“We should be a working on the railroads…”

Yesterday Peter asked if the Auckland’s motorway network built on “strategic misrepresentations”?. In it he briefly mentioned engineer Joseph Wright who questioned how much the motorways would cost. In response I put this image in the comments however it probably justifies it’s own post (we’ve posted it before many years ago). It was from July 1962.

One of the things I find very frustrating about Auckland’s transport history is that even when we were repeatedly told by many different sources that the motorway system alone wouldn’t solve our problems (and make many of them worse) that we failed to listen. Even worse is despite the outstanding success of the high quality rapid transit investments we’ve still acting like an addict and telling ourselves that just one more motorway will solve our problems and then we’ll stop.

newspaper-article

The City Unbound

The current Metro Magazine has has an article by me on Auckland, its new urban nature, and surprise!: Why we need a change in transport infrastructure investment to unlock its true value.

Most here won’t be unfamiliar with the arguments but the discipline of writing for print and the general reader called for a rethink of the arguments and evidence. Also the photos aren’t bad either:

Metro- The City Unbound_800

Coincidentally I came across this brilliantly accessible piece by NSW transport academic Michelle Zeibots on the relationship between different urban transport systems and their outcomes for city efficiency:

Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.

Emphasis added. This supports my assertion that the biggest winners from the new uptake in ridership on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network are truck and car users.

This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.

Yet parts of the highway complex in NSW are now talking about ‘solving congestion’ by building a third road crossing instead: required because of the traffic to be generated by the massive $11billion and more WestConnex project, proving, if ever proof were needed, that all motorways lead to are more motorways. And missed opportunities to invest in higher speeds on all modes through the spatial efficiency of Rapid Transit systems.

This paradoxical phenomenon is understood under various names as this Wiki page shows [Hat Tip to Nick], but perhaps this is as helpful for the average citizen as the Duckworth Lewis system is to the average cricket fan. Which is why I so like the way Zeibots has simplified it in the Sydney Morning Herald article above.

Anyway go out and grab a copy of the new Metro with the Jafa flavoured cover to see my version:

Metro cover_800

New Auckland Rail Timetables

Auckland Transport have announced new train timetables that will come in to effect on 8 December and in my view they represent what could be a significant change in focus for how rail is run in Auckland. Many of the changes have hinted at over the last few months in the AT board meetings and have been talked about for years so aren’t a major surprise however it’s great to finally see them start to be implemented. The new timetables are here

Here are the key changes.

Eastern Line

  • Increased capacity including double electric trains (six cars) at peak times.
  • A quicker journey time between Manukau and Britomart.
  • All services heading south terminate at Manukau, customers will need to transfer to the Southern Line if they want to travel to stations south of Puhinui.
  • More frequent services for Manukau: six trains an hour during peak, three trains each hour during the day and a half-hourly service at night and on the weekend.

Onehunga Line

  • Half-hourly service all day/every day including extended Friday night and weekend hours.

Southern Line

  • All services will go through Newmarket so passengers south of Puhinui will need to transfer to the Eastern Line if they want to go to Sylvia Park, Panmure, Glen Innes, Meadowbank or Orakei.
  • The Southern Line is next to get electric trains in early 2015.

Pukekohe

  • There will be an additional evening service leaving Britomart at 8.58pm and arriving in Pukekohe at 10.07pm.
  • New hourly weekend services to Papakura to connect to trains to Britomart.

Western Line

  • Extra half-hourly services on Friday night between 10pm and 12.30am.
  • All weekend services will now run half-hourly but will terminate at Swanson, a new hourly scheduled bus service will operate between Swanson station and Waitakere.

To me what makes these timetables changes so important is that they seem to take a new approach to how the timetable is put together. Up to now the timetables put together by AT and its predecessor have had a very kludgy feel to them. By that I mean it seems as though the foundation of the timetable was the same from when rail was hardly used and AT then just kept piling on services wherever they could fit them – including having to fit them around freight trains. An example of this is below with services on the eastern and southern line heading to the same destination leaving 5 minutes apart then having a 14 minute gap.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - old southern line

While the old timetable was a kludge, it feels like with this change AT have taken the opportunity to rebuild the timetable from scratch and in doing so it will result in a far superior customer experience. That can only be good for ongoing patronage growth. There are a few significant changes worth highlighting – note: these primarily only apply to the Southern and Eastern lines.

Firstly as had been mentioned in the board reports AT have really simplified the service patterns on the network. No longer will someone going from Britomart to Middlemore have the option of a service to

  • Manukau via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Glen Innes
  • Pukekohe via Glen Innes
  • Papakura via Newmarket
  • Pukekohe via Newmarket

Now it’s just an Eastern Line or Southern line train. That’s much simpler and in my opinion considerably better from a customer perspective.

Secondly it seems that now AT have built the timetable around the idea of having 10 minute frequencies all day and then dropped services when they’ve wanted to reduce frequency off peak or in the evenings. You can see this most clearly below where on the eastern line timetable (highlighted in red below) between 9am and 4pm every second service has been dropped – the same thing can be seen on the southern line.

Dec 14 Timetable Change - New Manukau

There are a couple of reasons why this change is so important. Firstly the clock face times make it so much simpler and easier for customers to know when a train will be at their station. Secondly the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) that AT adopted last year says that the intention is for the three main lines to run at 10 minute frequencies during the day and 15 minute frequencies during the evening. For the Southern and Eastern lines to get from this new timetable to that level is simply a case of adding in the missing services without AT needing to rejig everything else.

RPTP rail frequencies

RPTP rail services

 

The third major change is that AT have moved to a minimum frequency across the electrified network (Swanson to Papakura) and across the week of a train every 30 minutes. While most services across the network were already at that level this change primarily impacts evening and weekend services making them much more usable. The current situation is absurd with trains only hourly in the weekend evenings making it all but impossible to use PT, say if going to meet up with friends in town on a Saturday night. It also fixes one of the odd little quirks in the timetable that saw a few trains on the Western line terminate at Henderson which saw me on more than one occasion with a longer walk home.

Lastly we’re finally seeing some time savings from the electric trains. Services from Manukau currently take 42 minutes to reach Britomart however with this new timetable will see EMUs exclusively on the eastern line, travel times are now 4-6 minutes quicker. That’s might not sound like much but it’s a 10-14% saving. Presumably other lines will be able to see savings once they too are all (or mostly) served by electric trains.

I guess for me the only real disappointment with this change is that the western line is still stuck at the same 15 minute peak frequency it’s had since at least 2008. While the trains servicing the line are now larger, those too are at capacity. It’s especially annoying as it was promised 10 minute frequencies would be delivered once double tracking was complete in 2010.

Still putting that one point the side, overall I think this is perhaps the most significant change to the timetable in many many years. It seems the first stage of what will eventually be a mature and high frequency timetable.  As part of its press release, AT say patronage is currently at 12.1 million trips (an increase on Septembers 11.9 million trips to the end of September. Rail is growing at 17% and with the electric trains plus these changes I expect that kind of growth will continue for some time yet.

Photo of the Day: Australians are smarter than us…

Well in this case anyway.  Here is a suburban rail station in Melbourne, a train, a dog [for Stu], and a new apartment building going up in the background. Right next to the station. Someone got the planning regulations and building incentives right. Now that we are most of the way through upgrading the passenger service on Auckland’s rail network shouldn’t we be aligning land use up with this new opportunity? It would be a mistake to only have intensive dwelling options in the City Centre, particularly as land is cheaper out along the rail corridors, so these dwellings would be both more affordable and extremely well connected.

MELBOURNE_8991

Follow the rail corridors on this map [hotter the colour the higher the value, grey means not residential, yet]… looks like a huge opportunity for a City Development Agency to me. And older centres like Papatoetoe, say, could do with an injection of construction and new residents.

Auckland Residential Land Values per sqm 2014

20 by 2017?

14 - Sep AK Patronage table

Latest figures from AT: September 2014

In March this year I wrote a post called 20 by 2020 assessing the Prime Minister’s challenge for rail ridership in Auckland to do be heading to 20 million passengers pa by what I understood to be 2020 to justify a partial investment in the CRL by the report .From a PwC Patronage Report  I have found what he said:

“We will consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest. 

Which is a fairly ambiguous sentence. Here’s how the kind folks at the MoT interpret that:

“MoT interprets the rail patronage target as meaning that “patronage will reach 20 million trips a year around 2018″

PwC then tabulate this as follows:

PwC CRL targets summary

 

So 13.5% average growth is all that is needed to meet the MoT’s pretty sharp 2018 interpretation of this barrier. And it looks like we’re on the way more for the 2017 rate. Here’s what I wrote in March:

So where are we at now? Ridership at the end of June 2013 was almost exactly 10 mil: Less than a year later and it is now 11 mil. 3 months to go and already 10% growth. To reach 20 mil by 2020 a rate of 10.4% is sufficient.

Oh how things change. Just six months further on and we’ve already hit 12 million. Rail ridership is running at around 16% – 21% pa [As is the Northern Express- Rapid Transit Investment works]. If this can be sustained over the next few years things will become rather awkward for those relying on this particular hurdle to delay the government’s commitment to Auckland. The magic of compounding growth means that this kind of rate leads to a rough doubling of the figure in just four years. From 10 million in 2013 to 20 million in 2017 or thereabouts.

Is that growth likely to continue, on grounds other than mere extrapolation? Well here’s what I wrote back in March. Events since have not made a fool of me yet:

OK, I can hear the cynics out there saying that you can’t just extrapolate ridership growth from one year out indefinitely and that is indeed true, almost as absurd as assuming traffic growth will leap upwards from a flat line; well almost. So we must ask are there good reasons to believe that ridership growth will continue at this rate? Well no, but there are three good reasons to be confident that it will in fact accelerate from this year even more strongly;

1. The vastly more attractive, higher capacity, and able to be more frequently run New Trains

2. The new integrated ticketing and fares system

3. The New Bus Network that is focussed on coordinating with the Rail Network to help speed and improve many journeys, from new transfer stations like the recently completed Panmure, New Lynn, and coming Mangere and Otahuhu.

Interestingly 18% has been the average growth rate ever since the Council built Britomart Station back in 2003. It’s probably then a number those well paid and highly numerate apparatchiks at the MoT can reliably hang their hats on. From the previous post:
We should also remember that rail ridership has grown by some 400% since the opening of Britomart [annualised: 18% pa, so this has been a consistent grower since even simple improvements were added to what was a completely under invested in system. Build it and they will indeed come.

It is also worth noting that no motorway network shows or is required to show anything like a 10% demand growth in order to get even 50% funding from government. In fact the government had to invent an abstract and novel category of road -The Road of National Significance- in order to get around the low traffic demands all over the nation and overcome their often appallingly low business cases. For example traffic demand in and around Wellington is going backwards, actually falling, but NZTA can’t stop drawing lines down every fault-line for new motorways there. How about 10% demand growth hurdles for investment all transport systems?

And because every post needs plenty of images and because this never gets old, here’s the Perth story, the one we are most clearly going to emulate, in fact are emulating, here in Auckland once we can get the tarmac out the eyes of those who control our money:

 

 

perth-patronage

A delay to the CRL?

The Herald reported yesterday that an increasing number of councillors are thinking of voting to delay the City Rail Link to 2020.

The $2.4 billion City Rail Link could be deferred until 2020 because of mounting concerns by councillors about its impact on rates, debt and big cuts to community services.

A number of councillors are having second thoughts about an early start on the rail project and support deferring work until the Government comes on board with funding in 2020.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has locked $2.2 billion into a new 10-year budget to begin work on the 3.5km underground rail link in 2016 and completed by 2021.

On Wednesday, all 20 councillors and the mayor will debate the budget and make decisions on the rail project for public consultation.

The issue stems from the fact local boards and the council have promised a huge number of projects over the years, many of which originated in pre supercity days. Cuts and deferrals to some of these projects combined with efficiency savings as a result of having a single council had already brought projected rate increases down to around 4.9%. To take things further Len Brown’s plan for rates was to limit rates rises at 2.5% to 3.5%. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you have a programme of spending that requires a 4.9% rates increase but you limit the increase at 2.5 to 3.5% that you will have to cut some projects somewhere. For transport those cuts mean a very reduced transport spend and the tables below show the extent of a 30 year transport programme (not including state highways) with that limited rates increase.

committed-projects

 

basic-network-projects

On top of that there were many cuts to other areas of the council’s budgets including a lot of funding for local board projects, something which angered most, if not all of the local boards.

That has contributed to some councillors now supporting delaying the CRL.

Labour councillor Ross Clow was the first centre-left councillor to break ranks with Mr Brown last Thursday on the flagship rail link and call for it to be deferred until the National Government’s 2020 start date.

He said the budget was gutting suburban areas such as Avondale, which had been waiting 30 years for a new town centre, in favour of “pet projects” like the City Rail Link.

“Mr Mayor you have been up there twice in the last few months telling them they are going to get this and that, yet your proposal has absolutely nothing in the budget,” said Mr Clow.

Albany councillor John Watson is another pro-link councillor having second thoughts.

Circumstances had changed dramatically with huge cuts to community services and projects, he said, citing a $20 million project to widen Whangaparaoa Rd.

“Nothing has been signalled on the horizon and that’s totally unacceptable,” Mr Watson said.

On the side of delaying the CRL there seem to be two general groups, the haters and the opportunists.

The haters are those who primarily for ideological reasons either don’t like Len and/or don’t like the CRL/rail. This group includes the likes of Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. Those in this group are unlikely to ever support the CRL although if they’re still around when it opens I’m sure they will happily take some of the credit for its success.

More of a concern are the opportunists who have arisen primarily due to the funding discussions. Some of them look at the cost if the CRL and mistakenly think that by deferring it, it will suddenly mean a heap of money will be available that they can use to fund projects in their local area. Alternatively some know the importance of the CRL and are trying to use it as leverage to get concessions out of the mayor, again for local projects. In many ways this is one of the big issues with having all councillors elected from wards rather than having some elected at large like the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance suggested. I’m aware some have taken this stance in the hope that it will put pressure on the government to stump up with funding but if anything it will do the opposite. Effectively what these councillors are doing is using the CRL to play a game of chicken with an oncoming train.

The whole situation has shades of Robbies Rail to it. Back in the 1970’s mayor Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s plans for a regional rail system were cancelled by the government after support for it was undermined by similar parochial local body politicians and planners.

I part I think some of the issue with this comes from the poor job Auckland Transport have done in really explaining the region wide benefits the CRL provides. That there are councillors and local board members who have a rail line passing through their area opposing the project because they think there are no benefits to their communities is a testimony to the fact it hasn’t been explained well enough. Perhaps a fresh set of eyes is needed to look at how the project is communicated to both the politicians and the public. The video below is probably the best effort AT have made with their comms but it relies on people actually watching it fully to get any info.

Before people get too concerned there are a couple of important things to note. The Herald note that most of the group that supports deferring the CRL do support work on the first section which will be tied in with the redevelopment of the Downtown Mall. That will see the tunnel dug from Britomart to as far as Wyndham St and is crucial if many of the other Downtown projects are to go ahead. By the time we’re getting towards needing to get started on the remainder of the tunnel – likely around 2016/17 – we will have had another 2-3 years of strong patronage growth on the back of the current tranche of PT projects and as the pressure mounts on transport capacity it is likely to leave little choice for both the council and government but to invest in the CRL.

The second thing to note is that by delaying the CRL it won’t actually free up money to build the local projects these councillors are hoping for. While debt will be needed to fund construction the council capitalise the interest until the project is complete and the region starts benefiting from the investment (those interest costs are already built into the overall project cost). What that means is there is no impact on council finances until the projects opens which isn’t likely to be till 2021/22.

 

While the project will definitely go ahead at some point in time a speed bump imposed by local politicians is far from ideal. I would suggest that it would be a good idea to email all councillors expressing your support for the project to go ahead and be open by 2021/22 along with the regional benefits it provides. It doesn’t have to be a big email and rather than provide a template it’s best if it comes from you in your own words.

Campbell Live on Trains and Motorway tolls

Campbell Live have been doing some great stories on transport and urban issues in the last few years and have easily been one of the best media organisations on the subjects. This week contained quite a few transport segments including on Monday when they dedicated an entire show to trains.

First there was this segment on travelling between the CBD and Papakura by train and by car.

Campbell Live - Rail Race

I’m quite sure why John Campbell drove up Queen St to get to the motorway and I was quite surprised by just how quiet the eastern line train looked compared to the Western Line trains I’m used to.

Next up was a segment on extending train services to the Waikato.

Campbell Live - Waikato Rail

We’ve talked about extending rail to the Waikato in the past. Personally I think for it to actually work we will need much faster services, particularly through the urban area and that’s where Kiwirail need to hurry up and get the third main built between Papakura and Westfield. I’ve been told it’s not all that expensive to build but they keep debating with Auckland Transport about who should pay for it. The example for Waikato trains was the Wairarapa Connection in Wellington.

Campbell Live - Wairarapa Connection

I do think we need to be careful in using the Wairarapa connection as an example as the driving alternative isn’t great being a slow and winding road over the Rimutakas. I think if a trip from Hamilton to Auckland could be achieved in around 1½ hours (instead of the 2+ hours it takes) it would be very competitive.

Lastly on Wednesday they looked at the issue of tolling the motorway and compared a trip from Takanini to Mt Eden by the motorway and local roads.

Campbell Live - Road Tolling

As they show the local roads are already much slower than the motorways which I suspect will limit some of the diversion from people trying to avoid tolls but again it’s interesting to note that the same trip via train from Takanini to Mt Eden via train would have taken between 50 and 60 minutes (depending on the transfer).

PM gets it right about Auckland, mostly

Prime Minister John Key is dead right when he said:

First home buyers in Auckland might have to consider an apartment in order to get onto the property ladder, Prime Minister John Key says.

After all, the locational efficiencies of well placed apartments can mean great savings in transport expenses, and the smaller size of these dwellings also leads to savings in operational costs such as energy and maintenance. Apartments do offer a great option for getting onto the property ladder in the more central locations that many desire, and in fact in many cases will be the only option.

And he is doubly right when he added:

“If you’re a young person buying your first place in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, in most instances you’ll be going into an apartment.”

Doubly right? Right in the first instance because that’s true, but secondly right because he is implying that Auckland is becoming more similar to these cities in its functioning. Yes, Auckland is increasingly exhibiting the well known economic patterns of cities; high value placed on proximity, increases in productivity with density, the power of spatially efficient transport modes.

He’s kinda right when he then says:

“The real magic here is what’s driving those [price] increases – it’s land.”

Kinda right? Yes because of course it’s land, the cost of land, but he is only telling part of the storey, because he neglects to say that where that land is is the principal determinant of its value: Location, Location, Location. A 300m² site with a problem on it in Ponsonby recently made the news because of the price it sold for and of course it only reached that sum because of its locational value. No one is spending that kind of money on similarly tiny plots with rotting old shacks on them at the fringes of the city. Only by delivering more dwellings on locationally valuable sites can the demand for city proximate living be met and at attainable prices.

Several Densities

Several Densities

But then he was rather curious about the City Rail Link, that project that more than any other, will facilitate Auckland’s urban spatial reset by improving efficient connectivity and extending locational value to more currently underdeveloped parts of the existing city:

“And that’s one of the reasons why we’re not looking to rush to bring forward the rail, in terms of the CBD rail link, because if we do, the other portion of that has to be borne by the rate payers.”

Curious? Yes because he says he doesn’t want to use our taxes to fund half the project because he wants to save us from spending our rates on the other half. Well Mr Key there’s an even better way out of that, and that is to recognise that the CRL’s value to the Auckland economy and therefore the national one too, means that it should be funded entirely from the National Land Transport Fund like other nationally significant land transport projects.

Every project is somewhere, the CRL is no more local than a Highway in Tauranga, nor the coming one that almost no one will use out of Wellington. Aucklanders help fund those roads. The CRL will unlock a network from Swanson to Pukekohe, and points in between, helping shift a great many more people than a State Highway around Te Puke, and freeing up roads for many more freight movements. Therefore it is no less important for the national economy.

But anyway the City’s share of the CRL is already budgeted for in capital works programme so withholding the taxpayers share is not saving the Auckland ratepayer anything.

And this is significant because there are two issues that are vitally important to the success of apartment living that PM understands we now need; the location of the apartments and the quality of their connectivity. It is important that they are well placed in as much walking distance of amenity and employment as possible, but then that they are also well connected to the rest of the city through spatially efficient transport systems. After all the best trip is the one not needed to be taken, or that is shortened or otherwise has less impact on other city users and places [reducing the negatives of  traffic congestion, space consumption, and pollution].

Auto-dependent apartments on greenfields sites at the end of the motorway will only achieve the worst of both worlds: dense sprawl. And this kind of distant and disconnected living supplies none of the agglomeration economies that make cities successful. Furthermore they are unlikely to succeed as they satisfy no one: They provide neither the scale nor gardens that detached house lovers want, nor the city proximity that city dwellers value.

So the successful growing city economy isn’t just about Land, or Dwelling Type, but about Location, Dwelling Type, and Connectivity.

Gotta have all three.

*Adendum. In case anyone is thinking that increasing sprawl doesn’t increase transport demand and therefore pressure on all systems here is an up to date chart derived from the 2013 census Journey To Work data that shows a very clear match for distance from centre and length of journey to work. This is not just about the concentration of jobs in the centre, but also about people working in all sorts of places throughout the city and travelling across  town to get there:

Trip Length residential 2013

So with the interesting addition of that area on the south of the Tamaki River, and a developing one on the mid North Shore, the most efficient journeys to work on a distance basis are all in the City Centre and the older heart of the Isthmus. In other words the further out you live the longer your schlep to and for work is likely to be, by whatever mode.

Source: http://infocouncil.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/Open/2014/10/INF_20141021_MAT_4791.PDF

A Tamaki TOD?

Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:

Town centre could rise around new rail station

Tamaki Site

Colin Taylor writes:

One of the biggest remaining parcels of development land in metropolitan Auckland is being promoted for sale as offering a chance to master-plan and develop a big mixed-use project around a major suburban transport hub.

The 5.8ha block of Mt Wellington land is on 14 titles at 81-107 Jellicoe Rd, 127-131 and 143 Pilkington Rd.

Located 9km south-east of the Auckland CBD, the land is zoned Business 4 and has a zoning of Mixed Use Tamaki Sub Precinct A under the proposed Auckland Unitary Plan.

“The property is located within the Tamaki Edge Precinct, which has been given the thumbs-up for commercial, transportation and residential redevelopment by the central government and Auckland Council,” says Peter Herdson of Colliers International who, with colleagues John Goddard and Jason Seymour, is marketing it for sale by private treaty closing at 4pm on November 6 unless it sells beforehand by negotiation.

The site is bounded on its western edge by the disused Tamaki Station on the Eastern Line, roughly equidistant from Panmure and Glen Innes Stations which are 2.2km apart. A new station here could be worth building so long as the new development is big enough to warrant it. Ideally this would mean working with more than this holding alone, especially taking the development across the rail line to the container storage yard and the go-cart track and perhaps more properties fronting Tainui Rd.

This would make the new station centred on a catchment of scale rather than being liminal to the site like the station down the line at Sylvia Park. Naturally this scale of development could be staged as sites became available, but it is important to plan at scale from the beginning. Any new development on the western side would offer the opportunity to improve access from the new and poorly connected Stonefields to the new Station, especially for walking and cycling.

Indicative plans for Tamaki Station show ground floor retail and hospitality premises, with apartment-styled dwellings on upper levels. Townhouses and multi-level apartments arranged around parks and green spaces are envisaged over the balance of the site. There have also been preliminary discussions around the development of a new Tamaki railway station to further boost the site’s connections to the wider Auckland region.

“It is envisaged to become a major transport hub with supporting retail, cafes, restaurants, key services and around 2000 higher-density homes,” Herdson says.

“The impetus for this came from the owner’s aspiration to enable the development of a mixed-use neighbourhood hub around a new station,” he says.

“This would provide a further transport link to the Auckland CBD, while benefiting from Auckland Council’s plan to significantly improve the bus and roading network immediately around the site.”

Goddard says proposed zoning changes under the Unitary Plan make the site a most compelling opportunity for developers.

“The current owners have worked with Auckland Council to put in place proposed zoning changes that have effectively repositioned the property to a much higher-value end use than it can provide under its current zoning.”

However, the proposed zoning under the Unitary Plan enables intensive mixed commercial and residential development on the land, retail of up to 4500sq m in combined gross floor area and height up to 16.5m.

“This increased planning flexibility afforded to the property opens up its potential uses significantly – handing the new owner multiple options to create a new, staged, mixed-use precinct that will become an attractive and convenient place to live near to shops, cafes and a vastly-improved transport infrastructure.”

This area is one of the best opportunities for real mixed used urban development on the existing Rapid Transit network within the city. This line will be running the new electric trains at ten minute frequencies from the the end of the year. Because of existing landuse constraints only really New Lynn, Morningside, and Onehunga offer similar upzoning potential for future TODs [Transit Oriented Development].

But it has to be done well. And much better than recent examples, like Stonefields, which is not mixed use nor well connected, nor like the big-box centres going up on the fringes of the city now to the north and north-west. And Auckland Transport’s traffic engineers will have to restrained from insisting on swamping the area with over-scaled place ruining roading, as they did in New Lynn.

So how to do it? There are a number of ways this could be structured to expedite a high quality outcome at this location.

  • A private developer working closely with Council through the Unitary Plan. But only very big players could take this on.
  • A private development with Housing NZ buying or leasing a proportion of dwellings from the outset. Say 20-30%, this gives some certainty to the developer and funders. Also best practice for social housing is to distribute dwellings throughout the whole city rather than to build or manage concentrations in clumps and government has announced it is rebalancing HNZ’s property portfolio.
  • A PPP with Council Properties CCO. Wouldn’t it be great to get a more active property department at Council? But then would likely be undercapitalised so would probably need to work closely with the private sector, which would probably be a good thing.
  • A de-aggregatted development like Vinegar Lane in Ponsonby where a big redevelopment is masterplaned but then sites are sold to individual holders to build but within the intensively structure conditions. This spreads the funding burden and increases building variation within a controlled plan. I wrote about this last year. And as buildings are now about to start going up there I will do new post on it soon.

With a well scaled development here then an additional station on the line would almost certainly be good thing but it is important to consider the impact this would have on the network. All network design seeks to strike a balance between speed, which means making as few stops as possible, and connectivity, which favours more. So yes another stop would slow the journeys of other users, especially poor for those from further out commuting into the city.

Well happily soon this line will only be operating as far as Manukau City, as Pukekohe and Papakura trains will all be travelling via Newmarket from later this year. But also increasingly we are seeing the rail system in general change both in use and design from a soley Commuter Rail style system to more of a Metro one. This means becoming less focussed on peak commutes from dormitory suburbs to the city centre and, while still serving this core task, also offering all day high frequencies across all lines in both directions for many other types of journeys.

However those longer journeys are still among the most valuable services that the rail network provide as they substitute long car trips so perhaps the best way to manage the speed/connectivity balance is to skip an underused station elsewhere on the network like Westfield, so the net speed cost for longer journeys is zero, and the connectivity and access benefits of the new station are without a network time burden for most.

Potentially this is a very good opportunity for the whole city as it should spark regeneration in a area ready for it and with potential for more, while also offering more variety to our dwelling stock both in terms of location [not ex-urban], connectivity [a Rapid Transit TOD], and price point [not in Ponsonby or Orakei, so the land cost must be lower].

And therefore housing and movement more choice for more people.

The Great Auckland Transit Revival: Theory and Practice

Einstein

2011 saw the release of a study led by Ian Wallis Associates into Auckland’s public transport performance. It is a sober and restrained report that simply sets out to describe the performance of Auckland’s PT systems on comparative terms with a range of not dissimilar cities around the region. A very useful exercise, because while no two cities are identical, all cities face similar tradeoffs and pressures and much can be learned by studying the successes and failures of other places. The whole document is here.

The cities selected for the study are all in anglophone nations around the Pacific from Australia, the US, Canada, and New Zealand, with Auckland right in the middle in terms of size. And as summarised by Mathew Dearnaley in the Herald at the time, it showed Auckland to be the dunce of the class by pretty much every metric. Although the article is called Auckland in last place for public transport use it’s clear that the headline it would have reflected the report’s findings more accurately if the paper had simply said; Auckland in last place for public transport. Because it showed that the low uptake of public transport in Auckland cannot be separated from the low quality, slow, infrequent, and expensive services available.

Here’s the uptake overview:

Comparator cities

So it’s clear that population alone is no determinant of PT uptake. If it isn’t the size of the city what is it? Various people have their pet theories, some like to claim various unfixable emotional factors are at work, like our apparently ‘car-loving’ culture, though is it credible that we have a more intense passion for cars than Americans or Australians? The homes of Bathurst and the Indy 500? Others claim that the geography of this quite long and harbour constrained city somehow suits road building and driving over bus, train, and ferry use. A quixotic claim especially when compared to the flat and sprawling cities of the American West which much more easily allow space for both wide roads and endless dispersal in every direction. Another popular claim is that Auckland isn’t dense enough to support much Transit use. Yet it is considerably denser than all but the biggest cities on the list.

So what does the study say is the reason for Auckland’s outlying performance?

It considers service quantity [PT kms per capita], quality [including speed, reliability, comfort, safety, etc] and cost both for the passenger and society, and easy of use [payment systems]. Along with other issues such as mode interoperability, and land-use/transit integration. And all at considerable depth. The report found that Auckland’s PT services are poor, often with the very worst performance by all of these factors and this is the main driver of our low uptake.

And happily some of the things that stand out in the report are well on the way to being addressed. Here, for example is what it says about fares:

Fares and ticketting Benchmark Study

The HOP card is no doubt a huge improvement and has enabled some fare cost improvement. And we can expect more to be done in this area soon, we are told, especially for off peak fares. Additionally the integration of fares is still to come [zone charging].

Here’s what it says about service quantity and quality:

Service qual. Benchmark Study

Oh dear.

Yet there is one thing that the report returns to on a number of occasions that perhaps best captures what’s wrong with Auckland, and offers a fast track to improvement. And, even at this early stage, gives us a way of checking the theory against results in the real world:

Rapid Transit benchmark study

Right, so perhaps the biggest problem with Auckland’s PT system is simply the lack of enough true Rapid Transit routes and services. To qualify as true Rapid Transit it is generally accepted that along with the definition above, a separate right of way, the services must also offer a ‘turn up and go’ frequency, at least at the busiest sections of the lines. And that this is generally considered to mean a service at least every ten minutes, but ideally even more frequent than that.

In Auckland we only have the Rail Network and the Northern Busway that qualify as using separate right of ways, and the busway for only 41% of its route. At least the frequencies on the Busway are often very high, where as on the Rail Network they only make it to ten minute frequencies for the busiest few hours of the day. So to say that Auckland has any real high quality Rapid Transit services even now is a bit of a stretch. However these services have been improving in the three years since the report was released, and will continue to do so in the near future with the roll out of the new trains and higher frequencies on the Rail Network, and more Bus lanes on the North Shore routes especially at the city end of their runs.

Here is a map with a fairly generous description of our current or at least improving Rapid Transit Network:

CFN 2015

Even though it is only three years since the report was released, and there is much more to come, there have been improvements, so we can ask; how have the public responded to the improvements to date?

Below are the latest Ridership numbers from Auckland Transport, for August 2014:

August 2014 Ridership

SOI: Statement Of Intent, AT’s expectations or hopes. NEX: Northern Express.

So the chart above, showing our most ‘Rapid’ services, Rail and the NEX, are clearly attracting more and more users out of all proportion with the rest, and way above Auckland Transport’s expectations or hopes as expressed by the SOI, is a pretty good indication that both the report authors were right, Auckland is crying out for more Rapid Transit services and routes, and, at least in this case, Einstein was wrong: Practice does indeed seem to be baring out the Theory.

And from here we can clearly expect this rise in uptake to continue, if not actually increase, as the few Rapid Transit routes we have now are going to continue to get service improvements. And 19% increases, if sustained, amount to a doubling in only four years! Rail ridership was around 10 million a year ago, so it could be approaching 20 mil by mid 2017, if this rate of growth is sustained.

But this also means we can clearly expect any well planned investment in extensions to the Rail Network [eg CRL] or additional busways [eg North Western] to also be rewarded with over the odds increases in use. Aucklanders love quality, and give them high quality PT and they will use it.

Furthermore, given that these numbers are in response to only partial improvements even extending on-street bus lanes for regular bus services looks highly likely to be meet with accelerated ridership growth. I think it is pretty clear that Auckland Transport, NZTA, MoT, and Auckland Council can be confident that any substantive quality, frequency, and right-of-way improvement to PT in Auckland will be rewarded with uptake.

Given that Auckland’s PT use is advancing ahead of population growth [unlike the driving stats] I believe we have already improved that poor number up top to 47 trips per person per year. So there’s still plenty of room for growth even to catch up with the next city on the list. So perhaps it’s time to formally update that report too?

Imagine just how well a full city wide network of Rapid Transit would be used? Clearly Auckland is ready for it:

CFN 2030 South-Grafton