Could the government fund light rail

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

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RNZ: Urban Density Panel Discussion

On Sunday there was a good panel discussion on Radio NZ talking about density and the Unitary Plan without the usual scaremongering from the likes of Auckland 2040. It’s well worth a listen if you have a spare 20 minutes.

Urban density marks a shift away from a traditional single-storey home on a section, towards multi-storey apartment and townhouse developments. Proponents say increasing urban density is important for a booming city like Auckland, while others argue against this type of housing and its impact on communities. Wallace is joined by RNZ Auckland Correspondent Todd Niall, Auckland’s deputy mayor Penny Hulse, and Bill McKay, senior lecturer at the School of Architecture, Auckland University.

or listen here

MoTs changing view on the CRL

piece by Todd Niall at Radio NZ has highlighted just how much of the advice the Ministry of Transport has changed about the City Rail Link and disturbingly that the advice they’ve given in the past has been far from neutral.

Papers obtained by RNZ News show officials who once saw little merit for the project starting before 2030 now support it getting underway 12 years sooner.
In July 2013, when Prime Minister John Key announced for the first time that the government backed the project, but with conditions, the Ministry of Transport was advising against an early start.

“We conclude that the evidence does not support a case for construction of the CRL by the council’s desired timeframe of 2021, but that the case becomes stronger closer to 2030,” said a Minister of Transport briefing dated April 2013.

Last month Mr Key went a step further, removing the previous funding conditions, and promising a half share from 2020, in a way that would give the council certainty to start building the main tunnels in 2018.

By then, a joint Treasury and Ministry of Transport cabinet briefing, released to RNZ News, showed official advisors had got in behind.
“On balance we consider the disadvantages are outweighed by the merits of enabling the Auckland Council to provide funding certainty for the project,” they wrote.

We had been seeing the Ministry’s language slowly changing in the six-monthly progress reports that they produced with the most recent being in August last year – we normally would have had one around now however with the government’s announcement I assume we won’t see any more of them. They started off at the end of December 2013 saying Auckland would never reach the target, then it was that patronage was growing strong but would taper off and by August last year said it remained on track to reach the target. In the papers released to Radio NZ they say:

If rail patronage continues to grow at its current rate, it is likely to reach the 20 million threshold that was specified by the Prime Minister by 2018. At this rate of growth, Auckland Transport has indicated that there is likely to be capacity issues with Britomart during the morning peak period from around 2018 which may cause some access restrictions to the station.

I guess that’s the kind of change you see when there are sustained 20% per annum increases in usage.

The papers have a lot of blacked out information including risks – such as the potential for cost escalation – and ownership issues the Ministry think need to be addressed.

The article highlights that there remains a big discrepency between the ministry and AT on the business case for the project with the ministry relying on the results of the hatchet job they performed on the original business case. AT’s response suggests they’ve got a more recent assessment so I’ve asked them for a copy of it.

The most concerning aspect of Todd Niall’s piece is the suggestion that the Ministry haven’t been providing neutral advice, instead telling the government what they want to hear.

Minister of Transport Simon Bridges acknowledged that the view of the government had had an influence on what the officials were advising.

“Look I think ultimately Treasury and the Ministry of Transport respond to what the government’s position is,” he told RNZ News.

We’ve obviously been following the issue fairly closely over the years and it’s been pretty clear to us that this was the case. One of the clearest examples was with the City Centre Future Access Study where Ministry officials were involved in and supportive of the process only for that to change as it emerged that the CRL was the best option.

I’m sure this definitely won’t be the first and won’t be the last time this happens under governments from all sides and it’s hardly unsurprising that it happens. If your ultimate boss – the minister – only wants to to hear one side of the story, not providing that view point could cost you your career. It does make you wonder just what the advice would have been had there not been the political view on the project had of been more neutral.

While on the topic of the CRL, AT have released a new video about the project featuring Jerome Kaino. The messaging about the project is clearly shifting now that construction is getting under way with AT able to focus more on the fact it is happening rather than trying to justify the project.

I also noticed there were a few new images about the project on AT’s website including this one of what the platforms at the Karangahape Rd station may look like.

Karangahape Station Platform View

That goes with this one from late last year showing what the Aotea Station platforms would look like – it looks like the guy in the red checked shirt is a regular user of both.

Aotea Station Design Platform Oct - 15

These images how the ground floor level of Britomart will look are also new and show that the raised platform in the middle will go which will make it much easier for people accessing the station. You can also just make out that the gates are moved to this area which is something we’d that had been indicated before.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 1

Our red checked shirt guy also likes Britomart too.

Britomart Station Redevelopment 2

Lastly in an update a few weeks ago, AT say the contractors working on shifting services before construction starts came across some of the old tram tracks.

Working through layers of power and telecommunications services, they came across an unexpected piece of Auckland’s transport history: a section of the city’s old tramway network in Victoria St West that connected back to Customs St.

“These services are always very dense at the corners of intersections where most are located, so you can never be certain what you’ll find underground,” says Mark Anderson, utilities engineer with the Connectus Consortium, undertaking the work.

“Even though we used ground penetrating radar and searched through the city’s service records, we didn’t expect to uncover the old tramway network.

I wonder how much of the old network they’ll discover when they start digging up streets to build the light rail network in a few year’s time.

The Unitary Plan Roller-Coaster

Since first talked about back in 2013, the Unitary Plan has been like a roller-coaster ride. There’s been the hope and anticipation for a better future for Auckland as the cart climbs a steep hill followed by that brief micro second of confusion before you realise you’re falling as groups opposing housing pipped up and were egged on further by one sided reporting from the Herald. Then came the twists and turns of the debate before that feeling of weightlessness as you go through a loop waiting for the councillors to make a decision. After catching your breath for a second there was then the smaller and less intense second stage as the process was repeated. Then just as you thought the ride might be coming to an end it throws a few last unexpected twists and turns at you. And that’s where are now, right in the middle of latest saga the Unitary Plan has seen.

The current issue stems back to December when the council released its evidence and updated residential zonings as part of the hearing process. I wrote at the time.

As part of the hearings process the council are allowed to make a final submission in response to the issues raised by the public. They say they are currently confirming their position on a range of topics and one of those is zoning. Taking into account a range of factors, the council is suggesting some changes to the zones in the plan that determine what can be built where. It’s these changes which have had the Herald and a number of councillors worked up. The factors include

  • the submissions and evidence
  • the interim guidance on some topics from the hearings panel – such as on viewshafts and heritage controls
  • further analysis of the zones i.e. fixing inconsistencies
  • amended infrastructure plans such as the addition of light rail on the isthmus

This doesn’t mean that the Unitary plan is being changed just that the council are saying that based on the evidence and updated information they think some changes should be made. The independent panel hearing the Unitary Plan could rejected them outright or go completely the other way and say they don’t go far enough then recommend significant increases.

Overall the changes weren’t all that much. Those that did move generally only changed by a small amount and combined 78% of all residential areas were still limited to two storeys while a further 17% was limited to three storeys.

PAUP zoning changes - Dec 15 2

The Herald through Bernard Orsman along with groups opposing housing have even gone the absurd level of calling three storeys ‘high-rise’. One of the funny things of it all is that in suburbs where most of the opposition originates the size and scale of buildings that the opposition groups oppose are quite prevalent, just as single houses which they seem quite happy with.

Six Sisters John St

According to those opposing the Unitary Plan, these are high-rise and shouldn’t be allowed.

What’s changed recently is following a meeting in Kohimarama – and I suspect a lot of lobbying of councillors over the summer break – supposedly a majority of councillors want to withdraw the councils evidence.

Auckland Council’s proposal to rezone thousands of homes for more intensive housing and apartments has lost the support of a majority of councillors, with councillor Sir John Walker today speaking out against the changes.

“If the mayor wants my vote we are going to have to come to a compromise,” said Sir John, who did not spell out what that solution would be.

“I’m on the residents’ side. I don’t want to see high rise buildings towering over Auckland.

“I don’t trust the town planners. They present one thing and change their mind and do another,” said the Olympic gold medallist.

Sir John said he supported calls to withdraw the changes, which see large swathes of suburban Auckland rezoned for multi-storey buildings, terraced housing and apartments in the council’s latest submission to the Unitary Plan.

Under the “out of scope” changes to zoning, meaning no residents asked for them in the proposed Unitary Plan, there is no formal right of reply for affected property owners.

Sir John’s position means 11 of the 21 councillors want the council to withdraw the out of scope changes from the Unitary Plan process.

The other 10 are Cameron Brewer, Cathy Casey, Chris Fletcher, Denise Krum, Mike Lee, Dick Quax, Sharon Stewart, Wayne Walker, John Watson and George Wood.

It seems that there’s also a degree of personal preference clouding decision making with Sir John also saying

Eight years ago he sold up and moved to a lifestyle block in Bombay “where you can’t build a single house”.

Sir John said the city should stick with low rise housing.

Why ruin the city with three-storey apartments? They might not be very high but I wouldn’t want to live next door to one

Now the majority claimed by Orsman is just on paper and the council haven’t actually formally voted to withdraw their evidence. We’ve also seen Orsman claim a lot of times in the past that the Unitary Plan was in the balance only to be easily passed by the council when they actually voted. To withdraw their own evidence would be incredibly stupid in my view as it would remove them from debate leaving it just up to what others had submitted and there were a lot of submissions calling for much more development to be allowed.

There were some very good responses to all of this yesterday which are worth covering.

Todd Niall at Radio NZ wrote this excellent piece pointing out that the Unitary Plan is a blueprint for the next 30 years and that the council need to take account all of those who will be living here in 30 years, not just those making the most noise now.

The debate and political anxiety comes as the deliberations near the end – the 30-year development blueprint for Auckland, the Unitary Plan, is due to be finalised by September.

It will eventually reshape much of Auckland’s residential landscape, with more of it looking increasingly city-like and less suburban – more multi-level and less like any other New Zealand city.

The heightened discussion poses a challenge for Auckland councillors. Should they heed the cries of the loudest of their constituents, or the ambitions of the quietest?

In short, who should have the dominant voice in shaping the future Auckland ?

The Herald got in on the act in its editorial.

It is too easy to panic politicians in election year, particularly in local body elections where the turnouts are usually low. It is easy to fill a public hall on local issues that are close to people’s homes and may affect their property values, and it is easy for individual politicians to be persuaded that a packed hall represents a popular uprising.

….

Plenty of us live next door to a double storey house without concern. But one more storey has the citizens in revolt, or so too many council members fear.

Let’s acknowledge the courage of those who are willing to defend the revised Unitary Plan and see it through. It may be easy enough for the mayor who is not seeking re-election, but not easy for Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse or council members Arthur Anae, Bill Cashmore, Linda Cooper, Chris Darby, Alf Filipaina and Calum Penrose. They have kept their nerve and put the city’s housing needs before their electoral safety.

If only they’d taken this stance all along we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we are right now. Alas I suspect we’ll back to business as usual with scaremonger articles soon.

The Property Council which is a lobby group for developers held no punches in it’s press release over the issue. Good on them.

Property Council is appalled with Auckland councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone Auckland suburbs with the capacity for more housing and apartments.

Auckland Branch President Phil Eaton says soaring house prices are creating systemic social injustice, inequity and major economic risk.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The councillors who have withdrawn their support to rezone and upzone suburbs to allow for more houses have done so at the expense of Aucklanders, because they want to come back after the local elections.

“Now, Baby Boomers have essentially locked an entire generation out of their own homes. Young people and families will never be able to work and live in Auckland, and ‘Generation Rent’ is the
legacy these councillors will leave behind.

…..

“Local politicians must ditch their “Not in My Election Year” mentality and do what is right by all Aucklanders, not just some.”

Scaremongering by local politicians has residents believing their suburbs will be covered in high-rise apartments, when realistically less than 6% of suburbs will have apartments with more than three storeys: up just 1% from the previous version of the PAUP.

So where does that leave us. Councillor George Wood posted this the other day showing a briefing on Thursday.

UP Councillor Briefing Feb 16

We’ll be waiting to see what happens following Thursday. This is one roller-coaster I’d be happy not to ride again.

Michelle it’s the cars causing congestion

While we’re on the topic of silly things said in the media, there was another one late last week on Radio NZs The Panel. In the section where the panellists can raise a topic of their own Michelle Boag raised the issue of the Nelson St cycleway.

Or listen here

Nelson St Cycleway visualisation

She is incredulous at Auckland Transport for what she says is deliberately causing congestion by adding a cycle lane to Nelson St. Here are a couple of thoughts about her rant

As mentioned this morning in the busy morning peak Nelson St moves about 6,000 people per hour – this will drop off the further north you go. At its widest points around intersections the road has up to six traffic lanes while in other places it has five lanes and a parking lane. This is more than enough space for the amount of traffic that the road carries – in part due because there are only so many people that can exit the motorway at any one time. Even the times I’ve been in a car in the morning peak I can’t recall a time when Nelson St was congested

Taking some space for a protected cycle lane is unlikely to have much impact on the traffic lanes beside it with the biggest disruption likely to be caused by the safety procedures needed for the construction than the cycleway itself. In saying that the old phrase “you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic” springs to mind.

One of the points of projects like the Nelson St cycleway is to give people a realistic choice how they get around. The more people cycling and using the new cycleway the fewer there may be on the road.

She talks about the old off-ramp but says she doesn’t know where the cycleway goes. Perhaps when she was asking Auckland Transport what the project was she should have asked about this aspect too.

One aspect she may not be aware of is the strong political support for the project from the government. In fact the project launch was also where they launched the first round of projects as part of their urban cycleway fund.

The comments also from Dr Brian Edwards were a bit odd. He talked about the need to keep cyclists and vehicles separate which is of course exactly what this project is designed to do.

For Michelle at least perhaps and extra five minutes spent googling may have saved her so much angst.

Ministry of Transport CEO on the future

An interesting piece on Radio NZ what the CEO of the Ministry of Transport think will be the future of transport in NZ. I agree with some of what he says but in others it seems like he off the mark. You can listen to an interview here


Or listen here

New Zealand had 2,488,008 licensed cars and vans on its roads at the last count three months ago.

However Mr Matthews, who is also Secretary of Transport, said in three decades there will be little point in people owning such vehicles.

“I have to say as a self-confessed petrol head and the owner of five vehicles, the concept of not owning a vehicle is pretty hard for me to swallow.

“But for my grandchildren, I’m sure it won’t be so difficult for them to imagine,” he said.

Mr Matthews told the transport summit he foresees major changes in how people travel, envisioning a future “more tailored to individual needs” and with “more choice”.

“You’ll no longer need to look to see when a bus, train or taxi will be available because there probably won’t be any bus stops or bus timetables, in fact there’ll be no parking as well.

“You’ll probably no longer need to worry about cleaning out the garage to get the car in because you probably won’t own a car.

“It simply won’t make any sense anymore for you to own your own vehicle,” Mr Matthews told the internationally-attended summit.

I agree that in the future people probably won’t own cars however I’m a bit sceptical it will completely happen within 30 years given the pace of change in the car industry, for example the average age of a vehicle in NZ is around 13 years and getting older. The issue of bus stops are an interesting one though as he doesn’t appear to be suggesting that buses themselves will disappear. In my view we’ll still see PT but increasingly it will high quality, high capacity options such as busways and rail (light and heavy) and more dedicated stations rather than small stops. Within that system driverless cars are likely to be quite a useful last mile solution.

Of course if we don’t need carparks or a garage and driveway that also opens up a huge amount of space in urban environments that can be put to better use. In cities like Auckland where space is at such a premium that presents interesting opportunities.

One area I think he’s way off the mark is on the future of freight

He said there needed to be a drive toward significant improvements in the productivity and efficiency of freight supply chains, and he believed freight vehicles would be self-driving.

“These modern road trains will be more flexible, more responsive to market and consumer demands than any of our current train systems can ever be… The rail network outside of Auckland and Wellington, which is shared with commuter services, already effectively provides a separated freight corridor.”

Mr Matthews said these corridors could be transformed into high-speed freight networks.

“Rail may not be the technology of choice in the future for New Zealand… I imagine the space the corridors currently occupy being allocated for a different way of use.

“Imagine platoon trucks not guided by rails, but by a system that allows them to operate safely on narrow concrete pads through these dedicated freight corridors.”

Ripping up the railways and turning them into truckways has been a desire from the trucking industry for decades. Is it really practical for us to spend what would be 10’s of billions to rip up the existing working rail network and replace it with continuous concrete strips strong enough to carry super heavy trucks. Included in that is bound to be a need to duplicate the corridor seeing as most of the rail corridor is single track. We’re then going to have fleets of driverless trucks to run on these truckways in a platoon just like trains and carriages do now. To be honest I’m not quite sure what we gain from this suggestion and if it’s automation that’s desired it would surely be cheaper and easier to upgrade trains to be driverless and then invest in automated systems to quickly load and unload trains at destinations.

The UK consultant who is also quoted in the piece sums up one of the issues quite nicely too.

“Platooning of trucks has been tested, successfully tested quite a few times – it works – technology is not a real problem.

“The problem is acceptability and the problem is liability – acceptability because car drivers don’t want to be associated with large trains of trucks where the person doesn’t appear be in control.”

One thing I will say about the views of the MoT CEO, at least they are starting to look to the future. These comments follow on from a report late last year looking at future demand in which only one of four scenarios would see travel demand increase. They’ve also been doing more work thinking about the future – one piece of which I’ll try to talk about this week.

ResizedImage700325-FutureDemand-Diagram2

 

AT Staff Shuttle Fails

Earlier this year we learned about Auckland Transport’s staff shuttle between its offices in the CBD opposite Britomart and Henderson where the building is part of the train station. The shuttle was put on because AT didn’t believe the PT services were good enough for their staff to use. In my view the shuttle was idiotic and it highlighted AT as being out of touch, after all if the organisation that runs our PT system isn’t prepared to use its own services then why should others.

I actually happened to see it just a few weeks ago (empty) and thought it was a past the time it should have been gone. The shuttle was said to be on a 6 month trial however it turns out it’s use was extended a month due to a cancellation clause in the contract. In addition the trial has failed badly, Radio New Zealand reports:

The trial has been a flop, costing more than expected at $140,000, often travelling empty and failing to make the hoped-for savings.

The council-owned Auckland Transport launched the shuttle in May, when it was criticised by public transport advocates who said if services were too slow, they should be improved for everyone.

Auckland Transport hoped to save more than $300,000 a year in staff travel costs between its head office in Henderson, west Auckland, and its downtown office, opposite the Britomart Transport centre.

Savings were to come from cutting the agency vehicle fleet by 20 cars, and removing most of the $95,000 a year reimbursed to staff who drove in their own cars between the offices, claiming $32 per round trip.

However, the two 11-seater minibuses often ran empty, with patronage rising at the end of the six month trial to only 2.5 passengers per trip.

Only three of the hoped-for 20 fleet cars have been cut, and big savings have been made on paying staff to use their own cars, simply by banning the practice between Henderson and the CBD.

So hardly any staff used it, only three cars have been cut and the major savings come from a change that could have been made without the shuttle trial. David Warburton’s response to the failure highlights they still have some way to go in coming up with solutions to the size of the vehicle fleet.

“It has been money well-spent”, said Dr Warburton. “We have established some changes in the operation, and that has to be allocated across the future efficiency of driving the business, and going forward.”

But the agency admits it has more work to do to try to reduce its vehicle fleet, tighten spending on reimbursing private car use and look at other options such as video conference.

Dr Warburton said the direct bus and rail services which operate from the door of both offices did not suit much staff travel, taking 40-45 minutes and not suiting meetings which start at the top of an hour.

He said it was not easy to schedule meetings to better suit public transport travelling times because many involve other parties, although the agency would try that with internal meetings.

On the last point in particular there is nothing to say a meeting has to be on the top of an hour, starting a meeting at other times is perfectly possible. There is however another solution which is completely within AT’s power and would allow them to keep meetings to the top of an hour, they could always change the timetables to make them more suitable for those going to meetings. They could further improve the usefulness by increasing the frequency of the western line from the half hourly off peak timetable that currently exists to at least services every 15 minutes.

Perhaps AT could even prepare a pack for its employees which includes a HOP card loaded with a concession for free travel and a copy of the relevant timetables (both physically and electronically).

And here’s the audio that goes with the story.

or listen here.

Edward Glaeser on Radio NZ

Last week Radio NZ had a great interview with Harvard economics professor and author of the book Triumph of the City Edward Glaeser.

Edward Glaeser proves in this myth-shattering book, Triumph of the City, cities are actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live.

or listen here

A couple of key things he points out.

  • Cities haven’t demised as once thought would happen but urban living remains dynamic and important.
  • Change in cities has followed technology progress – originally cities built around places of industry and transport hubs, that changed as transport costs changed.
  • People assumed the trend would continue with information technology changes but the opposite happened. Led to increased returns to being smart and innovative. Cities make that happen easier due to a greater chance of interaction between people.
  • Cities are places of pleasure as well as productivity.
  • Government policy shouldn’t be anti urban – most western countries have a suburban twist on public policy that penalises the city in favor of the suburbs.
  • Every time we say no to developments that add dwellings we’re saying no to families who would like to live in the city and saying no to a more affordable city.
  • The most economically successful cities tend to be strong on education – human capital is the bedrock to success.
  • The paradox of development from an environmental perspective is that things that look green are usually pretty brown and things that look brown are usually pretty green. This is primarily because people in dense areas tend to have fewer transport emissions and smaller dwellings use less energy.
  • The biggest human advancements have come from interaction between different sectors where ideas can spread
  • Tech companies like Google show the importance of face to face interaction rather than just teleworking. After all if any companies could do remote working it’s them.
  • Unlike with providing clean water there is no engineering solution to congestion and we can’t build your way out of it. Only way to address it is by pricing it.
  • Two great dangers in building cities is NIMBISM and Monumentalism. Need to find a balance between the two to create more liveable cities

Auckland Transport’s Staff Shuttle

Auckland Transport is spending over $122,000 to put on shuttle buses for it’s staff moving between it’s Henderson and CBD offices. This is something I heard about a while ago and Radio NZ has picked up on the story:

Staff at the agency which runs public transport in Auckland are being offered a shuttle service for business trips between offices, because buses and trains are too slow.

Auckland Transport (AT) is spending more than $122,000 over six months, trialling the shuttle between its downtown offices and its headquarters in Henderson.

Public transport advocates say staff travelling between the Henderson and downtown locations should be using the bus and rail services at the door of both offices.

AT wants to reduce its car fleet by 20 vehicles, and is encouraging staff to cut car use.

“We’re providing options for staff, to have a tele-conference, to catch public transport using business AT HOP cards, and we’re also providing a shuttle between Henderson and Britomart,” AT community transport manager Matthew Rednall said.

To me it is outrageous that AT are undermining their own PT services by putting these shuttles on. They say it’s about travel times

The train took 50 minutes, while the shuttle usually took 20-25 minutes, Mr Rednall said.

“There is public transport and we talk to our staff about using (it) but if we want to get the best productivity, we need to provide choices,” he said.

However the travelling times were not always much different. When Radio New Zealand checked the shuttle’s downtown arrival at 9am, it had taken 30 minutes, and the lone passenger said it sometimes took 40 minutes in congested traffic.

Yet the timetable (below) shows the shuttle takes 30-35 minutes. That means it doesn’t save that much time over the existing options which includes both trains (which are actually scheduled to take 44 minutes) and buses (the 090 which is scheduled to take 40 minutes). If the services are too slow for AT staff then perhaps they might also be too slow for the general public. A better focus would be on using the money to improve the speed and frequency of the existing services to make them more attractive to everyone. That might even help grow patronage .

If productivity is a concern then they should get cracking with getting WiFi rolled out to a greater portion of the network so that their staff can work while commuting between the two offices. It’s not even if they have a long way to go to access the PT system. Their Henderson office is directly linked to the train station while in the CBD they are just across the road from Britomart in the HSBC building.

Clearly some AT staff also think it’s a waste of time, as the image below shows someone’s put up a copy of the bus and train timetables next to the glossy poster for the shuttle.

AT Shuttle Poster

If AT aren’t prepared to back their own PT services then why should they expect the rest of the public to? Using the services and experiencing what regular customers experience should be a everyone at AT.

And here is the audio report

or listen here.

Here is some additional information that AT sent me.

On average there are now 40 to 50 people using the service each day, about 4 per trip.

We are already seeing a drop in numbers using fleet vehicles or claiming mileage for their private vehicle.

Henderson to the CBD is 18.4km or 38.8km return, at a mileage rate of 77 cents per kilometre with parking at $3 per hour.

Public transport is also an option used by many staff to travel to meetings in the city but the timings of the trains don’t always suit.

The train takes 45 minutes whereas the shuttle door-to-door is 20 to 25 minutes. Until the CRL is built we won’t see any dramatic improvement in those travel times for the trains.

This is about business efficiency as well as cost savings and we are determined to trial different transport options for our staff.

Other initiatives include a suite of fleet bikes at our offices for staff business travel.

We are also trialling two electric bikes, if the uptake is good and proves to be an efficient and useful resource, there may be an opportunity to extend the pedal power throughout the organisation.

Just as bad are the council who put on a shuttle between their offices in the CBD and Takapuna. They can’t even claim a time saving as the PT services take the same length of time and are more frequent to boot.

Janette Sadik-Khan on Radio NZ

As part of her recent visit, Janette Sadik-Khan undertook a couple of media interviews. Her chat with Kim Hill on Radio NZ was aired on Saturday and can be listened to here.

Or listen here

I believe she’ll also be on Campbell Live later tonight