8% and 8.4% respectively. On ferries there was strong growth however the 12 month figure is still below its peak of mid-2012.

2015-03 - AKL - Bus Patronage

Lastly Auckland has now passed the milestone of 50 trips per capita per year (this accounts for population growth each month). That’s a good improvement from where we were a decade ago but well short of other cities. As a comparison Wellington has around 74 trips per capita while Perth has 80-90 per capita and Sydney about 130 per capita. Where do you think we’ll be in 10 years’ time? If the current growth can be continued – and with all the improvements planned then it should be possible – then around 80 trips per capita is not beyond the realms of possibility.

2015-03 - AKL - PT per capita

Here’s AT’s press release.

There’s been another big jump in the numbers using public transport in Auckland.

Annual patronage now exceeds 78 million boardings, an increase of 10%. In March there were 8.4 million boardings, a jump of more than 1 million on March 2014.

Auckland Transport chairman, Dr Lester Levy says it’s been a big year with increased services across rail and bus and the gradual replacement of the diesel trains with new electric models.

The big performer was rail which reached 13.4 million passenger trips for the year, an annual increase of 21%. March saw a monthly record high of 1.56 million train trips, an increase of 29% on March last year.

The growth is put down to the enhanced travel experience and additional capacity provided by the new electric trains and greater service frequency introduced over recent years.

Dr Levy says, “We’re moving to speed up the roll-out of the electric trains because we know Aucklanders want the extra capacity and the improved service that they provide.”

Auckland Transport is aiming to have a full electric network by the end of July except for the link between Papakura and Pukekohe which will continue to use diesel trains. These will be refurbished over time to provide an enhanced experience. The electric trains will provide improved travel experience and more capacity on the Southern and Western Lines.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says the figures are good news for the City Rail Link.

“At this rate, Auckland will meet the Government’s threshold for financial support for the CRL three years early in 2017, three years earlier than predicted. Growth has been accelerating since late 2013.”

March was also a record breaking month on the Northern Express with patronage up almost 17% on the same month last year, the 12 month total reached 2.8 million.

It was also a record for other bus services as patronage rose 8% to 56.6 million. Ferry numbers for the year totalled 5.4 million trips, up 5% on an annual basis.

General Manager AT Metro, Mark Lambert, says growth on bus services is attributed to increased services and frequency, improving travel times from new bus priority lanes and a significant improvement in service punctuality being achieved by bus operators through new timetables. Further service level increases and punctuality improvements are planned for later this year along with the introduction of double decker buses on a number of routes. New network designs will also be introduced from later this year.

Meanwhile, Auckland Transport apologises for recent disruptions on the rail network including track and signal failures (operated by KiwiRail), mechanical breakdowns with the old diesel trains and staffing issues.

Mr Lambert says, “The new timetable from December 2014 introduced a 20% plus increase in services across the constrained Auckland rail network making it difficult to recover when there is an issue. We are working with the rail operator Transdev to speed-up the recovery time when unfortunately inevitable failures occur.”

February 2015 Patronage

We’d already heard about the spectacular rail patronage results of passing 13 million trips, an increase of 1 million in just 5 months. Now we’ve got the full patronage information for February and it’s looking good.

2015-02 - Patronage Table

One of the aspects I noticed in the table above is the Western line appears to have dropped however AT say that is just because of the timing of events last year and so if removing special event tickets from the numbers of each year shows patronage growth for the month of 9.8%.

One impressive aspect about the rail growth is that the total patronage in February was higher than any single month last year despite being only 28 days and including a public holiday. Only one month – October 2011 which was the peak thank to the RWC – has higher and the difference is only around 2,000 trips.

The total patronage growth is shown below.

2014-02 - AKL - Total Patronage

Other than the rail results it’s also pleasing to see buses growing so strongly. The Northern Express (NEX) is obviously still up strongly but other buses which carry the bulk of patronage are increasing too. For the 12 months to the end of Feb patronage was 7.6% (around 4 million trips) compared to the same time last year.

2014-02 - AKL - Bus Patronage

With results so strong I’m really looking forward to seeing just how big the numbers are for March. Given what I’ve been seeing and hearing about how full trains, buses and ferries are the results could be absolutely massive. Of course we’ve also been hearing a lot about buses and trains being so full that it’s putting people off using them, especially on the rail network where issues and delays have become an almost daily occurrence.

On issues, this is showing through in the train punctuality stats which have shown a decline in recent months and it can also in part be attributed to services being too full increasing dwell times. I suspect the 78% the western line managed to achieve could go much lower in March.

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

We also have Wellington’s patronage results for Feb which have remained flat. The monthly figures for buses and trains were down 0.2% and up 0.1% respectively. Due to growth over the last year they were both up on the 12 month figure though.

2014-02 - WLG - Total Patronage

Metamorphosis: The Return of the City

The Auckland City Centre is entering a phase of profound change. The rest of this decade it’ll be undergoing a more extensive and disruptive renovation than your average Ponsonby villa. The designers and financiers are at work and the men and machines are are about to start. The caterpillar is entering that difficult and mysterious chrysalis phase; what kind of butterfly will emerge?

Some of the probable additions to AKL’s skyline [image: Luke Elliot]

If even half of what is proposed gets underway almost every aspect of the centre city will be different.

The Skyline

Precinct Property’s 500 million dollar total rebuild of the Downtown centre and a new 36 storey commercial tower is confrmed to start next year. The 39 storey St James apartment tower is also all go [with the re-opening of the ground floor to the public soon]. An apartment tower on Albert and Swanson has begun. There are a huge number of residential towers seriously close to launching some of which are 50+ floors. These are on Victoria St, Customs St, Commerce St, Greys Ave and more. The biggest of them all Elliot Towers is rumoured to underway next year. Mansons have bought the current herald site and said to looking at residential there. On the same block 125 Queen St is finally getting refurbished bringing much needed new commercial space in the city [+ about 1000 new inner city workers]. Of course the Convention Centre and its associated hotel will start too. Waterfront Auckland have announced new mid rise apartment developments and a new hotel beginning as well. This list is not by any means exhaustive. Auckland is now a builders’ boom town. And it will resemble nothing other than an enormous sand pit for the next few years.

The Street

Regardless of the forms of these buildings they are going to have profound impacts at street level; flooding the footpaths with people, stimulating more and more retail and especially hospitality services. Add to this the disruption of the works themselves, for example later this year the first stage of the CRL is going to start. Digging up everything from Britomart through Downtown, up Albert St to Wyndam St. If the proposed Light Rail system goes ahead that will mean the [no doubt staged] digging up of the whole length of Queen St and other places, Dominion Rd, Wynyard Quarter. Street space is becoming more and more contested. Driving in the city is going to get increasingly pointless, most will avoid it. But unlike last century that won’t mean people won’t come to the city. One, because it’s become so attractive with unique retail offers, unrivalled entertainment attractions, and a fat concentration of jobs. Two, because people are discovering how good the improving Transit options are becoming, so why bother driving. And three, because increasing numbers are already there; it’s where they live anyway.

And that Transit boom is going to continue, or even accelerate. Britomart throughput is now running at 35 000 people daily, when planned it wasn’t even expected to reach 20 000 until 2021 [see below; the blue line is still growing at that angle; it is now literally off the chart]:

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

Why is this happening? A lot of people in wider Auckland still think the city is unappealing or unimportant. Aren’t we spreading new housing out at the edges? Aren’t new businesses building near the suburbs in those business parks? Well ironically one of the reasons so much growth and investment is happening in City Centre is because those same people, the ones that prefer their suburban neighbourhoods to the city, don’t want any change near them. The City Centre is one of the few places that it is possible to add new dwellings or offices at scale, and because it is a very constrained area with high land value this can only be done with tall buildings. The more suburban people refuse to have growth near them the more, in a growing city, investment has to concentrate where it can, and in Auckland that means downtown.

Auckland's first electric  tram 1902

Auckland’s first electric tram 1902

Auckland is still spreading outwards and businesses are growing in suburban centres, but these areas are not appealing or appropriate for all people and all businesses, and nor are they sufficient; the City Centre is growing by both these metrics too, and at a greater pace. The 2013 census showed that AKL city is the fastest accelerating place to live in the entire country, growing at over 48% between 2006-2013, and currently the city is experiencing a new shortage of office space and an interesting reshaping of the retail market. The education sector is also still strong there, with Auckland Uni consolidating to its now three Central City sites and building more inner city student accommodation. City growth is strong and broadly based: residential, commercial, retail, and institutional.

There are risks and opportunities in this but what is certain, outside of a sudden economic collapse, is that the City Centre will be a completely different place in a few years, in form, and in terms of how it will operate. And the signs are promising that what we are heading to is an almost unrecognisably better city at street level than it has been in living memory.

What is happening is simply that it is returning to being a city of people. Ten of thousands of new inner city residents, thousands of new visitors in thousands of additional hotel beds each night, hundreds of thousands of workers and learners arriving daily from all over the wider city each day too. All shopping, eating, drinking, and playing within the ring of the motorway collar. Auckland is moving from being one of the dullest and most lifeless conurbations in the world to offering a new level of intensity and activity. Well that is certainly the possibility in front of us now.

Auckland has had boom times before, and each of these leave a near permanent mark on the built fabric of the city [the Timespanner blog has examples in great detail].  So it matters profoundly what we add to the city this time. We are at the beginning of the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the postwar outward boom that came with such a high cost for the older parts of the city. By forcing the parts of the city built on an earlier infrastructure model to adapt to a car only system we rendered them unappealing and underperforming, and the old city very nearly did not survive this era. Only the persistence of some institutions, particularly the Universities, enabled it to hang on as well as it did. The car as an organising device is ideal for social patterns with a high degree of distance and dispersal. It is essentially anti-urban in its ability to eat distance but at the price of its inefficient use of space; it constantly fights against the logic of human concentration that cities rely on to thrive. It not only thrives on dispersal, it also enforces it.

Queen St 1960s

Queen St 1960s

But now the wheel has turned and cities everywhere are booming on the back a of model much more like the earlier one [see here for example: Seven cities going car-free]. This old-new model is built on the understanding that people in numbers both already present in the city and arriving on spatially efficient Transit systems providing the economic and social concentration necessary for urban vitality and success.

This seems likely to lead to a situation more or less observable in many cities world-wide where there is an intense and highly walkable and Transit served centre surrounded by largely auto-dependent suburbs. Melbourne, for example, is increasingly taking this form. And, interestingly the abrupt physical severance of Auckland’s motorway collar might just make ours one of the more starkly contrasting places to develop along these lines. A real mullet city: one made up of two distinct patterns.

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Frankly I think this is fine, it could make for the best of both worlds. Those who want to live with the space and green of the suburbs can continue to do so but are also able to dip into a vibrant city for work, education, or especially entertainment, on efficient electric Transit, ferries, and buses when that suits. A vibrant core of vital commercial and cultural intensity sustained by those who choose to live in the middle of it 24/7. The intensity of this core plus any other growing Metro Centres [will Albany really become intense? Manukau City?] meaning the sprawl isn’t limitless and the countryside not pushed so far away that it is inaccessible. Auckland as Goldilocks; not all one thing or the other; neither all suburb nor all city. People will use or ignore which ever parts they want, and soon members of the same households will be able to indulge their different tastes without some having to leave the country.

What are the threats to this vision? Well we do actually have to build the Transit, this means completing the CRL soon as is possible, and ideally replacing a good chunk of the buses with higher capacity and more appealing Light Rail. To connect these two halves; the success of both the centre and the region it serves depend on it. But also we have deliver a much better public realm on the streets and especially at the water’s edge. We have to retain and enhance the smaller scale older street systems to contrast with the coming towers, like we have at Britomart and O’Connell St. All these moves require leadership and commitment and an acceptance that the process of getting there will be contested and difficult.

I have no fear that people in the wider city won’t be happy to choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys, especially into the city, then jump back into them for others across the wider city or out of town. After all it’s happening already. This is not then a bold prediction, merely the extrapolation of current trends. And it is the trend that tells us more about the future than the status quo. More of this:

CBD Transport Change

than this

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

or this

AKL m'ways 70s

AKL Grafton Gully 70s

Are we failing March Madness?

I asked last week if Auckland Transport were ready for March Madness – a situation that happens every year where public transport usage goes nuts from a variety of factors. Unfortunately it increasingly it seems like PT services simply aren’t coping under the stress of the surge that we’re seeing. It’s not clear whether this is as a result of patronage simply surging ahead what was expected or if there simply hasn’t been enough capacity added to the system but either way the result is the same. Every day now I’m seeing/hearing comments on the blog, on social media, in my emails or even directly to me in person about crowded buses and trains.

Auckland Transport may just think this is a phase which will be over soon however one of the reasons it’s so important they get it right is that the experience customers have can set the tone for how people travel for the rest of the year or longer. I’ve already heard people saying that they’re giving up on PT and going back to battling the congestion behind the wheel of their car.

Below is just a small selection of the comments I’ve seen/received.

At the moment I am finding the time it takes to catch a bus during peak times to be utterly ridiculous. I catch a bus from Mt Eden Road to Britomart and on Monday had to wait 50mins for a bus that had capacity for more passengers (between 10-15 went past full). There was around 20 people left at my bus stop by the time I caught one, and another 20 or so down the road further. Surely there could be some buses that start partway through the route to pick up the stranded passengers left at the second half of the route for very long periods of time. It is issues like this that put people off public transport – there were several people at my stop who were distressed about being late for work, and some even gave up and went back home!

 and
Caught 224 home at 8.15pm, and we left people behind on Symonds St over bridge as over 20 were standing, also nearby saw a 258 and 471 with bus Full signs.

Hell even these three got on a bus

As mentioned earlier this is just a small sample of the comments I’ve seen in recent days. In some ways I have a little sympathy for AT and the bus companies in that it can be very hard to add capacity just for the peak as that makes for an expensive proposition however some of these comments are also coming in off peak or at a time when there should be a lot of spare capacity available.

The big concern is that full buses and trains are putting people off using PT all together – a case of the system truly becoming a victim of its own success.In my view AT need to come up with a plan for addressing crowding and do so quickly.

One million, five months

I highlighted this yesterday and now Auckland Transport have officially announced that rail patronage has passed 13 million trips which is up from 11 million in March last year. By my calculation that puts patronage for Feb at about 1.2 million trips although unfortunately AT say they don’t have the exact numbers yet as are validating data from the likes of event travel suggesting the results could go even higher.

Patronage vs Target - Feb 15 (2)

 

In a separate press release from Mayor Len Brown he highlighted that it’s only taken 5 months to go from 12m to 13 million trips. Below shows how long it’s taken to reach other patronage milestones and as you can see, with the exception of the 11 million figure – which was partly impacted by the RWC and change to HOP – there’s been a downward trend meaning that in general it’s taking a shorter and shorter amount of time for new milestones to be reached. There’s obviously a limit to that at some point and it’ll be interesting to see just how low that goes.

Months to Milestones

At 5 months for the next million trips it suggests we’re going to hit 14 million at around July which seems eminently likely considering that AT say more six-car trains have started rolling out on the eastern line from this week with more coming soon and Len’s press release it notes

… and that will continue to increase with the Southern Line roll-out complete by the end of this month and the Western Line roll-out completing the transition to electric trains by the middle of the year

I certainly can’t wait for them to be rolled out – although I’m getting increasingly concerned that for the Western Line in particular that it simply won’t be enough until AT eventually get around to putting 10 minute frequencies on the line – something that was promised way back in 2010 and has yet to happen.

Along with that headline figure they also highlighted a few other stats, in particular that the average patronage on a weekday in Feb was 51,500, up 10,000 on Feb last year. In addition, now during the morning peak 12,500 people are using trains to get around. I’m not quite sure how many of them are going to Britomart but likely more than half of them.

The electric trains are definitely driving a lot of patronage. AT say that the number of people using trains from stations with fully electric train services is up 50%. At Panmure patronage has doubled and at Manukau it is up a whopping 176% (from a low base). As a comparison patronage at New Lynn which hasn’t seen any real change in services for years was also up strongly on last year at 24%

However while AT and the mayor are celebrating the rail result – and rightly so given the focus on the CRL – they in some ways have buried the lead a bit. In the very last sentence of their release they say:

Overall total public transport boardings have increased by more than 9% for the twelve months to the end of February, an additional 6.6 million boardings taking the annual total to 77 million.

I suspect most cities would think that a 9% growth in patronage across the entire system is a crazy level of increase. Perhaps more impressively total patronage for the previous 12 months at the end of November just passed 75 million trips and here we are 3 months later and the result is 2 million trips higher. In addition it also suggests we’ve now once again reached the (low) level of 50 trips per person per year. The last time Aucklanders each took an average of over 50 trips on PT was in the late 1980’s (as a comparison Wellington has 74 trips per person).

Auckland total patronage & per capita 1920-2014

I’m quite interested to see what our reader’s views are for when we will hit the next milestones. My guess is July and December for rail patronage and maybe we’ll see total patronage top 80 million in the next few months. Put your guesses in the comments.

 

Are we ready for March Madness

We’re now in March and for public transport that means one thing – March Madness. It’s called that because a number of factors combine to see usage of buses, trains surge. Those factors include but are not limited to:

  • It’s a 31 day month with normally no public holidays – next year will be a big exception with Easter falling entirely within March.
  • Decent weather still so people are less likely to be put off walking/waiting for services.
  • Universities are back and students are often keen to start the year well so attendance is likely higher.
  • There are normally no school holidays.
  • I suspect there are less people taking leave in March due to no school holidays and many having taken leave over Christmas/New Year or in January or February.
  • There are likely to be less people taking sick leave
  • More people trying out PT as a way to avoid congestion also caused by the previous points.

The surge normally starts in late Feb and runs through to at least Easter before people start settling down into more established travel patterns – which may include travelling earlier or later to avoid the worst of the peak.

From a patronage perspective March is almost always the month with the highest patronage in any given year – and May is usually second. This is shown on the graph below where March has been highlighted in red.

AKL March Madness Patronage

There are a couple of exceptions to this, on the rail network the last couple of years has seen patronage in May slightly higher than March while on the ferries January is usually the highest month as a result of more people visiting places like Devonport and Waiheke Island.

One of the problems Auckland Transport and the operators face with March Madness is that a lot of the extra trips occur at the height of the peak which is exactly where it is the hardest and most expensive to add new services. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important that AT put a lot of effort into making the buses we have go faster by:

  • Reducing dwell times:
    • getting more people on HOP – it’s not uncommon to see 5 or more people be able to board with HOP in the same time it takes someone paying by cash.
    • in some places possibly allowing rear door boarding – currently the only place I’m aware that this happens on the NEX at Britomart in the afternoons.
    • encouraging bus operators to buy buses with larger doors – and bigger buses in general.
  • Getting buses out of congestion and therefore moving quicker with more bus lanes and other bus priority measures.

Speeding up buses means that the same number of them can deliver more services for no extra cost. That’s good for passengers and for city as it means we’re spending money more efficiently and getting better outcomes.

I personally think we’re in for a huge month for patronage. The last few weeks in particular have been extremely busy on almost all services I’ve caught – much more so than I can remember seeing before. For example even the buses I use which travel opposite to the peak direction have been standing room only while on some parts of the rail network the new electric trains are driving huge growth.

On top of the factors driving growth in PT, just due to the way the calendar falls this year it means there’s an extra business day means the total results should be even better. Below are a couple of images hopefully highlighting just how busy services have been of late.

This Northern Express bus heading to the city in the afternoon was so full that a number of people (myself included) couldn’t get on. Another one two minutes later was almost as full.

NEX Full

A frequent sight on morning buses to Takapuna and afternoon buses to the city

Takapuna Bus full

A regular sight in the afternoons with the queue for the Northern Express to the North Shore. It extends behind where I took the photo too.

NEX Queues Britomart

A different day and different angle but there were two queues, one back to Customs St and the other around to the right

NEX Queues Britomart 2

Trains leaving Britomart on the Western line are packed before even reaching Newmarket and Grafton where a large number of additional passengers try to get on.

Packed Train Leaving Britomart

And another one from twitter

From Patrick yesterday, the Airport Express was standing room only after only one terminal meaning a long trip to town for those on their feet.

So anyone want to take some guesses on how many PT trips there’ll be this month? As a comparison in 2014 there were just over 7.3 million with it broken down as per below.

  • Rail – 1,174,588
  • Northern Express – 262,431
  • Other Bus – 5,374,783
  • Ferry – 494,123

Given the growth we’ve been seeing in recent months a 10% increase seems entirely possible and that could see us reach over 8 million trips in the month.

Panmure Station Revisited

Train Bus Interchange. Looked to me like was working pretty sweetly. Quite a bit of Kiss’n’Ride going on on the northern side, car drop off, as you’d expect for a reasonably far enough out station in such an auto-dependent city. And, rather like New Lynn, this station feels somewhat stranded by roads and not anything like the intensity of land use we all expect to see develop over time.

PANMURE_8614

But of course those roads bring the buses right to the front door; quite a lot of people seem to be transferring to the trains rather than staying on the bus all the way to the city centre, and Howick and Eastern looked to be doing a good trade to and from the station. It is interesting that H&E have just announced they are buying 15 new double deckers, all with wifi and charging points. It looks like the quality of the new trains has started an quality of service race among providers, along with providing the core of the lift in ridership enabling this sort of investment and upgrade; win win win.

PANMURE_8719

Looking forward to the next Interchanges at Otahuhu and Manukau that are funded to start this year. However the really spectacular upgrade for SE Auckland will be the Bus Rapid Transit part of AMETI which will connect this station with Botany, Pakuranga, and hopefully Highland Park with bus priority [construction start 2017]. Won’t be too long before we have new and much better options for getting around our city.

PANMURE_8584

 

Progress on CRL targets

My post the other day highlighting the spectacular patronage growth we’re seeing once again raised questions about the government’s target to start construction of the main part of the CRL before 2020. The target that has been set is: rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips a year well before 2020. The question is how we’re tracking towards that target.

Before I go into that it’s also worth remembering that the Ministry of Transport are producing roughly six monthly monitoring reports on how we’re tracking towards the target. The last one was in August which means one is probably due fairly shortly (although it could be a while before we see it). In the last report they said.

Auckland Transport’s Public Transport Monthly Patronage Report for June 2014 shows rail patronage of 11.4 million trips for the year to June 2014, compared to 10 million trips for the
previous year. This is an increase of 1.4 million trips or 13.9 percent.

Assessment
Growth of 1.4 million trips for the year to June 2014 is the highest annual growth in Auckland rail patronage achieved to date. If growth continues at 1.4 million trips per year, annual patronage would hit 20 million trips around 2019/20. We expect patronage growth to continue at a similar rate as for the year to June 2014 until around 2017/18, as the full electric train fleet comes into service and the new bus network is rolled out. After 2017/18, we expect the rate of patronage growth to slow and at this stage do not anticipate it is likely that the threshold of 20 million trips well before 2020 will be met.

Since June we’ve seen patronage on the rail network increase massively going from 11.4 million trips to 12.8 million trips in January. In the last 12 months rail patronage has risen by an astonishing 20% or 2.1 million trips per year. That means not only is our patronage numbers increasing but the growth rate has been accelerating. While I do expect the growth rate to calm down a little bit in coming months – as January was boosted significantly by events like shorter shutdowns – it feels that by June we’re still in for an overall growth figure around the 2 million trip mark. Of course that’s still quite a bit ahead of the MoTs result. Here’s how we’re tracking.

Patronage vs John Key Target 1

What we can see is that the strong growth is now really nudging the Blue line (Actual) above the Yellow one (the governments target) meaning if the trend continues we’ll

The current strong growth isn’t all that surprising. There are a number of reasons for it but one of the primary ones is that we’re in the middle of rolling out new electric trains and running them at improved peak and off peak frequencies. That roll out will continue through the first half of this year with the busy Southern Line followed by the Western line by July.

It’s also expected that the other major improvements that AT is currently working on, integrated fares (early next year) and the new bus network (now pushed back to Mid 2016) will deliver significant growth that should help deliver another strong wave of rail patronage.

To consider when we might hid the 20 million target – or at least be on track for it – the graph below looks at three scenario’s.

  1. Patronage will grow by 2.5 million trips to for the year to June, by 2 million trips in June 2016 & 2017, by 1.5 million trips in June 2018 and then 1 million trips a year after that.
  2. Patronage will keep growing by year on year percentage will fall by 2.5% each year. Under this scenario then by this time next year we’ll still be seeing around 17.5% YoY growth.
  3. The MoTs view which is highlighted at the start of the post

Patronage Projections 1

At least for a couple of years the high growth figures we’re seeing are likely to continue. We’ll obviously have to wait to see just what happens but I’m almost certain the patronage target is one we’ll achieve. If there is one thing that makes me nervous about the future it is that we might not have the capacity in the system at least at peak times. The new electric trains are said to add around 40% capacity but with the growth we’re seeing that won’t last long and scenes of packed trains week return again soon.

Train Capacity 2

I’m picking we’ll have a decision on when the CRL starts by the next national election at the latest and possibly sooner depending on who stands for mayor next year.