Western Line Cancellation Reasons

As regular readers or train users will know, the service offered recently hasn’t exactly been great with many cancellations and delays. When it comes to cancellations the Western Line has been hit the hardest and in March 6% of all services on the line failed to reach their destination (reliability) – that’s 181 services all up. Note, this is a different measure from whether they arrived on time (punctuality) and of the services that did reach their destination only 73% were within the 5 minute requirement. The other lines weren’t too much better with them combined averaging just 95.5% punctuality and 81.4% reliability.

Radio NZ has picked up on the issues with the Western Line and managed to obtain a list of all 181 reasons that trains were cancelled for.

Radio New Zealand has obtained from Auckland Transport, a “raw” list of reasons for March’s cancellations on the most troubled line, to the west. There’s a wide variety of human and technical reasons in this selection from the 181 :

  • Driver got sick at work
  • Late running train due to passenger loadings (previous train cancelled)
  • Driver late for train
  • Service terminated at Avondale due to door fault
  • Roster planning – shift not covered
  • Heavy tagging of service while waiting at signal
  • Trespasser in Britomart tunnel delayed departure
  • Delayed due to loading wheelchair-bound passenger – cancelled to recover timetable
  • Roster planning – no driver
  • Trespasser riding on outside of train
  • Faulty driver seat
  • Unfilled shift – compassionate leave
  • Rolling stock short supply, unable to cover service
  • Train fault – headlight not working

The agency’s general manager, Mark Lambert, said Auckland Transport knew it had to do better.

“The performance in the last few weeks and months has been unacceptable,” he said. “We don’t want to be there, and we’re looking at everything we can in terms of immediate improvements, but also how we can bring forward initiatives to improve things.”

Mr Lambert said rail services had been hit by the phasing out of the old, unreliable diesel trains. As the maintenance contract at KiwiRail wound down, staff had begun leaving, and the standard of maintenance had fallen.

The progressive introduction of the new Spanish-built electric trains had also been affected by minor bedding-in problems, all of which were being sorted, he said.

This is only a snapshot of the full 181 cancellations but the thing that really stands out to me are the number of mentioned which are due not to technical issues but roster ones such as no driver being available to drive the train. That could be from drivers being delayed on one service missing their next one but it’s not the only reason with the number of drivers available to run services also being impacted by the roll out of the electric trains. It’s this reason why AT have also stated they want to get all services converted to electric operations by the end of July.

There’s also this report on the issue from Radio NZ which includes some vox pops from train users. One thing that surprised me was how positive most seemed to be with comments like issues happen in any transport system, that they are looking forward to the electrics and how good it is that so many people are using PT. I’m not sure what the reason for this is but perhaps most users are much more forgiving in these issues than we and most readers have expressed recently.

Or listen here

Western Line Padding Part 2

A couple of days ago I wrote Auckland Transport padding out the Western Line timetable. Today the Herald picked up on the story. AT have sent me a response to the story which is in full below.

AT is committed to running reliable peak services and achieving this through the introduction of a world class all-electric fleet.

In order to address the recent decrease in reliability and performance, the decommissioning of the diesel fleet has been brought forward to July from a planned August / September date. This will remove one variable of on-time performance – aging diesel train breakdowns that have seen a spike in recent months.

As with any timetable change, the most recent being on 8 December with a +22% increase in services, tweaks are required following introduction. The 3 minute earlier departure times on the Western Line are needed to support the 8 December increased services while diesel and electric trains share the network, to ensure time slots at Newmarket junction and Britomart are met.

As part of the original electric train rollout plan and in accordance with that plan, run-times of the electric trains on the Western Line are being tested and optimised currently prior to introduction in July as part of the existing timetable. Continuous improvements in run times, signalling and track testing to optimise electric train run times are a priority and further run-time testing and optimisation will follow the bedding in of full electric train operations from July, leading to more timetable improvements later in 2015. This work involves looking at reducing dwell times and optimising the ETCS (European Train Control System) safety feature on the electric trains.

AT is committed to providing the peak 10 minute frequency on the Western Line as early as possible and will be dependent on progress over coming months.

The historic run times relate to when run times were increased to accommodate the SA train sets. To place this in context, the improvements on the rail network since 2003:

Train Changes 2003-2015
I think it would be good for AT to actually specify exactly what the impediments are to faster and more frequent services and what steps they are taking i.e. how much do they need to reduce dwell times, what are the changes that need to occur for 10 minute frequencies etc.

As often happens when AT release data like above it manages to highlight a couple of other important points. In this case that a few things I noticed:

  • Patronage has increased well above the increase in the number of services per week. This is a good things and shows suggests we’re not only getting better services but also more utilisation out of them.
  • At 30 arrivals at Britomart over a two hour period it highlights just how much more capacity the CRL has the potential to contribute. Although first a quick count suggests the actual number of AM Peak (7am-9am) arrivals is 36 trains which would go to 40 if the western line moved to 10 minute frequencies. My understanding is the CRL allows for up to 48 trains an hour (24 trains per direction) so that’s up to 96 over a two hour window. In other words the CRL more than doubles the capacity of the rail network.
  • Back in early March AT said that on average weekdays in February there were 51,500 trips. For March that has increased to almost 60,000 per weekday

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

Reliability is key to patronage

The other day after another morning hearing on social media about trains being cancelled and delayed (on that day it was the Eastern Line having problems) Next City just happened to tweet this post from their archives about the issue of unreliability.

It isn’t groundbreaking to find that public transportation users would prefer their bus and train service to keep to a reliable schedule. More significant than that, though, is the idea that unreliable service trumps other factors, including commute length, when riders consider ditching public transit altogether.

A November study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley found that inconsistent service — whether it’s lateness, inaccurate arrival info or mid-travel delays — is the number-one factor that encourages people to stop using public transit. Chief among the issues that fall under the “reliability” umbrella are long gaps between transfers and wait times exceeding 10 minutes.

Focusing on San Francisco, researchers asked what factors public transit users considered most important, finding that most would rather see their buses or trains arrive more frequently than become less crowded or offer fewer seats.

Notably, riders tended to stress that only delays perceived to be the fault of a given transportation agency would compel them to give up on transit. So, if a connecting train doesn’t show at the right time, it’s more of a deal-breaker than, say, delays due to emergencies or, in the case of buses, traffic jams.

This means that transit agencies, if they want to retain riders, should consider running buses and trains more frequently, even if it means making the vehicles or train cars smaller. Also, communication never hurts. Few things are more grating than getting stuck in a subway tunnel without knowing the reason — letting passengers know that a problem is out of the driver’s hands will make them less inclined to misplace the blame.

There’s more on it in this article that was linked in the post.

What this helps to highlight is just how important it is that services are reliable. If they’re not – like Auckland’s train services have been lately – the end result is going to be less people using them. The delays are primarily being caused by the old clapped out diesel trains breaking down as a result of maintenance being scaled back due to their pending retirement. It’s not the only reason though as there have also been issues with freight trains and staff shortages which can partly be blamed on events like the Cricket World Cup which required more and later services to be run.

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6484

In one piece of hopefully good news, it seems Auckland Transport are realising this with the Herald reporting that they’re trying to speed up the roll out of the new electric trains in a bid to sort out the issues that stem from the old trains.

Auckland Transport is trying to accelerate its rollout of electric trains, after continuing disruptions from diesel breakdowns.

Although August remains the official target for completing the rollout by extending electric trains to the western line, the organisation’s board was told yesterday of efforts to bring the date forward.

Public transport group manager Mark Lambert said that would allow an earlier retirement of much of the increasingly troublesome diesel fleet, although 10 multiple-unit ADL trains would be kept and eventually refurbished for shuttle duties between Pukekohe and Papakura.

….

Mr Lambert said there had been a high rate of diesel train breakdowns in January and February, which tended to cause greater disruption than previously, because of a higher frequency of services on the rail network.

“When it happens it has a bigger impact because of higher frequency,” he said.

Train punctuality was poor in February (below) and I expect it will be even worse in March given what we’ve been seeing.

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

As reliability also impacts on patronage heavily it’s probably also been a factor in the massive growth that’s been seen over the 18 months or so.

Rail Network Reliability Feb 15

Getting the EMU’s rolled out sooner – assuming it’s possible – should be a big boost not only for reliability but also for capacity which in many places is extremely stretched. Let’s hope AT can do this before they lose too many customers.

Why are trains failing so much?

With March Madness in full swing it seems that Auckland Transport and Transdev have taken a new approach to dealing with the high demand, driving customers away through rubbish performance.

Train users from across the region – but it seems particularly West Auckland – have been suffering after what feels like daily issues that are putting even more pressure on already stretched services. People can accept one or two issues but when they become an almost daily occurrence the only result will be less people using trains.

Here are a just couple of examples from the last week or so of what we’ve seen happening from AT’s text message service. It is by no means an exhaustive list of issues that have occurred and is only on the western line. There have also been issues on other lines too (the am times are based on services at my local station – Sturges Rd, pm times based on Britomart).

13 March

7:43am train running at reduced seating capacity – a later text states it was full from Avondale

5:36pm train running at reduced capacity

16 March

4:36pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:06 train delayed 20 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:36 train delayed 15 minutes due to an earlier train fault

5:50 train delayed 25 minutes due to an earlier train fault

17 March

4:36pm train cancelled from Kingsland due to a train fault

4:50pm train delayed 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

19 March

6:59am train cancelled due to vandalism

5:20pm train running at reduced seating capacity

20 March

7:43am train delayed 10 minutes due to a train crew matter

5:50pm train delayed by 10 minutes due to an earlier train fault

23 March

7:43am train cancelled due to an earlier train fault

The reason these are so bad particularly on the western line is any cancelled train means the next train is at least 15 minutes away. Depending on what station you use that might be only the delay as trains that have been so full thanks to the surge in patronage mean that following services simply can’t cope. As such people from inner stations have been unable to even get on some trains meaning potentially they could be experiencing a 45 minute or longer wait. Even if you’re lucky enough to get on a train in these situations it is going to be a cramped affair.

Of course this wouldn’t be quite so bad if frequency was every 10 minutes like first promised for the western line in 2010 but AT have managed to find a constant stream of excuses as to why it can’t happen.

So what’s causing these delays and cancellations? My understanding – although I’m happy to be corrected by AT and/or Transdev is that it’s a combination of few things. Maintenance is understandably being reduced on the aging diesel trains ahead of the roll out of the electrics that is leading to more of them failing. They also are extremely stretched with their staff numbers and don’t really have enough drivers to run the timetable properly.

At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the reasons are for the delays, what’s clear is that all those involved need to get this issue addressed extremely quickly otherwise the great patronage gains that we’ve seen in the last 1½ years will plateau again or even fall away. This is because the two most important aspects of any PT service regardless of mode or what city it is in are always frequency and reliability

Panmure Station Revisited

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

PANMURE_8614

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

PANMURE_8719

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

PANMURE_8584

 

A Parnell Rail Station by June?

One of the projects that is sitting in the pile awaiting funding is the Parnell Train Station. The project has been one that seems to always be just around the corner. The tracks in the area were lowered in 2011/12 in one of largest Christmas shutdown’s we’ve seen to enable the station to be built but that never happened and constant delays have ensued. One of the major problems is the cost which is estimated at close to $20 million.

That’s definitely a lot of money however with its proximity to Parnell, the rapidly developing area around the old Carlaw Park and with it being the closest station to much of the University it has the potential to be one of the busiest stations on the network. The plans would see the old Newmarket station that is currently in storage moved to the site and restored with the intention of tying in with the mainline steam site.

Parnell Station

There are a number of other images in this post. With funding currently dependant on the outcome of the LTP discussions I had assumed it the project had been placed in stasis. However it now appears that might not be the case.

Deep in the agenda for the council’s Parks, Recreation and Sport Committee next Tuesday is an item about Auckland Transport seeking approval for works within the Auckland Domain in relation to the Parnell Station. The approval is needed because some of the construction works would happen outside the rail corridor and in the Domain itself. It says that AT seeking approval for the works on what will be stage one of a revised version of the station and consists of just the platforms and paths. Crucially it says that AT are wanting this part of the project done very quickly with construction complete by June this year. This sounds a lot like they’re trying to use up some remaining budget.

My first reaction was that this seems like a very proactive move from AT, rather than waiting for the funds needed for a large redevelopment, get in there and at least get something underway and working. However upon looking at what’s just what’s planned – or in this case what’s not – I’m now less convinced. The works to be constructed within the rail designation are:

  • The proposed platforms are to be constructed adjacent to the existing Mainline Steam building, as shown in the attached plan. Both platforms are 5.0 metres wide and approximately 16.0 metres long. [presumably a typo and they mean platforms 160m long]
  • New pedestrian pathways from the existing underpass to the platforms. CCTV operation and lighting of the platform.
  • Platform seating, service points, station signs and necessary accessibility considerations (stairs/ramps).

So missing from this list we obviously have the station building – which I’m not that keen on anyway – but more importantly it seems no shelter at all. In addition there will be no pedestrian over-bridge, something I’ll cover shortly. Below is the current plan.

Revised Station 1 - Feb 15

Other than the missing shelter and pedestrian bridge the other thing that surprises me – but perhaps shouldn’t – is that it seems there’ll be a substantial area for car drop off and turn around. Surely the last thing we want to do is encourage people to be driven to the station clogging up those narrow and steep streets.

Along with the shelter, perhaps the most serious issue is the lack of the pedestrian over-bridge between the platforms. Without it means the only way for someone coming from the western side of the station to access the eastern (southbound) platforms is via the existing underpass over 100 to the south of the platforms. That means all up it’s around a 400-500m detour. That alone will put a lot of people off using the station. In fact I think it’s so serious it could backfire on AT and playing right into the hands of the anti-CRL brigade who will hold it up and say the same thing will happen with that project.

I should add I’ve long been lukewarm on this project as I’ve thought the station has been placed in the wrong location. The site was chosen for its proximity to the Mainline Steam site – after some desired a sort of heritage precinct – it’s straight line proximity to Parnell – ignoring the steep and narrow streets – and it was also argued that it would be a museum station again ignoring the steep hill between the two locations.

Instead I’ve long thought it should be on the outcrop slightly further north that’s now used as a carpark. It would have provided easy connections to Heather St for an easy walk to the Parnell main street, to Parnell Rise for good connections to Link buses, better connections to the current and future development in the area. Further a path along the rail line would have still provided very easy access to the Mainline Steam site.

Parnell Station Alternate Location sketch

Unfortunately it’s probably a bit too late for this as the cost in both money and disruption to change now would likely be too great. I can probably live with the current planned location and have no issue with AT looking at where it can cut costs – such as dealing with the station building later. However it the plan is for the station to be so basic as to exclude shelter and easy access between the platforms then I have to ask why bother at all.

Auckland Unbound

Last month I was asked to write an article for Metro Magazine on transport in Auckland, it ran in the December issue and now can be seen on Metro’s site here. Because transport is of course, quite literally, just a means to an end it is really about Auckland itself. About how it’s changing, and how it has already changed a lot this century.

ESSAYS ON AUCKLAND: 1

The City Unbound

words and images Patrick Reynolds

MIT_7454

The new Manukau Station completely integrated with MIT’s new flagship building

 

There’s an unseen revolution taking place in Auckland right now. In transport.

Auckland is at last a city. No longer just an overblown provincial town, it has become properly city-shaped  in the nature of its problems and its possibilities. For some this is an unwanted prospect and for others a much longed-for one, but either way it’s happening as it usually does: automatically and unevenly, and in our case quite fast. Auckland the teenager now finds itself becoming an adult.

When did we cross this line? We may decide the moment coincided with the reorganisation of local government, the formation of the so-called Super City in 2010. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that our combination of size and intensity means Auckland is now subject to the logic of cities the world over: crazy prices for tiny spaces, gridlock on the streets at almost anytime, hardship right next to luxury.

There is also a new and thrilling diversity: of people, of activity, of possibility. City intensity means all manner of niche businesses become viable – just look at the range of food we’re now offered: not just the ethnicities, but also Paleo, raw, vegan, hipster…

While an insane range of complicated and hitherto unimagined ways to brew coffee is not the sole point of city life, it may be a good proxy for its vitality. The cafe trade thrives on diversity, specialisation and excellence, all driven by competition, and those things are also observable through a much wider range of human endeavour. Whether it’s in the law, education, services, the arts, whatever: only the agglomeration of individuals in tight proximity to the economic and social force that is a city can generate such opportunities.

And, of course, there is urban velocity. Everything, for better or worse, is subject to the city’s law of impatience. It has always been thus: just as density creates obstacles to movement, so the demand for movement increases. Perhaps this is the greatest of all the contradictions of a city: more is more but also less. This is also the source of much opposition to the very idea of the city.

Nowhere do these contradictions gather more intensely than around the hotly disputed issue of congestion on the roads. Traffic.

For the last 60 years we have consistently taken one approach to the problem of how to allow people to move around in the growing city: we’ve built a lot of roads. We’ve got really good at it, and we’re still at it, with whole sections of the economy worryingly addicted to it.

But building ever more roads in cities doesn’t work. Far from curing the patient, this medicine is strangling it. In this, here in Auckland we are different from the rest of the country: in our scale, density, and pace of growth we have passed a tipping point. Bigger roads don’t cure our congestion, they enable it.

All evidence supports the view that the most effective way to both improve connectivity and de-clog our streets is to invest away from them. This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s true.

The data around this is compelling and full of possibility. And if you are interested in how cities work, in improving our economic performance, or simply if you love this place, it’s also exciting.

There’s a revolution going on right now in Auckland. It’s largely unseen, and even many of the people directly involved in it don’t see it as that. But it is real and it affects us all.

*

BRITOMART_9

Over the last year two million more trips were taken on Auckland’s rail network compared to the previous year. That’s 12 million over 10 million: a big jump and profoundly good news.

Good news for the experts who examined our public transport system and said, frankly, it’s crap, but if you give people attractive and frequent services they’ll choose to use them. Good news for the public who have long pleaded for better services. Good news also for the tax and ratepayers of Auckland who have funded the upgrades, as well as for the politicians, local and central, who backed them.

Most of all, it is good for drivers. Good for everyone who likes or needs to drive on Auckland’s roads. And while Aucklanders are rushing to ride the trains, we are also piling onto buses at new rates too. Overwhelmingly, all these new trips on public transport (PT) are happening instead of car journeys.

It isn’t just new Aucklanders who are taking part in this rush to PT. The city’s population is growing at 2.3 per cent per year, while over the last year PT use was up 8 per cent: that’s more than three times the rate of population growth. Growth in rail use jumped 18 per cent.

In contrast, according to figures from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), driving in Auckland is flat on a per capita basis, and still below the 2006 peak.

So even if you don’t use the new services yourself, those people who do are out of their cars and out of your way. It may not feel like the streets are any clearer, but if all those travellers were still driving your trip would be much, much worse.

The biggest winners of Auckland’s new-found and hard-fought Transit renaissance, therefore, are the users of cars and trucks.

*

Despite this, the public response to transport funding announcements is peculiar. After 60 years of investing in driving, each announcement of more spending on the roads is met with a shrug. We are currently spending billions (with billions more planned), even though the roads programme has not led to greater satisfaction or better access.

Yet every time we improve our public transport systems, the response – on two fronts – is huge. Improvements to the rapid transit network in particular (that’s rail and the Northern Busway) have led to great uptakes in patronage. But at the same time, the spending this involves has been hotly contested.

No one is suggesting that driving won’t remain the dominant means to get around Auckland. But it is clear the highest value to be gained now in Auckland with transport dollars is through investing in the complementary modes: trains and buses, ferries, and safe routes for cycling and walking. They’re the ones attracting greater use.

To fix gridlock on the roads, we need to stop spending on roads and put that money into the alternatives.

NEW LYNN_9 2

Nowhere is this more true than on the rail network and our only properly “rapid” bus route, the North Shore’s Northern Busway. The electric upgrade of the rail network that was begun under the previous government and continued under the current one is being met with open-armed enthusiasm: last month, the two lines that are now running the new trains added 32 per cent and 50 per cent more passengers. And the upgrade is still far from complete.

The popularity of rail when a languishing service is electrified and modernised is known internationally as the “sparks effect”. There’s no mystery to it. Here, as in cities all over the world, they have started to offer fast, frequent, reliable and comfortable services, running late into the night and on weekends. And people are flocking to use them.

This is true rapid transit, and the key to its success is that the service must run on its own right of way. That allows it to be faster, more frequent and more reliable. Trains are the best example and that’s one of the reasons rail is so desirable, but buses can also be given this advantage – as has happened on the Northern Busway.

The busway is a train-like service with stations, not stops, high “turn-up-and-go” frequencies and direct unencumbered routes. It attracts riders well above the rate of other bus services, simply because it is better, and consistently so.

Promisingly, we are not yet delivering services to true rapid transit standards. As the rail service introduces the new trains to all its commuter lines, we can expect higher frequencies and longer operating hours. And as the city end of the busway gains more dedicated lanes and proper stations, its services will also improve markedly. Currently, only 41 per cent of its route is separated from other traffic.

NEW LYNN_1666

All of this makes it baffling that when the government recently announced special accelerated funding (not from fuel taxes) for NZTA’s plans to widen the northern motorway, it slashed the extension of the busway north of its existing limit. Similarly, the proposed North Western Busway has been excluded from the plans for all the work currently being done on the north western motorway.

This is especially concerning as the buses on the busway run at full cost recovery, or very close to it: fares pay for all, or nearly all, their operation. Not only that, buses on the busway are twice as efficient as buses in the rest of the city. For the same cost a busway bus covers twice the distance of other buses and carries more people. And because they are not stuck in traffic we are not paying for them to pump out diesel fumes pointlessly as they battle through clogged streets.

A similar logic is at play on the rail network. The new trains glide silently along on our own clean, largely renewably generated electricity, and those electrons cost less than half the price of the dirty old carcinogenic and imported diesel. The new electric trains can carry more than twice the capacity of the existing trains, and as we’ve seen already, they attract many more fare-paying customers.

Those two million new passengers, each paying anything from $1.60 to over $10 a ride, are adding around $5 million for services we were running anyway. Just one more reason the new trains are as pretty to a cost accountant as they are to anyone concerned about the planet.

For the price of building rapid transit systems we get material improvement to both fare income and cost of operation, as well as relief for road users and “place quality” improvement.

It’s worth noting, also, that only a very small part of the whole current system even aspires to rapid transit status. There is no rapid transit in the North West, the South East or around Mangere and the airport. But the potential exists.

MIT dyptych

While the city works its way round to embracing that potential, there is much else that can be done. Many other bus priority measures can deliver service upgrades and significant operating savings.

Auckland Transport could decide, for example, to reduce the amount of street parking on arterial bus routes. This would enable the creation of fully joined-up bus lanes on major bus routes like Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, and could easily be done for at least the peak and shoulder hours.

The major cost here lies in having to endure the complaints of relatively small numbers people used to parking on these public roads, and of car drivers who fail to grasp that the more fully laden the buses are, the easier their drive will be.

As international evidence shows, the higher the priority given to other modes (including cycling and walking), the better the traffic will flow. This happens because as the other modes improve more people choose them out of rational self-interest, leaving their cars at home more often.

Auckland Transport needs to patiently but forcefully explain to drivers that bus and bike lanes are their best friends, emptying their lane of other vehicles, saving them in rates and taxes, and increasing the productivity of the whole city. It is not clear the culture at AT is ready for such sophistication.

Over the next year-and-a-half the two big lines, the Southern and the Western, will get their new trains and higher frequencies. More rail ridership growth is already baked into the pie – but even on the rail network there are looming problems.

One issue is the boom in rail freight going on right now, especially into and out of Auckland and Tauranga. This is great news: it’s far better to be moving those heavy loads on trains and not on dangerous, less-fuel-efficient, road-damaging trucks.

But it also means the rail lines at the core of the Auckland network are getting a great deal of new traffic carrying both passengers and freight. The long-planned third mainline on the main trunk route through the industrial areas of south Auckland is desperately needed to alleviate this pressure. It won’t be a huge expense – certainly, it will cost a great deal less than the $140 million to be showered on one intersection on the way to the airport next year – but because it’s rail it gets no love from the government.

MIT_4113

Which brings us to the City Rail Link. Without the CRL, all growth on the network has an absolute upper limit. We exceeded 10 million trips last year. Even if we don’t increase the current 18 per cent growth rate, that will double in four years. But that rate will increase, as the rest of the network experiences the benefits of electrification. Passenger trips are likely to top 20 million a year before the end of 2017.

And there the growth will stall. The dead end at Britomart means it just won’t be possible to run more services.

The CRL, however, will turn Britomart from an in-and-out station into a genuine metro-style through station. That will allow more than twice as many trains on the lines, which will mean more frequent, and therefore more patronised, services to and from the suburbs. The potential for this to transform not just our travel behaviour but much else in the city is enormous.

And if the CRL doesn’t proceed? We’ll waste half the capacity of the existing rail network. Auckland will be stuck with its inefficient over-reliance on car travel; we will lack the balance of a city with great options for its citizens; we will have less freedom of choice.

It is hard not to be deeply critical of the way Auckland Council and Auckland Transport have communicated the value of this project. Even though surveys repeatedly show the public is way ahead of the government and its officials in understanding the need to invest in urban rail, the possibilities the project will unlock have not been well presented.

It seems easier to discuss what it costs than what it’s worth.

Perhaps that’s because the outcomes are so multifaceted and game-changing. Perhaps it’s also that those responsible for promoting the CRL struggle themselves to imagine how different the city will be once it’s here.

The new Aotea Station under midtown will be bigger than Britomart, and therefore the whole central CBD area, from the universities across to Sky City, will be transformed. But the CRL will have a bigger impact than that – and it will occur far from the route of the tunnels.

Turn-up-and-go frequencies (as opposed to the less frequent timetable-driven services) are critical to PT success. The CRL will allow them throughout the network. And there will be no assumption that your destination is always in the inner city: you will be able to make any number of intermediate and less-predictable journeys

One way to think of the CRL is to compare it to the motorway junction it will pass under. Imagine driving into town on a motorway, and having to stop short because there is no Spaghetti Junction to join everything up. That’s how it is for public transport users in Auckland now. The CRL is the key that will unlock the whole urban rail network, just as Spaghetti Junction has for motorway users.

And despite being just two little tunnels seamlessly snaking their way beneath our streets, it will be more like the motorway network in capacity than you might expect. The CRL will enable up to 24 trains, each carrying up to 750 people, to run each way every hour. That’s like adding an eight-lane motorway into the city, without putting a single extra vehicle on the streets.

This is the spatial efficiency of urban rail. It delivers an enormous economic force: people, without each one of them coming with a space-eating tin box.

 

We now have around 90km of nearly fully upgraded electrified rail line. Some 40 stations of varying quality. Yet the potential of this high-capacity resource is underutilised and largely hidden from most Aucklanders. Doubling patronage to 20 million trips a year is not enough. Rail will remain a bottled-up force until it climbs to 30, 40, 50 million trips.

This is the great opportunity of the CRL, and there is no other city in the world in Auckland’s position. Most would leap at the chance to get a widespread metro system just for the cost of 3.4km of tunnels and three new stations. This is the greatest deal we will see for generations.

That’s how the CRL should be being marketed. Not as an inner-city project but as the means to deliver clean, efficient, reliable rapid transit – a true metro system – across most of the city.

This will change our options in so many ways. Just one example: want to catch a show at Vector Arena – or any of the other big venues south of the harbour bridge, for that matter – without the hassle of trying to find or pay for a carpark? Problem solved.

And although Auckland Transport isn’t communicating this well, the CRL will speed all journeys. This is especially so for those on the Western Line, because it will give those trains a direct route instead of trundling them on a roundabout journey south, with a few minutes turning around at Newmarket.

This will lead to some startling time savings. Travellers from New Lynn, for example, catching a train to town and then a bus up to the site of the new Aotea station at midtown will cut their journey from 51 minutes to 23.

The CRL will in effect pick up every station on the Western Line from Mt Eden out and shift them substantially closer to the inner city. And proximity equals value.

CRL Times Western Line

The harbour bridge itself, opened in 1959, was the last Auckland project to achieve this kind of transformation, by moving the North Shore closer to the city. The CRL will help do for the West what the bridge did for the North.

West Auckland needs that. It struggles with a lack of local employment and underpowered local business opportunities. Westies will be able to commute more easily to the huge job market of the central city, and that will make Avondale, New Lynn and centres further west more attractive to live in, and therefore more attractive to do business in.

 

PT RESOLUTION EMU_6347

Why stop there? I have an even bolder claim for Auckland, once the CRL is operating, and I’m certain I’m on the money: I believe this new layer to our world will profoundly alter Auckland’s idea about itself.

The growth of a metro system out of our inefficient little commuter network will redefine the city. The beautiful harbours and extraordinary volcanic cones, and all the cultural strengths of tangata whenua and the waves of immigration that have followed – those are the things we treasure because they make us not like anywhere else. But we’ll also have a thing that’s taken for granted among nearly all really good cities. We’ll have decent rapid transit. We’ll be a metro city.

With our new metro system and the spatial improvements made possible by its seamless capacity, Auckland will genuinely be able to compete with those bigger cities across the Tasman for quality, economic effectiveness and desirability, and it will better them. We won’t even need to get that big

The Jewel of the South Pacific.

It’s right there, that possibility. Now.

HOBSON BAY_3329

Station Boarding Stats for 2013/14

Late last week Auckland Transport provided me with some fascinating stats related that broke down rail patronage results by station. The data is for the previous financial year -so from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014 – and covers 10.05 million trips out of the 11.44 million that took place. The difference between the two figures is primarily made up of special event patronage and legacy tickets still in use such as child monthly passes. Perhaps the best thing about the data though is that for the first time we can see how many people travelled from each station to each other station on the network. Getting this kind of information is one of the reasons that having customers not just tag on but also tag off with HOP is so useful.

The last time we had some station specific data was back in May which showed monthly patronage from July 13 to March 14 (although it was missing August)

In this post I’m just going to scratch the surface of what insights the data provides so please feel free to dig deeper into it and it would be great to see what kind of interesting visualisations you can come up with (and if you do please share them on here first).

To start with here is a map Kent has put together showing all boardings by station.

The data behind that is in the table below along with the number of people alighting at each station. There are a couple of things I notice straight away from the data.

  • There are a hell of a lot of people not tagging off with 5.5% failing to do so. Of course we don’t know where this is happening but I would assume that apart from Britomart and Newmarket which have gates, that it’s fairly proportionate across the network.
  • There has been a big surge in use of Henderson. In all previous figures that we’ve seen including the ones up to March this year Henderson has been around 8th to 11th busiest station based on the number of boardings and was 11th in that earlier data. It has now shot up to become the 4th busiest station which is a massive jump and could be one of the big reasons behind the rise in patronage we’ve seen on the Western line. Interestingly it hasn’t had the same sort of increase in people alighting (unless they make up a lot of the unknowns).
  • Manukau has been the biggest mover after Henderson which has gone from 34th at the end of March to 38th. Panmure is also continuing to climb the station rankings and I’ve heard suggestions that some month’s patronage has been more than double the same month in 2013.
  • The bottom three stations are unchanged although the exact order has shifted slightly. All three combined make up just 0.9% of all patronage. We know Waitakere is set to close once the Western Line is electrified and AT in the past have suggested closing both Westfield and Te Mahia, both of which were being decided on at the AT Board meeting yesterday.
  • Britomart dominates patronage but not as much as you would think. Trips to and from Britomart make up just 55% of all patronage which is less than most people would probably think.

Station Patronage 2013-14

The results get more interesting when you start to look at where people are travelling to and from. As an example for my local station – Sturges Rd – I can see just 37% of people boarding a train there go to Britomart.

Trips from Sturges Rd 2013-14

The two graphs below show the boarding and alighting at each station on a trip towards Britomart (Newmarket boardings are not included).

In the Western Line graph below it highlights that for Western Line passengers, Grafton has now edged out Newmarket as the second most important destination. For the Western line just 40% of people onboard a train bound for Britomart travel all the way.

West Line towards City 2013-14

The profile of the Southern/Eastern lines is quite a bit different with Britomart dominating more and taking 67% of all the trips for trains heading towards the city.

South Lines towards City 2013-14 - 2

It’s fantastic to final get this level of detail and I look forward to when we’ll be able to see it on a regular basis plus see it for at least the Busway stations too.

As mentioned above it would be neat to see what visualisations of the data you can come up with. The data is here.