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How genuine are the supposed “bus fans”?

Rodney Hide’s opinion piece in the Herald on Sunday highlighted an issue that’s been bugging me for some time – whether those opposing the City Rail Link on the grounds that “buses can do the job fine” are really interested in improving Auckland’s bus system or not. Here’s what he says about his preference for buses:

It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.

Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.

Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.

John Roughan made a similar cry in favour of buses in the Saturday Herald:

The crossing would have to be under water and probably it would be connected to the northern busway that one day conceivably could be converted to a railway, but that, too, is a solution looking for a problem.

The busway, like the bridge, is fine.

The problem lies in roads closer to home. By car it can take as long to get on to the motorway as it takes for the rest of the journey. By bus it takes too long to get to a busway station. Once on the busway, you can be in the city in eight minutes.

In fact, the North Shore is probably better served by the busway than the rest of Auckland is by its railways, which also have to be reached by bus or car from most people’s homes.

The only reason the mayor invokes rail for the Shore is to answer its ratepayers when they ask why they should help pay for a project that isn’t coming their way. It’s a silly answer to a silly question but this is election year.

Russell Brown from Public Address notes the great irony of John Roughan now being a huge fan of the busway when he absolutely hated the idea back in 2007. I guess we chalk that up as someone won over – or should we?

The simple fact is that all these supposed bus fans have done diddly squat to actually encourage the improvement of Auckland’s bus system. I can’t exactly remember Rodney Hide out there campaigning to save the Remuera Road bus lane from turning back into a T3 lane. Or John Roughan supporting the implementation of the HOP Card – he pumped for Snapper back in 2009 and didn’t that end well?

As for the cabal of local councillors, Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. They frequently like to grandstand against the CRL claiming it is sucking up all of the money for PT, like in this article from 6 months ago.

Mr Quax said the rail project made little sense because it would gobble up 80 per cent of the public transport capital budget over the next 10 years when much-needed bus lanes and ferry terminals received a “paltry” 20 per cent.

They use this line quite frequently these days, despite their numbers actually being wrong – the PT capex budget for the next decade is ~$4b and the inflated CRL price is $2.86b, or 72% of the budget. Despite this, I haven’t exactly seen George Wood talking much about the stalled progress of extending the Northern Busway to Albany, or Dick Quax wanting to see the AMETI busway’s construction schedule sped up. In fact I don’t think I have seen any one of them suggest where a single metre of bus lane should be added or where they think new ferry services should operate from. Yesterday in response to the alternative funding proposals, they once again made vague comments without giving any detail.

I have a nasty feeling that when rail opponents say they support buses they’re actually not quite telling the truth. They realise  it’s not viable for them politically (or practically) to dismiss public transport out of hand anymore – so they pretend to support buses on the spurious grounds of “buses need roads too” – when in actual fact they’re just mainly interested in spending as little as possible on public transport so all the money can go back into roads.

So next time someone plays the “buses are better than trains” card, I suggest asking them “so what have YOU specifically done to try and improve Auckland’s bus system recently?” Or “I look forward to your support for introducing bus lanes along desperately needed routes like Great North Road in Waterview, Manukau Road, Pakuranga Road, Onewa Road (uphill) and in many other places”. Then let’s see how deep their love affair with the bus really is.

Misinformation continues about the CRL

Last week I wrote a post about how we need to stop underselling major PT projects like the CRL. I was – and still am – frustrated at the lack of useful information being put out by Auckland Transport that can be used to clearly show the benefits of them.

One thing that really frustrates me about public transport projects is the tendency of both our official agencies and many supporters to completely undersell the benefits of them. Auckland Transport is a frequent offender of this and I think that the main problem is that they are a bit gun shy. They are too scared to talk about specific benefits of the project, in particular the parts that really matter to the general public. It is seemingly out of fear that they might not meet those objectives at some point in the distant future, or that plans may change. But by taking this approach they often lose out on much of the impact that they could otherwise achieve.

To make matters worse, even those that support the project often don’t seem to grasp the transformational nature of the project and also undersell it. My post last week was aimed at statements from both the Greens and Labour in support of the CRL which has helped reignite the debate in the public. But without good information in the public domain, it is very easy for wrong or misleading information to spread, especially when it is pushed in the mainstream media.  I’m guessing that the Greens Reconnect Auckland campaign is what has triggered off the latest bout of CRL related news stories.

On Friday Campbell Live ran a story about the CRL. I will start by saying it was actually a lot better than most that we get however there were still some glaring mistakes. I’m just going to list my comments about both the good and the bad parts. Click on the image to view the video.

Cambell Live 26 April 2013

  • The old man at 1:40 makes some very good points worth remembering in this debate, that we need to be thinking about the future and the primary one being that Auckland is a growing city. Even using Statistics NZ most recent projections, under the medium growth scenario there will be roughly another 500,000 people living in the region by 2031 bringing the total up to roughly 2 million people. Those extra people are going to place a lot of pressure on our existing transport infrastructure.
  • I really had to laugh at the young guy at 1:50 who says he never uses PT, partly because it costs money so he prefers to drive a car. I wonder how much he paid to park his car in the city, let along the costs of running it?
  • At 3:00, why does Len continue to use the future inflation adjusted price instead of what it costs today? Also remember that the $2.86 billion figure includes a whole raft of other projects like duplicating the Onehunga Line, extra trains and grade separating some level crossings. It does seem that he is about to say something else that might have been cut though.
  • At 3:15, the Puhoi to Wellsford road is currently budgeted at $1.7 billion but from memory that is in 2009 dollars. Comparing the 2009 cost of that road – for which the shorter and easier section alone is now costing $1 billion – with the 2021 cost of the CRL is hardly a fair comparison.
  • At 4:00, perhaps the most shocking error on the entire report. It is suggested that there are only 4 trains per hour on the network and that the CRL will increase that to 7. Where the hell does that information even come from. As pointed out in my post last week, the CRL enables us to run a train on each line every 5 minutes, that’s 12 per hour per direction and totals 48 trains per hour heading through the CRL, one in each direction every couple of minutes.
  • At 6:00, Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett talks about how he wants the Wellington to region to receive a share of funding equal to its population. What he is obviously not aware of is that historically Wellington on a per capita basis has had a much greater share than Auckland. Auckland has historically, and continues to receive less funding that it provides in taxes. He also raises the point that Wellington has been waiting decades for Transmission Gully. If he thinks projects should be funded based on how long they have been proposed then the CRL still wins as it was first mooted in the 1920s and was the reason the main train station was moved out of the CBD in the first place. Further if we were to base transport spending on the expected percentage of growth over the next 20 years, for Wellington to get Transmission Gully, Auckland would need to get around $18 billion to receive a similar level of investment.

Then there was yesterday’s opinion piece by Rodney Hide on the CRL. I’m not going to cover it again as I did that yesterday but am going to talk about some of the comments in response to it. Unfortunately reading comments on Herald opinion pieces is often a hair pulling exercise but can be useful to see what misinformation exists out in the general public. So here is a selection.

Waterfront (West Auckland)
08:59 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
It’s like the inner city rail link.
What a complete waste of money. How do people get to and leave mt Eden for this proposed train line. There is no parking planned at mt Eden so how do people get there from outer suburbs? Walk?
More buses before trains.

h m
09:01 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Trains going round and round the CBD doesn’t help me nor anyone I know get to work.
I was working in Albany and living in Henderson.
Or, try going from Henderson to Carbine Rd.
Or, Waiuku to Henderson – like my son.

edd
12:50 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Who benifits from inner city rail. Not the suburban rate payers; it’s the inner city rate payers that get all the goodies, that contribute most to all the grid lock. Why not wack up comercial rates on the CBD to fund the project. The nat’s have their corporate taxes so low right now that they can well afford it

Clearly these people have the impression that the project is just about building a line that goes around in circles around the CBD, not a link that will improve the entire existing rail network and allow for it to be expanded. AT really need to get a map out showing how the rail network will operate after the CRL including how the lines will through route allowing for a range of trips.

MikeyB (New Zealand)
09:01 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
And the rail lopp will only allow three more trains in per hour.
I wouldnt be surprised if those at AT were getting back handers from the involved construction companies

The first part of this comment obviously came straight from the Campbell Live piece and highlights how important it is that AT gets information out about how many trains we will actually have on the lines.

Silver Fox (East Tamaki)
09:07 AM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Very good points Rodney. The rail enthusiasts are dreamers, mostly without common sense. Let them pay the real cost of transporting them by rail. As for transporting goods by rail, another dream. Do they ever consider how the goods are to get to and from the rail head and the heaps of vehicles sitting there for hours on end to pick goods up, that is after the paperwork to actually find the goods. NZ rail eventually put articulated trucks on the road in the 50′s to speed up goods cartage.

Ahh, the old chestnut of making train users pay for the upgrades themselves. Why is it that people continue to think that roads magically cover all of their costs? The reality is they don’t and huge amounts of money spent on them every year comes from sources other than fuel taxes.

Colin126
12:37 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Rather than plowing even more money into public transport there should be money spent promoting the benefits of telecommuting. That is having more people working from home.

If more people did this then this would go along way toward reducing the need for people to travel into work at peak traffic times. Choosing instead to either travel to work only when they have meetings that cannot be conducted online or stay at home and conduct their work affairs from there.

If more and more business adopted telecommuting as an option I am sure that over time the pressure on our transport system would ease quite significantly.

Many businesses now allow staff to work from home yet it makes very little impact. One of the huge benefits to working in an office with other staff is the ability to bounce ideas around much quicker and easier than is possible if everyone is in remote locations. This can have huge benefits for businesses.

Therecanbeonlyone (Auckland Region)
12:38 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
(in response to the first comment talked about)

Kind of agree will you on this, trains in Auckland have a limited operational area. There are no train tracks over the shore, or out east. Buses are the only option for these areas. Maybe the money would be better spend on dedicated bus lanes (like over the shore) or dedicated bus roads (like Crafton bridge).

How I believe there is a place for trains in the public transport plan, where they are integrated with buses. Apart from the Papakura, Manuwera & Homai stations, I have not seen many other train stations that have a regular bus service near them. Perhaps the buses could transport commuters to the nearest train station and the trains could carry them from there

Yes trains have a limited area of coverage and that is being expanded on by the RPTP which was adopted by Auckland Transport. While AT has stated this as part of the RPTP, perhaps they need to mention this in any material relating to the CRL as well.

phil lindsay (Queensland)
12:41 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Developing effective rail in Auckland requires lane acquisition of land for tracks and parking. Auckland is not laid out for rail, more so because rail has not been developed over the years.

However extensive work has been done to develop its road net work. Therefore it is logical, and has been for decades, to develop of comprehensive bus network linking suburbs to each other and to the city.

This would require land for stations only. An intelligent city will work to its strengths, it does not mindlessly follow other cities. I have never understood why Auckland did away with its central station when it did, poor money into Britomart, and for decades has failed to develop the obvious.

If you build it they will come. If there is an effective bus service linking suburbs and the city it will be used, but it has to be put in place first.

This seems to ignore the issue that there is only so much space on the roads to handle buses, especially in the central city which is why the CCFAS found the CRL was the best long term option. It also ignores that the rail network had/has been sitting as a vastly underutilised resource. The CRL is about maximising that resource rather than having it sitting around just for a few freight trains.

And I will end on this one.

DBD (Dannemora)
02:56 PM Sunday, 28 Apr 2013
Will never bother with the trains and can’t be bothered with buses either.

My plan is to wait till a lot of other people do, they the roads I drive on should be less clogged which is better for those of us that need our cars to get around for convenience and comfort.

At the end of the day, a lot of people will still drive and that is completely fine as people shouldn’t be forced to use trains or buses. As this person notes, their drive will likely be made easier thanks to the investment.

What all of these comments really confirm to me is that Auckland Transport need to be working to get some good, clear information out about the project so that people can properly understand it.

Rodney Hide on the CRL

What is it about right wing politicians in this country and a seemingly irrational fear of trains? Rodney Hide has written his weekly column on the City Rail Link and the two most recent reports, the 2010 business case and the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study.

It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.

Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.

Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.

Nonetheless, Auckland Transport has produced the Auckland CBD Rail Link Business Case (2010) and the City Centre Future Access Study (2012), both saying rail is more cost-effective.

So it seems Rodney admits he has a mode bias simply because he doesn’t understand how trains work, hell you could almost take from his argument that he thinks we are the first city in the world to think about moving people by rail. He then goes on to talk about trying to get more information on the two reports.

My research led me to Wellingtonian Tony Randle, who spent months trying to get the analysis underpinning the 2010 Rail Business Case, succeeding only after a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Once Tony got hold of the analysis he found:

1. Basic spreadsheet errors. The spreadsheet fails to calculate the running costs of the second purchase of 26 trains. That ignores $689 million on the train option.

2. Incorrect exclusion of costs from the rail option. The study excludes the necessary funding to extend the Northern Busway into the city centre. Building this access is a necessary part of the rail option.

3. Addition of a second bus tunnel without explanation, adding hundreds of millions to the bus option.

4. Unreasonable assumptions, including a prediction that under the rail option, present bus capacity into the city centre will carry another 20,000 passengers a day without any new bus lanes or busways.

The errors and poor assumptions total $1.5 billion. The bias is systematic; each and every mistake favours rail over buses. Correcting for the errors reverses the study’s conclusions and shows the CBD bus tunnel more cost-effective than the City Rail Link.

As soon as Tony Randle’s name popped up I knew that a derailment was imminent. We have looked at Tony’s report in the past and it is full of misinformation and his personal opinion on issues. For example why is extending the Northern Busway required for the CRL? it was required for the bus tunnel option because of the number of buses that would have been fed through the bus tunnel and over the shore. With the CRL, we only need to feed buses to the shore that actually need to go there. There are similar issues with the additional of the second bus tunnel. Tony seems to think we can get away with only one lane each way, however it simply wouldn’t have been enough for the number of buses that would have needed to be fed through the tunnel. It also creates the same issue that Rodney raised at the start as no buses would have been able to pass each other. It’s also worth pointing out that Tony is, or at least has at some point been a member of the Bus and Coach Association, the organisation that among other things lists this as one of their objectives “Promote the use of road passenger transport as a valuable resource.”

In saying this, there were definitely a number of errors in the original business case which is what lead to the CCFAS and that is what Rodney looked at next.

Last December, Auckland Transport released a second report. City Centre Future Access Study also concludes that the city rail link beats the two bus options considered, but now for different reasons to the first report. And, once again, Auckland Transport published the study without the underpinning analysis.

I followed Randle’s lead and requested the spreadsheets and the relevant model output reports. Auckland Transport has refused to supply them to me.

Its latest is a lawyer’s letter explaining that Auckland Transport will provide what I want but only if I pay them $3850.

Oh, and they won’t send me the spreadsheets.

What Rodney either fails to realise, or at least fails to explain is that it wasn’t just Auckland Transport who worked on the CCFAS but also the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Treasury. Further all agreed that the CRL was the best option as surface bus improvements alone were not viable over the long term due to the sheer number of buses that would be needed which also had the effect of making things really bad for cars. A bus tunnel, like Tony prefers was found to have cost more and move less people than the other options. As many of you will know, some route already seem to have decent amounts of bus congestion even when bus lanes are in place.

Bus Congestion

What’s more we have since learnt that there are significant problems with the modelling that even the MoT admit, are likely to overestimate car trips and underestimate the number of trips via PT. I do agree that where possible AT should be releasing the information behind the numbers however we also need to be aware that most of the figures coming out of the modelling are likely to need a lot of explanation as otherwise they could be very open to interpretation.

Once again we now have the various agencies involved agreeing that that the CRL is the best long term option, where they disagree now is on the timing. Auckland Transport are now working on a new business case that will hopefully address the issues raised in the two earlier reports. This also shouldn’t be a mode discussion. There isn’t one silver bullet that will solve Auckland’s Transport issues, we need a combination of improved road, bus and rail to really make this city work and arguing of the merits of one specific project for one mode has the potential to keep us locked into the same cycle that has gotten us into the mess we are in.

Rodney Hide redux

It’s amazing what happens when you only look at one element of planning and then slap your own anti-urban ideology on top of it. Let’s just change a few things in Rodney Hide’s column today:

There are many reasons why Auckland house prices are high. A lack of tax isn’t one of them.

One reason is that Auckland councils have for years run a deliberate policy to hike house prices. The council doesn’t put it that bluntly, calling it “protecting amenity” or a “allowing for the kiwi dream“. But the policy works by hiking house prices.

The policy’s purpose is to get us to live in huge houses on the edge of the city. That way we will be more likely to drive and the mountains of cash that councils have sunk into road and motorways over the years won’t look such a waste.

And so Aucklanders are priced out of the housing market. The council forces us to build huge houses by limiting development density through a wide variety of planning rules. It’s a double whammy. The roads burn through ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ cash. Plus the “push-the-roads” policy prices Aucklanders out of the housing market.

The policy works by the council imposing a huge number of planning rules which limit density: height limits, density controls, yard controls, setback requirements, single-use rules and so forth. In the places where people most want to live and where prices are increasing the fastest, the planning rules actively stop the construction of more housing. It’s the planning rules that make building apartments, terraced houses and townhouses in the inner suburbs so difficult.

It’s said that the housing market isn’t working. Actually, it’s working perfectly. The council is artificially holding down the development potential of land in the inner suburbs and people are bidding up the price of the precious little that is available. That’s how a market works when there is a shortage.

The result is easily seen. Average section prices in New Zealand account for 40 per cent of the cost of a new house. In Auckland it’s 60 per cent. There’s a 20 per cent council planning tax on Auckland houses.

It’s not hard to make houses more affordable in Auckland. Just loosen the rules. The one part of Auckland where apartments have been allowed fairly easily over the past decade, the city centre, is the one part of Auckland without a shortage of affordable housing.

Unlock the planning rulebook and house prices would tumble. At the very least, the heat would be taken out of the market. Auckland families and couples would once again be able to afford a house. But the council is heading in the opposite direction.

The Auckland Plan is to sprawl 40% of the predicted extra one million Aucklanders beyond the planning fence. Sprawling them out means huge environmental effects and billions of dollars spent on infrastructure to enable development in places where people actually aren’t so keen on living.

The plan is to spread urban development across a vast tract of Auckland’s most highly productive soils to the south and northwest, destroying fragile ecosystems and requiring the construction of vastly expensive new infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants, motorways, hospitals, schools and so on. That sprawl is only going to occur by limiting the potential for intensification and pushing house prices even higher. That’s why couples and young families can’t afford a house. The council doesn’t want them to live in a apartments or terraced houses near train stations, but in giant houses on the urban periphery.

It’s not like there aren’t options: 93 per cent of Aucklanders quite happily live within the Auckland urban area. But the area within the fence is less than 12 per cent of the council’s land area. Auckland’s people density is apparently not high enough for the government to invest in public transport, even though it is twice the density of Brisbane or Perth

Auckland is packed tight like an old European city as people want to live in the inner suburbs. The council’s aim is to sprawl us out like Atlanta or Houston.

There’s a reason for high house prices. It’s us. We have been voting for years for councils promising trains, “smart growth” and a “compact” city. Despite this, our planners continue to promote sprawl and the government refuses to invest in public transport. This is why young families and couples can’t afford a house.

It’s our votes that are doing it. It’s that simple.

Much better.