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.
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:
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.
Potential good news in the Commercial property section of the Herald on Saturday:
Town centre could rise around new rail station
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
I recently had the privilege of spending a day on a cliff top above Hobson Bay. As a student I lived for a year over the Parnell end of the bay so this was both a reminder of that for me and the experience of a different angle onto the view. And how lovely it is, no wonder properties on these cliffs command such high prices. And, at least for me, the view is considerably enhanced by the constant activity across the bay both on land and water. The crossings that cut off the seaward end of the bay are far enough away to be interesting activity rather than invasive neighbour [cf St Mary's Bay]. A six lane freeway on the landward side of the rail line, however, would be a hideous intrusion. And will never happen. The planned walking and cycling boardwalk will be a fantastic addition and well used.
A few observations:
Of the four kinds of trains running on the line at the moment the loudest and by far the least mellifluous are the loco hauled passenger services, then the DMUs, I was surprised with how little noise the freighters made, perhaps this is because they seemed to be going fairly slowly. The EMUs are a flashing delight. The movement of the tide adds visual interest and changes the reflection of the sound considerably. A jetskier in the bay below at high tide was the worst intrusion on the day.
Spot the yellow and blue caterpillar:
Two EMUs crossing:
lovely at low tide too:
old v new, not for much longer:
Ever since the Town Hall was built on that odd triangle between converging streets half way up Queen St Auckland has failed to successfully find an important central location that can be considered its spiritual locus. A civic heart: A public space for those collective experiences; celebrations, protests, that everyone automatically understands is the right and fitting place. Unusually Auckland was poorly served by our Victorian and Edwardian city builders in this regard. Their great works are all distributed and largely disconnected; Albert Park, CPO, Town Hall, and Art Gallery/Library. Significantly Auckland has never really been sure where its heart is.
Auckland Plan 1841 Felton Mathew
Felton Mathew, the city’s first surveyor, saw the ridge of Hobson St as the commercial and administrative centre, so proposed two fine and central squares to interrupt the north south flow with ‘place’ there. No doubt he was keen to get the great and good away from the waterway of Waihorotiu in the Queen Street gully; he placed the quality residences on the opposing ridge, about where Albert Park came to be. Incidentally his roots in the city of Bath with its fine curving Georgian terraces is clearly visible in this scheme.
Only a few parts of this plan eventuated, Waterloo Quadrant being the most obvious, and the main affairs of the city gradually congealed along Queen St, especially once the open sewer that Waihorotui became was finally piped in the 1890s [“That abomination, the Ligar Canal, is still a pestiferous ditch, the receptacle of every Imaginable filth, bubbling in the noonday sun”]. But also up Shortland St, the city’s best professional address and then to Princess St to the grand city houses of the early magnates.
Queen Street welcome US fleet August 1908
The inter-bellum years brought even more dispersal of public building with the placement of the Museum in the Domain and the disaster of moving the Railway Station out of town without building the proposed inner-city passenger tunnel. The attempts at civic placemaking in the Modern era gave us the mess we are now trying to undo: Aotea and QE II Squares.
These have always been soulless places that have failed to earn their hoped for roles as loved and functioning public spaces. The first a formless mess leading to a building with all the utility and charm of a 1970s high school science block; relentlessly horizontal and without ceremony or focal point. The Town Hall itself is so busy sailing down the old stream bed of Waihorotui and opening a-midships on the other side that it may as well not be there [can't we make some kind of use of the bow of this ship? Open a cafe onto the Square through some of those blind openings....?]. Aotea is better now than it’s ever been, after much rebuilding, but is still inherently unable to inspire.
And QE II suffers from containment by buildings of Olympian blandness, that anyway offer nothing but mall food or the blank wall of office blocks, add to that it’s famously shaded, hideously paved, sorrowfully treed, and otherwise peperpotted with meaningless objects and host to that awful and useless over-scaled glass and steel inverted L ….. frankly that it is mainly used by tradies to park on almost elevates the place.
The theme that unites these sad attempts at public space is that they were both built at the full blaze of the auto-age. Both are defined by the dominating theme of vehicles first. Aotea is of course just the roof of a garage, how could anyone be expected to use a public square with being able to park right there? The other disaster that still defines and keeps the square sub-optimal is the severing ring road of Mayoral Drive that cuts it off on two sides. There is no way that the small amount of carriageway be taken over for people without expanding roadspace nearby first.
Queens St from Town Hall Nov 1963
QE II Square has a more chequered history. When the CPO was an important building of state [built on the site of Auckland's first train station] it was a busy wide street, first with trams and general traffic:
Then just general traffic:
CPO Lower Queen
Then with the amalgamation of the opposite Downtown site in the 1970s the street in front of the CPO was pedestrianised. Great history of this process here, a window onto the forces that formed the places of this period. And this was the result:
The idea of a public plaza in front of the CPO was logical: It is directly in front of the large and traditional looking public building, like in any European city the old CPO grand and important enough like a ‘Rathaus’ in a northern European city, or, at a pinch, the cathedrals and churches of southern and central Europe, that provide the focus for great public squares.
Yet this space was forgettable; it didn’t work. The great problem was that over the whole period of its existence the importance of the CPO declined right down to closure. So the potential of this space for meaning and centrality could never get going. Additionally it was designed like a suburban shopping centre, just like the new mall on the otherside too which didn’t help, but really its great problem is that it was pretty much nowhere. So its loss wasn’t mourned when the buses were returned as part of the invention of Britomart Station. Even though all we were left with was the terrible sunless end of the Square as it is now.
Which is ironic really because the kind of civic space that I am arguing Auckland critically lacks needs to be the placed at the front door of some kind of busy and important public building like a Train Station. Because now there are people, lots and lots of people, using that grand old pile. All thanks to the ever growing success of the revived passenger rail network. This is what works in those European cities that Aucklanders love to visit, as shown in Warren’s post about northern Europe. This space is at last in the right place to become the locus for all kinds of beginnings; celebrations, protests, welcomes.
It’s a good shape too: There’s a standard rule of thumb about building height relative to its approaching horizontal space that says a good place to start is if these are roughly equal. And it looks to me like the old CPO is as about as high as Lower Queen St is wide. And if Auckland doesn’t start, in every sense, at the sea at the bottom of Queen St then I don’t what it is. The fact that it isn’t large I feel will be an advantage most of the time; it’ll never be empty, and for those big occasions the plan is to close Quay St to both expand the space and complete the connection with the water’s edge.
This plaza should be able to succeed as the ‘Marae’ to Britomart’s ‘Wharenui’. And, for big processions actually link all the way up to Aotea Square, especially when we do the thinkable and get the cars out of the rest of flat section of Queen St.
So the plan is a good one:
1. to repair the western street edge of Lower Queen St with activated retail entrances
2. insert new streets through the Downtown site [not internal mall spaces; at least one proper open air public street]
3. return Britomart’s forecourt to being a public square
4. while expanding and improving the water’s edge public spaces
All at the cost of the current QEII Square.
However there is one vital condition to the proposals as set out in the Framework process that I believe has to be properly dealt with in order for any of this to work. Summed up in one word: Buses.
Where do the buses go? We are told Lower Albert St, all through Britomart, including Galway and Tyler Sts, and Customs St. This just doesn’t add up on any level. It isn’t desirable, already the narrow streets behind the Station are degraded by the numbers of buses turning, stopping, idling. The new plaza in front of Britomart will be reduced in utility and attractiveness by buses exiting Galway and Tyler Streets, even if they no longer cross in front of the old CPO itself. Lower Albert St just can’t that many stops.
This whole scheme, in my view, can only work if there is a seriously effective solution to the bus problem, which means a proper station somewhere proximate, as well as a hard headed approach to terminating suburban bus routes at the new bus/train interchange stations like Panmure, Otahuhu, New Lynn, and Mt Albert, etc, in order to maximise access to the city while limiting the huge volumes of buses dominating inner city streets. Howick and Eastern services, for example, could go on to Ellerslie from Panmure then across town instead of into the city. Or simply return to the south east to increase frequency massively on their core route having dropped off passengers to the city at Panmure Station.
Helsinki [pop: 600k], for example, terminated its city bus routes at stations when it built it’s metro system in the 1980s, as well as making an underground bus station for those services that remain:
Many of the buses operating in eastern Helsinki act as feeder lines for the Helsinki Metro. Nearly all other routes have the other end of their lines in the downtown near the Helsinki Central railway station. Such exceptions are present as dedicated lines operating directly from a suburb to another past the centre
Britomart and the improving rail system helps take both cars and buses off the road it will be a long time before the CRL is open and we can use the spatial efficiency of underground rail to replace exponentially more surface vehicles. And even longer again before a rail line to the Shore will be built, and even then there will still be a need for buses.
Because we have refused to invest in permanent solutions to city access like the many underground rail proposals over the years it has now become urgent to get much more serious about how we manage the inevitable boom in bus demand. This issue was disguised for years by the decline of the Central City, or at least its failure to thrive; strangled by motorways, and deadened by street traffic as it has been over my life time. But now its revival is thankfully strong and clearly desirable, the City and the State will have to, literally, dig deep, to keep it moving. After all, all New Zealand needs a thriving Auckland and:
‘Transportation technologies have always determined urban form’
-Economist Ed Glaeser The Triumph of the City P12
While addressing these near term street level issues it is important to keep a thought for an ideal longer term outcome. Here is the kind of treatment that could ultimately work well for central city Auckland.
Shared Space with modern Light Rail, Angers, France
This could be Queen St, but is only possible once the high capacity and high frequency of both the longer distance rail network is running underground, and the widespread reach of the bus system is similarly properly supported in the City Centre. This type of system is for local distribution not commuting.
18: A Great South Road?
What if Great South Road truly was great?
The creation of Great South Road was one of the great formational moves in the early expansion of Auckland. Starting in 1861, some 12,000 soldiers built the highway over 2 years to provide a direct route south out of Auckland to the Waikato hinterland during the New Zealand Wars. It quickly became the primary commercial and community link between areas to the south of the isthmus, providing opportunity for the garrison communities like Otahuhu that had sprung up along its route to become important centres in their own right.
That role has long been surpassed by the Southern Motorway, but the legacy of Great South Road remains. It is a highly important route connecting communities and large employment areas in the south. As a route however, the legibility of where it goes and what it connects to is perhaps not very widely known or understood for Aucklanders who live and work further afield, who will be much more familiar with the motorway.
Much of Great South Road already is great. Places like Otahuhu are vibrant and diverse with a bright future. Otahuhu has significant development potential underpinned by a fantastic legacy of a historic fine grain pattern of streets and subdivision on flat land. It can readily adapt to support further growth that will benefit both the town centre and forthcoming rail-bus interchange.
By contrast, other sections of the route aren’t so great, still feeling like the road is still the main highway out of town.
Wouldn’t it be great if Great South Road – in stark contrast to the southern motorway – could become a celebrated route through the south that relates to the urban fabric and communities of Auckland? A strengthening of the corridor and centres through greater mixed use development, improvements for walking and cycling and a legible and frequent bus route with rail connections at Manurewa, Manukau, Otahuhu, Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane and Remuera starts to add up to what sounds like a great urban corridor for this part of Auckland.
Great South Road, and other similar urban corridors, should have stronger alignment of land use and transport planning in the future to work steadily towards becoming positive forces in the city that can help shape and guide how Auckland grows and develops into the future.
Auckland Transport’s decision to not build Newton Station as part of the CRL project, instead upgrading Mt Eden, potentially has some impacts on future train operating patterns that are worth analysing and discussing further. Our preference for operating patterns, prior to the change, is shown in the Congestion Free Network map for 2020 – the immediate post-CRL period:
There are numerous small variations you could make to which lines link with other lines – should the western join with the southern instead of the eastern? Should the Onehunga Line go via Parnell instead of Grafton? Should Mt Roskill to Panmure be the “short runner”?
However, there are some pretty basic concepts here – most importantly that this is a Metro style operating pattern with our assumption being all trains stop at all stations and that we’ve tried to keep the patterns as simple as possible. For example, all trains on the inner part of the western line go straight into the CRL tunnel with journeys to Newmarket either being provided for by staying on the red line right around the city centre, or transferring services at Newton.
After seeing the response to the CRL changes on Friday we gave AT a bit of a push to publish just what their thinking was around how they would run trains after the CRL was built. To their credit they published it that afternoon.
At first glance the plan looks fairly simply however as I’ve looked at it more it’s raised a number of questions for me. These include
- Do we really need a west-south service?
- Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
- Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
- Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
- How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
- Does Manukau have enough service?
- Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
- Does the Eastern Line have enough service?
Do we really need a west-south service?
So of course, not having Newton any longer – and having Mt Eden station removed from the “Grafton to K Road” direct rail connection, means that west to Newmarket trips which AT say currently make up about one third of western line trips would need to be provided for in one of four ways.
- Staying on the train right through the CRL and Parnell to Newmarket
- Changing trains at Karangahape Road from an inbound western line train to an outbound train travelling from the city to Grafton and Newmarket
- Providing a direct rail service from the west to Newmarket
- Running a shuttle between Mt Eden and Newmarket
Auckland Transport has seemingly chosen option 3 of the above, with their preferred train operating pattern showing a direct service between the west and Newmarket – then onto Otahuhu. This is the purple line on the map. At first glance the purple service seems potentially quite useful – providing that one seat ride from the west to Grafton and Newmarket, as well as recognising “not everyone wants to go to the city centre”. The question is though, “will the level of demand for the purple line be high enough to justify reasonable frequencies?”. And if not, for example if it is only run at three trains per hour, then it’s not good enough to expect people to just turn up and go and therefore won’t it be faster to just transfer at K Road?
It’s also worth remembering that just because 1/3rd of trips on the line are currently to Grafton/Newmarket, it’s not a massive number overall and won’t grow as much as trips to the city centre. I’d also point out that it doesn’t serve all West-Newmarket trips, my wife for example is now travelling to Grafton but as we catch the train from Sturges Rd it would still mean a transfer for her.
Other considerations include:
- How many additional trains are necessary to operate the purple line and is there value for money from purchasing those trains solely for this line?
- Are additional turnaround facilities required at Henderson and Otahuhu for these services, and how much will they cost?
- How much will it actually cost to operate the purple line and how might that compare to say changing the New North Road buses so they directly serve Newmarket?
I don’t know the answer to these questions but they are ones that AT really need to answer.
I think my preference is to serve the west to Newmarket trips through a combination of transfers at K Road (which isn’t that much further out of the way than Newton would have been) and perhaps a Mt Eden to Newmarket shuttle. It still means a transfer but without the time penalty of going all the way to K Rd first.
The next three questions are all interconnected.
Can the Onehunga line cope with that number of trains?
Do we really need so much service between Newmarket and Penrose?
Can Newmarket cope with that number of trains?
It’s not clear from the announcement whether the Onehunga line is being duplicated. Based on discussions I’ve had I’m going to assume that because it’s not core to the CRL so it probably isn’t being done. We currently only run two trains per hour on the line however I understand that with a little work it’s likely we could run three trains per hour on it. Unless AT are planning worse frequencies than now it would mean some of the blue western line trains would have to terminate somewhere and the most likely place for that is at Newmarket. With both the red and purple lines travelling through the station would there really be enough capacity for that to happen. This is exasperated by the fact that a terminating train would have a period of layover longer than what Western Line trains currently do for the driver end change. It seems that if you do terminate trains at Newmarket you get capacity problems at the station but if you send them on down the line to terminate elsewhere the line south of Newmarket may have their own capacity constraints and you end up with the situation of it seeming like stations between Penrose and Newmarket would be serviced by many more trains than the stations on the CRL. With the exception of Ellerslie most of those stations don’t do that well for patronage despite the level of service they have.
How confusing will it be with the Red line doubling back on itself?
I realise we already kind of have this issue so perhaps it’s nothing to worry about but it just seems to me that having a line double back on it’s like this one does risks creating confusion, especially for those trying the system for the first time. Going by the current way we label services – which lists the final destination – it means a person at a station between Westfield and Puhinui wanting to go to the city would actually have to catch a train destined for Manukau or Papakura which seems a bit counter-intuitive.
On a slightly related note AT talking of closing Westfield and Te Mahia. I assume they’re on the map because the final decision hasn’t been made rather than because they’re necessarily staying.
Again another similar set of questions.
Does Manukau have enough service?
Does the Western Line past Henderson have enough service?
Does the Eastern Line have enough service?
While some lines have double ups that significantly boost capacity it seems that Manukau, the Eastern Line and the Outer Western Line miss out. Does this plan deliver enough capacity for those stations? Because we are now sticking with the same number of trains we will have by the end of next year/early 2016 that suggests they might not get more than the six trains per hour they will have post electrification. Bringing it back to the west-south service what if we provided those trips by one of the other methods suggested. Could we use them to boost frequencies on the lines mentioned that at this stage don’t seem to get any frequency benefit from the CRL. This situation would change when we order an additional batch of new trains – now scheduled for around 2025.
All up the plan does answer a number of questions but also creates a lot of questions.
There has been a bit of comment on the blog recently questioning how Auckland runs it’s rail system. In particular around the whether the city should be running express trains or not. In this post I’m going to look at some of the positives and negatives on both sides of the argument. I’m mainly going to be thinking about this from a post electrification point of view so just looking at the network between Swanson and Papakura.
The Auckland’s rail network seems like it’s at a funny size, it’s neither a metro type system made up of lines 10-15km in length but with the exception of Papakura and Pukekohe isn’t really a super long distance commuter network either. Instead it’s somewhere awkwardly in between and made worse particularly on the western line by close station spacing which can make trips quite slow. A trip to Swanson is 27km while Papakura is 31km. We also know we also know from the comparison of the Auckland and Wellington networks that the average trip is about 13.7km in length.
The key benefit to express services is speed. We know that the vast majority of people are going to the city centre and so if we can get them to that destination faster it can help make services more competitive attractive. More attractive services should also mean more patronage which is obviously a good thing.
But how much time do they save. The figures below are from old timetables from when Auckland used to run express trains.
||All stations to Otahuhu
||All stations to New Lynn, Newmarket
As you can see the savings on the southern line aren’t too bad for the first of the express services on the southern line however the train is only able to achieve that by only stopping at 2 of the 14 stations along the way. In the case of the second express service the train stops at 8 of the 14 stations along the route. On the western line is actually quite small despite skipping all of the closely spaced inner stations, it skips seven stations all up.
Skipping stations isn’t ideal but can be worked around, especially if like New York where there are extra tracks which means the express services don’t affect the frequency of the all stopping trains. However in Auckland that isn’t the case. Further due to the limitations of Britomart we can only run 20 trains per hour on the network divided up as 6 trains per direction per hour on the Western, Southern and Eastern lines and 2 trains per direction per hour on the Onehunga line. Any express train that we run has to come at the expense of one of those services and that’s where the problems really start to come in as any express trains end up lowering the frequency to stations not served by both running patterns.
An example of how services could run was suggested by Dave B in this post.
It is possible to mix limited-stop and all-stop services without any overtaking, but it does disrupt the cherished ’10-min interval between trains’.
Take the Western Line: The express departs Britomart at, say, 00, 20, 40 past each hour, skips Parnell, bypasses Newmarket, first stop Grafton, then selected stops only, from there to Swanson. The stopper leaves Britomart at 02, 22, 42 and proceeds all-stops via Newmarket as now. It arrives at Swanson 2 min before the next express. The stopper takes 55min, the express 49min.
So say you wanted to go to Baldwin Ave, a station that would be guaranteed to be bypassed by any train running an express pattern. Using Dave’s suggestion above it means you only have the option of a train once every 20 minutes. That’s definitely not a turn up and go frequency but one you have to consult a timetable on to prevent long delays. Some suggest that people will only need to do that once however if they’re anything like me their travel doesn’t always happen at the same time. As an example I don’t leave work at the same time every day and arrive at Britomart with the intention of just catching the next train that leaves.
In addition to what’s already been mentioned is also the issue of the New Network which has been designed as an integrated PT network rather an a mode focused one. It will see a lot more bus feed a greater number of passengers on to rail services. Providing consistent and easy connections between those services will be another important step in building patronage.
The decision about whether to run express trains or not is going to differ for each city and for Auckland the decision is between having trains that are frequent but that stop at each station along the way or having lower frequencies but with some trains having faster trips. For me with the system we have I think that we are right to focus on getting frequency rather than speed. Faster speeds *should* come with the electric trains and the faster acceleration they bring will help narrow the gap between the two options further. My position would likely be different if we had the infrastructure and capacity to support express services that don’t get caught behind the train service in front but tat this stage that seems like something.
Transdev have announced they are going to trial body mounted cameras in a bid to further lower fare evasion.
Fare evasion is an ongoing issue for public transport throughout the world – and Auckland is no different. Transdev has a team of around 50 Ticket Inspectors checking train customers at stations and on trains to ensure they are travelling with the correct ticket and, as part of their revenue protection efforts, Transdev is committed to a programme of ongoing improvement.
With fare evasion currently between 4 and 5 per cent and revenue lost to fare evasion estimated at almost $1.5 million dollars per year, additional measures are required to make travel costs fairer for everyone.
As a result, Transdev is equipping a small group of Ticket Inspectors with body worn CCTV cameras to use in a three-month operational trial. These Ticket Inspectors will also have ‘Network Bans’ to issue to non-compliant people travelling or attempting to travel on the train.
The use of the cameras and network bans will be evaluated at the end of the trial period, for example
- What did the public think of the use of the cameras and network bans?
- Were the cameras and network bans effective in reducing fare evasion rates?
- Did the cameras influence the behaviour of fare evaders, either positively or negatively?
- Did staff find the cameras a useful tool?
Additionally it is also anticipated that the cameras will also provide a strong deterrent to anyone considering abusing or assaulting a staff member or other customers in the vicinity.
The cameras will capture high quality audio and video of interactions, and will provide the opportunity to take a still photograph of a fare evader to support a network ban.
The use of the cameras (and footage) will be in full compliance of the Privacy Act 1993 and best practice guidelines set out by the Privacy Commission
From what I’ve noticed fare evasion seems to have been changing in recent months. School kids which were a huge source of evasion seem to be using HOP much more, at least in the mornings. That’s obviously a good thing however I also suspect there’s been an increase in evasion further out on the network. On the western line in particular it seems there are a lot of people making shorter trips e.g. from Henderson to Sturges or Ranui that are not buying tickets. Those people also seem to be becoming more cautious which is perhaps hiding some of the fare evasion. By that I mean they are checking the train before they get on for ticket inspectors and if they see them get on at a station along the way they will get off the train to avoid being checked.
Personally I can’t see cameras or network bans being that effective overall. As it is the chance of seeing a ticket inspector seems fairly small and I often find I will see them in clusters. I get times when it seems I get them on every trip but then I won’t seem them for another month or so. I also wonder what the chances of ticket inspectors remembering each person that’s been filmed without a ticket or banned. Those determined to fare evade will continue to do so.
Whenever the issue of evasion comes up we get a lot of comments about the need to gate stations. One thing to remember in this is the cost of doing so. At $1.5 million a year in fare evasion, gating all stations would cost more the evasion it stops and so there needs to be a balancing act. To me combination of gating key the destination stations along with the roving ticket inspectors dealing with other parts of the network seems to be the right balance. Back in March we revealed AT plan to install gates at another 8 stations over the next few years and that should help immensely. It’s also worth noting that even in systems that are fully gated fare evasion still happens so it isn’t something that will ever be able to be completely eliminated.
I’ve criticised Auckland Transport in the past for having so many items on their closed agenda. For example this was from their meeting on Tuesday:
Items for Approval / Decision
i. Rail Deep Dive
ii. Pitt Street Lease Expiry
iii. Relocation and Disposal of AMETI Property
iv. Investment Framework
v. Draft Election Policy
Items for noting
i. RLTP/LTP Update
ii. Internal Management Audit
iii. Health and Safety – May Report
iv. CRL Update
v. AMETI Communications & Engagement StrategyUpdate
vi. Glen Innes Tamaki Cycleway
I still stand by that criticism however I also have noticed that AT have been pro-actively releasing papers from the closed sessions after they are no longer considered confidential. This is a good thing and I think more council and government agencies should take this approach.
One of the papers that has been released from the April meeting is a fascinating comparison of a wide range of metrics between the Auckland and Wellington rail networks. The authors note that it can be very difficult to do a proper comparison due to issues like
- the length, layout and topography of the two networks
- how the services are operated
- the differences in the age and types of rolling stock
- the maturity of the Wellington network vs the rapid change being experienced by the Auckland network.
As such it is far from a complete comparison but does provide some useful bits of information about the two networks.
First up is a comparison of some key statistics.
The metrics show that Wellington rail commuters are generally travelling a lot longer than those who use trains in Auckland (23.7km per trips in Wellington vs 13.7km in Auckland). On a cost basis Wellington commuters also pay more however that reverses when you compare the average fares to the average distance travelled. On a per KM basis users in Wellington pay about 15c per km compared to 21c per km in Auckland.
Perhaps the most important difference is the operational costs. On a per km basis the difference will be even far more pronounced however we don’t have the number of service km’s that were run to do that comparison properly. Further on the report does break down the operational costs further though.
There are a number of significant differences between the two cities. Some of these are explained as:
- Fuel costs are obviously a lot higher in Auckland due to running diesel trains. The diesel cost was $3.86 per service km compared with an equivalent energy consumption of $1.22 per service km in Wellington. These should come much closer together once electric trains are rolled out across Auckland.
- Labour costs are considerably higher in Auckland. The authors aren’t able to give a definitive answer for this but suggest a combination of factors might be at play.
- The mixed fleet meaning Auckland had two separate driver rosters (Loco drivers and DMU drivers) combined with now former situation where some drivers were hired from Kiwirail at a premium rate (it changed in January this year). This is also thought to have led to an increase in driver training costs.
- Slower trains which means increased trip times for services and therefore more crew hours are needed.
- Auckland’s costs include all of those incurred by Transdev whereas it is suspected that in Wellington some support roles and corporate overheads are effectively absorbed by Kiwirail.
- Different fare collection staffing models. They note that it wouldn’t be possible to replicate Wellington’s fare collection model without potentially a lot more staff and/or fare leakage.
- Station expenditure is higher in Auckland. Britomart alone costs about $3.5 million per year to run and all stations in Auckland have more extensive use of CCTV and security patrols.
- Higher rolling stock maintenance costs due to the aging diesel fleet including approximately $5.7 million to Kiwirail for facilities, management overheads and hiring the diesel locomotives. The cost per km to service Auckland’s trains is $7.32 per service km vs 2.71 per service km in Wellington. The Auckland costs are expected drop significantly after electrification.
The one area Auckland does seem to exceed in is with the customer satisfaction scores which are significantly higher than those in Wellington. I suspect there’s a heap of reasons behind this and perhaps one is Aucklander’s are more accepting of crappy infrastructure/services as we don’t have the history of high quality to look back on.
All up a fairly fascinating report and while Auckland doesn’t look good in many of the metrics the good news is that improvement are on the way. The Auckland network should move much closer to that of Wellington from an expenditure point of view in coming years as the electric trains are rolled out and the savings they provide. That is likely to also be influenced by the re-tendering of the rail services which I suspect will attract a number of bidders from international rail operators as well as Kiwirail.
Transdev is hoping to secure a longer contract from 2016 following the transition to electrification, although Scott expects to face competition. Auckland Transport is asking prospective operators to attend a market sounding event on July 2 where it is seeking interest for the city’s passenger rail services for mid-2016