Light Rail In The Viaduct

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Last Friday the Herald ran my letter in response to Heart of the City’s Alex Swney’s opinion piece:

Alex Swney deserves a round of applause for differentiating between the need for a party location for the Rugby World Cup and the longer term needs of a cruise ship terminal and an integrated plan for a broader city waterfront.

For once, passenger transport should also be an integral part of town planning. From the ferry terminals and Britomart in downtown Auckland to the new Wynyard Quarter is a distance of about a kilometre, too far for many people to consider walking.

A light rail system linking Britomart with the Wynard Quarter and the existing employment centres in the Viaduct would be a unique point of difference for the precinct. Heritage trams, capable of running on the same tracks, could also add to the character.

This could easily be achieved for less than half the cost of refurbishing a building that ultimately few people could end up using.

Mr Swney mentions that a restored bascule bridge can accommodate street cars “in the future”, but if we are serious about doing something truly visionary and world-class, we need to plan for light rail now to avoid the cost of redoing street foundation work and the laying of the necessary infrastructure.

Hopefully Auckland City will get the message on this one.  Everyone I speak to agrees that this is a great idea.

Why building motorways sometimes makes no sense

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I’m reading an excellent book at the moment – Resilient Cities by Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley and Heather Boyer. I commented on this book a few posts ago, with particular reference to how pathetic our preparedness for peak oil is and how stupid Treasury’s oil price predictions are. I have just got up to reading the chapter which relates to transportation issues, and there are certainly some interesting points in it.

The basic premise is that for a city’s transportation system to be resilient – that is to be able to adapt to the changing world that we face over the next few decades – it simply can’t be as auto-dependent as many American cities, as well as Auckland, are at the moment. Whilst electric cars may come along and be the answer to our problems at some point in the future, to properly ensure that the effects of peak oil and climate change are not too horrific there is simply no alternative to making cities more public transport oriented.

One point that I found particularly interesting, before I get on to explaining the pointlessness of building more motorways, is the relationship between increased public transport use and decreased car use. Often it is simply thought of as a one-to-one relationship: that each increased ride for public transport is one fewer trip made in the car. However, it appears as though the relationship is actually stronger than that: that “there is an exponential relationship between increased transit use and declining car use.” This is further explained:

This helps explain why use of cars by inner-city residents in Melbourne is ten times lower than that of fringe residents, though transit use by inner-city residents is only three times greater. The reason is that when people commit to transit, they may sell a car and even more closer to the transit, eventually leading to lan use that is considerably less car dependent.

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Heavier Trucks by 2020?

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The Herald reports:

Heavier trucks could be on the road by 2010 if an amendment is passed following a successful trial, Transport Minister Steven Joyce says.

The amendment would create a permit system allowing some trucks to carry up to 50 tonnes on specified routes. The statutory limit is currently 44.

A trial that ran from last year showed productivity increased between 10 and 20 per cent, trip numbers reduced by 16 per cent and fuel use dropped 20 per cent, Mr Joyce said.

Reduced freight costs would help exporters and New Zealand “grow faster out of the current global recession”.

It would also mean fewer trucks on the road which would ease congestion and frustration, Mr Joyce said.

Personally I’d like to see some kind of cost / benefit / subsidisation analysis done for this, including analysis of the cost of trucking accidents.  An earlier report said hundreds of millions may need to be spent strengthening certain roads.   I also think the “fewer trucks on the road” argument is completely bogus.  If his is true then the trucking industry will will be announcing a 16% reduction in the number of truck drivers, and I can’t see that happening at all.

Wonder if the AA will be coming out with a position on this one?

Onehunga Line News

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It seems as though the funding issues for the Onehunga Line, that resulted from the removal of the regional petrol tax, have been resolved. This follows on from a post I made a couple of weeks ago that related to progress being made between the ARC and NZTA to provide the necessary extra funding. It also appears as though there will be three stations along the Onehunga Branch: one at Onehunga, one at Te Papapa (quite near Mays Road) and one near Mt Smart stadium.

I have included a map of where I think the stations will be located. I’m not 100% sure of the location of the Te Papapa station and the Mt Smart station, but they would certainly not be too far from where I’ve shown them:

onehunga-line The main benefit of the Mt Smart station seems likely to be for events, and it may well turn out that this is and events only station. There isn’t much residential development within easy walking distance of the Mt Smart station – although I guess there is potential for people who live elsewhere on the rail network but work near the station to catch the train. I suspect that wouldn’t be particularly many people though.

I have a couple of hopes for this line, apart from the obvious one that it’s reasonably popular. My first hope is that it gets decent service frequencies. There aren’t that many available peak hour slots into Britomart left (due to the lack of a CBD rail loop) so I am not sure whether, at peak hour, a huge number of trains will be able to be run from Onehunga into Britomart. I think that it’s most likely that trains which currently terminate at Otahuhu will be re-routed to instead terminate at Onehunga. Off-peak I hope that the service frequencies aren’t cut back too much either – perhaps a train every 30 minutes during weekdays and at weekends would be great. And that links in with my second hope: that the service runs on Saturdays AND Sundays, and at reasonable frequencies on both those days. The reason I hope this is because I actually think it could be damn popular. The big white blob just above the Onehunga station is DessSmart Onehunga: an extremely popular shopping centre with very limited carparking. As Sylvia Park has shown, people are very eager and willing to catch trains to shopping malls at the weekend, and I imagine that Onehunga will continue that trend – if a decent weekend service is provided. And finally, clearly the Onehunga services must start and end at Britomart. That’s a bit of a no-brainer.

So the obvious question is “when will it open?” Well, according to ARTA: “services are expected to begin on the Onehunga line early next year.” So not too far away.

May 2009 Stats – solid patronage growth

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The May 2009 ARTA monthly business report has been released and – as per usual – makes interesting reading. Looking at public transport patronage, it says the following:

• Total Public Transport patronage for the 11 months to May 2009 was 8.0% above last year.
• Total patronage for the month of May was up by 2.5%, 2.5% higher for bus, 5.2% higher for rail and 2.6% lower for ferry. However, May this year had one less working day than May last year.
• The Northern Express patronage for the month of May increased by 20.5% on last year.

The most important figure is that total patronage did increase from May 2008 to May 2009, although “only” by 2.5%. Growth for rail was highest – as per usual – with patronage on ferries continuing a bit of a long-term (and somewhat worrying) trend of decreasing. Patronage data is detailed below:

may-patronage May is usually the second or third highest month of the year for patronage – equal with August but below March. This is due to a lack of school or university holidays in these months. It will be interesting to see how patronage stacks up over the next few months actually. From around June 2008  onwards there was a big surge – due to the very high petrol prices we saw in winter and spring last year. I think that petrol cracked $2 a litre in early June last year for the first time, and peaked at near $2.20 a litre by July. So if the next few months of this year can merely hold their own against the very high levels of patronage we saw over the winter months of last year it will be pretty impressive.

One other thing that is very interesting to note is the performance of “contracted bus services”. These are services that operate in quite a different way to typical services – in that ARTA simply pays the relevant bus company a fee to operate the service, but collects all the money and so on itself. This is the system that Steven Joyce is likely to destroy by bowing to the interests of Infratil, but the crazy thing is that these contracted services appear to be some of the best performing in the whole Auckland region. Compared to a 2.5% increase in all bus services, we see the following:

bus-services Now growth on the Northern Express is somewhat expected, as it runs along a pretty new busway. But a year ago (which the data compares with) the busway was open and operational. On the 680-681 routes I don’t know if these existed a year ago (they were more fractured) so an increase in patronage is also unsurprising. But Mt Eden Road is interesting, as buses have been running along there forever. However, since the services became contracted we have seen new buses run along that route, frequencies improve and patronage has responded. This same pattern is likely to spread across Auckland as more and more routes become “contracted”. That is, unless Steven Joyce stuffs around with the Public Transport Management Act.

The PTMA seems to be working from my perspective.

Hamilton Rail Meeting

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The Campaign for Better Transport has organised an information evening about our push for a commuter rail service to the Waikato.  With the help of Hamilton City Council, this is surprisingly close to becoming a reality. Come and find out more.

  • Tuesday 23rd June, 7:30pm
  • Reception Lounge
  • Hamilton City Council
  • Garden Place, Hamilton

Download the flyer here.

KiwiRail Stalling on Hamilton Rail Quote

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The Waikato Times reports:

Attempts are being made to fast-track a new-look Hamilton to Auckland commuter train service.

Hamilton local body politicians have been in talks with KiwiRail and say they are on the verge of getting a final concrete proposal on which to base a decision.

The deal is far from done but a rough proposal is for a service leaving Hamilton between 6am and 6.30am and departing Auckland at 5.30pm. A suggested route is from Frankton with stops at The Base in Te Rapa, Huntly, Papatoetoe and stopping at either Britomart or Newmarket.

Suggested fares are $24 from Hamilton and $17.60 from Huntly.

 But Councillor Dave Macpherson warns:

“Is KiwiRail going to come back to us with a proposal in writing that matches the words they have been saying?”

Apparently while KiwiRail has given a verbal quote to the council for the service, they have yet to put anything in writing for some reason.

New Stations Put Extra Pressure on Ratepayers

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The Herald reports that it looks most likely that ratepayers will be picking up the funding shortfall created by the axing of the regional fuel tax:

Money has been assured for new Auckland railway stations, but at extra cost to ratepayers, after the Government’s cancellation of a regional fuel tax for motorists.

An integrated public transport ticketing project will also be scaled back under Auckland Regional Council budget decisions made yesterday.

Although regional rates will be held to an average 3.93 per cent next year, as originally programmed, the council has approved a revised 10-year funding plan including annual rises of up to 6.73 per cent by 2014. Its new schedule would lift the average rates bill from $336.79 this year to $350.03 next year.

Chairman Mike Lee acknowledged a council-imposed rates rise ceiling of no more than 5 per cent honoured since 2005 would be breached in three of the next 10 years, from 2013 to 2015.

He acknowledged that the budget commitments would be inherited next year by the new Auckland Council, at which point he said their impact on overall rates would be “fairly minimal”, equating to annual rises of under 1 per cent.

Although the council made an assumption in March that it would have to hand control of most of the stations to the Government to overcome a $202 million funding hole left by the aborted fuel tax, chief executive Peter Winder yesterday disclosed compromises to avert that. These followed agreement by the Transport Agency to:

  • Pay a 60 per cent subsidy for new railway stations including at Newmarket, New Lynn, Manukau, Onehunga, Grafton and Avondale.
  • Make a $5 million grant towards costs already incurred by the council on Newmarket Station.
  • Lend the council $32.8 million over four years to pay for six new six-car diesel trains already on order from KiwiRail until the Government buys electric rolling stock.

Mr Winder said those concessions would still close only 22 per cent of the funding gap… [more]

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