Wellington and Christchurch Patronage

We keep a close eye on patronage in Auckland – which has been surging in recent months – but what’s happening with patronage in our other major cities? So in this post I’ll look at patronage in both Wellington and Christchurch.

Wellington

Unlike Auckland which has seen considerable growth over the last decade, the use of the system in Wellington can only really be described as flat. There are probably a number of factors at play including that the number of people employed in the Wellington Region peaked in 2008, the same year as patronage peaked – although I don’t think this is the only reason. On the positive side some recent growth meant that the end of June saw the 12 month rolling as the highest it’s been for potentially decades.

14 - Wellington Total Patronage

While Wellington does have ferries they carry such a small number of people (less than 200k per year) that they hardly register, of the other two modes bus patronage has grown slightly although it it dropped slightly in 2013 the figures are starting to rise again.Monthly patronage in June was up 6.3% on the same month last year which is a good sign and one of the largest single month increases in six years.

14 - Wellington Bus Patronage

The rail network has seen more volatility with a large drop off in the number of trips from mid 2009. Patronage then stayed fairly low until after Wellington’s new Matangi trains were introduced in early 2011. Since then it’s been a slow recovery with the exception of the RWC. However in recent months we’re starting to see some real improvement and 12 month patronage to the end of June was up 2.8% – although that’s also partly because some lines were closed for over a week in June last year due to storm damage.

14 - Wellington Rail Patronage

Overall patronage in Wellington has been flat for some time but the good news is that things seem to be changing with patronage numbers reaching new heights. Let’s hope that growth continues.

It’s also worth noting that traffic volumes on Wellington’s state highway network have also been flat for some time.

Christchurch

Between 2000 and 2010 patronage in Christchurch increased by almost 80% which better than what Auckland achieved over the same period with both cities coming off low base numbers. Then in 2010 and 2011 the earthquakes struck devastating the city – with the CBD suffering some of the most extensive damage. The impact on bus patronage was dramatic and set  use back use by a decade more. Positively patronage in Christchurch is now recovering although still well below the pre-quake levels. Let’s hope the growth can carry on and see us quickly surpass the pre-quake results.

14 - Christchurch Bus Patronage

If anyone has details about patronage results for other NZ cities then I’d love to see it so let me know in the comments or flick me an email with the details.

Basin Bridge Bowled

In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project.  This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:

All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.

The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.

The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.

The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx

A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.

Basin Bridge Image 1

This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.

But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.

Basin Bridge Image 2

The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).

  • 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.

Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.

I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.

Basin Bridge Image 4

Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.

The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.

Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.

Auckland and Wellington Rail metrics comparison

I’ve criticised Auckland Transport in the past for having so many items on their closed agenda. For example this was from their meeting on Tuesday:

Items for Approval / Decision

i. Rail Deep Dive
ii. Pitt Street Lease Expiry
iii. Relocation and Disposal of AMETI Property
iv. Investment Framework
v. Draft Election Policy

Items for noting

i. RLTP/LTP Update
ii. Internal Management Audit
iii. Health and Safety – May Report
iv. CRL Update
v. AMETI Communications & Engagement StrategyUpdate
vi. Glen Innes Tamaki Cycleway

I still stand by that criticism however I also have noticed that AT have been pro-actively releasing papers from the closed sessions after they are no longer considered confidential. This is a good thing and I think more council and government agencies should take this approach.

One of the papers that has been released from the April meeting is a fascinating comparison of a wide range of metrics between the Auckland and Wellington rail networks. The authors note that it can be very difficult to do a proper comparison due to issues like

  • the length, layout and topography of the two networks
  • how the services are operated
  • the differences in the age and types of rolling stock
  • the maturity of the Wellington network vs the rapid change being experienced by the Auckland network.

As such it is far from a complete comparison but does provide some useful bits of information about the two networks.

First up is a comparison of some key statistics.

AKL vs WLG Key Metric Comparison

The metrics show that Wellington rail commuters are generally travelling a lot longer than those who use trains in Auckland (23.7km per trips in Wellington vs 13.7km in Auckland). On a cost basis Wellington commuters also pay more however that reverses when you compare the average fares to the average distance travelled. On a per KM basis users in Wellington pay about 15c per km compared to 21c per km in Auckland.

Perhaps the most important difference is the operational costs. On a per km basis the difference will be even far more pronounced however we don’t have the number of service km’s that were run to do that comparison properly. Further on the report does break down the operational costs further though.

AKL vs WLG OPEX Comparison

There are a number of significant differences between the two cities. Some of these are explained as:

  • Fuel costs are obviously a lot higher in Auckland due to running diesel trains. The diesel cost was $3.86 per service km compared with an equivalent energy consumption of $1.22 per service km in Wellington. These should come much closer together once electric trains are rolled out across Auckland.
  • Labour costs are considerably higher in Auckland. The authors aren’t able to give a definitive answer for this but suggest a combination of factors might be at play.
    • The mixed fleet meaning Auckland had two separate driver rosters (Loco drivers and DMU drivers) combined with now former situation where some drivers were hired from Kiwirail at a premium rate (it changed in January this year). This is also thought to have led to an increase in driver training costs.
    • Slower trains which means increased trip times for services and therefore more crew hours are needed.
    • Auckland’s costs include all of those incurred by Transdev whereas it is suspected that in Wellington some support roles and corporate overheads are effectively absorbed by Kiwirail.
    • Different fare collection staffing models. They note that it wouldn’t be possible to replicate Wellington’s fare collection model without potentially a lot more staff and/or fare leakage.
  • Station expenditure is higher in Auckland. Britomart alone costs about $3.5 million per year to run and all stations in Auckland have more extensive use of CCTV and security patrols.
  • Higher rolling stock maintenance costs due to the aging diesel fleet including approximately $5.7 million to Kiwirail for facilities, management overheads and hiring the diesel locomotives. The cost per km to service Auckland’s trains is $7.32 per service km vs 2.71 per service km in Wellington. The Auckland costs are expected drop significantly after electrification.

The one area Auckland does seem to exceed in is with the customer satisfaction scores which are significantly higher than those in Wellington. I suspect there’s a heap of reasons behind this and perhaps one is Aucklander’s are more accepting of crappy infrastructure/services as we don’t have the history of high quality to look back on.

All up a fairly fascinating report and while Auckland doesn’t look good in many of the metrics the good news is that improvement are on the way. The Auckland network should move much closer to that of Wellington from an expenditure point of view in coming years as the electric trains are rolled out and the savings they provide. That is likely to also be influenced by the re-tendering of the rail services which I suspect will attract a number of bidders from international rail operators as well as Kiwirail.

Transdev is hoping to secure a longer contract from 2016 following the transition to electrification, although Scott expects to face competition. Auckland Transport is asking prospective operators to attend a market sounding event on July 2 where it is seeking interest for the city’s passenger rail services for mid-2016

Comparing Auckland and Wellington rail patronage

With patronage on the rise and the first electric trains starting to carry fare paying passengers in just 18 days it once again starts to raise the question of when annual rail patronage in Auckland will pass that in Wellington. It’s a question we’ve asked before after we got very close to doing so a few years ago but after the RWC hangover wore off, patronage fell away again.

The graph below shows the history of patronage on the Auckland and Wellington rail networks since 2002.

14 - Feb Auckland vs Wellington Patronage

To me there are a couple of key things that stand out from the graph.

  • Wellington patronage peaked just shy of 12 million trips in the middle of 2009 (although I understand it reached about 16 million in the 1980′s). After that patronage declined to about 11 million about 18 months later. Now that the fleet of Matangi electric trains have been fully rolled out and with reliability improving as a result, patronage is slowly growing again and is sitting at 11.47 million as of February.
  • With the exception of the time during the RWC and over Christmas, since 2011 monthly patronage in Auckland has been very similar to that of Wellington, normally just a few thousand trips per month behind.
  • There have only been a handful of times when patronage in Auckland has exceeded that in Wellington however those times can usually be explained by an event of some sort e.g. the storm damage last year or the NRL nines/Eminem concert this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Auckland can repeat it in March however it is something that will happen more frequently in coming months.
  • The most noticeable difference between the two is the patronage over the Christmas/New Year period. In Auckland the lengthy shut downs for upgrades have clearly had major impacts on patronage. They’ve been a necessary evil while we get the network upgraded and hopefully with Electrification due to be completed this year, they’ll be a thing of the past (at least until the CRL really starts). If the shut downs stop then it suggests that alone may deliver about 300,000 more trips a year. Another good reason why the council shouldn’t let AT get away with lowering their SOI targets.

Before anyone raises it, yes on a per capita basis Auckland will be behind Wellington for some time yet.

Based on just how busy the trains feel this at the moment, my guess is we could pass Wellington by June this year but that do you think? Vote in our poll when you think Auckland patronage will pass Wellington’s

[poll id="4"]

Guest Post: Petone to Grenada Link Road with 11th hour surprises

This is a guest post from Michael Dickens

The concept of Wellington’s Transmission Gully Road and a Petone to Grenada Link Road has been around for decades.

Suddenly though we’re blindsided by major new motorway options ‘tacked on’ with haste to the proposed Petone to Grenada Link Road (P2G) in February this year.

These new options (one includes the destruction of a whole rural valley – option D) have appeared with no public planning, and were a surprise to the Wellington City Council which questions why they’re needed?!

Option D will be an unnecessary 4 lane motorway through the beautiful rural Takapu valley (option D), a unique gem within Wellington City District, as a preferred option over widening 3km of existing SH1 (option C) between Grenada North and the start of Transmission Gully. ‘It is easier than having to consider traffic management’ NZTA tell us.

Takapu Valley Options

Incredible in this day and age is the concept that weighs equally the short term gain for traffic management against the loss of a rural asset, productive farmland, environment, and a community forever. These were called ‘esoteric costs’ by NZTA engineers at the public open day, and don’t count they say.

What’s more we were only given a few weeks to gather information from a standing start to formulate objections for something that would change and ruin livelihoods and landscapes forever. A process you wouldn’t expect in an OECD democratic country. It’s the further relentless imposition of the roading network.

NZTA’s justification is extra capacity is needed – which isn’t right. They say that when Transmission Gully Road is connected at Kenepuru/Linden and Petone to Grenada (P2G) is connected to Grenada – the mere 3km section between these two points on SH1 can’t cope with the extra traffic so option C or D are suddenly needed.

But traffic will drop! The traffic on SH1 Linden is the same traffic, going to the same places – whether or not it’s coming from SH1 or Transmission Gully. In fact it’ll be less after Transmission Gully Road is connected – here’s why.

Transmission Gully Road intersects SH58 at Judgeford, making it only 7km from SH2 and Upper and Lower Hutts. This is significant because moving the main Northern Wellington motorway corridor east, now means the dynamics have changed. Petone is now 19km from Judgeford whether you go via Haywards or via the new link – but there are big differences…

However the fact that SH58 has an easier climb, 5.8% and 122m from SH2 versus 9% and 290m on Petone to Grenada, (SH2 is flat) means SH58 will be the road of choice for traffic coming or going north from the Hutt, including Petone & Seaview .

The extra traffic siphoned off onto SH58, means the loss of Petone bound traffic on the Linden section of SH1. This will also have the added benefit of easing the morning queues for traffic turning left at the bottom of the Gorge.

Traffic volumes have plateaued for the last 10 years in the Wellington Region, and between 2006 and 2013 censuses the volume of those commuting by car into Wellington has dropped by 3.5% (75% more by bike).

The NZTA are using a flawed model that has traffic volumes going up with population and GDP growth – whereas it has actually plateaued, and has petrol prices remaining static for the next 30 years – something we all know is nonsense.

Further, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) stopped the original Transmission Gully Road going through Takapu Valley because the impacts were too high. It could be said that NZTA are back trying to build it now by stealth and haste.

NZTA should go back to the drawing board and build option B that was planned for decades – simply connecting P2G to SH1 south of Tawa. It would save between $50-150million and wouldn’t devastate communities and the environment. Options C and D are nothing more than a last minute land grab tacked onto P2G by NZTA prior to the election, with no justification.

We would urge the NZTA to think again and:

  • Connect Transmission Gully to Kenepuru/Linden as originally planned
  • If Petone to Grenada goes ahead – connect it by option ‘A’ or ‘B’ at Grenada as always planned.
  • Scrap the unjustified scheme options ‘C’ and ‘D’ and with the money saved:
  • Do the upgrade on SH58, Judgeford to Haywards with a split level intersection onto SH2. Both to take the extra traffic and improve its safety. It was given consents for this purpose 10 years ago
  • Remove traffic lights on SH2 with proper interchanges
  • Stop working in silos and start looking holistically at Transmission Gully, SH58, Petone to Grenada and their synergies.

Submissions close on the 17th. April on the Petone to Grenada Road, and it’s tacked on options

Takapu Valley

NERI Energy Conference 2014

Later this month, I’ll be heading down to Wellington for the NERI Energy Conference 2014. The conference organisers kindly agreed to give the blog a free ticket, and I’ll be attending on our behalf, tweeting updates during the conference, and taking screeds of notes for writing up into posts later.

The major theme of the conference is energy efficiency, and I’m particularly looking forward to the keynote address on that topic. A lot of what we talk about here at TransportBlog comes down to efficiency (although we’ve got wider interests, and we’re certainly not interested in efficiency at the expense of all else!) Public and active transport is a very efficient way of allowing large numbers of people to get where they need to go, as happens on a daily basis in cities around the world. It’s efficient in terms of the amount of land it needs, and it’s efficient in terms of energy use.

If we were trying to reduce transport energy use, we could either travel less, or we could be more efficient in our travel. This efficiency could come about from shifting to more efficient modes (public/ active transport), or more efficient vehicles (hybrids, etc), or altering our driving style. There’s potential for New Zealand to do all three, but public transport will play a major role in any shifts.

The Energy Conference takes place over two days, 20th-21st March, and will feature more than 30 speakers. One of the conference sessions is devoted to “energy efficiency in transport”. As part of that session, I’m giving a presentation looking at “household spending on transport fuels in Auckland”: this is using data I’ve gotten hold of quite recently, and which I’ll write a bit more about over the next couple of months as I get further into the research. Suffice to say, I’m quite surprised just how big the differences are between what households spend in the inner suburbs and the fringe suburbs.

I’ll also be giving a Pecha Kucha presentation on the Congestion Free Network – of course, if you’re reading this then you’re probably already quite familiar with it. Matt, Patrick and others have done amazing work on the CFN over the last year or more, and trying to boil that down to 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide is tricky.

It should be a great conference, and based on having attended it last year, I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in energy or transport research.

Wellington PT Spine decided

A final decision on the future Wellington’s PT Spine has finally been made and it’s one that might upset a few people.

Faster, bigger buses have been officially chosen as the future of public transport in Wellington, snuffing out any chance of having light rail in the capital for the foreseeable future.

The Regional Transport Committee – a collective of Wellington’s mayors and the NZ Transport Agency – voted today to push ahead with plans to build a $268 million bus rapid transit network between the Wellington CBD and southern suburbs.

Detailed plans are yet to be drawn up, but it will involve hi-tech articulated or double-decker buses running along a dedicated busway between Wellington Railway Station and the suburbs of Newtown and Kilbirnie.

The route forms the southern part of Wellington’s public transport “spine”.

Today’s decision brings down the curtain on the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study, which began in 2011.

The Spine Study had looked at a number of different options for improving PT in Wellington from simple bus lanes all the way up to extending the existing heavy rail network through the CBD and beyond. 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

Spine Study Route Alignments

One of the big problems with the spine study is it made some odd assumptions like that light rail would require its own dedicated new tunnel under Mt Victoria while BRT wouldn’t, instead using a second Mt Victoria tunnel the NZTA plan to build as part of the RoNS work.

However even putting that aside I do feel that the BRT option is probably the right one. One of the reasons for that is that the BRT option wouldn’t just benefit the dedicated buses that might run on routes above but that other buses from the wider area would also benefit. This is as what we currently see in Auckland on the Northern Busway where the Northern Express services only run on the busway route however a large number of other bus routes like the popular 881 use the busway for part of their journey. This appears to have been a key factor in the decision.

Committee chairwoman Fran Wilde said the ability of rapid transit buses to go beyond the dedicated spine and continue to suburbs like Island Bay and Karori made it a winner.

“With some of the bus technology that’s now on the books, the difference between what people consider light rail and bus rapid transit to be is getting smaller and smaller.”

Building a light rail network through the middle of Wellington would have also caused severe disruption to those living and working in the city for a number of years, she said.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was first elected in 2010 on the back of campaign promises to push for light rail, said today she had also been swayed by the ability of buses to go further than trams.

She welcomed the decision to proceed but cautioned that Wellington’s topography and road layout would make it impossible to build the type of busways seen oversees, which were generally isolated from all other traffic by concrete barriers.

“This is not going to be the highest quality bus rapid transit network in the known universe because that just wouldn’t work.”

Ms Wade-Brown said all options had been thoroughly considered as part of the spine study. The $380m cost of a rail tunnel was not the critical element holding back light rail, she said.

There are a couple of key comments in here that are worth expanding on. As Fran Wilde notes the differences between buses and light rail are getting smaller and smaller and that is likely to continue. Wellington already has some trolley buses however with other electric bus options being developed it doesn’t have to mean that BRT is any worse environmentally than light rail. Even more traditional looking diesel buses don’t seem to have been a problem in attracting passengers for Northern Busway services.

The other key comment is from Celia Wade-Brown where she says that Wellington won’t have the highest quality fully separated BRT. The reality is that any light rail system would suffer exactly the same constraints as the bus option.  Even so I’m sure they will be able to significantly improve bus priority along the route. This is also recognised in the spine study in that the estimated travel times for both BRT and LRT come out almost identical. 

In addition to all of this another advantage of the BRT option is simply that it can be built over time and in doing so each section can provide immediate benefits to existing services. Under a light rail scheme it isn’t until an entire route is really in place that the infrastructure becomes usable. That staging ability combined with the fact that buses from outside of the immediate area of the spine can also benefit from the infrastructure then I think it becomes quite clear that the BRT option was the better one.

But all of this doesn’t mean that light rail couldn’t happen at some point in the future, in fact most of the works needed to secure the right of way to implement a BRT system would also apply to a LRT system so that work would already have been done and it would just come down to the cost of laying tracks. BRT could be seen as means of building patronage numbers faster than possible otherwise which might help better justify light rail in the future. For those pushing for light rail it could be a case where sometimes the best way to achieve your goal is not always to go straight to the final solution.

Now that a final decision has been made hopefully those supporting PT in Wellington will focus on pushing to get the BRT infrastructure needed in place as soon as possible.

Graphing Transport in Wellington

Last year John Key caused a bit of outrage by saying that Wellington was a dying city but particularly when it comes to transport, perhaps he was right. A couple of articles yesterday about transport in Wellington helped to highlight this so in this post I’m going to look at a number stats about and associated with transport in the region.

First up let’s have a look at a couple of key stats that have an impact on transport, population and jobs.

Population

As you can see from Stats NZ estimates, Wellington’s population is growing but it isn’t growing that fast (when compared to somewhere like Auckland) and you can see the growth has been slowing down over the last decade or so.

Wellington Population

Jobs

Jobs in the Wellington region are still down on the peak of 2008 but not by too much (3%). Some areas appear to have been harder hit than others though, with Upper Hutt down 12% (1450 jobs) and Lower Hutt down 8% (3670 jobs). These changes are bound to have had some impact on travel but probably not massive amounts.

Wellington Jobs

On to transport. The first article that caught my attention was this one on the current proceedings from the Board of Inquiry hearing into the proposed flyover around the Basin Reserve. The NZTA’s expert witness used the same argument of the insane traffic modelling that traffic volumes are just about to go up so we need to build build build.

Today Mr Kelly attacked the view that the flyover was not needed because more young people were choosing not to own cars these days.

He acknowledged traffic growth had been low or flat in recent years, and that some of that could be attributed to declining car ownership.

But, in his view, the economic downturn was more to blame.

“This should be no surprise. We all know of individuals and companies who have restricted their travel as a result of belt-tightening during the period of economic contraction.”

In recent months, economic indicators had been pointing to a return to more traffic growth as the economy rebounded, he said.

Mr Kelly also produced research by ANZ Bank that showed GDP growth since 2009 had been mirrored by a rise in the number of heavy vehicles on the nation’s roads.

There are two and bit issues in here. Dealing with the easy one first, the ANZ data which is known as the Truckometer. What’s important to remember is that the rise in the number of heavy vehicles isn’t an indication of what will happen with private vehicles which are invariably the ones that contribute most to congestion. Further the Truckometer is at a national level not a regional one so rises in trucks volumes in other parts of the country doesn’t mean they are in Wellington.

Vehicle ownership

The Wellington vehicle fleet continued to rise in both total number and on a per capita basis until 2007 before flat-lining or even falling slightly so likely economy related although I suspect also related to PT (which I will touch on shortly. Interestingly there has been a spike this year presumably as people have started feeling happier about the economy. Due to the way the stats are done I wonder if we might see them drop slightly next year as cars that are no longer in the fleet work through the numbers.

Wellington Vehicles

Traffic Volumes

The map and graphs below show traffic volumes on some of the state highways over 20 years and as you can see, they have been almost flat for that entire time.

Wellington Vehicle volumes

Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT)

In total VKT remains flat around Wellington and despite a small rise around 2009 it’s at around the same level it was in the early 2000′s.  On a per capita basis the length of vehicle trips has fallen by about 10% since 2000/01.

Wellington VKT

So with the exception of a spike in the vehicle fleet, it doesn’t look like traffic volumes are about to suddenly rise. That is unless the GRWC continues to drive public transport in Wellington into a bit of a death spiral.

The pinch of bus fare rises is causing Wellington commuters to desert public transport – but the regional council has responded by raising fares further.

Bus patronage had not increased since 2008, yet fare revenue was expected to rise 3 per cent annually in Greater Wellington Regional Council’s long-term plan.

Councillors voted yesterday to increase bus and train fares. Smartcard and multi-trip fares would rise in October by 1 per cent, and cash tickets by 50 cents in certain zones.

The public can give feedback on the decision during the council’s Annual Plan consultations in April.

Councillors Sue Kedgley, Nigel Wilson, Gary McPhee and Paul Bruce voted against the increase.

The graph below shows the patronage across the different PT modes in Wellington.  Growth has remained stubborn and is bound not to be being helped by fare increases. As I said above I can see a PT Death Spiral starting to form where increasing fares drives passengers away but then the fares are increased further in a bid to make up for what has already been lost but further alienating  even more customers. If it continues then perhaps the prediction about heaps more cars will come true. It’s quite sad really.

Wellington Patronage

There’s probably a heap more graphs that could be included but this will do for now.

Edit: Meant to include this graph showing PT patronage per capita

Wellington Patronage per capita 3

The impact of rail disruption in Wellington

Mother Nature gave the Wellington rail system a quite of a battering last year through multiple earthquakes and major storms. The major storm that hit on the night of 20 June was the one that did the most damage when it washed out the sea wall protecting the rail line that serves the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa between Ngauranga and Petone leaving tracks dangling in the air. Kiwirail said the damage was unprecedented. The impact of the outage was felt throughout the Wellington transport system as people who usually caught the train needed to look to other methods of transport. It took almost a week to get the rail line restored with services resuming on the morning of 27 June.

Wellington Rail Washout

Photo credit: David Morgan

If there was one positive to come from it, its that it gives a chance to study what the impacts of the outage and that’s exactly what the Ministry of Transport have done in a report released late last year.

Extreme events and disruptions to our every-day lives give us a chance to probe how we react in different circumstances, and consider how we can better react in the case of similar future events.

The storm on the night of Thursday 20 June 2013 severely affected Wellington’s transport network, with both immediate and flow-on effects for commuters in the region. Of particular significance was
the damage done to the Hutt Valley rail line, and the consequent disruption to passenger rail services for the six days following the storm.

This project surveyed 1,072 Wellington commuters to assess several impacts on Friday 21 June, Monday 24 June and Wednesday 26 June, including:

  • the extent to which disruptions to the transport network (in particular the Hutt Valley rail line services) affected the time it took commuters to get to their destination
  • how commuters changed their travel behaviour to respond to the network disruptions
  • the extent to which communications by transport agencies (including radio, email and text messaging) may have influenced the behaviour of commuters.

And here’s a summary of what the study found.

  • The closure of the Hutt Valley rail line put significant pressure on the road network. Delays for commuters were most severe on the Monday following the storm. Traffic on State Highway 2 was severely congested, with morning peak hour conditions lasting two hours longer than usual
    • 80 percent of Wellington commuters from the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa experienced a longer than usual trip
    • 32 percent of them experienced delays of over an hour
  • the severity of commuter delays lessened over the week, with the number of commuters from the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa experiencing delays of over an hour halving by Wednesday 26 June
  • traffic delays were slightly less severe on Friday 21 June. This may have been due to 27 percent of commuters (surveyed across the region) not travelling to work on the Friday. By Monday 24 June this figure dropped to just 4 percent
  • on Monday 24 and Wednesday 26 June, roughly 45 percent of the typical Hutt Valley train commuters opted to drive themselves or be driven to work in a private car, and roughly 45 percent chose the train and bus replacements
  • communications by transport agencies were effective, with 75 percent of people surveyed aware of transport delays before they headed to work on Friday, and over half of these people altering their travel plans to respond to conditions.

Research undertaken as part of this project estimated that the economic impacts of transport disruption resulting from the storm was between $12 million and $43 million. This included $5.3 million in cost to local and central government agencies who responded to disruptions and damage on the transport network, $5.3 million loss in value of travel time and between $2 million and $32 million reduction in outputs.

There’s a few interesting points in here. The first is day of the outage (red) compared to same day the week before and after.

Wellington Hutt Valley closure - road impact

The severe congestion probably helped to ensure that those who were previously using trains went back to doing so once the rail line was up and running again. This is the patronage from the Hutt Valley line surrounding the outage and you can see it bounced back to normal the following week.

Wellington Hutt Valley closure - rail impact

Probably the most interesting part is the assessment of the economic impacts of between $12 million and $43 million depending on how it’s calculated. Some of those costs – like the $5.3 million in repair works – are unique to the outage however the same amount again is simply due to the travel delays caused by the mode shift and ensuring congestion. This might not sound like much but consider that it is just for four working days so equates to about $1.3 million per day. That helps to give us an idea as to just how much impact the rail network in Wellington is having on congestion relief.

My understanding is that the Hutt Valley line carry’s roughly half of the patronage on the Wellington rail network while the rail network itself only accounts for about 6% of all journey to work trips. Imagining for second that someone decided to close the all of rail lines in Wellington we can probably assume that similar travel delays would occur throughout other parts of the road network. Even just using the figure of $1.3 million per work day extrapolated over a typical year (~250 working days) would see travel time delays add up to over $320 million per year.  By comparison the entire system only costs something like $80 million to run and that’s before passenger fares are taken into account.

Of course there would be a lot of other things that would need to be taken into consideration and the costs above are just very quick calculations but it does go to show that while the rail network might only play a small part overall, it does play a significant one.

Wellington property prices, and suburban vs CBD lifestyles

The Dominion Post had some great coverage on Wellington’s growth patterns in June this year. They put together an interactive site, which seems to be having some clunkiness issues (as most of them do)  but has some really interesting information.

Firstly, property price trends in Wellington since the 2007 peak. Many areas have actually fallen in price, and are shown in blue. The areas which have increased (shown in red) are almost all in Wellington City itself, i.e. they’re more central – closer to the Wellington CBD, which dominates regional employment and retail activity.

Wellington property prices

The Dominion Post also had some good articles which used case studies of CBD or suburban residents to illustrate their different lifestyles. This article talks about living in the Wellington CBD:

The place [in the suburbs] was simply too big for them after their children had moved out. “It was great. But you had to heat it all, and you end up turning one or two rooms into junk rooms,” Clark said.

Clark relishes the city lifestyle. Everything is an easy walk, and there is no need to plan if you want to do something.

The Clarks lived in Rome for a year in 2003, and were impressed by the inner-city lifestyle enjoyed by many Italians. “It makes a community. In a block of flats in Rome, a palazzo, you have shops all on the ground floor, and most have got a garden or courtyard. They all hang their clothes in the courtyard and talk to each other.”

In New Zealand, we build big outward-facing apartment blocks without a thought for interaction, she says, and that should change.

More low-rise apartment blocks built on a liveable scale should be welcomed, she says – and with them should come an influx of new young professionals and families to the city centre.

“Why aren’t we building for those people?” Clark asks.

 

Another article talks about the “quarter acre dream” in Porirua.

When [Sue Grazier] moved back from Melbourne with husband Michael last year, she wanted to get away from high-stress life in a sprawling city.

They believe they’ve found the dream: a modern house on a big section with a great view and thriving community spirit, and they are there to stay.

Though Sue’s family have all moved to Auckland, there was never any chance she would follow suit, and not just because of house prices. “It’s like Melbourne. You live only in a little area, spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart.”

Their 800sqm section is large by today’s standards and Sue knows she has been lucky to find it. Increasing intensification is unattractive, she says. It’s a reminder of the downside of Auckland and Melbourne, where people get piled on top of one another. “You get your neighbour’s toilet [next to] your kitchen.”

But it is the reality younger people will face as they grow up. “It’s going to be shocking for them . . . people need affordable places to live. Life’s stressful enough without a huge mortgage. But that’s what future generations are going to have to do.”

A couple of paragraphs in there strike me as being a bit ironic – e.g. the first, talking about moving out of a ‘sprawling city’ only to move into… a sprawling city? Likewise, in Melbourne you apparently “spend your life in the car . . . [while] Wellington has a heart”. There may be some context that makes this makes sense, i.e. perhaps the family works in Porirua as well, or they’re talking about central Porirua as their local ‘heart’, or they’re happy enough catching public transport into the Wellington CBD. I’m not sure, and I don’t really mean to pick holes in the story: suburbs will always be a big part of New Zealand cities, and some people will always prefer living there, while others will want to live centrally.

I agree that the suburbs really come into their own if you really do value having a larger section, or when you find yourself only a short distance from your local school, park etc, and not too far from work; the downsides are when you’re isolated from those and other activities, and have to drive to get anywhere. Likewise, there are pros and cons to living in a CBD or other built-up areas.

Also on the subject of Wellington’s growth patterns, it’s interesting that the city has achieved a ratio of 40-40-20 of CBD: infill: greenfield for its new housing in recent years, and this pattern is likely to continue in the future.

That’s for just Wellington City, mind you, not the overall region – and the city itself is constrained by having whopping big hills around it, and not much greenfields space remaining. However, Wellington City is the main growth node within the Wellington Region: the latest projections from Statistics New Zealand suggest that the city will account for around 70% of region-wide growth in the next 20 years. No doubt Auckland can learn some valuable lessons from Wellington, but Auckland also faces a bigger challenge as we’re growing much faster. To achieve meaningful levels of intensification, we need to see a real uplift in development – which we’re starting to, by the looks of things.