Basin Bridge Bowled again

Fantastic news out of Wellington yesterday with the High Court rejecting completely the NZTA’s appeal of the decision by the Board of Inquiry to decline consent for the Basin Reserve Flyover

Basin Bridge Image 2

The High Court today dismissed the NZ Transport Agency’s attempt to overturn the rejection of its controversial plan to build a 300-metre concrete flyover alongside the Basin Reserve.

In a decision released this afternoon, the Court stated:

The Transport Agency has not established that in its decision the Board of Inquiry made any error of law … Consequently the Agency’s appeal is dismissed.

And earlier:

The Board’s decision does not contain any of the errors of law alleged.

The Transport Agency had appealed against the Board of Inquiry’s decision to decline consent for the $90m flyover alongside the Basin Reserve.

The Government set up the Board of Inquiry process as a way of fast tracking consents for large projects to stop them being held up in years and years of appeals. The only appeals were allowed on points of law.

Some of the key reasons consent was declined in the first place was

  • That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
  • They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
  • That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
  • That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
  • That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.

Some of these are likely to have massive implications for other projects such as the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the Reeves Rd Flyover. For example it likely means that the NZTA are going to have include not just the tunnel and direct connections in their consent for AWHC but also all the associated road widening of the Northern Motorway and Central Motorway Junction – which we understand is substantial. It could also stop the idea of building a combined road and rail tunnel across the harbour as the NZTA would have to consent the connections on either side. This will likely be why they’ve told us that they will not be including rail in current consent process.

AWHC - Indstry Briefing

 

Coming back to Wellington it will be interesting to see how the NZTA respond. It’s time they gave up idea and started thinking about other solutions.

Waiting a century for a cycleway

The Wellington to Hutt Road is, and has been for a quite long time, one of the most popular and important cycle routes in New Zealand’s urban areas. It connects a busy downtown area with large suburban areas in the Hutt Valley, via a scenic harbour front. It’s also a rare flat route in a hilly city where cycling is relatively popular by New Zealand standards.

Given this, you’d expect there to be a safe, separated cycleway of adequate width squeezed somewhere in between the road and rail line. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.

If you’re headed northbound from Wellington to the Hutt Valley, you are required to squeeze into a narrow strip between two lanes of traffic and a vertiginous hillside. Some green paint has been provided along some parts of the route, as shown in the Google Street View:

Wellington to Petone cycleway 3

I haven’t cycled this route, but if I was headed this way by bike I’d probably take the train to Melling and cycle north from there. It just doesn’t feel safe.

The southbound route seems a bit better, as a narrow strip of tarmac has been fenced off between the motorway and the rail tracks. This is helpful for people cycling to Wellington, but I’ve heard that it sometimes causes dangerous confusion for northbound cyclists who get on the separated path in Wellington and then find themselves tipped out against oncoming motorway traffic near Petone:

Wellington to Petone cycleway 2

 

Unfortunately, the Wellington to Hutt Road has been disappointing people on bikes for a very long time. The Kennett Brothers fantastic book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand provides some background. Over a century ago, when cycling was a main mode of transport for many urban New Zealanders, there were Parliamentary debates over what should be done to improve the road for cycling, and working bees to remove sharp objects from the preexisting gravel cycle path. However, nothing much got done:

“When roads were improved for motorists, it was not always agreed that the cyclist should share them. Around the time of the First World War, some of the main Hutt Valley roads were bitumen sealed, but a by-law was passed forbidding cyclists from riding on them. On the main Hutt-Wellington route, cyclists and horses were forced to share a metalled path strewn with sharp objects from the nearby railway line. In one novel attempt to clean it up, a nail finding competition was won by a boy who bagged 391 of the total 1843 nails found on the path.”

The Kennetts dug up this old picture of the Wellington to Hutt cycleway in 1978, after almost a century of neglect:

Hutt Road bicycle path in 1978

The route is better today – the northbound cycle path is at least paved – but as the Google Street View shows, it’s still a far cry from a safe separated cycleway. The good news is that the NZTA’s new Urban Cycleways Programme looks like it will finally upgrade the route to an adequate standard.

One of the key projects in Wellington is the “Melling to CBD” cycleway, which seems to include an upgrade of the areas I’ve highlighted above:

Wellington-To-Hutt-Valley-urban-cycleways-map

I haven’t seen any detailed designs for the project yet, but the NZTA states that:

This project will provide a high quality cycleway between Melling and Wellington’s CBD, significantly improving the level of service for both cyclists and pedestrians. It will offer a safer and more attractive route for journeys between home and work or educational institutions, and will pay particular attention to how cyclists travel through intersections.

These additional facilities are expected to encourage new, less confident people to cycle as well as catering to the high numbers of people who use this route already.

Hopefully, this project will finally fix the longstanding issues with cycling on this road. The city has waited over a century for a safe cycling route between Wellington and the Hutt Valley – it would be a shame to prolong the wait any longer.

Lastly, I’m sure that many other roads in New Zealand have long-standing challenges for safe cycling. What other issues have you noticed, and how long have you been waiting for a solution?

When is Bus Rapid Transit not Bus Rapid Transit?

This is a guest post from Andy C – a long time Wellington public transport user…

Well when it is Wellington of course…

Some of you may remember that back in 2013, the Wellington City Council undertook its ‘public transport spine’ study, which looked at options for the highly used public transport spine from the Wellington railway station to the Hospital in Newtown. The problem definition from the study was quite clear:

  • In future years, too many vehicles and modes will share a constrained corridor resulting in longer and unreliable transport journey times which will worsen over time
  • There will be increased traffic congestion in the strategic and local road network and additional environmental impacts as a result of less mode share for public transport.

Furthermore, the report noted that there is a clear problem with the current public transport network: “It is difficult to increase PT patronage and mode share under the current circumstances. Buses are not segregated from general traffic. Wellington’s bus services are perceived by the public as being less attractive and less reliable than private vehicle journeys.”

Therefore the study looked at three options to solve or reduce these problems; bus priority, bus rapid transit (BRT) and light rail.

Wellington BRT route

As you all know, Wellington is a city defined by its geography. Lots of hills, with traffic funneled through a small number of key routes (either in the valleys, or along the hill tops). If you are traveling from the south (Island Bay), you have to either go past the Basin Reserve, or through Mt Cook, just a few hundred metres away. The same is true for traveling from the east of the city (Kilbirnie, Miramar etc); you either go past the Basin Reserve or around the bays. If you’re coming from the north (hill suburbs and the Hutt) you’re actually lucky in having the option of trains, buses and the motorway, while the west (Karori) is probably the most challenging with only one major route in or out.

To my mind, this actually gives us good options for some sort of dedicated public transport spine, because so many of these routes have been identified by the local Council as being high on the list for intensification of housing and public amenities. Therefore with good planning, we could see increased public transport use simply from all the new people living along the high use routes.

After lots of debate, the result of the spine study was that BRT (defined as ‘dedicated bus lanes for new high capacity vehicles’) had the highest benefit to cost ratio and thus would be investigated further. The initial spine would run from the railway station to the hospital and Kilbirnie.

Well on Friday 31 July the Wellington City Council released its indicative business case for BRT (you can read it here), based on a report written by PWC. And sadly for users of public transport in Wellington, the key recommendation looks nothing like a BRT.

The indicative business case finds that actually, it would be too expensive to even think about BRT as defined above. Instead it provides two simpler options; bus lanes in targeted locations, with limited intersection priority with a Benefit Cost Ratio of 2.3, or bus lanes along the whole route 24/7, with full intersection priority with a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.5.

Now call me a cynic, but neither of those things sound like ‘dedicated bus lanes for new high capacity vehicles’, although the Mayor insists on calling it that in the Council press release which you can read here. And what is even worse, the document notes that both options are predicated on there being ‘a grade separated Basin Reserve’ (which will have to be a topic of a future post).

A couple of days ago the local paper the Dominion Post even got in on the cynical act, which is something of a surprise, with a scathing editorial about current public transport plans that included this summary:

Recall that Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown came to office pushing a light rail system, only to see it lose out to the souped-up bus plan. That was supposed to see “high capacity and high quality buses running on dedicated bus lanes with priority at signals”.

But consultants in a new report blanch at the cost of doing that properly and recommend two watered-down alternatives. The cheaper one offers “bus lanes in targeted locations” with “limited priority” at intersections. Bus passengers can be forgiven for asking how that differs from the status quo.

Well I have to say, that after all the studies and recommendations over the years, if all we need to improve public transport along this route in Wellington is a few painted bus lanes (and enforcement of them please!) and some reprogrammed traffic signals, then let’s get it started tomorrow.

But in the meantime, please don’t call either of these preferred options Bus Rapid Transit. Because no matter how you look at them, they’re not. And what’s even worse, you’d be hard pressed to say they actually solve either of the problems identified back in 2013.

Development update: June 2015

It’s been a busy month for development: Auckland Council announced they’d be selling off some of their surplus land, and so did the government (which Matt wrote about here).

This makes good headlines for the council and government, making it look like they’re taking steps to tackle the supposed housing crisis. However, I’m not sure how much of the land is actually “new” to the scene – e.g. the council’s announcement includes the land being developed for the Flat Bush town centre, which has been a work in progress for many years, the government’s announcement includes Hobsonville and the McLennan subdivision in Papakura, and so on. Anyway, I’ll look at this more in the next few weeks, and see what needs to go into the RCG Development Tracker as a result.

Developments around New Zealand

Speaking of the Tracker, I haven’t written much about what’s happening in Wellington yet. Using the fantastical power of computers, let’s whisk you away to the nation’s capital, where you can see a number of projects in the city centre or nearby.

WGT development

Te Aro continues to transition to a more residential environment, and accommodation and mixed use projects are reshaping Wellington’s waterfront areas. A lot of the projects on this map are now coming to an end, and it’s not immediately clear what will replace them. Based on a recent visit, there certainly aren’t as many cranes visible in Wellington as there are in Auckland or Christchurch.

As for Auckland, there are a number of new things in the Tracker this month (including 1 Mills Lane, which could be the tallest office building in the city, as well as Mitre 10’s new head office building, the Oasis and SOMA apartments and more).

I was also down in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago, and it’s due an update as well – but that will have to wait until next month. In the meantime, you might enjoy looking at CERA’s Progress Map or the Avenues Four page.

Auckland Building Consents

Turning to building consents in Auckland, April was a massive month for apartments: 438 units were granted consent, with 392 of those in the Waitemata and Gulf Ward. This probably reflects two or three major projects getting the go ahead from Council (I’m guessing it might have been Park Residences and 88 Broadway, as the numbers more or less match up and both are now underway).

The graph below shows moving annual totals for these and other higher-density consents:

Apartment consents

 

In fact, when you stack these lines on top of each other and add in the consents for standalone houses, you can see that most of the growth in consents over the last two years or so has come from higher-density dwellings:

Auckland total consents

There’s a tendency in some circles to suggest that Auckland’s housing issues stem from a lack of land on the fringes. However, higher-density dwellings are going to play an important role in Auckland’s growth, and in housing the extra people who want to live here. Let’s hope they’re getting the attention they deserve from the council and government.

Funding the Basin Flyover Fight

Yesterday the Architectural Centre in Wellington have launched a fund raising campaign to fight NZTA’s continued waste of our money on expensive lawyers for their hopelessly unimaginative and retrogressively conceived Basin flyover project. Here’s the Give-A-Little site with a recap of the situation.

Basin Appeal

 

Deluge

This is a Guest post by Wellington Architect Guy Marriage

Wellingtonians get a hard press in the Auckland papers sometimes, but last Thursday we thoroughly deserved it. We are normally a fairly resilient lot, and put up with more than our fair share of howling wind and torrential rain at times, but regularly battle through with trains and buses all performing admirably. Even our regular rush hour traffic jams only just live up to their name, and are normally well over within the hour. We know about Auckland’s horrific traffic, and sympathies, we really do. But last Thursday, we suffered a total melt-down, and for a supposedly heavily resilient city, that was a pretty big fall from grace. So what happened?

brollies

As you may have heard, broadcast all over the evening news, we had a bit of excess rain. About 8 times more rain in an hour than we get in a month, or some such unbelievably wet statistic like that. And then the big wet went on and on, and eventually we had some slips, where our glorious hills decided they didn’t want to be vertical any more, and so they poured out over the flat bits along the edge of the water. Unfortunately for Wellington, all of our escape routes out of the city run along the same flat stretch of road to the Hutt, and so a small slip on the Hutt Road blocked off a route north along State Highway 2, diverting all the SH2 traffic to SH1. Doubly unfortunate really, because on the other side of the hills, SH1 was also blocked off, and that meant they had to send all the traffic back to SH2, over SH58. There is only one other road, the Paekakariki Hill Road, which is narrow and windy, and is frequently blocked by slips anyway, so inevitably that blocked up too. No way in, no way out. The capital was blocked off from the rest of New Zealand. Did you miss us?

WellingtonThursday

The road was therefore bumper to bumper traffic jam from Wellington all the way to Porirua, and also at a standstill over the hills back to the Hutt Valley on the other side. If you’re not from Wellington, then none of that will make sense, and the nearest I can give you as an example is if the Harbour Bridge was closed, and the NorthWestern motorway was closed as well, and all the traffic between Manukau and Auckland was diverted via Puhoi, and then all the cars stopped moving. Yes, exactly, a stuff-up in traffic terms of monumental proportions, one considerably worse than the average Friday night jam in Auckland, and we will inevitably face calls for yet more roads to be built, just in case this happens again.

NZTA WGTN flooding

But wait, there’s more. Surely none of those road closures matter, as Wellington is the most public-transport oriented city in the nation, is it not? Well, yes, but on Thursday even that let us down as well. Every single train to every single destination was cut, and the central Wellington Railway Station was closed down. That’s a station that normally is about 3 times busier than Britomart, and we have shiny new trains too for the most part. But that accursed rain had deluged rocks and washed out gravel over every set of tracks. Replacement buses normally suffice when there is a traffic setback, but with all the roads and all the rail out, there was no way that the few remaining charter buses could keep up with the demand. The city actually took the unheard of step of telling all commuters from out of town to stay in town, spend the night with friends, to rent a room or borrow a couch, and give up entirely on moving anywhere. I’m not sure if that has happened to any city in living memory before, outside of a war zone. Even when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, or when Super-Storm Sandy hit New York, they were still able to move people in and out of the city. But not Wellington, not last week. The only methods of transport still working were the planes (if you wanted to fly to Auckland and drive back down to Upper Hutt) and the ferries, which gave you a choice of sailing through the storm to Picton, or in a much smaller ferry, riding the waves up to Petone beach. Except of course that Petone beach has a damaged pier, and one of the small East-West Ferry boats was out of action, so that left just one small catamaran sailing back and forth to Petone all evening. I was fully expecting my floor to be full of refugees from the storm, but it was, miraculously, fugee-free.

NZTA WGTN

Wellington train_4740

Not that it really made the slightest bit of difference to Wellingtonians however. Within the city itself, there was a fair bit of wetness, more than usual, but nothing was broken. Everything still worked, everyone got home. Buses still ran, taxis still taxied, and cyclist continued to ride on their non-existent cycle network. We haven’t got a cycle network yet, because some pathetic councillors went feral, and have slowed everything down for reasons known only to themselves. We are, it seems, the only city in New Zealand with a pro-Green, fervently cycling Mayor, and yet we have not a single functioning separated cycle lane anywhere of any use on any major traffic route, which seems just a little bit odd. While the usual dips and hollows were fuller of water than usual, it seemed to me that the city performed admirably well, and lived up to its resilient reputation. You could have even thrown in a moderate earthquake or two, and the city would have shrugged them off as well, due to the steady stream of strengthening projects that have been going on. We’re a city that is like a brand new iPhone 6, already with a sturdy waterproof, shockproof rubber case on, and you could drop us from the upstairs balcony and we wouldn’t break, at least not completely. But we might bend a little if you sat on us.

But what this points to is that while Wellington City might be tough enough in parts, its the Regional Council and NZTA that were shown up as monumentally unprepared for disaster. I think we have just seen the biggest case for abolition of the Regional Council, right there. What if it had been a real, serious disaster, not just a few hours of torrential rain? The Civil Defence motto down here is “Get Through.” Clearly, that is not something that we yet can do.

WellingtonTransmission

NZTA have started work on the billion dollar highway known as Transmission Gully, an ironic name as they could only start work there when they had removed all the transmission lines, in case they fell over while they were digging out the gully road. One day, after an inevitable cost inflation to (probably) nearly two billion dollars, there will be a new road north, two lanes each way, all the way, and a new Petone to Granada link road – and you know what? If both of those roads had been built already, those other traffic snafu may well have happened just the same. The Petone to Grenada route will have to involve the moving / removal of some eight million cubic metres of rock, which wont be an easy task. The Transmission Gully route still relies on sending all the traffic along the waterfront and up the Ngauranga Gorge, both of which were heavily affected by last weeks rain, with several small slips/rockfalls and a lane taken out of action in the Gorge. Transmission Gully is also sitting firmly on an earthquake fault line and highly susceptible to slips as well, so there is a lot of work to be done securing hillsides before that route will ever be “safe”. We need NZTA to try a whole lot harder to battle-harden the existing network and we need Kiwirail and GWRC to make sure that public transport is a whole lot more resilient down here. 

What’s happening to Takapu Valley?

As Peter found when covering the Ministry of Transport’s review of capital spending on roads (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) our multibillion dollar national transport budget is being spent in some bizarre ways. Money’s being allocated to major roading projects that don’t offer many economic benefits in return.

MoT state highway BCRs 2005-2012

While the high-level picture is clear, it’s not always obvious what’s going on in project selection. Why does the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) choose one project over another? What are their processes for assessing “strategic fit” and other considerations?

Some smart people have been taking a critical look at a major Wellington road project that’s been flying under the radar: the Petone-to-Grenada motorway. Like the Transmission Gully motorway, it’s being touted less for its benefit-cost ratio than for its impacts on the “resilience” of the Wellington region.

Tamara Duran, who writes on the Takapu Valley website, provides a useful summary of the project… and the issues with the project. In addition to her extensive analysis of the the impacts of the project on resilience (parts 1, 2, and 3), she’s put together a primer on the project, complete with maps for the out-of-towners:

Since the Christchurch and Tōhoku earthquakes, “resilience” has been the mantra of… pretty much anyone building anything, be it a building, a corporate structure, or a communications network. We all want to be resilient, to survive whatever has just happened and get back up and about our normal business as quickly as possible.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has picked up on how keen everyone is on resilience, and so is now including it in all of their sales material. Perhaps unsurprisingly, NZTA has defined “resilience” from a transport perspective as “more roads”. Not “more transport options”, and not even really “better roads”, just more. Got congestion problems? Build another road to get around it. Got a road falling apart? Build another road to take traffic off it.

Case in point: The Petone to Grenada link road, in Wellington. This road has been in the investigation and planning stages for a good 20 years now, the reason being Wellington’s notoriously challenging geography. To get from the CBD to the rest of the Region (and ultimately the rest of the North Island), there are essentially two routes out – SH1 up Ngauranga Gorge, and SH2 along the harbour.   Both of those are through narrow corridors with few or no alternatives.

P2G map 1

Source: Google Maps

The logical thing to do, then, as proposed in various studies since about 1991, is something like this:

P2G map 2

Source: Google Maps

Traffic wanting to get between the SH1 corridor in the west and the SH2 corridor in the east can “cut the corner” of Ngauranga, taking pressure off those two chokepoints.

If there’s a truck flipped in Ngauranga Gorge, traffic can go up SH2 and across P2G. Likewise if there’s a crash along SH2 traffic can go up SH1 and across P2G back to Petone. All good, and everyone’s back about their business with minimal fuss.

But 7km of road is Not Enough Road. More Road = More Resilient, remember. So what NZTA is proposing is this:

P2G map 3

Source: NZTA Presentation to Chief Executives Group, November 2014, released under OIA

We’ll turn the whole thing north-south (because clearly a north-south road is how you solve an east-west problem); then we have room to double the length. Here are some other “resilient” features:

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges through chains of roundabouts!
Source: NZTA/Opus

Source: NZTA/Opus

  • Motorway to motorway interchanges via two-lane local streets! (and roundabouts!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • “Bypasses” with one-way ramps that force you 12km out of your way!
P2G map 6

Source: Petone to Grenada Scoping Report, February 2014

  • Motorways next to other motorways! (More Roads = More Resilient!)
Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

Source: NZTA Petone to Grenada Project website

  • Roads on unstudied active fault lines!
Source: GNS Active Faults database

Source: GNS Active Faults database

  • 80 meter deep canyons through the Wellington Fault Scarp!
Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

Source: HC8/9, Grenada-Petone Link and SH58 Upgrade Economics, Sinclair Knight Merz, April 2010, released under OIA

  • In Petone!
Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

Source: Petone to Grenada Link Road Preliminary Geotechnical Appraisal, September 2013, released under OIA

NZTA has taken a reasonable solution to Wellington network resilience woes and “made it better”, in the process negating the very function the road was originally supposed to serve. In the meantime, genuine improvements to the earthquake and natural hazard resilience of the roading network are left to languish.

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

Source: (ex. labels) Wellington Region Road Network Earthquake Resilience Study, Opus, August 2012

I’d really recommend reading her entire series on the motorway. It seems like NZTA is pursuing a more expensive option that delivers much worse outcomes. In particular, Tamara argues that better results could be achieved through upgrades to a few problematic bits of the existing State Highway 58.

Meanwhile, University of Auckland statistician Thomas Lumley (who writes the excellent StatsChat blog) has been digging into NZTA’s options assessments on the project. He’s found that the agency has made some basic statistical errors in its weighting of evaluation criteria. The effect seems to have been that NZTA’s chosen the wrong project, for the wrong reasons:

If you have to make a decision with several options, each with different types of positive and negative effects, it’s going to be hard. Techniques for breaking down complex decisions into sets of simpler questions are very valuable, but it’s important that the way you break down the problem and recombine the answers fits with how you answer the simpler questions.

I’ve been pointed to what looks like an unfortunate example from the NZTA, in assessing options for the Petone–Grenada link road to be constructed near Wellington. The road comes in two sections: from Petone to the eastern section of Lincolnshire Farm, and from there to Grenada. According to the scoping report (PDF), these can be decided independently of each other, so there’s an ideal opportunity to simplify the decision making.  NZTA describes four options P1 to P4 for the first section, and four options A to D for the second section.

I would have expected them to just make independent recommendations for the two sections, but what they actually did was more complicated. First, they looked at the P options and decided based on four criteria that P4 was best.  They then looked at A+P4, B+P4, C+P4, and D+P4 for the same four criteria, and said in a footnote (p172) “Upon combining one of Option P1, P2, P3 or P4 with one Option A, B, C or D the effect more towards the negative takes precedence.

This can only make sense if the harms or benefits weren’t independent.  Sometimes that’s possible. In particular, one of the criteria was “resilience”, and you might argue that it doesn’t matter how robust the second part of the road is when the first part is under several meters of rock and mud, or filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. It could make sense to take the worst value of the two sections when assessing resilience: but people who know more about Wellington-area transport than I do still seem dubious.

The same argument certainly doesn’t apply for the other criteria: archaeological,  ecological,  landscape/visual impact, and transport benefit/cost. If one section of the road is an environmental nightmare, that doesn’t make the environmental impact of the other section unimportant. If one section of the road is unavoidably ugly, that doesn’t excuse making the other section ugly. If one section destroys an important heritage site, it doesn’t mean the other section doesn’t have to care about preservation of the past. If one section is ridiculously expensive it doesn’t mean the costs are unimportant for the other section.

The impact of decomposing and recombining the evaluation as they did, is that any criterion where P4 was bad becomes much less important in choosing among options A to D. P4 was very bad on the landscape/visual criterion, and moderately bad on ecology.

By now you should be expecting the punch line: evaluated independently, options A and B look good because they score well on ecology and landscape/visual criteria. Evaluated in combination with P4, they look terrible, because the ecology and landscape benefits are masked by the “more negative” combining rule. That’s a problem with the combining rule, not with the road. Here’s a colour-coded version of the information in Table 23-19, p182 (from T. Duran)

P2G separate and combined option assessment

Not only is the combining rule obviously missing some information, it’s not even internally consistent. If the evaluation had been done in the opposite order they might well have chosen A first, and then looked at A+P1 to A+P4. Even D was what they’d chosen first, P3+D would then look slightly better than P4+D.

It’s very tempting to look for ways of combining preferences that don’t rely on numbers, just on orderings, but in most cases they aren’t available, and attempts to do it leave you worse off than before.

This evaluation wasn’t set up to focus only on resilience — even assuming that the resilience assessment is valid, which I hear is also being questioned — it was set up to value the four criteria equally. It really looks as though a minor detail of the approach to simplifying the evaluation has had a large, accidental effect on the result.

Thomas’s words are gentle but suggest serious methodological errors in NZTA’s project selection. Taken together with Tamara’s critique of the agency’s evaluation of the resilience impacts of the Petone-to-Grenada road, it really makes you wonder what’s wrong with NZTA’s decision-making.

February 2015 Patronage

We’d already heard about the spectacular rail patronage results of passing 13 million trips, an increase of 1 million in just 5 months. Now we’ve got the full patronage information for February and it’s looking good.

2015-02 - Patronage Table

One of the aspects I noticed in the table above is the Western line appears to have dropped however AT say that is just because of the timing of events last year and so if removing special event tickets from the numbers of each year shows patronage growth for the month of 9.8%.

One impressive aspect about the rail growth is that the total patronage in February was higher than any single month last year despite being only 28 days and including a public holiday. Only one month – October 2011 which was the peak thank to the RWC – has higher and the difference is only around 2,000 trips.

The total patronage growth is shown below.

2014-02 - AKL - Total Patronage

Other than the rail results it’s also pleasing to see buses growing so strongly. The Northern Express (NEX) is obviously still up strongly but other buses which carry the bulk of patronage are increasing too. For the 12 months to the end of Feb patronage was 7.6% (around 4 million trips) compared to the same time last year.

2014-02 - AKL - Bus Patronage

With results so strong I’m really looking forward to seeing just how big the numbers are for March. Given what I’ve been seeing and hearing about how full trains, buses and ferries are the results could be absolutely massive. Of course we’ve also been hearing a lot about buses and trains being so full that it’s putting people off using them, especially on the rail network where issues and delays have become an almost daily occurrence.

On issues, this is showing through in the train punctuality stats which have shown a decline in recent months and it can also in part be attributed to services being too full increasing dwell times. I suspect the 78% the western line managed to achieve could go much lower in March.

2014-02 - AKL - Train Performance

We also have Wellington’s patronage results for Feb which have remained flat. The monthly figures for buses and trains were down 0.2% and up 0.1% respectively. Due to growth over the last year they were both up on the 12 month figure though.

2014-02 - WLG - Total Patronage

Wellington takes a(nother) step back on transport

Wellington is a great city but when it comes to transport I fear it is continuing to make foolish decisions. The latest news comes in relation to cycling in the city. In December we learned that a fantastic looking cycleway to Island Bay had been approved that used parking protected lanes and even continued the cycle lanes behind bus stops.

Wellington Island Bay Cycleway 1

Wellington Island Bay Cycleway 2

Unfortunately that and other cycle projects are now in doubt after a group of councillors decided to strip the council’s transport committee of it’s powers and require the cycleways get signed off by the entire council. This could put at risk how much money Wellington is able to get from the government’s Urban Cycleways funding.

The controversial handling of the Island Bay Cycleway project has ended with a Wellington City Council committee being stripped of some of its powers.

All decisions about Wellington’s cycleways will be made by the entire city council from now on, rather than just its transport and urban development committee.

Some councillors say the change will delay the rollout of better cycling infrastructure across the city, while others argue it will speed things up.

The full council voted 11 to 4 in favour of the rule change yesterday.

It came about after eight councillors called for the transfer of power, angry at the transport committee’s management of the $1.7 million first stage of the Island Bay to City Cycleway.

The three-kilometre section from Shorland Park to Wakefield Park has divided community opinion after 18 months of research and nearly a year of consultation.

Construction was pencilled in to begin later this month, subject to the transport committee’s approval. But after yesterday’s rule change, the full council will now get the final say.

Before the vote even Prime Minister John Key thought the idea of trying to delay was a stupid move saying in his post-cabinent press conference on Monday

“I think we’ve got the capacity with the government resources, and working with the council, to complete some of those cycleways in a reasonable timeframe. I don’t know why the council is slow at the moment on these particular issues given the mayor is a keen advocate of cycling. The government has got resources there and I’m hoping the Council can sort it out.”

“The whole purpose of us putting in the money in terms of urban cycleways is a reflection of the amount of demand that’s there and interest that not just Wellingtonians but people around the country have for a much safer cycling environment. If you look at the Petone foreshore into the Wellington CBD for instance, what a magnificent cycleway that could be and how safe it could be, and how dangerous it can be currently.”

I guess if Wellington doesn’t want its share of cycle funding that Auckland – or other cities – would love to have it.

Will we see new train operators in Auckland and Wellington?

As many readers will know from the monthly board meeting updates we see, Auckland Transport are in the process of putting out a new tender to run all rail services in Auckland from Mid 2016 onwards. Wellington has also going through this same process and ATs reports say they’ve been working with the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) on some aspects. The outcome of the tender process will be fascinating as in Wellington Kiwirail (and predecessors) have always run the regions trains. In Auckland they were contracted out over a decade ago – a time when very few people caught trains – to Connex which became Veolia and now Transdev. A few years ago the contract was extended to mid-2016 so AT weren’t changing operators in the middle of the roll out of electric trains. Since that time Transdev’s performance has improved significantly which is good – although it’s still not perfect.

One of the aspects that spurred the contracting situation a decade ago was that the existing operator didn’t want to run the services anymore. The growth in train use that Auckland has seen and will continue to see over the coming years has made operating the trains a much more attractive proposition. As such a number of companies are likely to be very interested in winning the tender and the Wellington tender gives us an idea of who some of the main contenders will be. Just before Christmas the GWRC announced the short list of companies who will be sent tender documents for the running and maintaining of trains.

Greater Wellington Regional Council has finalised a short-list for the tendering of its new rail contract.

Greg Campbell, the Regional Council’s Chief Executive, says that after careful evaluation of Expressions of Interest the following companies have been short-listed. They are:

  • Transdev Australasia Pty Ltd in a joint venture with South Korean-based company Hyundai Rotem. Transdev operates Auckland’s train service, Sydney’s light rail, ferries in Sydney and Brisbane, and bus services in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin. Hyundai Rotem is the manufacturer of Wellington’s electric Matangi trains and has extensive experience maintaining rolling stock around the world.
  • Keolis Downer in a joint venture with KiwiRail. Keolis Downer operates the Gold Coast light rail network in Queensland, Australia and Keolis operates Melbourne’s Yarra tram services. KiwiRail currently operates Wellington’s train services and maintains the region’s train fleet.
  • Serco – an international service company that currently operates a range of rail services in the UK, the Middle East and Australia.

Greg Campbell says tender documents will be issued to the short-listed companies early next year. “We plan to select a preferred tenderer around the middle of next year and have a contract signed by the end of 2015. The new rail contract will take effect from 1 July 2016.”

The Regional Council is developing and procuring new performance-based, partnering contracts for all public transport services in Wellington. “The new contracts will have a much greater emphasis on providing high quality, affordable services that encourage more people to take the train, bus or harbour ferry.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that two of the bidders are joint ventures, one of which includes Kiwirail which means that regardless of who wins the current situation in Wellington will definitely change. My understanding is in the Keolis/Kiwirail bid Keolis will actually run the trains on a day to day basis with Kiwirail doing the maintenance – that in itself is a big change for Kiwirail. I assume it will be the same thing on the Transdev/Hyundai Rotem bid, Transdev running the trains with Hyundai Rotem maintaining the trains.

Presumably all of these bidders are also hoping to pick up the Auckland contract too as there would be some improved economies of scale from doing so. The big difference in Auckland is the train manufacturer CAF already has a 10 year contract to maintain the trains.

Perhaps a disappointment from the list above is that all operators seem to be only about operating the service. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be an operator like MTR from Hong Kong who might also be interested in not just running the services but investing in developments around rail stations in a bid to improve patronage. I imagine others will also raise the question of why the operations aren’t being brought in-house by both AT and GWRC – even if operated by an independent entity – rather than the profits going overseas.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens in both cities but there’s certainly a possibility that both cities will see some major changes in the running of trains going forward and that has the potential to be quite disruptive for some time. There’s definitely some interesting times ahead.