RPTP update: Integrated Fares, LRT and more

In 2013 Auckland Transport adopted the current Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP) – a document required by legislation and which sets out how the regions public transport system will be developed and operated. The 2013 RPTP was significant as among other things it officially added the New Network to Auckland’s plans. There were however a number of issues left unresolved and in the last 18 months there have been other developments in AT’s thinking on PT in Auckland. As such AT are now consulting on a variation to the RPTP to include all of this. The consultation will cover and be limited to only four specific areas:

  • The proposed introduction of simplified zone fares
  • Proposals for a new light rail transit (LRT) network on some major arterial routes
  • Service and infrastructure changes arising from the Ferry Development Plan which was approved by the AT Board in December 2014
  • Revised service descriptions arising from community consultation on the new bus network

Submissions on the RPTP variation open from today to 05 June and AT hope to have the variation adopted in July. Below is a bit more detail about each of four areas mentioned above.

Simplified zone fares

This is another name for integrated fares and AT are setting out how they think the system should run. This includes both the fare zones themselves and future fare products.

For HOP card users, fares will be based on the number of zones travelled in as part of a journey. A journey may involve travel on up to three different services, provided the transfer between services is made within the prescribed transfer time limit.

The zonal fare structure will apply across all bus, train and future light rail services. For ferries, the existing point-to-point fares will be retained, subject to further investigation of how they should be incorporated into the integrated zonal structure in future. The different approach to ferry fares reflects the fact that some ferry services are deemed exempt services, and not subject to the policies in this Plan. It also reflects the higher operating costs and premium quality of ferry travel.

The fact that ferry services will sit outside the rest of the fare structure seems to once again highlight the stupidity of the government’s decision to bow to the lobbying of fullers and allow some of the ferry routes (Devonport, Stanley Bay, Waiheke) to sit outside of the rest of the PT system. The zone boundaries are based on approximately 10km intervals from the city centre. We saw a low res version of the proposed zones around a month ago.

RPTP Integrated Fares Zones Map

I still think there needs to be some larger zone overlaps, particularly between the Isthmus to Manukau North/Waitakere zones and Waitakere to Upper North Shore. As an example it seems like the Upper North Shore zone should extend to cover Hobsonville Point.

Looking to the future AT say they hope to replace the monthly passes with weekly caps that will automatically limit the amount that customers will be charged for travel in any calendar week. They also say that in future that using stored value on a HOP card will be a minimum of 33% off the cash fare to encourage HOP use. As a comparison currently all fares 3 stages and over are just 20-26% of cash fares. AT also mention wanting to look at ways of using fares to grow patronage – especially in the off peak where there growth doesn’t affect operational costs. This includes wanting to:

  • Investigate and implement off-peak fare discount options to spread peak demand and encourage off-peak trips
  • Introduce 24/72 hour pass options to encourage off-peak travel by residents and visitors
  • Provide fare incentives for weekend family travel

All of these things are aspects we and many readers have suggested for a long time so it’s great to see AT pursuing them. One thing that is important to note is that it’s not likely all new fare products will be introduced at once and instead AT are likely to stage implementation over a period of time.

Light rail

PT services can’t be implemented if they aren’t in the RPTP and so AT are adding in the references to light rail now so that it’s possible for them to proceed with the project in the future should they wish to. We’ve already covered off AT’s light rail proposals quite a bit already and the proposed variation focuses most attention on the changes that would be needed to implement light rail on Queen St and Dominion Rd. There isn’t a huge amount of new information in the document with one notable exception – mention of light rail to the airport.

Subject to the outcome of these investigations, approval to proceed and funding, AT proposes a staged implementation of light rail, with completion of the initial stages (Queen Street and Dominion Road, with a possible link to Wynyard Quarter) within the 10-year planning horizon of this Plan. A possible extension of this route to the airport is also under investigation, along with metro rail options

The potential extension to the airport is also shown in the map below. I still believe that duplicating and extending the Onehunga line would be a better option due to a speed advantage compared with going via Dominion Rd- although it would possibly be a more expensive option.

RPTP potential LRT + RTN Map

Ferry development plan

Ferries are often touted as an area Auckland should focus on more and frequent suggestions included adding ferries to places like Browns Bay, Takapuna and Te Atatu. The RPTP suggested a review of the role of ferries and so last year AT created a Ferry Development Plan that was approved by the board in December. The outcomes from the development plan are included in the proposed variation. While I haven’t seen the full plan it appears from the variation information that AT’s have taken a sensible approach.

The Ferry Development Plan focuses on improving existing services and infrastructure and on greater integration of the current ferry network with local bus routes and supporting feeder services. It calls for service level improvements on existing ferry services to reach the minimum levels specified in the RPTP, with further increases to be implemented in response to demand. It also identifies a number of ferry infrastructure improvements and renewals that are needed to address capacity and customer amenity and safety issues at key ferry wharves.

The Plan also evaluated proposals for extensions to the existing ferry network, including new services to Browns Bay, Takapuna and Te Atatu. It concluded that due to the high infrastructure costs involved with new services, the priority for additional resources should be on improving the frequency and capacity of existing ferry routes, rather than network expansion.

The reality is the immediately viable ferry routes have already been developed and with the bus infrastructure that exists (or will shortly) it will be very hard for ferries to compete on speed, frequency, coverage and operating costs with some of the other locations mentioned. Getting service on existing routes up to regular all day every day frequencies will help make them a much more viable form of PT and useful not just for commuting.

New Network service descriptions

As mentioned at the start the RPTP sets out how the PT system will run and that includes exact and minimum frequencies. Since the RPTP was adopted AT have consulted on the new network for Hibiscus Coast, Pukekohe, South Auckland, West Auckland. The variation will update the RPTP with the changes that have already been consulted on.

There are also some changes to the network categories and maps with the new ones shown below.

RPTP Network Categories

As our network exists now, as you can see not much of the network meets the frequent definition being just a few bus services and the Southern line north of Penrose although arguably it should also be considered frequent between Westfield and Puhinui. You will also notice many of the ferry routes don’t exist on the map as they don’t have all day frequency.

RPTP Current Network

By 2018 with the new network implemented and all electric trains rolled out this is what we should have.

RPTP Proposed 2018 Network

And by 2025 with the CRL and even more bus improvements this is where the city will be.

RPTP Proposed 2025 Network

We can (and must) afford both CRL & new network infrastructure

Former ARC Councillor Joel Cayford has recently criticised the City Rail Link as being unaffordable in the near future – largely it seems because of the need to invest in a number of pieces of bus infrastructure to support the new PT network that’s being rolled out over the next few years. Here’s his key point:

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland’s transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.

So it needs to be right. It is more important that it’s planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.

newnetwork

This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black) NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it’s a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to “start CRL in 2016” (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be “world class”, but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.

We know from page 96-99 of Regional Public Transport Plan that various pieces of infrastructure are required in the near future to ensure that the new network can launch successfully in 2016. Items identified as essential include:

  • Integrated ticketing (completed)
  • Electric trains rollout (already funded)
  • Integrated fares (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • City Rail Link (for the 2022 networks rather than the 2016)
  • Bus stop and shelter programme ($30m programme completed by 2015/16)
  • Otahuhu interchange (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • Te Atatu bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Westgate bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Wynyard bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2015/16 year)
  • Other city centre bus infrastructure (funded over three years up to 2016/17 year)

There are others but either they’re desirable rather than essential or they’re fairly small. Joel says all up this comes to about $200 million and that might be roughly in the ballpark from what’s in the RPTP. We really do need to do these projects – and a bunch of bus lanes – to make sure the new PT network is implemented in a successful fashion. Its connected design relies upon good quality interchanges and a much larger bus lane network to ensure services run quickly and reliably. So I am in full agreement with Joel that we can’t let funding CRL (or AMETI, East-West Link, Penlink, Mill Road or any of the other big projects sitting in Auckland Transport’s future work programme) get in the way of funding these other projects.

But where I disagree with Joel is the extent to which the “new network infrastructure” outlined above really conflicts with funding CRL. Timing-wise, it seems that most of what’s listed above will be completed by 2016 or 2017. Almost by definition the projects have to be done by then in order to roll out the network successfully. No Otahuhu interchange means no new southern network, no Te Atatu bus interchange means no Western network rollout. These projects are top of the current priority list – with many funded in the 2014/15 Annual Plan (see page 198 of this document). Further there has been mention of the need for this investment in the draft Government Policy Statement.

GPS 2015 (draft) will enable:

  • completion of improvements to metro-rail services, integrated ticketing and public transport network changes intended to increase patronage, including transfer and interchange facilities
  • provision for targeted infrastructure improvements that improve transfer facilities across the network and address emerging bus capacity constraints in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

In contrast, we know that even if construction of the City Rail Link begins in 2016, the serious investment in its construction will be after 2017 once the main tunnelling and construction of the three new stations gets underway in earnest. Early construction – particularly for the section under Britomart and the Downtown Shopping Centre, is around $250m, leaving plenty of available funding for the new network infrastructure, given that Auckland Transport plan to spend $825 million on transport projects in the 2014/15 year by way of example.

Therefore it seems that there’s little conflict between successfully implementing the new bus network and building the CRL. Put simply, they’re two different things happening in different timeframes – bus stuff in the next 2-3 years and then CRL’s serious investment after that. I wish Joel would spent more of his time criticising the bigger risks for improving public transport in Auckland – like the limited PT funding available in the Government Policy Statement, the refusal by treasury to fund the Northern Busway extension to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor package, NZTA’s willful disregard of the need for a Northwest Busway, government blowing billions on unneeded state highways, the potentially over-sized East West Link project, the expensive and unnecessary Penlink project and many more.

Changes to the draft RPTP

In October last year, Auckland Transport released the draft version of the new Regional Public Transport Plan and it was nothing short of revolutionary. For the first time in who knows how many decades, the decision was made to finally tackle one of the biggest issues with the public transport system, our mess of a bus network. Our current bus network is a bit like someone took a handful of cooked spaghetti and threw it at a map. Many routes were slow and circuitous, making the unattractive. Even worse is many duplicated and competed against each other, or the rail lines, a sure fire way to waste money. To address this Auckland Transport conducted a ground up review of the network which sought to address the issues listed earlier. As a result of this they found they were able to vastly improve services across the entire region using exactly the same budget. Central to this new network are bus routes that run at a high all day frequency (at least one bus every 15 minutes, most of the day, 7 days a week) and the use of transfers to get around. The maps below what routes we would have as high frequency routes by 2016 if we stuck to the path we are on vs. what was proposed in the RPTP.

New Bus network vs BAU

Combined with this new bus network, the plan also deals with the introduction of our fantastic new electric trains, as well the roll out of integrated ticketing and fares. We are undergoing a substantial amount of change all of which is set to occur over the next three years. It’s fairly astonishing to think just how different things will by 2016 and I’m not aware of a single city in the entire world embarking on so much fundamental change to PT system over such a short period. Of course change always represents the unknown and so the consultation phases will naturally bring out people with concerns.

Auckland Transport have now released the results of the consultation and just like the scale of change being proposed, they are fairly astonishing. Often consultation phases only really bring out people really opposed to a proposal however perhaps the results are an indictment of just how bad things are at the moment and how much appetite there is for change. AT received over 700 submissions with around 100 of those choosing to appear before the hearings panel. Interestingly almost half of the personal submissions were pro-forma submissions from residents in Tuakau seeking both the extension of train services to their town and bus services to Port Waikato. Here is a breakdown of who submitted.

Submittors by type

Out of all of the submissions, 70% supported or strongly supported the new bus network which is extremely impressive.

Response to bus network

Support for moving to a simpler fare structure was also extremely high, once again at up around the 70% mark.

Response to fare structure

Crucially though, while most people supported a better fare structure, it appears that many weren’t exactly thrilled with the zonal system being proposed. This is an issue we raised a few times here and here. As such this has brought perhaps the biggest change to document with the hearings panel recommending that the proposal be removed completely from the plan. Instead AT are now going to do a full review of their options, something I don’t think is a bad idea at all.

The AT board endorsed the changes at their March board meeting and I believe that the plan will formally be adopted after changes to the Land Transport Management Act go through parliament later this year.  With the acceptance of the new bus network this means that they can now start working on the roll out and detailed consultation needed for that. It is perhaps at this stage where they will really draw out the people unhappy with change so I hope they are really on their game. The first area to see change will be the south later this year.

Network Rollout

Lastly, congratulations to everyone at AT who worked on the RPTP. It’s fantastic that you bold enough to propose these changes and they will make for a much better PT network in the coming years.

Details from the IPENZ presentation

While unfortunately Stu was a bit late getting us the notification for the IPENZ discussion on the new PT network, he has managed to get us a copy of the presentation that was given (and thank to AT for allowing it). A decent proportion of the presentation seems to have been stuff that regular readers of the blog will already know quite well like the proposed new bus network. There is however some new information that I think give a bit more insight on how things will work in the city centre and what is needed make transfers easier at places where a full bus interchange would be overkill.

First up the city centre where the presentation notes:

Need for buses within the City Centre remains – but the new plan will reduce their impact and improve reliability by:

  1. Concentrating services on fewer streets – resulting in better transport outcomes for all modes
  2. Reducing bus turning movements – e.g. removing left turn movements from Wellesley into Queen
  3. Through routing services (where possible) – e.g. Takapuna to Onehunga and GNR to Tamaki Drive
  4. Terminating services on edges of City Centre – e.g. Victoria Park and University, less so Britomart

And here is a map of how the services will use the city centre

As you can pretty clearly see, buses are largely focused on a couple of key corridors through the CBD with North-Nouth buses via Symonds and Albert Streets and East-West going Wellesley and Fanshawe/Customs Streets. Doing this should allow for AT to focus the needed infrastructure in a few key places rather having to spread it around the all of the streets. There is also a lot less terminating routes in the CBD which is nice as there is nothing worse than seeing fleets of buses parked up for a long time waiting to start their next run.

The other thing I found interesting about the presentation was the integration that will be needed for on street bus to allow for easy transfers out in the suburbs. The example used is the intersection of Balmoral Rd and Mt Eden Rd, both of which have a high frequency corridor along them. As the image shows, the transfer between bus stops is quite frankly horrific.

But as a comparison, here is what is done in Toronto at the intersection of two similarly wide streets (Keele and Wilson).

The stops are put as close to each other as possible on each corner which means there is a good chance that you may not need to cross a road at all and only have to walk a short distance to transfer between lines. At ground level you can see just how close these stops are along with how easy it is to get between them.

Making it easy to transfer between buses (and other PT modes) is something that will be essential to making the new bus network work. I also like the idea in the top photo of having a little park/plaza on the corner and if I was a developer I would think it would be great to have a building opening out on to it along with a good flow of of pedestrians transferring. Hopefully we see a lot of these types of stops coming in soon after the network is rolled out and in many cases we may be able to do so quickly by using the space currently dedicated to things like slip lanes.

Fairer fare zones

One of the most discussed parts of the draft Regional Public Transport Plan seems to have turned out to be the proposed fare zone map. My fellow bloggers Mr Anderson and Stu Donovan discussed the zones in previous posts, while today’s NZ Herald also quotes Labour MP Phil Twyford’s criticism of the proposed boundaries.

A draft published by Auckland Transport for public discussion shows eight travel zones proposed for introduction between the middle of next year and the end of 2014.

Unless the plan is radically overhauled after submissions on the regional public transport plan close on November 5, passengers will be able to travel to central Auckland from as far north as Long Bay for a two-zone fare, at a price yet to be determined.

But it will cost a three-zone fare to travel from anywhere west of New Lynn or south of Onehunga or Otahuhu, despite New Lynn and Onehunga being 10km from the city centre, compared with 20km from Long Bay to downtown.

Mr Twyford, Labour’s transport spokesman, said that was blatantly unfair on low-income working families in his area and South Auckland who relied on public transport.

“It looks like the public transport map for Alabama, 1955.

“The parts of West Auckland I represent are probably the worst served by public transport of any area in Auckland City. I don’t believe they should be disadvantaged in this way.”

Mr Twyford’s analogy is a bit excessive, but looking at the zone map he does have a bit of a point about the North Shore doing unreasonably well out of the proposed boundaries:Long Bay, Kumeu, Whitford and Manukau all roughly fall about 20 kilometres from downtown. Yet the zones they fall within are very very different:

  • A trip from Long Bay to the city would only be two zones
  • A trip from Whitford or Kumeu to the city would be four zones
  • A trip from Manukau to the city would be three zones

The other anomaly in the zone map is, I think, the huge southern zone. Does it really make sense for trips between Mangere and the city (barely 10km) to be charged the same as a trip from Drury to the city (over 30km)? I don’t really think so. While huge zones have a potential advantage in that you can take quite a long trip for the price of a single zone, they will inevitably mean a fairly high price per zone travelled through. With the large zones above I can’t see this system stacking up with prices of much lower than $2.50 for each zone you travel through – which would mean some pretty whopping costs for people outside the isthmus to the west and the south. Smaller zones seem likely to result in a lower charge “per zone” and therefore probably less change from the current fare levels.

For a start, let’s split that northern zone into an upper and a lower zone. For simplicity’s sake let’s just use the current boundary for the Northern Pass
The logical place to split the southern boundary is at Manukau City, with a bit of a “grey boundary” across a band east and west of there to ensure short trips don’t fall into the cost of a two zone ticket.

That leaves us with something like this:

There would be some other implications for outer areas:

  • The outer north would fall into the same zone as the outer west as both would be 4 zones from the city. This cleans up a fairly odd anomaly in the current maps.
  • Whitford and Maraetai would probably fall into the “four zones from city” zone along with Manurewa, Papakura etc.
  • Pukekohe would probably now be five zones from the city, which makes sense as it’s similar in distance from the city as Warkworth (which actually gets a bus service in the RPTP and also would sensibly be five zones from the city)

I think that altogether this would make for a fairer system and probably result in lower “per zone” fare charges and less change from current fare levels. The only other possible question is whether the isthmus should be split into an eastern zone and a western zone to further lower the cost of each zone’s travel.

Improving our Farebox Recovery

Whether you support improved public transport or not, one thing that everyone probably agrees on is that we need to improve the efficiency of our PT services, particularly in regards to the level of subsidies required. Long time readers of the blog may remember a policy change the NZTA made a while ago called the Farebox Recovery Policy which set an arbitrary limit as to the amount of operating costs that need to be paid for by passengers. That limit was set at 50% and didn’t really seem to have been set based on any evidence but rather seems more like it has been set at that level for political reasons. Agree with the policy or not, it is now a requirement that Auckland has to meet it so I was wondering just how much impact the draft RPTP would have on us doing so. Thankfully the plan has an appendix dedicated exactly to that for us to look at (appendix 4, starting at page 115).

The definitions of costs and revenues used to calculate FRR are set out in NZTA policy guidelines. Some costs, such as rail rolling stock capital servicing charges, station and bus stop facilities maintenance, and the Total Mobility scheme, are not included. Costs associated with providing passenger information, planning, and contract administration are also excluded.
Using these definitions and NZTA funding claims, the Auckland FRR was calculated at 44.3 per cent for 2011/12. This takes account of the true operating costs for rail in Auckland, including rail track access charges and rail rolling stock maintenance costs. The 2011/12 FRR was used as the starting point for the development of FRR targets in this RPTP.

At 44.3% it suggests that on average fares would need to be about 13% higher with the same level of patronage however Auckland already has what is considered one of the highest costs per km out of many of the cities we compare ourselves to.

Increasing fares further would potentially also have the negative impact of reducing patronage making things worse still and this seems to be the path that Brisbane is taking as they have been increasing fares are a rate of about 18% per annum and people are starting to stop using services as a result.

The other alternatives are to grow patronage or reduce costs and thankfully that seems to be exactly the path we are taking. Based on the current costs patronage would need to be about 13% higher than it is today assuming that our costs stayed the same. I think that not only can we achieve that, but probably greatly exceed it. Over the next few years we will see our PT network become a lot more attractive and efficient for a number of reasons, here are some of the big ones:

  • The bus network will become a lot more efficient with the proposed new network which uses exactly the same number of buses and vehicle kilometres to achieve a much more extensive high frequency network.
  • The new PTOM contracting environment should mean that Auckland Transport is able to to have much better control over bus operating costs (a post with more detail about this will be up in the next few days).
  • The full rollout of the HOP card should help to make PT trips easier and even buses faster due to quicker dwell times which should help to make them more attractive.
  • The new fare structure will contribute to making the PT system more attractive and should be revenue netural
  • The electrification of the rail system will improve operating costs, make it more attractive and drive a lot of additional new patronage.

Auckland transport have investigated the impacts of these and other options to determine if we will meet the requirements and here is what they say:

To explore these issues, a number of alternative scenarios (involving fare increases, cost reductions, and service improvements) were evaluated and then provided to the Auckland Transport Board in May 2012.
The evaluation suggests that it is possible to achieve a 50 per cent FRR within the next three years without damaging the recent momentum in patronage growth. In the short-term, however, the policy will need to focus on ensuring that the FRR does not fall below current levels. This should be achieved by continuing to regularly review operating costs and fare levels, increasing fares (where necessary) by at least the rate of inflation, and achieving savings in unit operating costs through improved efficiencies – such as savings from implementation of the PTOM.

Beyond this period, a target FRR of 50 per cent or better should be achievable, provided that continued cost savings and patronage growth associated with rail electrification and service improvements can be delivered, and fare levels continue to keep pace with operating costs.

So with only fare increases at the rate of inflation, not only are we expected to meet the policy but it is quite possible that will will exceed it. They also break down how they expect the recovery rates to change by mode and as you can see the biggest mover is the rail network which sees its recovery rate improve by 50-70% due to the improved costs and increased patronage brought about by electrification.

I actually think AT have tend to be over conservative with their projections on patronage so I suspect that we will not only meet the 50% target but well exceed it. That would then allow for more money to be spent on further improving the services we provide helping to reach our target of doubling PT usage over then next decade. In some ways we lucky that we are in the position where we will see these vast improvements that means we can avoid things like fare increases although I’m sure we can all agree that pretty much all of the projects should have been done a long time ago.

Does Brian Rudman need some new glasses?

It might be time for Brian Rudman to get some new glasses as in his latest piece he seems to have been confused by various route maps in the draft Regional Public Transport Plan.

What is alarming is the fate of Queen St, which in 2007 got a $40 million makeover, complete with nikau palms and Chinese granite paving. It is now marked as “Rapid Transit”. Presumably that means a busway rather than railway – the proposed tunnel to run further west under Albert St.

The golden shopping mile is also identified as part of the “frequent service network”. Seeking definitions, we’re told “rapid services … have exclusive access to their own rights of way along high-density corridors”.

As for “frequent services”, the draft explains “the core element of the new system will be the frequent service network which will provide all-day high- frequency services at least every 15 minutes”.

In other words, Queen St, including Queen Elizabeth Square, is being identified as having an exclusive busway inserted into it.

To be honest I’m not entirely sure where he gets the idea from that Queen St will become a busway as there is nothing I can find in the plan to suggest that being the case. There is only one service listed as using Queen St and that is the City Link, the same as what we have now. There are only two reasons I can think of as to why Rudman suggests that there is a busway plan for Queen St. The first is that due to maps needing to be big enough to cover the city that it appears that routes in the CBD are on Queen St when in fact they are on neighbouring streets as in the map below

The second option is that perhaps he has confused the Britomart interchange symbol as being an RTN route, here is a close up of the schematic map.

Either way it is incorrect that there are plans for a busway along Queen St and the appendix of routes (page 65) confirms this. The very reason buses were moved off there in the first place is that it takes them about the same amount of time to get from Britomart to Aotea Square as it does walking due to the number of lights that are prioritised for pedestrians (as they should be on this street). However while he is wrong about a busway along Queen St, he is correct about the need for the CRL due to the number of buses that will eventually be in the CBD, he had this to say:

For anyone who doubts the need for the inner-city rail tunnel, this draft public transport plan is the document to change your mind.

The plan is to increase the percentage of peak period trips to the central city by public transport from the current 47 per cent to 55 per cent by 2022 and 70 per cent by 2040.

Overall, it’s planned to double public transport trips citywide from 70 million to 140 million in the next 10 years.

Of course not all of those extra commuters will end up in the CBD, but without increased capacity on the trains – the loop will double the number of trains able to use the downtown Britomart station – the vast majority of those who do will have to squeeze into buses to get there.

If you think parts of downtown are unpleasant places in peak hours because of noisy, diesel-belching buses, imagine double the number in the same space.

The reality is, there are only so many buses and cars that can fit on to the streets of the city. When the government rejected the business case for the CRL the former minister of transport asked a series of questions that he wanted AT/AC to answer. The biggest of these was a ‘multimodal evaluation of need for improved access to city centre’ and that spawned the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The CCFAS should answer just how many buses and cars we will be able to get in and around the city is being completed in conjunction with the NZTA, Ministry of Transport and Treasury so we should hopefully get a fairly strong consensus around this.

My understanding is that the initial phases showed a clear need to improve access to the city centre and then moved on to look at a wide variety of options how that could be done. An update to the transport committee last week said that the options had been narrowed down to just three that are now being analysed more closely. Incidentally these happen to be the same options looked at in the original CRL business case and are the CRL, a bus tunnel or more buses on the surface. A draft version of the completed study is meant to be finished this month with the final version going to the government along with the final versions to the other questions they asked in November. It will be good to get an answer once and for all on just how many buses the city can handle.

An RPTP Storm in a Tea Cup

It seems that every plan has something that gets people up in arms but that in the end turns out to be a bit of a storm in a teacup and for the draft Regional Public Transport Plan it seems that issue has been found.

The issue is around the Super Gold card and what will happen after the new fare structure is brought in. Here are the paragraphs that have got people worried.

The existing fares system in Auckland provides fare concessions for specific target groups. These will be retained during the AIFS transition period.
When integrated ticketing is in place, a review of concession levels and eligibility is proposed, including a possible change to SuperGold card use during the evening peak period (this is not available outside of Auckland) and tertiary discounts (these are often unavailable outside Auckland).
NZTA has sought a review of the evening peak senior concession with a view to its removal, on the grounds that it is nationally inconsistent and unaffordable

It’s unfortunate that any suggestion to change to policies like the SuperGold card kicks up such a storm. All that the plan is really saying is that the existing concession that Auckland currently gives will be reviewed and personally I think that is completely fair. Reviewing all of the various concessions should happen at the same time as regular fares are reviewed. My view is that in the off peak, when there tends to be plenty of spare seats, the perk isn’t such an issue but at peak times our trains and buses are often packed full of people so it really makes no sense to be giving anyone free travel during those times. Mike Lee has said that part of the reason Auckland rolled out the free off peak travel was due to bureaucratic difficulties but I assume that many of these should be resolved with the introduction of the HOP card so why not review the decision again.

Speaking of HOP and SuperGold, surely once the roll out is complete it would be ideal to combine the two cards. It wouldn’t be difficult to print the super gold logo on the cards and could make it easier for the elderly to use them as currently they will have to go to a machine and purchase a ticket using it. Going further I hope that there is eventually a review of how the scheme actually works, at least within Auckland. The proposed fare boundaries cover quite a large area and I feel that consideration should be made to retaining the free travel within the proposed zones but that travel outside of the zones, even outside of peak should perhaps be charged. Doing this would still allow elderly to retain mobility within their communities but prevent issues like what was found to occur with the ferries where people were using the perk for free cruises of the harbour. With the combination of the HOP card it should be very simple to manage.

Of course no matter how good any suggestion is (and I’m not saying mine is necessarily the best), this particular topic more than most is something that will be decided by the politicians and not the NZTA or AT. I really can’t see any politician standing up to the likes of grey power to argue for changes that would limit the use of the card.

Showing the benefits of the new PT network

I love the proposed new PT network that Auckland Transport has announced but if there is one Achilles heel to it, it is that the general public might not comprehend just how much of an improvement the network is. People get very attached to their specific routes so anything that suggest changes to that can cause people to become concerned and opposed. What is often not realised is how much the new network opens up the possibility of new trips to places around the region using PT, by this I mean that people might consider using PT to get to work but not to a friends house or to an event they might regularly attend.

This issue is greatly helped by the metro style PT map that AT have put out but I do wonder if they could go a little further to really highlight the difference. The great thing is that a tool already exists that they could use to show this change, all it would require is a little bit of tweaking. The tool is something we have covered before and is called Mapnificent. What it does is use the PT timetable data that Auckland Transport provides to google to work out how far you could get from a set location within a certain time frame. There are also a lot of other really cool features of the tool which are explained in the video from the developer below:

What’s great is that Mapnificent already works for Auckland. Here is how far you can get from Britomart within 25 minutes, notice the distance achieved with the Southern/Eastern lines and the Northern Express. The marker can be moved to any spot in the city and will adjust it self from there while a slider lets you change the time frame.

It might require some modification but a tool like this showing just how far people can get from a set location with both the new and old networks could be invaluable in highlight just how much more connectivity this new network would deliver. AT have already worked out what the frequencies of the new network will be at peak/off peak times so I imagine it shouldn’t be that hard to turn that into a timetable that could be feed into this. I really think that this could be an absolutely great tool for them to use to show just how much impact this new network will have, especially for trips that don’t begin or end in the CBD. So how about it AT?

Thinking about fare zones

One of the most interesting piece of information in the Draft Regional Public Transport Plan – along with the fabulous new bus network – is a first look at the possible zone boundaries for Auckland’s new integrated fares system. This is shown in the map below:
Setting zone boundaries and coming up with the preferred number of zones must be one heck of a difficult task as there are so many things to balance:

  • The fewer zones you have, the easier the system is to understand
  • The more zones you have, the less likely fares will change much from their current level and the lower chances there are of massive arbitrary jumps in fares
  • The lower the fare is for each zone, the less farebox recovery there will be
  • The higher the fare is, the more people who will be put off catching PT by the cost

Auckland does have the advantage of a natural geography which splits the city relatively neatly into different parts. The west, south and east of the isthmus all touch pretty close to a 10 kilometre radius from the city centre – forming a natural boundary between a second a third fare zone.

Probably the thing which stands out the most in the draft zone map is how the upper North Shore falls within an area two zones from the city, even though it’s well beyond the 10 km radius from downtown. While that’s a great deal for those people, that seems as though it would be likely to come at the cost of higher fares for everyone else. A similar argument could be made for the southern part of the south zone – although there’s potentially a more valid socio-economic argument for trying to keep that area within a three-zone ride of the city. We get a few weird outcomes from what’s proposed:

  • Should Orewa really be the same number of zones from the city as Mangere?
  • Should Albany really be the same number of zones from the city as Pt Chevalier or Orakei?
  • Should the south zone really be quite so massive – Bucklands Beach to Papakura all within one zone seems potentially a little bit generous?

As I said, getting the zones right is an almost impossible task and there will always be winners and losers. I think most of the proposed zone map makes excellent sense (a city zone, an isthmus zone, a west zone etc.) just there are a few little changes that could probably make it a bit fairer.