This is a Guest Post by commenter Peter, who has written previous posts here and here.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the need to improve Auckland’s bus network so that it integrates with, rather than duplicates, the rail network and also the Northern Busway. Auckland Transport’s board papers for their meeting this coming week seem to indicate that this process is finally happening – as Matt pointed out in his post earlier this week, we see the following:
The PTNP will define a new connected and integrated network for public transport in Auckland of:
Rapid Transit Network (RTN) of electrified and modern rail services and Busway services.
A connected network of high frequency bus services along key arterial road corridors, supporting and integrating with the RTN – 15 minute worst case frequency seven days a week between 7am and 7pm – plus some high frequency ferry services
Secondary routes of lesser frequency ferry and local feeder bus services connecting to the RTN and high frequency bus network, school bus services and peak only services.
The main benefits of the new PTNP will be to simplify the network, remove the “spaghetti” A-B bus routes, remove duplication of services and provide high frequency services that are convenient and reliable. This in turn will create resource efficiency “savings‟ that can be used to focus bus resources where the demand and congestion relief is most needed – on key arterial corridors.
It seems fairly likely that turning a number of existing “long-haul” bus routes into feeder services to both the rail network and the Northern Busway will be a key part of this plan. Logically it should, because as many people have pointed out earlier it’s just silly for us to run bus routes that completely duplicate our rail corridors doing the same “long-haul” job that we’ve spent billions of dollars on the rail network to do.
However, this “trunk and feeder” approach generally hasn’t worked well in Auckland so far. We have a few feeder buses that run around the North Shore at the moment, and the general conclusion that I’ve come to from discussions with various people is that they’re rubbish. And because they are rubbish, nobody uses them. Here are two of the feeder services into Albany and Constellation stations: The 880 route (the red one) takes almost an hour to complete its giant circuit of this part of the North Shore, and only runs at 30 minute frequencies – fine if you’re heading into the city where you can transfer onto the much higher frequency Northern Express: rubbish if you’re heading out of the city and just miss your connecting feeder bus to take you home. Furthermore, Constellation and Mairangi Bay are the 3 stage boundaries, i.e. an express from Mairangi to the city is three stages. However for some infuriating reason all the 880 route along Maxwellton Dr falls into the ‘upper zone’ of the North shore, while Constellation is still in the lower zone. The end result is a longer, slower and less direct 839 from Mairangi to town on a lower zone pass, but using the feeder and transfer to the NEX for a quick trip needs the more expensive upper and lower zone pass. The 887 bus (the blue route) takes 40 minutes to complete a pretty incomprehensible route, and also only runs every half-hour – making it hopeless for returning trips.
So we haven’t got feeder buses right on the North Shore. Does that mean feeder buses in general are always going to be almost completely empty and utterly useless, or is there a better way we can do them? Looking overseas, we find that in cities like Perth, Vancouver and Toronto, the majority of people catching the train have actually arrived at their station on the bus – suggesting that feeder buses to rapid transit is quite possible. But how?
Taking a look at Perth’s bus network gives us some clues about how to run better feeder services – here’s a section in the very northern area that feeds into Clarkson Railway Station. Tracing the individual routes takes a bit of work (and there’s a typo which doesn’t help), but generally they follow fairly logical routes feeding into Clarkson Station in the bottom-right of the image. With some exceptions they take the fastest trips while still offering a fairly decent coverage of the area. Looking at a timetable, we can also see that some care and thought has gone into integration with trains: The connections also work in the outbound direction: What’s interesting in comparing Auckland with Perth is a fundamental difference between a busway and a rail line – that being that you’ll probably always be running much higher service frequencies along a busway than a railway line (simply because you can’t fit anywhere near as many people on a bus). The lower train frequencies make it a bit easier for connecting feeder buses, because you can time your feeder to connect to your train (and vice-versa), even at fairly low frequencies. With a busway, it’s likely to be much more difficult to match the frequency of your feeder with that of your trunk route. The Northern Express runs at 5 minute frequencies or better for much of the day these days, and although you wouldn’t need any feeders to match that frequency, you would need them to be coming at worst every 15 minutes to ensure that non-timed transfers didn’t result in particularly long waits.
In future posts I’ll try to look at how Vancouver and Toronto operate feeder buses to their rail networks, and perhaps look at how Brisbane operates its southeast busway in a bit more detail – to really explore how we can make feeder buses to rapid transit work.
The word ‘Transformational’ is turning up frequently around discussions about Auckland’s future. I am encouraged by this as it surely means change. More than that doesn’t it particularly mean making bold decisions precisely designed to lead to different outcomes than we have now? This is important because it goes to the heart of the debate between the Council’s plan to invest in public transport versus the road lobby’s determination to prevent that and continue to build ever more motorways.
Here are a couple of examples, the first is mayor Len Brown talking a few weeks ago about the MIT campus that is now being built directly on top of the yet to open Manukau City Station, big ups-ing its transformational nature:
“The Hayman Park site is a superb example of an integrated, transformational project aligning MIT with the local community, business and industry, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.”
And here is Bill English a little less sure that he has any transformational projects but sure he’d like some:
“I mean, if there are transformational ideas out there we will grab them with both hands and do them. We just wish there was a few more.”
So it is an idea that gets politicians excited, and why not, because generally that’s the way they can try to improve our world: Change things. And transformation is a kind of change with bells on. Transformation is required when things need to be ‘turned around’. It implies a bold and imaginative quality. Transformation suggests a break with the past, a ‘fresh start’. A complete change.
Here is a dictionary definition:
Transformation is the process of changing from one state to another.
So it was interesting to hear Councillor Quax on Morning Report argue in the context of the council’s transformational plan to prioritise investment into public transport over roads that:
‘nothing can be transformational if it only moves a small amount of people and freight around, that’s why roads need to take precedence over rail’
In other words Quax is arguing that because we are not already in the new transformed state, the place the transformation is intended to get us to, we shouldn’t make the necessary changes to get there. Errr? Are you sure you understand what the word means, Dick?
This is clearly an absurd argument; the whole point of the transformational is to change those numbers around, so in fact, the current imbalance between road and non-road movements is the very reason for changing what we invest in. Because you get what you invest in. More roads: more driving: new alternatives; less driving. Which will then, of course, free up the existing and extensive road network [along with all the other improved health, energy use, and quality of place outcomes we know come with increased PT use].
It is interesting to see that Quax is not arguing against transformation, as you might expect, but rather simply that he can’t imagine it happening. Like Bill English above who is presiding over an enormous and expensive continuation of last century’s highway building plans [while preaching austerity] simply because he too can’t perceive any transformational projects. Is the inability to see and understand the transformational because these men are looking in the wrong place? They don’t seem to grasp that the transformational, by definition, requires a break from the past.
The problem is that if you are only prepared to look backwards it will be hard to see a better way forward. This is the hegemony of the status quo, it takes a little more effort and enquiry to see how things could be different. Because the future is uncertain isn’t it?
So to be fair to Quax it is worth rephrasing his rather wooly headed statement above into a more useful question;
‘if we do invest differently, ie if we stop building ever more motorways and instead build a rail and busway network will we get the transformation we desire?’
What evidence is there that we can change things in Auckland? If we do invest boldly in new rail and busway infrastructure for the next decade or so will people use it? First of all it is clear that we can’t, as Quax is doing, just look at the current state to see what future we could have, so we will have to look elsewhere for a model. But we can also look at what trends there are already present in Auckland to see if we get changed outcomes from changed investment.
The clearest model from the recent past is Perth. Because it is culturally not dissimilar to Auckland, a similar size, is in fact an even more spread out city, and has done many of the things that the Auckland Council has been arguing we should do here to transform both our habits of movement and the quality of the whole city. So what happened?
This is Rail patronage in Perth and Auckland to 2011[Auckland is now around 11 million]. Perth’s first jump was on the back of electrification, bus coordination stations, and the construction of an underground CBD line. Patronage from a level similar to where Auckland’s is now, trebled, then doubled again with the addition of the all new Mandurah Line. This is what Transformation looks like. Before the early 90s investment rail use was bumbling along. It is clear there is no point in looking at the 1980s figures to see what could be achieved though changed investment.
Now that we’re all facing the right way let’s see what else could happen if we are really bold, like Mayor Len Brown said he was going to be when he started his term, proposing new transit infrastructure throughout the city:
Here we’ve added Vancouver. Greater Vancouver has about 2.3 million people. So where Auckland is expected to get to quite soon this century. Vancouver’s extremely successful Sky Train only began in the 1980s and is being added to constantly because it is a huge success and means that the city does not need to spend billions and billions on highways and parking and all the other hidden costs of auto dependency. This technology is ideal for new lines in Auckland like across the harbour to the North Shore. Nick argues here that this would be considerably cheaper than any further road crossing and certainly would help transform more than just the North Shore. It also could be the answer to the transport problems in Dick Quax’s Eastern suburbs too.
Well that’s great for Perth and Vancouver, but would that happen here in Auckland? Well here is the pattern of change in Auckland since the construction of Britomart and the other improvements to our existing rail network, and remember these changes were only about fixing the existing badly neglected system, and doesn’t yet involve modern electric trains or the great changes that the CRL will bring to the whole network, let alone extending the network to new areas. So not yet what you could really call Transformational investment:
So a very consistent uptake by Aucklanders, give us a good quality alternative to driving and a lot of us will take it, leaving more room on the existing road network for the rest. The numbers are still low but are very much beginning to make a big difference especially at peak time. But really we are just at the point that this existing resource could become a very significant influence on patterns of movement and also quality of place in Auckland. So transformation is without a doubt possible but only if we choose to make it happen. What we build will determine what we get and how we live. And it is absolutely certain that if we mostly just continue what we have been doing- building roads- all we will get is more driving and more over-crowded roads no matter how much we spend. And no transformation.
The best way to live in the 21st century is to stop living in the 20th century
The Auckland Plan (submissions close October 31st) takes a fairly long-term viewpoint of Auckland’s future, looking to 2041 when the population may well be as high as 2.5 million. Here are the projected population numbers for Auckland over the next 30 years, and how they compare with cities throughout the rest of New Zealand: A population of 2-2.5 million in 2041, if the medium or high projections are what turns out to happen, would put us in a situation similar to that of Greater Vancouver (current population 2.2 million). Add in our limited capacity to expand the roading network, hopefully a greater focus on aligning land-use plans to encourage intensification around public transport corridors and the inevitability of much higher petrol prices and you have the recipe for significantly higher public transport patronage in 2041 than what we have now. As impressive as our increase in train patronage has been over the past 10 years (especially since 2003 when Britomart opened), if you compare Auckland with Perth and Vancouver, you can see that we’re really just scratching the surface: Realising this level of rail patronage in Auckland will obviously require massive changes in the structure of our public transport system. Vancouver’s Skytrain is so incredibly popular because it’s used for all kinds of trips – particularly trips to suburban centres and reverse-commuting trips for those living downtown but working elsewhere. More than half of Skytrain users arrive at their station on the bus, while continuously high frequencies (enabled by its driverless operation) make the system useful for far more than just peak-time commuting: The low proportion of Auckland’s public transport trips taken on the train is fairly unusual, as Ottawa and Honolulu aside (both cities are now expanding light-rail systems), we have one of the lowest proportions of our PT trips on the rail network – clearly a legacy of the rail network being so bad for so long. Comparing Auckland to Vancouver (which is also dominated by bus patronage, even considering the fact that the Skytrain carries around 120 million trips a year) highlights that a more long term ‘balanced’ network might have around three bus trips per rail trip, rather than Auckland’s six bus trips per rail trip.Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane all have much higher proportions of their PT patronage carried by rail. While in Melbourne and Sydney this is because they have huge historic rail networks, Perth had lower rail patronage in the early 1990s than Auckland does now but now has nearly as many rail trips per capita as Auckland has bus trips.
What does all this information actually mean though? I suppose the message I’m trying to get across in all of this is to look at Vancouver and Perth as giving us a view into Auckland’s future. Those cities have shown us that it is possible to have successful rail systems in cities with relatively low densities and without huge legacy rail systems (like you see in Sydney and Melbourne). In short, I think it’s perfectly feasible to expect our rail system to carry 50-100 million or more passengers a year in the medium-term future. But what kind of system might that require?
The obvious point to make is that we need to use our existing rail asset far more effectively. Electrification will enable that to an extent, but we’re still stuck at a train every 10 minutes – meaning a capacity of little more than 4000 passengers per hour per direction, a fraction of a railway line’s potential capacity. The City Rail Link is, of course, necessary to enable our existing railway lines to operate to their capacity. Beyond the City Rail Link, completing an Airport/Southwest Line would enable a pretty useful system based around two lines:
If the maximum capacity of your railway line is around a train every 2 and a half minutes (24 tph), then theoretically a train could run every 5 minutes each way along both the red line and the green line. Obviously it will be a while before we need to run this level of service, even at peak times, but it effectively doubles the capacity of the line in each direction and quadruples the capacity of trains into the CBD because there are now two entrances (from Britomart and from Mt Eden).
A next line to put through, half of which seems to be progressing in the thinking of the powers to be (North Shore rail), half unfortunately not (a Southeast Line) could be this: Aside from the shared track between Glen Innes and town, this new line could theoretically be developed as a “Light Metro” along the lines of what Nick said recently in this post. The southeast portion of this line would probably be really useful in the next 20 years, although because we’re already building an AMETI busway chances are it’s probably quite a long way away from becoming a reality, if it ever happens.
Another possible future line, one which already has its route protected actually, is between Avondale and Southdown. This line would probably be of most use for freight – enabling freight trains to bypass Newmarket and the really high frequency passenger trains we’re likely to run on the inner part of the network in the future. Building that line enables an isthmus loop line though – which is quite an interesting idea for future service routings: Supplemented by a Northwest Busway (or a northwest rail line?) (perhaps linking through to Albany via SH18?), excellent quality feeder buses in the outer parts of the city, a high-frequency grid of bus routes on the Auckland isthmus, perhaps a few tram routes where they make sense and I think we might have found ourselves the public transport system to really support a city of 2.5 million people in a future where driving as much as we do now simply isn’t feasible.
An Auckland Council report on various aspects of our transport system makes a number of comparisons of Auckland’s public transport system with various cities in Australia, Canada and the USA – as well as Wellington. The cities used to compare Auckland against, including their population and what different technologies their PT system includes, is shown in the table below: These are a good range of cities to compare Auckland’s performance against, in my opinion. We have a number of cities with fairly similar population densities to Auckland (Sydney, Vancouver) cities with a similar population (Portland, Calgary, Adelaide) and cities with a variety of PT systems. On the key statistic of boardings per capita, it’s clear to see that Auckland is the very bottom city on this list. The per capita boardings of the Canadian cities are pretty amazingly high.
If we just compare with the Australian cities (and with Wellington) we can also see that while Auckland’s patronage has grown over the past decade, it hasn’t increased as much as many other Australian cities, particularly Melbourne and Perth: It’s interesting to remind ourselves that Melbourne has a railway link tunnel fairly similar to what’s being proposed in Auckland, and the ability to get heaps of people into Melbourne’s CBD by train has played a major role in the revitalisation of downtown Melbourne over the past decade, obviously contributing significantly to its rising patronage.
If we look at modeshare comparisons, once again Auckland lags behind the other cities – although it must be remembered that this is 2006 data and undoubtedly things will have changed in Auckland since then. It’s a shame that the Canadian data wasn’t able to be broken down by PT type, but for many Australian cities it’s notable that generally rail has a similar, or greater, modeshare than buses for peak time travel. Auckland is very much the exception to that rule, which probably highlights a PT system that is a bit too dependent on buses (due to our historic neglect of the rail network).
So why are things so bad for Auckland? Setting aside the obvious historical reasons, it’s clear by comparing Auckland with these various overseas cities that we provide a lower quality and quantity of services than elsewhere, but we charge the highest price on a per kilometre basis. Firstly, the quality & quantity: In short, we’re providing a pretty rubbish service compared to all the other cities used in the comparison. But what are we charging compared to all these other cities: So despite having the lowest quality PT service out of all these comparative cities, we then go and charge passengers the highest fares out of any of the cities. Not content with that, we are also then one of the few cities not to have a properly integrated ticketing/fares system. The reasons for our low patronage levels are starting to become pretty obvious I think.
Another element to consider is the cost-effectiveness of our service delivery. Obviously the cost of providing our rail system is pretty high, because we’re running incredibly old trains and use an incredibly outdated, overly labour-intensive, ticketing system. Our bus service seems relatively normal to provide on a per kilometre basis: While our services don’t seem particularly expensive to provide on a per kilometre basis, because we have the lowest average loadings of our PT vehicles, Auckland then stands out as close to the most expensive city to provide public transport on a per-person basis: Looking at the graph above it seems fairly obvious that the key way for Auckland to improve the cost-effectiveness of its public transport network is by increasing passenger loads and thereby reducing working expenses per passenger kilometre. Nevertheless, because our fares are so incredibly high on a comparative basis, Auckland’s farebox recovery level actually isn’t bad when compared to many of the other cities: There are quite a few pages of pretty good analysis and suggestions about how we can improve Auckland’s situation towards the end of the document, but for me the information above is extremely helpful in outlining quite a few things:
Despite an improvement to Auckland’s PT system over the past decade, we’re still doing very poorly compared to comparative cities in Australia, Canada and the USA. Furthermore, most of those cities have been increasing their patronage at even faster rates to Auckland.
Compared to other cities, Auckland’s PT service quality is considered to be extremely low, while quantity of service provided is also fairly low (although somewhat understandably given our low use). Improving service quality (better reliability, faster speeds, value for money etc.) is likely to be the most effective way of increasing use.
Compared to the other cities, Auckland’s fares are incredibly high – particularly as we don’t have integrated ticketing. Making fares for unlimited daily, weekly or monthly travel quite a bit cheaper is likely to be quite effective at boosting patronage and making PT seen as better value for money. Peak/off-peak pricing splits are also likely to be a good idea.
Compared to Wellington in particular, we are paying too much for the provision of services on a per kilometre basis. Compared to all cities we’re paying too much on a per passenger basis. This suggests that we’re running too many empty/underloaded buses or trains around, particularly during peak times when it’s most expensive to get a vehicle on the road. I also wonder whether this makes a good case for a publicly owned bus company to do what Kiwibank has done to the banking industry and keep prices a bit sharper.
Our farebox recovery levels are actually quite high compared to many overseas cities, suggesting that efforts to improve cost-effectiveness should come from boosting patronage through service quality improvements, rather than by hiking fares.
This pretty much matches up with what I’ve thought for a long time (although I am surprised how comparatively high Auckland’s fares are). One hopes that now Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have all this information, it will become more obvious what interventions will be most useful. Things like better bus priority measures, a more efficient bus network, a more intensively used rail network and and improved ticketing system.
I hope that eventually we can get off the bottom of all these public transport statistics.
This is a Guest Post from regular commenter Patrick Reynolds
Rail boardings in Auckland are now approaching about 10 million annually. Setting aside issues of kilometres traveled and reports of under-counting on the existing network I thought it might be useful to look ahead to try to see where this number might be heading.
Starting from an almost completely dead system growth has been constant since Britomart opened in 2003, roughly quadrupling in 8 years. Over that period there has been a great deal of work on the rundown and neglected network and its services and there is more to come. So can we expect this rate to continue, decline or even improve?
If we simply extend the rate of growth from the last year, 16%, and compound it we get the following: [year to June, millions]
So it seems not unreasonable by this metric to expect boardings to double to a pretty useful 20 million over the next 5 years. Given Auckland’s relatively low use of public transport clearly it will only take a small shift in circumstances or appeal of the service for these numbers to be possible. Supporting this view are the very significant improvements that are coming.
The opening of the new Manukau City Station will clearly attract a lot of new train users. Real Integrated Ticketing will make transfers between modes instantly more attractive. And there are to be more services especially in the off peak periods. Ten minute services on the Western Line will offer a frequency that liberates users from needing timetables.
If these improvements are able to be combined with a substantial reorganization of bus routes to enable people to transfer to the faster and more direct train services then it is likely that this growth estimate may be too conservative. Add to this the introduction of shinny new electric trains around 2014 and despite the likely disruption the change of systems will cause, this improvement in capacity, speed, reliability and appeal will surely also speed passenger growth.
Then there are other factors that drive PT use, especially the ‘push’ factors of the cost of petrol and the general state of the economy. Again it is likely that these factors will further accelerate demand for all forms of PT. So perhaps we can expect the completion of electrification to lead to the type of growth that occurred in Perth in 1993 when it was introduced there?Fascinating that Auckland is now at the point that Perth was in terms of numbers at their electrification and extension in 1993. But there are a number of differences.
Though the Auckland network is already quite extensive even once electrification is complete there is the limit imposed by the Britomart terminus. Other than the spur to Manukau there will be no actual extension of the reach of the network in this period, and trying to run a Metro style service around a terminus is limiting.
Because of this structural problem I don’t expect that we will be able to have a Perth type of jump in numbers until the CRL is built to unlock the capacity in the network. Although there are some options for wringing more out of the existing track like adding West/South services that bypass Britomart, it seems likely that the news will be full of frustrated train users on packed trains stuck outside of Britomart. Really there is no avoiding the need for the CRL under any analysis unless your aim is to limit the growth in rail use.
However assuming both the CRL and the Mangere Line are open within ten years we ought by then to be able to expect a Perth like transformation in ridership. A jump to something like 40 million by 2021 is not unlikely. Again so long as AT are able to coordinate bus transfer services….Interesting that 40 million is around the current 16% growth rate [43.23 mil., in fact].
A 20% rate would give us 60 million by 2021. A figure that Perth might achieve around 2013, twenty years after the first big jump…. No wonder Einstein called compounding interest the greatest mystery of the universe.
An interesting article in the Perth newspaper “The West Australian” highlights a potential culture shift that I had seen mentioned in a number of previous articles. A culture shift among young people away from cars and towards technology like laptops, iPads, Smartphones and so forth – technology that fits more easily with public transport use than driving everywhere.
Here’s a brief part of the article:
Generation Ys now represent more than one-third of all local train and bus commuters, with numbers expected to reflect worldwide trends and continue to soar.
New 2011 figures released by the Public Transport Authority show that commuters aged between 18 and 25 now make up 35 per cent of all train users and 40 per cent of all bus users – up from 30 and 38 per cent on last year.
The increase is being partly attributed to new communication technologies and the desire by young people to “stay connected”.
“Previous generations found freedom and flexibility through the car,” Curtin University’s Professor Peter Newman said. “But Generation Ys find their freedom and flexibility by staying connected to their friends, family and workplaces through the various information devices – like their laptops, or iphones.
“They can stay connected on a bus or a train. They can bring the office with them. They can bring their study with them. They can bring their friends with them. They can’t if they’re driving.”
It’s always difficult to gauge the importance of things like this when it comes to understanding the revival of public transport over the past 20 years – which has been immense in Perth. However, I do think there’s some truth in new technologies making catching PT a more pleasant experience. You can be productive on the train with a laptop, you can relax in your own world with an iPod, you can stay in contact with your friends via your cellphone. None of this was particularly possible a mere 10 years ago. I certainly remember the first time I took a lengthy bus-trip listening to an iPod: it made the trip a whole heap more pleasant.
A useful question to consider is how we take advantage of these changing cultural trends. For so long public transport has been seen as the transport option of last choice, effectively a social welfare service for those too young, too old and too poor to drive. Perhaps we need to rethink ways in which to make PT the most attractive transport options, capitalising on its inherent advantage when it comes to new communication technologies. Perth is pretty onto this:
The PTA has recognised that more and more commuters are using communication technologies while travelling and have created a variety of social network tools to provide easy access to timetables and the latest service information.
There are also plans to fit trains with bluetooth wireless technology during the construction of the Perth City Link project to allow messages to be conveyed to commuters quickly.
One wonders how easy it would be to put free wifi on all the trains in Auckland – and perhaps all the buses in the longer term. While sure many people are switching to smartphones, I generally take the opportunity to connect to a wifi hotspot where I can so I’m able to save on my data usage. I’m also hopeful that PT in Auckland will become more engaged with new communication technologies. The MAXX website is still pretty much impossible to use on my Android smartphone.
I think it’s critical that we start showing public transport as the cutting edge, forward-looking way to travel – where you don’t have to spend your time concentrating on not crashing into the car in front of you. Instead, you can be productive, properly relaxed or connected with others while you travel. The combination of technology and PT can potentially give you much of your commuting time back to you.
This is a Guest Post by transport expert Chris Harris.
Earlier this November, I paid a visit to the roughly Auckland-sized Australian cities of Perth and Brisbane. This blog entry records my impressions of Perth, which of all cities is perhaps the closest to an “Alternative Auckland,” for the following reasons:
Perth’s urban area extends north-south for roughly 100km, between coastline and coastal ranges. Much narrower in east-west direction. (cf layout of Auckland between Silverdale and Pukekohe).
Perth has a large lake just to the south of the CBD, limiting CBD freeway (motorway) access from the south to three lanes each way on a narrow bridge and causeway (cf SH 1 Mount Wellington)
Perth’s CBD is surrounded by ring of motorways (cf Auckland’s ‘Spaghetti Junction’)
All three of these features are visible in the following panorama, in which the hills can just be seen in the background. The large building in the centre which is being worked on by cranes is close to the new Perth Underground Railway Station. Directly underneath it can be glimpsed the entrance of the railway tunnel. A closer view of the CBD lakeshore follows the panorama:
Thirty years ago Perth and Auckland were even more similar. However, since then, and for political reasons, their fortunes have diverged. One of the biggest differences is that Perth has invested in rapid rail and general railway electrification, whereas Auckland has not. The longer, north-south routes in Perth are served by electric rapid rail with wide stop spacing and 130 km/h inter-stop speeds. For much of their length, these lines are located in the former grass motorway medians for safety and for a minimum of interference with other train services. East-west routes are served by slower suburban electric railways with longstanding, closely-spaced stops, much like Auckland’s Western Line.
A photograph taken out the window of a fast train follows, overtaking traffic on the Kwinana Freeway, the equivalent of Auckland’s Southern Motorway. This is followed by a photo of a suburban station (Subiaco) on a slower east-west line, and a completely segregated on-road cycleway that leads to the Subiaco station. A cyclist is just visible in that wide-angle panorama view, between the two hedges that define the cycleway.
Subiaco station has a lot in common with the recent New Lynn undergrounding, since it too was originally on the surface and a barrier to traffic. Development in the area shot ahead after the Subiaco station was placed underground.
The ‘alternative Auckland’ parallels are heightened by the fact that Perth’s railway gauge is the same as New Zealand (1067mm) and Auckland uses ex-Perth Diesel railcars, supplied to Auckland when Perth electrified its railways in the early 1990s .
Perth’s bus services are tightly coordinated with rail and form a rationalised grid pattern (unlike Auckland). Frequencies are high by Auckland standards. New buses must also meet the highest clean air standards, either natural gas or EEV Diesel (beyond Euro 5). Save in one remote suburban town, black puffs of smoke from buses were not seen.
Another photograph shows mid-day rail frequencies at Perth Central station, 1:47 pm on a weekday. Mandurah and Cockburn are on the same line:
Public transport is controlled by the West Australian Public Transport Authority (PTA), which is accountable to the Director-General of transport but otherwise enjoys a high degree of autonomy and administrative seniority, see chart. The PTA controls everything to do with all aspects of public transport in Perth and in the regions, up to and including the construction of new passenger railways. The PTA owns all the buses in Perth and private contractors only drive the buses, along routes designed by the PTA.
In particular, this structure puts the PTA on the same footing as Main Roads WA , avoiding the situation common elsewhere in which public transport plays second fiddle to road engineering. Less obviously, the PTA is also independent of the freight railway system. Experience elsewhere shows that if a single railway authority is given the job of both freight and passengers under present-day conditions, there is a danger that management will focus on more profitable freight services and neglect passenger services.
The PTA has an enviable reputation for getting things done on time and on budget, due to its extensive powers, long-term career structures, and state backing. In this respect it matches the professionalism of a typical main roads authority or freight railway authority, but without being under the thumb of either. A senior official advised me that integrated ticketing cost Perth only A$35 million to implement. The southern leg of Perth’s rapid rail line, including underground works in the CBD, was built for well under A$2 billion.
Another important difference to Auckland is that a significant part of the Perth equivalent of Spaghetti Junction has been covered over with a concrete lid and developed above. This has mainly occurred in a cafe district known as Northbridge, the local equivalent of Parnell.
The following photo shows a park reconstructed over the top of the freeways in Northbridge. The trees to the left show the area that was not disturbed, the park area to the right is on a concrete platform over the freeway. In the background are some three-to-four storey flats built over the freeway as well.
The next photo shows a public building being erected in the same area, again above the hidden freeway:
High rise development has taken place in the CBD proper over the new Perth Underground Station, roughly analogous to the proposed Aotea Station on Auckland’s proposed CBD loop.
There is extensive public-sector land redevelopment via authorities such as Landcorp and EPRA . This includes the development of airspace over motorways and railways which have been given the cut-and-cover treatment.
There is no formal (‘hypothecated’) financial link between public sector land development and the costs of the transport system, in the sense of actually earmarking the profits of land development near new railway stations and air rights over tunnels to the works that make the developments possible, but the WA government may be about to make the link more robust.
Another interesting difference is that far more historical buildings have survived in downtown Perth than in Auckland, and this is also true of sub-centres like Fremantle and Subiaco. Old buildings have been vigorously protected since at least the mid-1990s.
As the following photos show, this preservation of the past gives Perth a character which is in many ways more like Dunedin or Christchurch (or even London) than Auckland, once you are out of the actual financial district.
To rub salt in the wound of Perth’s successes as an alternative Auckland, one of the buildings saved from the wrecking ball in Perth was the iconic His Majesty’s Theatre. The ‘Maj’ was bought by the West Australian state government in 1977 and placed on the register of the National Estate.
Those parts of Perth’s ‘Spaghetti Junction’ which have not been covered over have either bridges or underpasses, which can be used by pedestrians, every couple of hundred metres. The underpasses are standard road width with car lanes in the middle, not the narrow and spooky kind. In general the Perth Spaghetti Junction is not the barrier to pedestrian movement that Auckland’s is.
The following photograph shows part of Perth’s ‘Spaghetti Junction’ with typical spacing of overbridges / underpasses and a cycle path to the left.
To continue, the downtown area is widely pedestrianised, and much of this is on two levels, with overhead arcades and pedestrianised rooftops in addition to pedestrianisation at street level. Perth’s multilevel pedestrianisation is strikingly similar to British expert Sir Colin Buchanan’s 1966 recommendations for the Auckland CBD, which were ignored at the time, probably because they seemed impossibly radical.
Three panorama images of multilevel pedestrianisation follow. These wide angle views often look a bit empty because people tend to congregate round the edges, especially in bad weather, when these pictures were taken:
The following image, in the same general area, shows a pedestrian bridge leading to the main Perth railway station. Cranes signifying high rise development in the area of the new Perth Underground Railway station are visible a few blocks further back. The area in the foreground is the rooftop of a carparking building, also visible in the last panorama.
According to a newly-published history of transport in Australia, these differences reflect some thirty years of commitment to public transport excellence, following the political collapse of a state Liberal party opposed to a growing campaign for rail revival in Perth:
Perth’s suburban trains faced the possibility of total closure as the then Liberal state government was unremittingly hostile to passenger train operations. It got what it deserved at the next election and community pressure saw a revival of trains between Perth and Fremantle in 1983 with a promise of electrification…. The impact was immediate and brilliant, so much so that an entirely new railway was built to the northern suburbs, the first section to Joondalup opening in December …. Even more stunning though was the construction of the 82-kilometre Perth to Mandurah line, which included an underground section and station beneath the city… Built in four years by contractors Leighton Holdings for the extremely reasonable price of about $1.6 billion, it opened in December 2007. Within three months patronage had reached 80 percent of targets with about 40 000 passengers a day, up from the 16 000 a day who had used buses operating on the route previously. (Robert Lee, Transport: An Australian History, 2010, p. 333)
All in all it looks like Auckland is, politically, where Perth was some 30 years ago, and National might do well to ponder the wisdom of a politics that seems to revolve around frustrating Aucklanders’ wish to live in a more progressive city. The excuse that “we are not as wealthy” or that “we don’t have the mining money” seems all the more reason not to waste what money we have on roads to nowhere.
The lessons of Perth are not as well known as they should be in Auckland, because of the two cities’ mutual remoteness. It’s been said that more Sydneysiders have been to Paris than to Perth, and that must surely be even more true of the inhabitants of Auckland. Still, it is useful to know of the existence of this distant mirror, which is after all not really that distant to visit, once you have a reason to go there.
All photographs taken by the author, November 2010.
While the recent announcement of the reintroduction of trams in Auckland, via a small heritage tramway in Wynyard Quarter, is in some ways the smallest possible step towards trams playing a large role in meeting Auckland’s future transportation needs, it’s interesting to see some of the plans being discussed in Perth, Western Australia at the moment about the role that modern trams may play in their public transport future.
Auckland can learn a lot from the renaissance of public transport in Perth over the past 20 years, as Perth’s an even lower density city than we are, so I’ll be following what comes of this.
A very interesting report from the Chief Executive of the Perth Public Transport Authority, looking at the extraordinary growth in patronage they’ve had on their public transport system – particularly the rail network – in the last few years. Here are a few excerpts:
Total boardings across our system went up more than 18 per cent to almost 129 million.
This record-breaking increase reflects a full-year contribution from the new Mandurah Line and was foreshadowed last year (2007/08) with a 7.8 per cent increase (to 108.8 million), which had the benefit of the first six months of Mandurah patronage. The Mandurah influence is immediately evident when you look at a modal breakdown of our latest increase – ferry patronage went up 4.3 per cent, bus patronage 12 per cent and train patronage 28.4 per cent.
Not only have we never seen a patronage total of that magnitude (it was only three years ago that we topped 100 million for the first time) but the 18.4 per cent rate of increase is extraordinary for an industry in which double-digit growth is virtually unheard of. Even discounting the one-off “Mandurah” effect, the underlying growth is 9.8 per cent, something that has not been seen since the 50s. After that post-war boom, patronage stayed in the mid-60s (million) through the 1960s, 70s, 80s and into the 90s. It bounced as high as 70.6 million in 1972/73 and bottomed out around 58 million in 1982/83 (when the Fremantle Line was closed). In 1991/92 it was 61.4 million. And then it took off … having been effectively flat for about 30 years, patronage more than doubled in the following 17 years with a virtually unbroken string of increases (there were very minor reversals in 1998 and 1999).
Keep in mind that Perth’s population of 1.6 million is only 23% higher than Auckland’s current population (1.33 million in the urban area). Furthermore, Perth’s population density is lower than Auckland’s – so the difference certainly isn’t the result of Perth being a city that is, by its form, more public transport friendly than Auckland. Furthermore, Perth started off in a fairly similar situation to Auckland – as back in the 1980s Perth was one of the most car dependent cities in the world and had a rail system that was falling to bits.
Here is a graph of Perth’s public transport patronage over the past 30 years – note the massive increases in recent years: This is explored further:
This is a major achievement in a city which has one of the world’s highest levels of car dependence, and one of the lowest levels of urban population density – neither of which is conducive to a high level of public transport use. What’s more, the trend has been gathering pace over the past few years. In the eight years to 2005, growth was 2.8 per cent; in the past four years it virtually trebled to 7.9 per cent. This mirrors growth in some of the other Australian capitals (Melbourne and Brisbane), which signifies that we are seeing a new phenomenon in Australia: there is a fundamental behavioural change in how people embrace public transport, and the community understanding that public transport is a vital component in making cities work properly. Interestingly, this is not reflected all around the world. Though there are pockets of good growth, some of the more mature markets are slowing down or even slipping backwards.
So what are the secrets of their success?
We continue to lead the nation in the integration of our systems and services, and are recognised by the national press and various national and international industry and lobby groups as a world leader in this regard. This acknowledges that a single agency is responsible for the provision of all road, rail and ferry passenger public transport services in urban and regional areas, as well as the provision and management of all related ticketing, zoning, track and infrastructure. The synergies and efficiencies of this model helped us in a number of areas: we lead the country in such key performance indicators as timetable reliability and controlling operating costs.
Integration, integration, integration. Perth is lucky to have integrated ticketing up and running, and has excellent planning and control over their entire system. This makes it possible for their feeder buses to be well co-0rdinated with their train system. Hopefully the Public Transport Management Act (assuming it’s not compromised) is able to provide Auckland’s future transport planners with the necessary ability to create a similarly well integrated and structured system.
Perth is looking to the future too, with big plans to double their already impressive public transport patronage over the next 20 years:
A year ago I said that we were on the brink of a public transport revolution. Though the global financial crisis has slowed the previously-frenetic pace of growth in WA, my opinion remains the same. It is significant that, for the first time, the Federal Government is supporting initiatives fundamental to the provision of infrastructure at a level needed to make our cities work efficiently. Meanwhile, the State Government has asked the PTA to prepare a 20-year plan to allow it to better understand how to develop the city, to identify key priorities and how they can best be addressed. An independent panel has been commissioned to provide this information and will report by the end of the year.
It is not appropriate to pre-empt that report but we already know that, while the population base will increase by 33 per cent over that period, demand for public transport is expected to double. We also know that WA is in the enviable position of being able to expand the passenger capacity of our rail network – which will continue to provide the major spine of our mass transit system – by 100-150 per cent without the need for major new infrastructure other than rollingstock.
There really is no reason why Auckland couldn’t be the next Perth. We just need to sort things out so that we have the right funding and policy framework in place. The Public Transport Management Act has brought us halfway there, in terms of the right governance structure for public transport, now we just need to sort out the funding issue.