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.