Auckland Burns while Finance Minister Fiddles
Airport Lines, not being stuck on the Southern Motorway day in day out, bus lanes that spanned City wide. You would think this is bread and butter stuff of a central government with its pulse on the button as New Zealand (not just Auckland) continue to fact high population growth. However, something seems to have slipped Finance Minister Steven Joyce’s mind when it came to the $11 billion infrastructure fund announcement yesterday. In fact a rather large pile things seemed to have gone right past the Minister.
I will outline the Minister’s cynical attempt to play off provincial New Zealand against urban New Zealand in the upcoming elections shortly. But first the Airport Line.
From The Spinoff – Auckland Division:
Auckland Transport wants a rail line from the CBD to the airport. Council does too. So why does a start date seem further away than ever? Simon Wilson examines what’s gone wrong and how to make it right in the dispute over rail to the airport.
Light rail is trams and heavy rail is trains
Before we go anywhere with this, let’s get one thing clear: we’re talking about trams and trains.
The politicians and planners alike bog the conversation down with their talk of light rail, also called LRT, which is light rail transit; and heavy rail, also called HRT; and also “advanced buses”, also called BRT, which is bus rapid transit, which is buses on a dedicated bus-only roadway like the Northern Busway. And all of it makes up rapid transit, or mass transit. AAARGH.
Let’s just say trams, trains and buses. Fast buses if you like, because ordinary bus services share the road with everyone else and are not rapid transit.
Trams: not those old tourist-attraction trams, but sleek fast modern machines. Trams are not what trams used to be, in exactly the same way that cars are no longer Model T Fords.
And trains: not the old diesel engines now used only for freight and parts of the main trunk line. The “heavy rail” trains that move people around Auckland are the smart new electric units now running on all the commuter lines.
We need to build rail to the airport now
There are now 33,000 people working in and around the airport and by 2044, say the planners, that will rise to 90,000. The number of passengers using the airport grew by 10 percent last year, to 17.3 million. It will hit 20 million by 2020 – or 55,000 a day – and 40 million by 2044 (all these figures are from a joint position paper prepared by Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency).
Even if we build triple-decker motorways, it will simply not be practical for most of those people to drive to and from the airport in private vehicles.
We need trams and/or trains, and the process of planning, consenting and construction for them will take a good 10 years. We need to get started now.
The economic case has changed
The costings have since been reviewed. A recent workshop involving councillors and staff from council, AT and NZTA was presented with new figures that showed the likely cost of trams had ballooned and was now the same as for trains: around $2.5 to $3 billion.
The reason? The initial BCR assumed trams would be introduced anyway and would run from the central city all the way down Dominion Rd. So the BCR considered only the extra cost of extending them to the airport. The new costs correctly include the entire project.
But despite that, the new analysis showed the BCRs had not fundamentally changed: for trains it was 0.37-0.64; for trams, something a bit over 1.0.
BCRs are not much help
What’s going on? How is it the prospect of interminable traffic snarl-ups doesn’t create more favourable BCRs? Even when that traffic is full of trucks trying to get goods to market? And air passengers trying to catch a plane? Something wrong with BCRs, you’d have to say.
The government itself believes this – it’s made several transport project decisions that are not supported by a good BCR. The Puhoi-to-Wellsford highway and the East-West Link from Penrose to Onehunga both spring to mind. Both of them have a weak financial case, according to their BCRs, but despite that are considered so important to the economy they’ve been designated Roads of National Significance.
Clearly, there’s a reality gap. On the one hand, a transportation system headed for collapse. On the other, a system of economic analysis that cannot produce a viable solution.
If anyone’s got a better way to do the economic analysis, let’s hear it. Because clearly, we need it.
Fast, frequent public transport is an essential feature of large modern cities
Let’s remember this: cities all over the world are growing, many of them very fast. That growth causes systems failures and social disarray when it is not planned for, but provides tremendous economic, social and cultural opportunities when it is. Which one do we want to be?
It’s the second, obviously. But that’s not us, not yet. Every city that has retained its capacity to function well while growing has a strong public transport network based on key rapid transit routes. Auckland’s public transport is vastly better than it was even 10 years ago, but we don’t have the network strength we need and despite the progress we’re not building it nearly fast enough.
Instead, we’re still focused on adding motorways and motorway lanes. It’s expensive, counterproductive because it encourages cars, environmentally ruinous, and neverending. But once the tracks are laid in a well-designed system, boosting the rail capacity (whether with trams or trains) is far easier: you add more trams and trains and more carriages to the trams and trains.
The need for this exists all over the city, but nowhere is it more obvious than with the problem of getting to and from the airport.
Why aren’t we building tram or train lines to the airport already?
The council fights back
(Position on which mode to the Airport not finalised)
Where would they go?
The route of a tramline from central city to the airport is broadly agreed on: from upper Queen St it would connect to the once-was-almost-a-motorway at the top of Dominion Rd, head south to Mt Roskill and Three Kings, then to Onehunga and across the Manukau harbour to the airport.
The route of a train line is not so clear. One option is to extend the Onehunga Line, which is a spur on the Southern Line, across the Manukau harbour to the airport. Another is to run the line from Otahuhu. A third is to extend from Puhinui, near Papatoetoe on the Southern and Eastern Lines, to the airport.
Or would it be better to run a tramline through Puhinui, all the way from Botany, down through Ormiston and the other new eastern suburbs? Or a busway (see below)?
How good are trains?
Trains should make sense. They can carry 750 passengers in a six-car set and they’re popular. We already have lines running quite close to the airport – those Onehunga and Puhinui connections. If you’ve been to Sydney (or almost anywhere, really), you probably already know that if you get off a plane and there’s a train to take you where you want to go, you’ll use it.
And we now know a train connection would not be more expensive than a tramline. But it still has that wretched BCR. Is it as bad as it seems?
In June last year AT received an analysis by Jacobs Consultancy, titled “South-western Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit”, or SMART. Yes, what a clever name.
In the SMART analysis, trams had the advantage because construction would be easier and because the Dominion Rd tram route had a far bigger “catchment” than any train route: more people living or working nearby means more people likely to use the service.
But SMART also made a recommendation of critical importance: it said the project should not be considered in isolation but has to function well within the overall Auckland public transport network.
Cameron Pitches from the lobby group Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) picked up on that in a follow-up submission to the AT board. Pitches is an advocate for a train link. He said SMART had ignored its own advice because it had not allowed that trains on other lines would intersect with an airport line.
This was because SMART followed a “single seat” philosophy. This is the idea that when you get on a service you sit down once and ride all the way. You don’t transfer.
………Airport passengers, he believes, will be more likely to take a train to Onehunga or Puhinui, if a fast connection from either is developed. He says building that fast connection on a grade separated route is the key.
Ben Ross, from the group Talking Southern Auckland, argues that while the general catchment for a tramline on Dominion Rd is bigger, the catchment of people who work in and around the airport is bigger to the south and east, in the areas of Otahuhu and Manukau, currently served by rail, and out to Botany, which is currently served by no rapid transit at all.
For all these reasons, the Campaign for Better Transport and others believe the case against trains is still far from clear.
Nevertheless, AT has adopted the reasoning in the SMART report and strongly supports trams.
How good are trams?
The lobby group Greater Auckland, meanwhile, is with AT on this. GA is the organisation formerly known as the Transport Blog and as far as they are concerned, trams are the future.
We’re not talking about those stately wooden glories tootling around with 30 or 40 people on board. AT anticipates two-unit trams with each unit carrying 225 people, and Matt Lowrie at GA says three-unit trams are also possible. Modern trams can go faster than 100km/hour, which will be helped by “grade separation” on much of the line: the trams will be completely separate from pedestrians and other vehicles.
GA is the outfit behind the Congestion Free Network (CFN 2.0) which I wrote about here.
Get used to the transfer
As SMART correctly noted, an essential feature of transport planning is to ask how each part fits the whole. Getting people from downtown to the airport is one thing, but what about people in Takapuna and Titirangi? St Heliers and Silverdale? How does the airport line function as part of the larger network?
A key feature of the CFN is that it accepts many passengers will have to transfer, so it offers a system where most people will need to do that only once. This is achieved by establishing that central north-south tramline as a spine (Orewa to airport), with all other routes linking to it or crossing it at least once.
………In other words, for the city to grow in a well-planned way, trams offer greater capacity and opportunity.
What are the key differences?
There’s no real cost difference. There’s no real time difference, either. Most analysts believe both trams and trains will take around 40-45 minutes to run between Britomart and the airport. Mind you, the Campaign for Better Transport doesn’t accept this. They believe the Dominion Rd route for trams will take about an hour.
The big difference is in the degree of future proofing offered by each option. Because rail tracks through the inner city will be at capacity soon after the CRL tunnels are opened, they’re not big on this. Those tunnels will allow trains to run more frequently on all the existing lines, which will double their capacity. And double is great.
But only double? It’s not great enough. Capacity on the CRL will be 36,000 people an hour – but we gained that many new Aucklanders last year alone. The CRL is vital to meet existing needs but it won’t future proof transport into and through the city. Trains to the airport, therefore, are not likely to be part of a future-oriented solution for Auckland’s traffic woes.
As Matt Lowrie says, we will soon need another “corridor” through the centre. Trams up Queen St provide that corridor.
As for the catchment issue, Ben Ross is right that the workers of the south and east need to be catered for. While he favours the train lines doing most of the work, he’s keen on trams from the airport to Manukau, intersecting with the Southern and Eastern Lines at Puhinui to form an interchange, and up to Botany, where they would eventually connect to trams heading for Panmure Station via Pakuranga.
Ross would like to see the Botany Line built as a Sky Train as it passes through Manukau City Centre.
What about buses?
Transport minister Simon Bridges and the NZ Transport Agency reckon an “advanced bus solution” could well do the trick for now. There’s a superficial appeal: with a pricetag of $1.4 billion it’s cheaper than trams or trains, and as with the Northern Busway, dedicated busways can be converted to tramlines later.
……..Not that buses should be out of the picture. Patrick Reynolds of the Congestion Free Network, Cameron Pitches of the Campaign for Better Transport and Ben Ross of Talking Southern Auckland all suggest that a dedicated busway from Manukau through Puhinui to the airport will work as a good self-contained early step.
They say this would make it easy to get to the airport by catching a train from Britomart to Puhinui, which is on both the Southern and Eastern Lines, and transferring there to the fast bus to the airport. Pitches: “40-45 minutes for the airport run at peak should be an easy goal here.”
He suggests that anyone wanting to win the Botany or Pakuranga electorates in the September election would be stupid not to endorse this.
The CFN itself contains four advanced bus routes, including that one mentioned by Reynolds, although in the plan it extends all the way to Botany. In all cases the CFN allows that a future upgrade might be warranted, but for the next few decades at least, it suggests those upgrades will be less important than its other proposals.
A vital element of the CFN’s bus routes is that none of them end in the city centre. In fact, none of the CFN’s routes, for any mode, end in town: they all travel through and on to somewhere else.
Transport planning feels like a dam that’s about to break, and the water, when it floods through, is nothing less than evidence-driven good sense. It’s been known since 1990 that building roads creates more traffic. There’s even a name for it: the Lewis-Mogridge Position, named for the people who discovered it.
It goes like this: traffic expands to fill the available road space.
Three things should happen now.
- AT threw down the gauntlet to the governing body of council at the end of 2015 when it declared itself in favour of trams. The council has still not adopted a position. It needs to do that soon.
- The government has to rethink its transport priorities. Auckland traffic congestion will continue to get worse until it drops the roads focus and makes a serious commitment to using trams and/or trains to take the pressure off the roads.
- The government has to rethink its approach to funding. Certainly they should negotiate hard with council: both parties have a duty to act wisely with the public money they are in charge of. But Auckland’s ability to function is being undermined by cheap election politicking and that is unconscionable. Finance minister Steven Joyce’s first budget is due on May 25. He has already signalled he will reveal the general extent of the government’s financial commitment to the City Rail Link, but he needs to do more than that. Will he reinvent himself as the Champion of Trams? That doesn’t seem likely, but stranger things have happened.
Trams or trains? Trams offer better future proofing because they will build better network capacity, which is especially critical for all the routes running through the central city. They also have a stronger business case.
Those are the critical issues that make them the better option. The design and build process will go in stages but it needs to start now.
Maybe we should call them super trams. Fit for a super city.
While even American cities are scrambling to get transit rolled out somehow our Finance Minister believes more roads are the answer to anything including roads that have a negative marginal Benefit Cost Ratio like the current East West Link (marginal BCRs are used in comparison when different options to a given project is available. So with East West Link the current option has negative BCR compared to the Option B inland route).
But if you think our Finance Minister might catch up to 21st Century thinking around integrated land-use and transport policy think again.
Also from The Spinoff – Auckland Division
The minister of finance just announced a multi-billion dollar spend up – andAuckland should be very worried. Simon Wilson explains how the government’s traffic plans are badly stuck.
Congestion for motorists on Onewa Rd isn’t any better than it ever was, Cr Richard Hills told his colleagues on the Auckland Council today. Despite all the work they’ve done to make Onewa Rd a more efficient arterial route for commuters, the cars are still stuck.
He wasn’t fussed, though, and here’s why. These days only 30 percent of the commuters spilling onto the motorway in the morning from Northcote and Birkenhead are motorists. The remaining 70 percent ride in buses, especially double-decker buses, on Onewa Rd’s dedicated bus lane. The cars are struck but the buses go much faster.
You can measure the congestion on Onewa Rd in two ways. The old way is to say the road is still blocked so whatever we’re doing isn’t working. The new way is to say that congestion is being efficiently tackled, not just in the best way, but in the only way possible: by making public transport fast, frequent and functionally efficient for its users.
It takes only a moment to see the flaw in the first response. Yes, motorists are still stuck in traffic. But if those double-decker frequent flyers weren’t in action, the functionality of the road probably would have collapsed altogether.
There’s a law of traffic that explains this: traffic expands to fit the available road space. It’s called the Lewis-Mogridge Position, named after the people who discovered it, way back in 1990. It means you can’t fix traffic congestion by building more lanes for private motorists.
True, when you’re stuck in traffic it feels wrong. It feels like there should be more roads. But that’s not the case. More roads encourage more driving, and people keep driving until they can’t. There are two reasons public transport is so important. One is because it can move lots of people. The other, arguably the more fundamental, is that it takes vehicles off the roads and therefore allows those that remain to keep moving.
That is why investment in public transport is not just a component of any smart transport policy, but should be its foundation. And by public transport, I mean fast, frequent and easy to use public transport: trams (“light rail”), electric trains (“heavy rail|) and buses on dedicated lanes and busways.
So. Auckland transport is near collapse and nowhere is that more obvious than for people trying to get to or from the airport. What’s the solution? It’s those trams, or trains, or, possibly in the short-term, fast buses. And why aren’t we building the lines to make this happen now?
Because the government won’t approve it or fund it.
The government’s refusal to prioritise fast, efficient public transport fails every credible test of good strategic planning. But it doesn’t fail another test: it’s quite possibly a vote winner. The government knows that people stuck in traffic don’t want to sit on a train, they want a free-flowing road. The government knows that in a built-up city at peak times that will never happen.But it’s not going to admit it.
The government sees votes to win among Aucklanders who want to stay in their cars, especially those who don’t like the mayor or the council anyway. And it sees far more votes to win among everyone else in New Zealand who think we’re greedy Jafas who already get far too much attention.
Actually it’s far more complicated than that. But in an effort to make it all a bit more easy to understand, today I wrote an explainer of the trams vs trains debate here.
Simply put Joyce is willing to risk 34% of the vote (Auckland’s population) in playing a cynical game of playing provincial New Zealand off against urban New Zealand. Something National Governments have done in the past. The ultimate consequences is we all lose right through out New Zealand including dairy farmers. So playing one against the other rather than have both cooperating together is down right reckless.
Also I shouldn’t need to remind Joyce the last time Auckland got annoyed and turned out enmass with voting. It happened in 2005 with Don Brash and again (at a Auckland Level) in 2010 with John Banks.
In 2005 after a very divisive election around Race-Relations it seemed National were on the verge of election in 2005 defeating the Clark Government. However, that election night South Auckland turned out in very large numbers and swung the vote around giving Clark her third term denying the Nat’s government for three more years.
In 2010 the first Super City election was under way with Len Brown against John Banks. Auckland is a fickle beast and decided enmass again to revolt against the National candidate and bring in Len Brown for two terms. Again South Auckland with the backing of the West help secure Len’s wins. 2016 the South and West again (with help of the Isthmus) would vote in Phil Goff meaning South Auckland has voted in a Prime Minister, and two Mayors (ironically both Mayors were raised on the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board (Manukau Ward) area).
Now it can be said the correlation between Local and Central Governments often do not line up. That would be a correct assumption under normal circumstances – except these are not normal circumstances.
South Auckland is the fastest growing sub-region in Auckland (apart from the City Centre itself) and faces rather acute infrastructure pressures as we continue our high population growth trajectory. If all Joyce can do is use his $11 billion infrastructure announcement to re-announce that $9b of that $11b is already committed and over a four-year period then the Government is running into trouble. We need that busway and Airport Line, the Southern Motorway needs upgrading between Drury and Papakura, State Highway 22 is unsafe, electrification to Pukekohe needs to be finished and we have a rather large $4 billion transport infrastructure hole that needs filling.
The high population growth trajectory is set to be around for a decade at least. Rather than running around with heads in the sand we should be engaging in proper planning for it. We should be lucky we are considered the country and city to be for new citizens. But playing off provincial New Zealand against urban New Zealand makes you look like a Prize-A Clown. If our advanced cousins including the Americans can get with the program of transit first then nothing stopping us either.
It comes down to electing the most suitable Government to bring us into the 21st Century. Game on South Auckland – can we with our voting mass bring or rather force through more progressive change.