This is a Guest Post by regular reader Warren Sanderson
Gothenburg, Hanover, and Hamburg
What do these three cities have in common?
- In my view a real “sense of place”.
- Very efficient public transport systems
- They all had my wife and me as visitors in the month of July. We spent roughly a week reacquainting ourselves with each of these cities during our recent journey to the Baltic countries and northern Germany. For the record, not once in the six weeks we were away and touching eight northern European countries, did we travel in a private motor car. This was independent travel and our modes were bus, train, boat, river ferry boat, light rail, taxi (twice) and lots of walking.
Let’s have a look at transit in each of these cities in turn.
This city on Sweden’s west coast is smaller than Auckland with a metropolitan population of around one million. It was a pleasing city to visit without the hordes of tourists that plague some European destinations. It has an apartment culture in the inner city of mostly four or five storey buildings, but is still possible to see the church spires which I always find aesthetically most satisfying.
One of the advantages of having been born too long ago – and there aren’t many of them – is that it is easy to remember everything about Auckland’s trams because I travelled on every route at some stage.
Well – wow! Gothenburg still has a tramway system just like we had in Auckland until the 1950’s. And they all go through the centre of town and out to a suburb destination on the other side of town just like Auckland’s did. A point of difference though is that at the terminus end of the tracks Gothenburg has a large round turning circle so that the driver remains in the same cab, whereas in Auckland the driver switched poles, took his driving handle to the cab at the other end of the tram and commenced driving in the opposite direction from there.
Each Gothenburg route had a number prominently displayed plus the actual destination and it was very easy to ensure that one had boarded the correct tram.
I noted that both on week-days and at the week-end the two main streets were full of people, the remarkably quiet trams always appeared to enjoy excellent patronage and car traffic by comparison with Auckland was very light. It is also worth recording that in general the streets are quite wide and have room for a wide footpath each side, a bike lane each side, a single car lane each side and double tram tracks – sometimes these tracks are in the middle and sometimes on the side of the arterial route. When we caught a bus to Marstrand some 50 kilometres away, I noted that the tram tracks in the middle of a section of the road a little further out of town also served as a bus lane.
Like most European cities the Central Railway Station is a prominent feature. As well as the usual inter-city departure platforms, there a couple of substantial retail wings and a long covered bus station wing known as the Nils Ericson Terminal.
Intending pre-ticketed passengers queue at the appropriate gate number in the air-conditioned building and when the bus arrives, board it directly from the terminal rather like a modern airport. Seats are few within the Terminal.
Just across the street from the Central Station is the Nordstan Shopping Centre a very large shopping mall and beyond that the delightful city centre, pedestrian squares, covered market and parks.
It is evident that Gothenburg has a highly efficient transport hub, which not only serves commuters, but is integral to a vibrant retail, business and entertainment area. In addition there are time-tabled Gota River ferries serving a university precinct and other riverside locations.
Out of town I did not see a motorway with more than two lanes except on one occasion when the third lane was a bus only lane. They may have them but I didn’t see any. But I did see plenty of bikes – they are a very popular mode of transport.
As an important rail and road junction Hanover was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II and this is reflected in the architecture which is obviously of post-war construction and in the main rather bland. As usual the Hauptbahnhof is prominent with a large and daytime busy Ernst August Platz in front of the main entrance. The façade of the Station is a post-war reconstruction of the old, but the interior is modern, busy and user-friendly with many shops.
They also have what they call trams but I would refer to as light rail. At some point they have dug up some of their now pedestrianized city streets to install the system, so to visit the Herrengarten we descended to a station under the main street, boarded the ‘tram’ and after a couple of stops at underground stations emerged on the surface and proceeded along the side of the arterial road to our destination, alighting at a raised safety zone complete with shelter. Apparently two out every three people in Hanover use these ‘trams’ every day.
If Hanover can build a tramway of 120 kilometres both underground and on the surface with a population of under 600,000 surely Auckland can build a three and a half kilometre City Rail – Come on National Government – get your priorities properly sorted!!
I must say that railed transit systems of any sort are very visitor user-friendly, even if you don’t speak the language. I never worry about mistakes – even if you go in the wrong direction or to the wrong destination, it is always easy to recover, just cross over and take next one back to where you came from. Bus routeing is less reassuring.
I really enjoyed revisiting The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to give it its full title. With reunification it has recovered that part of its natural hinterland within the former East Germany. Its port has relocated and is massive. Brownfield sites mostly in central locations such as HafenCity (Harbour City) are being re-developed. The CBD was busy and vibrant on both week days and the week-end.
Trains to charming suburbs such as Blankenese [underlined in red below] worked well for us and ferries plying the Elbe are available. After a few years of stall the population is again growing and is officially recorded as 1,741,000 inhabitants.
What I really wanted to convey to readers is that I had the opportunity to pick up, from the splendid Rathaus, a booklet entitled:
‘GREEN, INCLUSIVE, GROWING CITY BY THE WATER – PERSPECTIVES ON URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN HAMBURG’.
It has a foreword by Jutta Blankau, Senator for Urban Development. This is really the approved vision for Hamburg. It is well illustrated and surprisingly was available in both German and English. Overview here.
What follows are some bullet points I have selected and uplifted from various sections of the document;
- More City in the City
- Internal Development Before Expansion
- Good Quality Open Space Even As The City Becomes More Compact
- People Are Already Increasing Their Use Of Street Space And Public Squares
- Hamburg Will Not Become A City Of High Rises – The Ideal Height For Urban Density Is Six To Seven Floors
- When The Port Operations Were Moved To Their New Location Hamburg Is Accepting The Challenge To Create New Residential Areas, Work Places And Attractive Places
- Improving Urban Quality Including – Constructing a new S4 Train Line to the East of Hamburg.
- Roofing Over A7 Motorway Cuttings to Reconnect Severed Parts of the City in the West.
Now some points uplifted from the section entitled: Mobility – From Owning To Using:
- The car is losing its importance as a status symbol
- Various modes of transport are to converge and link up at mobility service points in order to make private travel superfluous
- Hamburg must not be allowed to lag behind comparable big cities which are considerably expending their Metro systems
And the most interesting of all the statements under this heading of Mobility –
“ The core conflict in the town planning debate of the last century – the battle between car friendliness and urban life in the city – is now drawing to a close. The city of the future will be liveable and allow mobility also.”
This is a significant (and not necessarily recent) attitudinal change for a major city in a country in which the export of motor vehicles plays such an important role in foreign exchange earnings. Regretfully and on this basis, our current National government’s thinking hasn’t moved into the 21st century and in New Zealand we are stuck with poorly targeted and excessive spending on the single mode of of roading and particularly duplicate roading, and motorway expansion. The direction being taken by other civic jurisdictions is clear and well elucidated in the document from Hamburg.
Far and away, Auckland will be New Zealand’s only international city. The trends and evidence in support of more balanced urban mobility options for a city like Auckland are abundantly clear.
The Transport Blog has been carefully analysing and presenting researched factual data in support of changed transport policies for some years now.
For the sake of those who live in Auckland now, and who will live in Auckland in the future, it is time to demand that the Government accept the necessary mindset change and as a first step, provide their share of the finance for the early construction of the City Rail Link.
If New Zealand hadn’t ripped up its tram tracks in the 1950s, I’m almost certain that some risk-taking Kiwi would have invented this first:
Czech artist Tomáš Moravec… cut down the dimensions of a standard, European wood pallet, or “Eur Pallet,” and fastened what appear to be small cart wheels to the bottom, creating a giant—and specialized—skateboard. The Pallet Skate fits snugly into the tram tracks running through Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and with a few pushes, Moravec glides smoothly around the city.
Moravec’s invention is unconventional, extremely risky, able to be cobbled together in the average garage workshop, and almost certainly illegal. In other words, it’d probably go over well in NZ, the country that came up with bungee jumping, longboarding on motorways, and drift trikes.
A statement you won’t often hear on this blog is “I agree with Cameron Brewer” but you will hear it today. It’s in response to an his statements in this article in the Manukau Courier:
Public transport could get another boost if mayor Len Brown’s light rail loop for Manukau gets the green light.
“We want to run light rail from Manukau up through Clover Park, all along Te Irirangi Drive, up to Highland Park, up Panmure Highway and back to Manukau,” he says.
“The idea of getting mass transit into suburban areas is to give commuters flexibility.
“The key thing about running rail down Te Irirangi Drive is that people already complain about the traffic lights holding them up.
“The trains would run down the median strip in the road and they would take priority over cars.”
Light rail costs about an eighth as much as heavy rail to install, he says.
The trains would have a tighter turning circle and carry fewer people than the city’s new electric trains.
“Right now they are in the investigation stage. We really want to do a loop like that in Sydney.”
Brown is keen to get the project done quickly but says there are still many unknowns so no cost has been given.
He’s also keen to get smaller 20-person electric buses running between Manukau and Middlemore Hospital.
“It would also be great to build them here in Auckland and get the investment having a positive economic impact throughout the whole project.”
If I am reading things correctly it would be something like this.
The section from Panmure to Manukau would not be able to use the existing rail lines due to the gauge of the tracks and the fact that the tracks are/will be full with existing passenger and freight trains. It would also be pointless to duplicate that when it has a considerable amount of capacity in it for quite some time. As for the rest of the proposal, breaking it down the section from Panmure to Highland Park is quite useful due to the huge amount of people living in the area however it does stop short of going a bit further to Howick. Similarly I think the North/South route, particularly the part from Botany to Manukau is useful and is actually listed as eventually being part of the rapid transit network. The median strip along Te Irirangi Dr is huge and supposedly was intended to be used exactly the purpose of running light rail down it.
and from above where you can see it’s wider than the two lanes either side of it.
However while those two routes are useful I’m not sure how well they go together. For someone going from Botany to Panmure that’s quite a detour unless Len is intending this to be on top of the existing investment that is meant to be going in to the AMETI busway. It seems hard enough getting funding for that let alone this which at about 20km in length would surely be at least $300 million, probably more. Not only that it distracts focus from what are in my opinion much higher priorities like getting the CRL funded and getting the new network bus implemented properly – by which I mean with fully supported infrastructure like bus lanes and upgraded stops and interchanges. And it’s for this reason I agree with Cameron Brewer.
Councillor Cameron Brewer says the city’s bus infrastructure needs improvement before any light rail projects can get the go-ahead.
“I think the mayor needs to focus on getting the money for the $2.8 billion City Rail Link. This additional project is just not feasible in the foreseeable future.”
I view the mayor’s proposal as kind of like trying to run before you can walk. The other useful thing about getting the bus network sorted first is that it can start building up patronage which would make any future light rail network more successful. It’s also worth considering what the new network proposes for the area which is effectively the red and purple routes (the green route from Otara to Botany was upgraded to a frequent following the southern network consultation).
It’s also worth pointing out what we’ve proposed for the area as part of the Congestion Free Network.
We’ve proposed these be busways like what is going to be done as part of AMETI as to us the most important thing is getting the quality of the service in as fast as possible. One of the great things about doing this with bus infrastructure first is that it doesn’t preclude light rail in the future but allows us to start getting benefits from congestion free PT corridors quicker and cheaper. So yes perhaps light rail in the area would be great in the future however the priority now is getting some basics done properly. In my opinion this suggestion from Len is an unneeded distraction at this time.
As well as the Metro and an excellent bus system -Bilbobus- Bilbao also has a small tram system. Running CAF built Urbos 1 Light Rail vehicles, the route covers different sections of the city to the faster and longer reaching Metro, offering a highly visible distributor from a couple of Metro stations it connects with to important destinations like the Guggenheim Museum. It runs both on the city streets and on dedicated and grassed corridors by the river. The Quay side has a wide promenade and cycleways on both banks. The revitalisation of Bilbao is built on the back of investment in high quality public realm with thorough attention to Transit and Walking and Cycling networks. The Guggenheim Museum is really the icing on the cake of this rebirth, not the starting point.
Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.
From our now exiled oh.yes.melbourne Photographers and Urbanistas comes this Melbourne tram clearly posing as a brightly coloured caterpillar:
As Auckland develops I find it’s always useful to compare how Auckland performs in relation to other similar cities around the world. It allows us to see what they do well and what they don’t and use that information to guide us in making our city better. There are two cities we frequently use as examples Vancouver and Perth. Both cities are larger than Auckland – 2.4 million and 1.9 million respectively – on average have less population density (not that I particularly like that measure) and have similar levels of CBD employment as Auckland. Both cities have also invested quite a bit in public transport over the last 30 or so years. Vancouver has built their Skytrain system after having no rail network at all while Perth started out with a diesel network carrying about the same number of passengers our network currently does, it has electrified and expanded the system considerably and patronage has grown. They even managed to find a city to sell their old trains to (us).
But with this post I want to suggest a new city we should be adding to the comparison list – Calgary.
So why Calgary? Well first of all unlike the two cities already mentioned which have larger populations than Auckland- and therefore are useful to compare where Auckland might be in 20-30 years’ time, Calgary’s population is slightly smaller at about 1.15 million. Yet over the last 30 years the two cities have shown remarkably similar growth with Auckland’s population having increased by 81% while Calgary’s increased by 85%.
Like the other cities mentioned, on average Calgary is also less dense than Auckland and being on a river plain there is little geographically to stop development from spreading in all directions. It does seem to have a slightly higher share of its population work in the CBD but the numbers are on par Auckland if you included the fringe areas like Newmarket, the Hospital etc. Further if you look at the CBD from satellite maps you can see massive amounts of car parking on otherwise empty sites all around the city. So by most measures you would expect that Calgary would perhaps perform fairly similarly to Auckland when it comes to public transport – and by similar I mean poorly. But it doesn’t as you can see from the graph below (note the big dip in 2001 was due to an almost two month strike).
When you combine the population and PT boarding’s you can see that the key difference between the two cities is that Calgary managed to slightly increase its per capita PT boarding’s while in Auckland the number more than halved in the 10 years from 1984 to 1994.
What was different between the two cities that meant Calgary was able to keep its PT system performing and improving while in Auckland things went through the floor? I’m sure there are quite a range of reasons however one of the most obvious has been the effort that has been put into developing a rapid transit network for the city. Starting in 1981 the city built its first light rail line and have expanded it quite a bit since then. But this isn’t just an old school street running tram system, like the one that used to exist in Auckland but a rail network that runs on exclusive right of ways through much of the urban area with occasional level crossings. In many parts it runs in the median or to the side of motorways, much like the Northern Express. The only place that the system runs in the street other than a level crossing is through the CBD where the route is only shared with buses and emergency vehicles. The Calgary Transit site has a useful history of the system showing how it has been frequently been extended.
1978 – construction of the first leg of the CTrain began.
1981 The 10.9 km south line from Anderson Road to 7 Avenue S.W. was officially opened on May 25.
1985 – Service commenced on the northeast leg of the CTrain. The northeast, 9.8 km line extends from the east end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and northeast to Whitehorn Station.
1987 – The third leg of the CTrain system was completed in the northwest. The northwest line extends from the west end of 7th Avenue, across the Bow River and north to the University of Calgary.
1990 – The northwest leg was extended to Brentwood Station, increasing the line to 6.6 km.
2001 – The south CTrain line was extended to Canyon Meadows (2.0 km) and to Fish Creek Lacombe (1.4 km.
2003 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Dalhousie (3.0 km).
2004 – The southwest CTrain line was extended to Shawnessy and Somerset/Bridlewood (3.0 km).
2007 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to McKnight-Westwinds (2.9 km).
2009 – The northwest CTrain line was extended to Crowfoot (2.2 km).
2012 – The northeast CTrain line was extended to Martindale and Saddletowne (2.9 km).
2012 – The West LRT CTrain line opened, between downtown and 69 Street W (8.2km).
The map below shows the reach of the system with each colour representing one of the extensions above, the most recent of which was less than a year ago.
Calgary Transit doesn’t break down the patronage by mode but some figures they do release suggest that the LRT system accounts for 50-60% of all PT trips. The LRT network is also supported by a bus network that has a similar design to what Auckland Transport is about to roll out with buses that connect into stations and allow transfers rather than try to be everything to everyone.
But it hasn’t just been a case of extending the LRT network as Calgary has also focused a on a number of Transit Oriented Developments (TODs). The one in the image below is a place called Saddletowne, a greenfield site at the end of the North East line. The satellite images cut off half way the centre through however you can quite clearly see the beginnings of a town centre (looks like a strip-mall though) next to the station. Houses radiate out from it. The LRT line was extended to the town centre just over a year ago and a recent study suggests that over 8,700 begin or end at the station every day with 63% of people getting to the station by walking. To put it in perspective, that is busier than Newmarket. What’s more you can quite clearly see that the city has planned for potential future expansion by leaving a corridor of development heading north for the next sprawl suburb.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about Calgary is how they are planning for future PT expansion. They have just completed a 30 year plan called Route Ahead which looked at exactly how they will expand and improve the PT system. But this wasn’t just planners deciding how they will develop the system but they involved the public all the way along, including what corridors and modes would be used. Most of the plan is fairly typical including stuff about how people will access the system, what the customer experience will be etc. As part of the process they have created and published a future RTN map showing how they intend to connect the rest of the city up with a comprehensive system of LRT, BRT and Transitway (Bus Lanes).
Now this on its own isn’t unique and many cities have these types of plans however the thing that interested me the most was that the city is planning to fast track a large proportion of the network over the next 10 years. That plan also includes starting to build the patronage on what will be the third pair of LRT lines but starting off initially with a cheaper BRT solution. The future RTN and the 10 year fast tracked system is below.
Why this is so interesting is that it is a similar approach we have suggested that needs to be taken in Auckland with the Congestion Free Network. We have shown a vision for how we could develop a high quality RTN network that covers much of the city that is a fraction of the price of the massive roading spend up planned and have said that we should fast track it to really reap the benefits. By doing so we could quickly get a much greater balance in out transport system giving Aucklanders some real choice in how they get around.
The development of places like Saddletowne – while not perfect – also provide an example of what we should be doing with the greenfield Special Housing Areas recently announced. If we have to sprawl then we should at least be trying to do a much better job of it than we have in the past by designing them right from the start to be easy to serve with public transport.
The one thing that is clear from the example of Calgary is that the on-going development of an RTN quality service has been absolutely critical in the performance of their PT network and making it attractive to use by a large number of people. Auckland didn’t really start developing its RTN until 2003 with Britomart, over 20 years later. Further, to get to where they are now (and what they are doing in the future) they have put effort into creating an easily understood vision and getting the public on-board. I firmly believe that if AT/the council were to present a comprehensive vision for PT in Auckland like we have done with the Congestion Free Network then many of the conversations and arguments we as a city would be having would be quite different. They would largely turn away from bickering about individual projects to discussions about how we get if built sooner.
Some big news out of Wellington yesterday with the release of the Public Transport Spine Study as well as more news on the Basin Flyover and Duplicate Mt Victoria Tunnel. Both are actually fairly intricately tied together. Here are the two press releases from the NZTA about the spine study (why did we need two). First let’s look at the PT spine study. It was described by the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) as:
The Public Transport Spine Study (PTSS) is about determining what a future public transport solution for Wellington city might be – one that is high quality, modern and meets the longer term aspirations and demands of our city.
The study has been undertaken by AECOM, and was commissioned jointly by Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council and the NZ Transport Agency. These three agencies are working in partnership to ensure this work is aligned with economic and transport developments in Wellington City and the wider region.
This PTSS is a key action from the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan (2008), which seeks major improvements to public transport to provide a high quality, reliable and safe service between the Wellington Railway Station and the regional hospital. It sits alongside significant improvements to the strategic road network that are now being planned and designed as part of the RoNS programme and major upgrades to rail network.
The study initially looked at a number of different options from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network. From there the options were narrowed down to three:
- Bus priority – $59 million, which involves more peak period bus lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, along the Golden Mile and Kent Terrace, through the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the Hataitai bus tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – $209 million, which involves a dedicated busway, for modern, higher capacity buses separated from other traffic as much as possible, along the Golden Mile and Kent/Cambridge Terrace then around the Basin Reserve and along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through the (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie.
- Light Rail Transit (LRT) – $940 million, which involves new tram vehicles running on dedicated tracks along the Golden Mile, Kent and Cambridge Terraces then around the Basin Reserve along Adelaide Road to Newtown and through a separate Mt Victoria tunnel to Kilbirnie
One I noticed straight away which is odd is that the LRT option required its own tunnel under Mt Victoria whereas the BRT option was using the duplicated road tunnel. I imagine that this is a large part of the cost difference between the two. The NZTA say that the road tunnels will be limited to 50kph so I’m not sure why buses can use it but why LRT can’t (the official reason given is concerns over fire and safety issues of LRT in mixed traffic – something that doesn’t seem to be a problem elsewhere in the world). It’s also worth noting that buses through the tunnels wouldn’t have any bus priority. One thing that is crucial to later on in this post is the report notes that buses would also be able to run in the LRT corridor. Anyway here are the routes that were assessed.
The report also contains cross sections of various parts of the routes showing where the lanes would be located within the street environment. For both the BRT and LRT options this means on either one side of the road or down the centre. But it isn’t just routes or modes that are important, so on to the impacts these options would have. As you would expect, each option seems to have been assessed multiple ways. The ones I’m most interested in are the impacts on patronage, travel times and the economic assessments.
The travel time savings for both the LRT and BRT options seem fairly impressive. From Kilbirnie these two options each save over 10 minutes while they also save 6-7 minutes from Newton.
Each option has been assessed at both a regional level and in the South and East, the area served by the infrastructure and here is where I think things get interesting. The modelling only looks at the AM peak period – something that has been happening in Auckland too – and even in the reference case shows patronage dropping between 2021 and 2031. Presumably this is caused by the RoNS making it easier to drive. At the regional level the report suggests that even the best performing option – BRT – will only add 900 passengers (2.6%) to the morning peak period by 2041. By comparison it suggests that LRT will only add 400 (1.1%).
The impact in the South and East gets even weirder with LRT only being suggested to increase patronage over the base case by 80 passengers (1.1%) compared to 220 (3.1%) for bus lanes or 550 (7.8%) for the BRT option.
To be honest, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is something funny going on in the modelling. We know from the CCFAS that our modelling of PT usage is very poor, and even after a lot of effort is put in to improving it. Considering that we don’t have any cities in New Zealand using LRT for PT purposes the impacts of it are probably not being assessed properly. Further when considering just how much time the BRT and LRT routes save, it seems even weirder that patronage numbers are so low.
All of the options appear to perform very poorly in an economic assessment however reading through some of the report it is clear that there is a massive issue identified in the standard assessment.
There is no limitation on the number of car trips that can be made to the CBD, the implication is that parking will increase to meet demand.
So effectively I read this as saying is that the RoNS will create a whole heap of road capacity which will encourage people to drive and that our economic assessments assume that more parking will magically appear in the city centre to cope with this. The report says that capping parking would increase the patronage from both the BRT and LRT options by 1600-2100 peak trips which is a fairly significant increase. Even with that in place the BRT option only just scrapes over the line.
One other comment from the press release caught my attention
The benefits are calculated using NZTA guidelines. These apply a monetary value to travel time savings experienced by existing and new public transport users and are offset by ‘disbenefits’ experienced by motorists because road space has been allocated to public transport.
Now I agree that when assessing these options the impact on road users from less road space being available needs to be taken into account however I would almost guarantee that the opposite thing isn’t taken into account when roads are being assessed.
Looking over all of the different aspects of the report it is fairly clear that the BRT option is what has come out on top. This doesn’t surprise me and as much as I might like to see light rail installed, even if it were half the price it just doesn’t seem feasible.
The other major piece of news mentioned is that hat NZTA has lodged applications to the Environmental Protection Authority for the Basin Flyover. They like to call it the Basin Bridge to make it sound cuter than it is but that doesn’t change the fact it is likely to end up a very imposing piece of infrastructure. This kind of thing is what cities around the world are now starting to tear down. Even the NZTAs own very pretty videos don’t make it look appealing – unless you are driving.
We get a lot of conversations in our comments that boil down to expressions of preference for particular Transit modes depending on people’s experiences and values. Those who are most concerned about the cost of infrastructure tend to favour buses, and those who value the qualities that rail offers feel the generally higher capital costs are justified. Often these exchanges do little to shift people from their starting positions because it’s a matter of two different issues talking passed each other; it’s all: ‘but look at the savings’ versus ‘but look at the quality’.
And as it is generally agreed that Auckland needs to upgrade its Transit capabilities substantially I thought it might be a good time to pull back from the ‘mode wars’ with a little cool headed analysis. Because, as we shall see, it really isn’t that simple. It is possible to achieve almost all of what rail fans value with a bus, but only if you are willing to spend a rail-sized amount on building the route. Or alternatively you can build a system that has many of the disadvantages of buses in traffic but with a vehicle that runs on rails.
It’s all about the corridor. Let’s see how….
Above is a chart from chapter 8 of Jarret Walker’s book Human Transit and illustrates Professor Vukan Vuchic’s classification of Transit ‘Running Ways’ or Right Of Way [ROW].
Class A ROW means that the vehicles are separate from any interruptions in their movement so are only delayed when stopping at their own stations as part of their service. In Auckland this is type of infrastructure is classified as the Rapid Transit Network [RTN], and currently is only available to the rail system plus the Northern Busway. So the speed of this service is only limited by the spacing and number of the stops, the dwell time at each stop, and the performance capabilities of the vehicle and system [especially acceleration].
Class B is a system where the vehicle is not strictly on its own ROW but does have forms of privilege compared to the other traffic, such as special lanes and priority at signals. Buses in buslanes are our local example. AT are currently building an ambitious city wide Class B network called the Frequent Transit Network FTN.
Class C is just any Transit vehicle in general traffic. In Auckland that means most buses and the Wynyard Quarter Tram. The buses on the Local Transit Network LTN are our Class C service.
And of course in terms of cost to build these classes it also goes bottom to top; lower to higher cost. And in general it costs more to lay track and buy trains than not, so also left to right, lower to higher. There can be an exception to these rules as with regard to Class A, especially if tunnels and bridges are required as rail uses a narrower corridor and require less ventilation than buses in these environments. Also it should be noted that a bigger electric vehicles on high volume routes are cheaper to operate too, so rail at higher volumes can be cheaper to run than buses over time because of lower fuel costs and fewer staff.
There are also subtleties within these classifications, some of the things that slow down Class C services provide advantages that the greater speed of Class A design doesn’t. Class C typically offers more coverage, stopping more frequently taking riders right to the front door of their destinations. Class B often tries to achieve something in between the convenience of C while still getting closer to the speed of A. Sometimes however, especially if the priority is intermittent or the route planning poor, Class B can simply achieve the worst of both worlds!
There are other considerations too, frequency is really a great asset to a service, as is provides real flexibility and freedom for the customer to arrange their affairs without ever having to fit in with the Transit provider’s plans. And as a rule the closer the classification is to the beginning of the alphabet the higher the frequency should be. Essentially a service isn’t really Class A if it doesn’t have a high frequency.
Then there are other issues of comfort, design, and culture as expressed in the vehicles but also in the whole network that are not insignificant, although will generally do little to make up for poor service design no mater how high these values may be. And these can be fairly subjective too. For example I have a preference for museum pieces to be in, well, museums, but there are plenty of others who like their trams for example to be 50 years old. Design anyway is a holistic discipline, it is not just about appearance; a brilliantly efficient and well performing system is a beautiful thing.
Other concerns include environmental factors, especially emissions and propulsion systems. On these counts currently in Auckland the trains and the buses are generally as bad as each other, both being largely old and worn out carcinogen producing diesel units. This is the one point that the little heritage tourist tram at Wynyard is a head of the pack. The newer buses are an improvement, I’m sure this fact has much to do with the success of the Link services, despite them remaining fairly poor Class C services.
We are only getting new Double Deckers because better corridors for existing buses grew the demand
So in summary the extent to which a Transit service is free from other traffic has a huge influence on its appeal whatever the kit. A highly separated service is likely to be faster than alternatives, is more able to keep to its schedule reliably, and offer a smoother ride. These factors in turn lead to higher demand so the route will be able able to justify higher frequency, upgraded stations, newer vehicles and so on. This one factor, all else being equal, will lead to positive feedbacks for the service and network as a whole.
Currently Auckland has a core RTN service of the Rail Network and the Northern Busway forming our only Class A services. So how do they stack up? The trains only run at RTN frequency on the week day peaks, and even then aspects of the route, especially on the Western Line undermine this classification. The Newmarket deviation and the closeness of the stations out West make this route a very dubious candidate for Class A. At least like all rail services is doesn’t ever give way to other traffic. The Onehunga line needs doubling or at least a passing section to improve frequencies.
Unlike the Northern Busway services, which are as we know only on Class A ROW 41% of the time. So while the frequency is much better on the busway than the trains they drop right down to Class C on the bridge and in the city.
Of course over the next couple of years the trains are going to improve in an enormous leap and importantly not just in appearance, comfort, noise and fumes [plus lower running cost], but importantly in frequency and reliability. A real Class A service pattern of 10 min frequencies all day all week is planned [except the O-Line].
Hand won improvements to the network and service were built on the back of the brave plan to run second hand old trains on the existing network and have led directly to AK getting these beauties soon.
But how about the rest of the RTN; the Northern Busway? Shouldn’t it be a matter of urgency to extend Class A properties to the rest of this already highly successful service?
-permanent buslanes on Fanshaw and Customs Streets- this is being worked on I believe
-permanent buslanes on the bridge- NZTA won’t consider this
-extend the busway north with new stations- that’s planned.
-improve the vehicles in order to up the capacity, appeal, and efficiency- that’s happening too with double deckers.
I will turn to looking at where we can most effectively expand the Class A RTN network to in a following post.
But now I just want to return briefly to look at what these classifications help us understand about other things we may want for our city. Below is an image produced by the Council of a possible future for Queen St. Much reaction to this image, positive and negative, has been focussed on the vehicle in the middle. The Tram, or Light Rail Transit. Beautiful thing or frightening cost; either way the improvement to the place is not dependant on this bit of kit.
My view is that we should focus on the corridor instead, work towards making Queen St work first as a dedicated Transit and pedestrian place with our existing technology, buses, which will then build the need, or desirability, of upgrading the machines to something better. Why? because it is the quality of the corridor that provides the greater movement benefit, and with that benefit banked we will then have the demand to focus more urgently on other choices for this route. Furthermore, because of the significantly higher cost of adding a new transit system by postponing that option we able be able to get the first part done sooner or at all.
And because we are now getting auto-dependency proponents claiming to support more investment in buses [yes Cameron Brewer* that's you] we have an opportunity to call their bluff and get funding for some great Transit corridors by using their disingenuous mode focus. And thereby greatly improve the city.
So it is best that we don’t focus so much on the number of humps on the beast, but rather on the route it will use. The flasher animal will follow.
* These types don’t really support buses at all; they just pretend to support buses because when they say bus they mean road and when they mean road they mean car. How can we know this? Because they attack bus priority measures. But it is very encouraging that they now find themselves having to even pretend to see the need for Transit in Auckland. This is new.
The following is a guest post by regular reader and tram and heritage aficionado; the always analogue Geoff Houtman.
Last February, the Western Bays Community Group was asked to come with a “Ponsonby Road Plan”. We have received hundreds of suggestions to the deliberately open questions,- “What would you like more of?”, “Less of?”, and “None of?”. This is the first in a series of posts based on the answers received.
Ponsonby Rd Lane Uses
Three options are presented below, incorporating those ideas relating to the Roadway. Firstly though, let’s look at what we currently have.
Ponsonby Rd is a little over a mile long (1724m) running basically North-South. The Roadway is generally 18-19 metres wide and divided into 6 or 7 lanes; the two outermost being parallel street parking, with two general traffic lanes each North and South bound and a central median designed to facilitate right hand turning at nearly every side street and intersection. There is no cycling priority at any point. And very scant bus privilege at the southern end plus the mostly mid block bus stops. Clearways operates to speed peak traffic on the section between Williamson and Crummer Rds. At its northern Three Lamps end Ponsonby Rd is one-way, just before it meets Jervois and Crummer Rds. Redmond St and the top of Pompallier Tce have also been one-wayed to handle all of Ponsonby road’s north bound traffic movements for this section.
Can we make it better? Here are three possibilities based on community suggestions.
Traffic cut to one lane each way, Cycleway runs beside the footpath with vehicle parking between it and the traffic lane, Light Rail or buses use dedicated centre lanes.
Footpaths are pushed out a lane on each side, bike lane, then parking and one lane general traffic each way, PT lanes removed, painted median/turning lanes retained.
Parking lanes contain spaced trees, one general traffic lane each way, Cycleway brackets PT lanes.
Do any of these choices seem like an improvement? Do you have any better ideas?
UPDATE: Thanks to all the commenters, based on your helpful advice an Option D has been created. The cycles lanes are now buffered from moving traffic by footpaths and combined parking/ tree lanes. A bus has been added in the PT lanes to indicate their continued viability until the next oil price rise and the possible return of light rail/ trams. On a technical note the parking lanes are now only 2m wide instead of the previous 2.5.
There’s an article in yesterday’s NZ Herald which notes ridership on the Wynyard Quarter tramway has, unsurprisingly in my opinion, dropped away quite a lot in the past few months.
Figures given to Auckland Council member Cameron Brewer show the two heritage electric trams carried fewer than 20 per cent of forecast passengers over their 1.5km circuit in March, when patronage slumped to 1933 people.
That was well below October’s figure of 15,322 – after which patronage previously boosted by the Rugby World Cup plummeted to 2391 before rising to 4357 in December and then falling again.
But council organisation Waterfront Auckland said yesterday that the figure for April – which was not given to Mr Brewer – rose to 4664 passengers after a successful Easter holiday programme for children.
As the tram is currently rather overpriced and goes from nowhere to nowhere, it’s unsurprisingly that hardly anyone catches it. I certainly haven’t been on it and don’t really see the point of it while the only route is takes is a loop around Wynyard Quarter. However, the whole point of the Wynyard Quarter tramway was to be a “beach-head” as many people described at the time, to just get some tracks in there before Wynyard got built up, get things going so it was then possible to look at options for taking the tramway to Britomart and then potentially elsewhere.
Which means that it’s pleasing to see later on in the article that thought is being given to extending the line to Britomart – so that it can actually be linked in with the rest of the network and serve a useful transport purpose:
The council had also included $8.2 million in the first year of its draft long-term budget for an extension of tramlines across Viaduct Harbour.
There will always be endless arguments about trams versus buses, but I think if you ask most Aucklanders they generally consider the ripping up of our tram system to have been one of the biggest mistakes in the city’s history, and the effect of ripping up the tracks on PT patronage was disastrous. The vertical line in the graph below shows approximately when the tracks were ripped out:
Of course the network was quite extensive back then and just as a reminder, here is a map of our former tram network:
If we can get the tram tracks across Viaduct Harbour to Britomart then we really open up the possibility of further extending trams in the future – most likely up Queen Street and potentially in the longer term along Tamaki Drive. We also provide a really good transport link from the main PT hub of Auckland to a fast-growing employment area.
We’ve had a bit of time for the trams at Wynyard to be a tourist plaything. Now it’s time to make the infrastructure actually useful.