June-15 Patronage

We learned the other day the patronage results for rail in June, now we have them for all modes and once again they are extremely good – helped a little bit by there being an extra business day compared to June last year. The results are also significant as June is the end of the financial year so the results are what are compared against targets and compared against other metrics.

For the 12 months to the end of June, patronage was 79.25 million trips which is up 9.5% on the 2014 result. That’s an increase in almost 7 million trips over the course of a year and given the strong weekday growth probably represents around an extra 30,000 trips being taken each working day. When you think of it this way it’s not surprising that so many trains and buses have been full to the point of leaving people behind.  The changes for individual modes were:

  • Bus (excluding Northern Express) – 57 million trips, up 6.6%
  • Northern Express – 2.8 million trips, up 17.2%
  • Rail – 13.9 million trips, up 21.7%
  • Ferry – 5.5 million trips, up 8.3%

2015-06 - Total Patronage Chart

2015-06 - Patronage Table

As you can see from the numbers above the Rapid Transport Network (rail and busway) continue to shine with stunning levels of growth once again highlighting that investing in frequent and high quality services is really pays off. And of course the growth is likely to continue strongly following the roll-out of the electric trains on Monday – which should really help drive up patronage – and the Northern Busway which is about to get a capacity and free advertising) upgrade in the form of new double-decker buses which should improve (the new network for most parts of Auckland doesn’t start rolling out till next year).

The results meant that AT smashed it’s patronage targets for the year – although in fairness the Council had agreed to lower them to stupidly low levels. The Long Term Plan sees some much rougher targets

2015-06 - Patronage vs targets

And here’s an update as to how rail patronage is tracking vs the 20 million trip target the government set back in 2013

2015-06 - Rail Patronage vs Govt Target

 

The patronage increases along with the roll-out of the electric trains on the rail network are clearly having an impact on subsidies with the per passenger kilometre figures continuing to fall.

2015-06 - Subsidy per PAX KM

Not everything is good news though. On the rail network the key stats of punctuality and reliability are some of the worst I can remember seeing. If such poor outcomes continue it must surely start having an impact on patronage at some point.

2015-06 - AKL - Rail Punctuality

 

Things are a bit brighter for buses with results improving since AT started using actual data to monitor where buses where – as opposed to AT being provided data from the operators. While they might be much smaller than the other companies, Urban Express are out performing them on these stats.

2015-06 - Bus Reliability

Overall it’s been a pretty good year for patronage growth in Auckland. Let’s hope that the same thing happens again this new financial year and that AT and the bus companies have the ability to respond to the capacity needed

More on the National Land Transport Programme

Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.

BRITOMART JULY 15_3344

The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’  it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.

Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.

Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:

NZTA The role of PT.
And
NZTA Economic Growth through PT

All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.

People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.

There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.

However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.

Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.

The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:

  • current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
  • the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
  • the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
  • the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
  • and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities being missed in our only city of scale. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…

May 2015 Patronage

The patronage results for May are out and again the numbers are increasing – although not quite to the same level as recent months. This is in part due to there being one less business day in the month compared to May last year. Here are the results.

2015-05 - Patronage Table

2015-05 - Total Patronage Chart

Once again the rail network is leading the growth with an over 12% increase in patronage compared to May last year although AT say if that is normalised to account for the reduced business day it increase is actually 17%. That’s fairly impressive considering just how poor the performance of services has been – more on that soon. The primary driver for patronage growth continues to appear to be on weekdays with AT saying there are now around ~48,000 trips on a weekday on the rail network which is up from ~41,000 a day in May last year.

The other normalised results are:

  • Total – 6.2%
  • Northern Express – 13.3%
  • Other Bus – 3.3%
  • Ferry – 8.3%

With the continued strong growth in the busway it once again highlights that focusing on rapid transit services is the right approach. Combined rail and the NEX services know make up 21% of all patronage across the network and that figure is growing fast. While many areas of the PT system are obviously in need of improvement, the strong growth in the RTN is a message I really do hope is getting to the Minister as RTN’s are the PT equivalent of motorways and really the kind of infrastructure the government (and of course AT) should be investing in.

With the Other Bus patronage a bit lower than the other modes, I wonder if that was impacted by the decision by AT to start charging for the City Link Bus (previously free with a HOP card).

Coming back to the issue of trains, as mentioned growth has been very strong despite an appalling service standard lately. Out of just over 12,000 trains that were meant to run in May, 650 – (or just over 5%) of them were cancelled – or at least didn’t reach their final destination for some reason. On the Western Line around 10% of all services didn’t reach their destination although I suspect many of these were cases of trains terminated at Swanson. Of those that did run around 20% ended up late. That’s a slight improvement on the month before but still dismal. I guess it proves that passengers will put up with a lot of disruption but likely only for so long.

2015-05 - Rail Performance

AT say that five services across the rail network exceeded their planned standing/sitting ratio. This has commonly been reported however interesting one Eastern line service is mentioned which highlights just how very popular there the electrics are in driving up patronage.

Bus performance isn’t quite as bad – although it too could always be better. This sis shown in the table below

2015-05 - Bus Performance

One good thing AT has recently done in is start publishing patronage data in on their website in .xlsx or .csv format without people having to trawl through years of documents. I’m told this is just the first step and that more data other than patronage will be coming over time. This is nice to see.

As well as patronage, HOP usage continues to increase and AT say that 72.4% of all trips were made with HOP which is up from 67.8% in April. I’m guessing the fare changes helped with that boost.

2015-05 - HOP Usage

Lastly the data for May available yet however here is the results from Wellington up to April. Bus patronage continues to bob around the 24 million trips per year mark however rail patronage is numbers are increasing with April seeing annual growth of 5.5%.

2015-05 - Wellington Total Patronage Chart

The LTP Patronage Targets

Over the years there have been a wide range of patronage targets for public transport. There are high level targets in the 30 year Auckland Plan, 10 years of annual targets in the Long Term plan which are updated every three years and three years of annual targets updated annually in both the council’s Annual Plan and Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent. Of course there is also the government’s target to start construction of the CRL earlier than 2020.

The targets are important as they are used to monitor how AT are performing – not that I’m sure anything happens if the targets aren’t met. We’ve talked before about patronage targets. In particular how following the drop in patronage in the 2012/13 year AT pushed for the targets to be lowered which the council agreed to in 2014. That left the ridiculous situation where the rail target to the end of June this year was only 12.1 million trips, an increase of just 700k over the year before despite the roll out of electric trains happening. As it happens patronage is currently at 13.5 million trips and predicted to reach 13.8 million by the end of June.

AT pushing to have the targets reduced has also been used by the Ministry of Transport to justify their position that Auckland won’t meet the CRL targets of 20 million trips prior to 2020. A bit of an own goal really.

On to the point of the post. Just over a week ago the council agreed on new patronage targets that would go into their Long Term Plan which were revised from the earlier drafts. You can see the figures that were agreed by the councillors which are slightly different from those originally on the agenda.

2015-25 LTP agreed patronage targets

As you can see, by 2025 the target is for patronage to be 110.7 million trips which is a bit short of the 140 million trips by 2022 the Auckland Plan envisioned – although to be a little bit fair some projects like the CRL were expected sooner. Given the time-frame and PT growth I think we can expect in Auckland through all the changes planned I think that 110 million tips is a bit light. Based on current population projections it would represent a per capita usage of less than 60 trips per year (currently we’re just over 50).  As an example over the next few years the last of the electric trains will roll out along with the New Network and integrated fares. Those alone should see big boosts to patronage numbers and as the charts below show. The problem is only the rail network seems to have any step change factored in.

Of course around 2022 or 2023 we should also see the City Rail Link open and again we should see significant boosts in numbers, especially on the rail network. One of the reasons for this might be because while the LTP’s are a 10 year document, the focus is only really on the first three years till the next revision.

So here are the charts showing the changes and how they compare to the previous targets from the 2012-22 LTP plus the 2013 and 2014 versions of Auckland Transport’s Statement of Intent. As mentioned only the rail network sees any significant change from figures previously expected and if we meet the new target the CRL patronage target will be achieved some time around 2018.

2015-25 LTP agreed patronage targets - Charts

And below is an indication of the how much change is expected in each year. I find it odd that patronage would drop off just as the new network is likely being completed as that alone should provide a big boost from more people transferring from bus to train.

2015-25 LTP Targets - annual change

Slightly related, a presentation I saw recently contained a version of this next chart showing what level patronage could be at over the next 30 years out to 2046. I think it shows quite well the impact the CRL and light rail – even though buses will still dominate the modes.

Future patronage projection

 

What do you think of the targets, are they ambitious enough?

April-15 Patronage

Another month and another good patronage result from Auckland Transport – particularly for rail. Patronage in April is naturally down on the madness that is March due to the combination of a 30 day month, ANZAC day, Easter and School Holidays/Uni holidays. This year was no different although there ended up being the same number of working days as April 2014. Overall patronage for the month edged up 3.7% compared to April 2014 however there is quite some variation between the modes.

 

2015-04 - Patronage Table

2015-04 - Total Patronage Chart

The real focal point – as it has been for many months now – has been the stellar growth in rail patronage. In April it hasn’t disappointed, up almost 16% compared to April 2014 and up 22% annually and even more for both measures if normalised to take account of the differences e.g. events. To put things in perspective, 12 months ago the annual patronage on the rail network was just under 11.1 million trips, now it’s over 13.5 million. That means it remains well on track to exceed the government’s patronage targets for the CRL some time during 2017/18. It’s also worth noting that AT have now upped their projection for this financial year (end of June) to suggest that we’ll reach 13.8 million trips

 

2015-04 - Rail vs CRL target

In some ways I think AT are lucky that achieved the results they did given that operational performance was so bad achieving just 68.4% of services arriving within 5 minutes of schedule.

2015-04 - Rail Performance

With buses the Northern Express continues to perform well and was up over 8.5% for the month and 17% for the year once again showing it’s the Rapid Transport Network is where the most growth is happening. Other buses were actually down slightly although a reason for this isn’t given.

Ferries have had surprisingly strong growth of late and were up almost 15% for the month. AT suggest that a large part of the growth has some from the new Explore ferries.

2015-04 - Ferry

Lastly a quick update to my post last week about train costs. In it I included a chart showing that subsidies per passenger km were starting to decline on the rail network which is a good thing.  The stats for this month show once again subsidies are reducing which will be the result of more and more electric trains coming in to service. In a few months I’d expect that line to be even lower too.

PT Subsidy per Passenger km

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