As I’m sure most readers would have recognised from my most recent posts on the CBD Rail Tunnel review, the thing that frustrates me most about the work done by the Ministry of Transport is their blatant ignorance of the big question: “what is the alternative to the project?” If we think back to the business case, it outlined a range of options that could be considered as ways of increasing public transport capacity to the city centre – in general they were:

  • Increased on-street bus priority
  • A bus tunnel between Fanshawe Street and Upper Symonds Street
  • Enhancing the capacity of Britomart station
  • The CBD Tunnel

While the merits of each of the alternatives were looked at, and an analysis was undertaken to some level of detail, the Ministry of Transport’s review found a number of deficiencies in how the business case had analysed the alternatives. In particular, MoT’s review seemed to think that the on-street bus option hadn’t been given adequate consideration.

This is outlined below:
The numbers above highlight one of my main criticisms of the review – the fact that the question of “how would the city cope with the vast increase in bus numbers?” has been avoided. This is an important issue not only for assessing how bad things would be without the tunnel, but also in the scenario that we have the tunnel built. If the CBD can’t handle 36,000 bus trips (or 46,000 car trips for that matter) then those extra people will be carried by the rail system: probably the result of many more bus services feeding the rail network rather than travelling right into the city. The fact that the bus network structure is created through a strategic process, rather than simply being an output of what a computer model says will happen, seems to be completely beyond the ability of MoT to comprehend.

In response to these criticisms by MoT, the consultants who prepared the business case also put together a pretty damn useful analysis of the alternatives – providing more detail on why none of the other options are really viable. There are a large number of similarities to what I’ve been saying in various blog posts over recent months, which is somewhat reassuring in that my analysis seems to have been pretty consistent with what the “real professionals” were doing.

For a start the public transport report that formed part of the Waitemata Harbour Crossing study was referred to, with its estimates of bus numbers along various main streets in 2041 without the CBD Tunnel in place. As you can see, the result is basically chaos:Such an outcome is completely infeasible really. The only possible way for a street to handle anywhere near the number of buses shown above would be through South American style BRT roads – which generally look a lot like the photo below:

I can’t quite see how Albert Street could accommodate something like this, or how Symonds Street could accommodate anything like what’s shown below: It would also obviously be incredibly expensive to implement something like what’s shown in the two images above – particularly in terms of land acquisition in the CBD. This is mentioned again in APB&B’s response to MoT:
This was before the City Centre Master Plan came along as well. Personally I don’t quite see how a pedestrian focused city centre will be possible with 200-300 buses an hour rumbling along BRT-style roads which have had to be enormously widened.

In fact, the APB&B response to MoT’s criticism of their assessment of alternatives (known as WS8) is quite frank:
In my opinion the truth probably lies somewhere between APB&B’s position that the business case was perfect in terms of its assessment of alternatives, and MoT’s position that the business case was useless.

It seems obvious that we do need to explore, in more detail, exactly what the feasible limits are of the CBD to handle additional bus and car traffic. This should be done in a way that very much keeps in mind the goals of the City Centre Master Plan, the practical limits of how many buses can run along corridors, the trade-off between increasing bus priority and reducing roadspace for general traffic and other important matters like impacts on pedestrians, cyclists and the quality of the city centre as a whole.

In fact, when all those other matters are taken into consideration I am actually starting to think that most of the modelling work done under-estimates the importance of the CBD Rail Tunnel, rather than over-estimating it. If the city centre at the moment has 42,000 car trips and 22,000 bus trips into it every morning peak (although this document suggests the current levels are lower for cars), then how feasible is it for those numbers to increase to 46,000 and 36,000 respectively – as the MoT suggests will happen with the tunnel built? I simply can’t see the physical capacity available to achieve such an increase – at least not without completely destroying the city centre.

That would appear to leave the CBD Rail Tunnel as the sole major option for increasing transport capacity into central Auckland – because the rail network in general is the only piece of our transport infrastructure with significant spare capacity: with the rail tunnel effectively “unlocking” the full capacity of the network. If our streets can actually only handle slightly more than 42,000 car trips and 22,000 bus trips then it’s not like we can squeeze more people in on those forms of transport – there simply won’t be the space. Regardless of what the modelling says, we will simply have to operate bus routes as feeder services instead of as routes that run all the way into town. That will mean more people on the train, meaning that if the tunnel is built its benefits are likely to be far higher than measured by MoT. It also means if the tunnel isn’t built then either the trains will become intolerably overcrowded, or the CBD will effectively be left to choke and businesses will go elsewhere – with a big productivity loss to Auckland and NZ’s economy.

By the way, there are a huge number of documents related to the review that have been posted on the Ministry of Transport’s website – including all background documents, agendas and minutes from meetings, the details of each workstream, advice to the Minister at various stages of the review being developed and so forth. It’s well worth a read.

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  1. So the alternative is all those extra buses without the road space for them, hmmm.
    Sounds like it needs an alternative itself. How about, I dunno, a rail tunnel to increase rail capacity in therms of passengers and actual trains, that allows for flexible service patterns, and I dunno, maybe a train station within 500 metres walk of everywhere in the CBD? Has anyone thought of that?

  2. There is no need to consider alternatives to the tunnel because there is no reason not to build the tunnel. If the agglomeration benefits in the business case are real then they are more than enough to allow the tunnel to be financed by Auckland Council without central government help. Indeed Auckland Council would be stupid not to build the tunnel if it meant losing the agglomeration benefits. The only reasons for Auckland Council not to proceed are because they can’t think of a way to pay for the tunnel out of the agglomeration benefits, and ticket prices allow them to do that easily; or because the Council doesn’t have faith in the business case.

    This is a put-up-or-shut-up moment for Len Brown. He has said the tunnel will be complete within 5-7 years and now he can start allocating contracts for design and construction. He’ll be remembered either as the father of a new era in public transport in Auckland, or as the man who bankrupted the city. If he chooses not to proceed then he is essentially acknowledging that the MOT and Treasury analysis is correct.

    1. I don’t get your point obi. How are agglomeration benefits magically going to pay for the project? Most of the “tax wedge” benefits accrue to central government through increased taxation revenue. Take a read of these two documents:

      1. People will be both able and willing to pay higher ticket prices in return for the increased salaries that have been predicted.

        1. If the individuals catching the trains themselves were the only ones to benefit from the project, then yes fair enough that they should pay for it. However, a significant proportion of the benefits from the project accrue to road users (around 50% of the traditional transport benefits), to increased land values in the CBD (where tax increment financing might come in handy) and through increased productivity and greater tax take (hence the argument for a central government contribution).

          But you knew that already, didn’t you?

        2. I knew that. The agglomeration benefits in the Council business case far outweigh the transport benefits. They’re the ones that make or break the business case.

          You’re making a case that I shouldn’t proceed with something that improves my situation IF it also improves other people’s situation as well AND I can’t get them to help me pay for it. For instance, I’m the main beneficiary of painting my house and the benefits of regular painting exceed the cost of the paint. But you’re implying that because I’m also improving my neighbourhood, I shouldn’t paint my house unless my neighbours agree to buy half the paint.

          If the agglomeration benefits manifest themselves as increased salaries, then get the people who benefit from those increased salaries to pay for the tunnel via tickets. The fact that other people benefit (motorists and IRD) without contributing to the tunnel doesn’t alter the fact that Aucklanders will be happy about higher salaries and Auckland Council will be happy about the shiny new tunnel.

        3. If you read the council’s review of the business case carefully you’ll see that they have shifted their acceptance of wider economic benefits to be more in line with what MoT says. The only thing that really makes them different is that they leverage off the transport benefits – and obviously they’re in dispute. And the extent of additional employment is somewhat in dispute – although even there MoT accepted that the project would induce 5,000 jobs compared to the business case saying 22,000 and Council’s position analysing both 5,000 and 20,000.

          In terms of your argument that the tunnel should be paid for through ticket prices, that might well be appropriate if all subsidies (hidden and otherwise) were removed for transport. That would probably include fairly harsh road pricing, elimination of any parking requirements in planning documents, full accounting of environmental effects of roading developments and so forth. Plus who knows if we end up better off at the end of it – perhaps subsidising all sorts of transport makes good sense for the economy as a whole.

        4. “perhaps subsidising all sorts of transport makes good sense for the economy as a whole”

          Have you lost all sense of reason? Transport of goods and people adds nothing to their intrinsic value. It consumes resources and causes pollution. Why would you encourage more transport by subsidising it? If anything we should be taxing it as wasteful consumption and reducing taxes on production (eg increasing income tax thresholds). Let’s start by steadily increasing transport fuel taxes across the country; not to subsidise public transport but to incentivise those who spend less of their income on transport and those who produce less CO2 in generating that income.

  3. Bless Obi, so sweet the simplicity of your often repeated view, but the problem remains that Brown or indeed any mayor of Auckland just doesn’t have the rating [taxation] base to commit to such a programme. I know you’re calling the agglomeration idea, but it doesn’t work this way, it isn’t ‘monetised’ to the council directly, it makes other organisations wealthier and, trickle down, increases the rating base, but doesn’t lead to big income for the Council. Yet there is this thing called the Nation Land Transport Fund, awash with our taxation, so much so that Joyce has officials desperately searching the country-side for bits to pave, that really ought to be available for a project like this.

    Thing about NZ, no matter how free-market your politics the only show in town is the government. It is the only organisation with the power to change the game, so yeah, I’m hoping Brown and the AC can be creative and get as much of this thing down as possible but at some point we are going to need some intelligence out of whatever crooks are in residence in WGTN to come on board.

    This report out of joyce’s MoT so freights contempt for Auckland I just hope enough of us pick up on that through the noise and send them a message later this year.

    1. Here here, NZ has one of the most centralised funding regimes that exists – central govt has 9 times(?) the budget of local govt in NZ. Till that changes the Council will always be fighting with its hands behind its back funding a project like this.

    2. “it isn’t ‘monetised’ to the council directly”

      It can be monetised directly via ticketing. According to the business case (medium scenario) there will be 145,000 people working in the CBD by 2041. According to the business case they’ll have an increased productivity added value per person of $30k, which should be reflected in increased salaries. People should be happy to pay an extra $5k a year each in ticketing to secure a salary increase of around $30k. $5k times 145,000 workers equals $725million a year. That is more than enough to pay for the tunnel… if you believe the business case.

      1. If AC was able to gather all the taxation from local sources this would idea could work. Sure give us Auckland’s contribution to petrol tax and i’ll design you a transport infrastructure spend that will work… farebox recovery, carbon credits and all…. Puford won’t happen though…..

      2. And what of all the people who pass through the tunnel travelling between their low-income jobs and their low-cost housing that have no relationship to the CBD whatsoever? They benefit too, but they’re not in a position to pay increased fares. Likewise those who’re on moderate incomes, residing in the CBD but working elsewhere.

        It’s just not as simple as you try and make out. But you know that.

      3. No it can’t be monetised through tickets. In fact agglomeration benefits are not even really monetised into higher wages – they are monetised into rents. Which is, by the way, the reason why Auckland Council should be applying a targeted rate to properties in the central city and outlying areas (with access to train stations) to fund the project.

        Did anyone see the Herald article on linking rates to those who benefit? While this is not “user pays” in the sense that Obi means, it is placing the costs of the tunnel more squarely on those that benefit. But Obi is on one level right – ticket prices for people travelling into the city during peak times should be higher.

        Taken together, targeted rates and peak ticket pricing may be enough to get it over the line. It would also reduce the need to build the tunnel so soon, buying more time to plan and construct it, which ultimately flows through into a higher BCR. So I think the best alternative is for AT to focus on revenue streams and demand management.

        AndI’d suggest that artificially low ticket prices (that undermine service quality) is not the best way to help low-income households. Instead, you’d be better to provide more targeted discounts to beneficiaries/students etc. This means that normal people pay more (as they should) while low income households are not disadvantaged.

  4. I don’t think ticket prices should be particularly increased for a number of reasons including:
    -there are those who rely on PT that could not afford more expensive tickets
    -increasing ticket prices is a disencentive for people to get out of their car habit
    -I support encouraging people to live in CBD apartments, and convenient access to cheap PT is currently a plus on offer

    I think these would be more acceptable to the commuting public & more targeted at those who would really benefit from the new infrastructure:
    -Increase the rates on properties in the vicinity of the new stations.
    -Increase the level of development levy on properties in the vicinity of the new stations.
    -Introduce a stamp duty on the sale of property in the vicinity of the new stations.

  5. The government wants a country based on a roading model for passenger and freight transport. Blatant disregard for the future of the country. I don’t understand it at all.

  6. Blatant disregard for the future of the country. I don’t understand it at all.

    key, joyce, et al, are only interested in their own egos and bank balances and those of their mates. full stop. the future of the country couldn’t mean less to them. let alone the plebs who have to use public transport. you can tell by looking at their faces that these ministers feel violated by just having to think about something so vulgar.

    1. Yes, I’ve come to the conclusion that National just doesn’t get public transport. They think it is something that only poor people need because they don’t have a car. Therefore the absolute minimum should be invested – it doesn’t matter about the quality of service or anything else.

      1. Hey you never know, Steven Joyce might decide to put Puhoi-Wellsford through the same rigorous review of its business case.

        After all, that’s a very expensive project too.

        1. Steven Joyce stated on Breakfast this morning that the BCR for Puhoi to Wellsford was 1.1 ? He also gave a great demonstration of what tochigi was talking about, looking down his nose as though he was being forced to examine the drains. Classic. The video should be posted soon.

        2. Is not the 1.1 BCR for puhoi calculated using a “non-standard” BCR of 4%, whereas the 0.3 BCR he quoted for the rail loop is using the standard 8%? If so, then he is lying and TVNZ and other political parties should call him out on it. Mr Joyce shall henceforth be known as the Minister for apples and oranges …

  7. The alternative to the tunnel is… well the only sensible choice is a tunnel.

    Maybe could close a lot of lanes in the city to convert to light rail and run tram trains to get some trains flowing through the city, and thus reduce the number of busses running through. (Of course that would need some rapid rethinking wrt the new purchase.) Or possibly if you knew for example that one day you wanted a cross city tunnel on a certain alignment, to releave congestion on Britomart maybe the Council could afford to build the first half of that as another stub to be completed in future.

    But basically, every single fricken Aucklander needs to make sure they vote National out of Govt at the next election.

    1. Unfortunately the alternative is just a much worse place, not as dynamic, not as successful, clogged with more cars and buses, fumier, drearier, more provincial and slipping further and further away from the standards of our Australian competitors….

      1. Try to remind yourself: National voters either don’t live in cities, or live in swanky suburbs or beach exurbs, and all their children are expected to emigrate anyway. They have nothing but contempt for the people who are forced to, or choose to, live and work in New Zealand cities. They don’t see why they should bother paying for liveable cities here – why should they, when they can fly to Melbourne or San Francisco on a whim? New Zealand is only a place to make money, so the most important things are low taxes, low wages and efficient transport of goods (i.e. motorways for trucks).

        1. Your characterization of National voters is accurate insofar as it describes “core supporters.” But National could not be in power if they did not also eat into Labour’s traditional urban support base.

          Our current situation is caused not so much by National pandering to its myopic supporters, but instead by Labour’s inability to a) acknowledge the failings of its last term and b) develop a credible new vision for New Zealand.

          National is governing by virtue of Labour’s mediocrity.

  8. An interesting detail of this debate: the idea that running more west to south trains can relieve pressure on Britomart, thus postponing the need for other solutions (see p10 of the anti-rail ‘WS8’ report that the top post links to).

    Background: some people get off at Newmarket, so trains that are full south of Newmarket are not full into Britomart. Proposal (apparently): west to south trains can pick up increasing demand south of Newmarket; while increasing demand from Newmarket to Britomart can be handled without more trains, by ensuring that the present trains are full on that sector.

    A few minutes reflection will show that this idea is absurd.

    Note we are talking about travel to the CBD. If there are enough west to south riders to justify a direct service for them, that’s good, but that’s a different matter. For riders to the CBD, a west to south service is simply a train that terminates at Newmarket.

    Let’s suppose that 20 per cent of peak direction riders get off at Newmarket (for the sake of argument – I have no idea what the true figure is). The aim is to make sure that trains from Newmarket to Britomart are full.

    This implies that there will be one Newmarket terminator for every four Britomart trains, and the people who get off the Newmarket terminator, but are continuing to Britomart, will somehow distribute themselves over the four following Britomart trains.

    But they won’t. When 500 people get off the Newmarket terminator, and then 400 of them try to board the next train to Britomart which is already full, you have chaos. The fact that the next four trains have enough space between them is irrelevant – no-one wants to wait that long.

    And are the people getting off before Britomart supposed to sit at their suburban origins while four Britomart trains go past, unselfishly waiting for the Newmarket terminator so as not to overcrowd the Britomart trains? You wish.

    You see this vague, naive approach to rail capacity quite often. I suspect it’s because the people concerned spend most of their time thinking about traffic problems, or work in firms next to people who do. I suspect that as a result they subconsciously think of transit passengers, like traffic, as a fluid that can be poured around at will. They don’t think about the details of train operations.

    But public transport riders are not a fluid – they come in large groups who have to be moved around together, according to a timetable, with adequate quality of service. The challenges of doing that are quite different from the challenges of building a road.

    With rail, unlike with road projects, you can’t walk away from the completed project and leave the traffic to take care of itself. Rail infrastructure must be planned from an early stage with a clear view of the desired ultimate operating pattern. If you can’t work out an acceptable operating plan, the infrastructure is useless.

  9. I think you exaggerate the transfer issues associated with running direct west-south services.

    The “transfer chaos scenario” you discuss ignores the fact that many regular passengers who need to travel to CBD will not use the west-south service, even if they come along first. They will instead stay where they are until the next direct west-CBD service comes along, thereby avoiding the need to change at Newmarket. And if both services trains run at say equally spaced 10min frequencies then you’ll only be waiting a max of 5min (or even less for those commuters that use timetables).

    So the increase in capacity comes not from west-south passengers changing trains at Newmarket, but instead “passing up” on trains further out. Of course some people may take the first train that comes along, but if they do and they do endure chaos at Newmarket then they won’t do it again! Hell, you could even incentivise people to use non-CBD services by offering discounted fares (which will be much easier with HOP), but some people may criticise that as “capitalist engineering.” 😉

  10. surely there would be four patterns instead of the current two:


    People arriving on non-Britomart services but wanting to travel to Britomart would wait for the next Britomart service, which could come from the South or West. surely it’s a matter of good timetabling. The frequency of services between Newmarket and Britomart is high because the lines merge. So if people got off a service from the West, you could timetable a service to Britomart from the South to come through soon after to minimize transfer times. The key is to get accurate information on the capacity needs between Mewmarket and Britomart, and cater to that.

  11. But still this whole mindset is predicated on grasping desperately at trying to justify maintaining a poor and incomplete service. We know, the MoT knows that failure to build the CRL will not optimize the current service so much as limit its growth. This is what the minister wants. And what he needed from his officials was anything half credible that he can refer to to keep muddying the waters.

    Must be a fun place to work these days, the Ministry, you get given the answers and then have to come up with the calcs to get there. Exactly the same with Puford, but in reverse: 0.4 turned into 1.1 with the wave of El Stevo’s magic fairy dust.

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