Whoever leaked the draft City Centre Future Access study (CCFAS) is, as Mr Anderson said in a comment the other day, a complete and utter idiot (assuming that it’s someone from Auckland Transport rather than Central Government). After working so hard over the past year to get beyond the differences in opinion between the two parties which plagued last year’s review of the CRL’s original business case, it’s really dumb to spoil this goodwill by jumping the gun. But I guess what’s done is done. Let’s just hope it doesn’t have a long-lasting impact on the project.

From Brian Rudman’s two articles on Friday we know some really interesting details have emerged from this important study into future access to and from Auckland’s city centre (which isn’t what the CRL is solely about of course, a fact that seems to escape many from time to time).

  • We know that without CRL, even by 2021 (a mere nine years away) the CBD is projected to be one heck of a congested place, with most bus networks at capacity and general traffic speeds having slowed down tremendously from their current levels. Remember that the CRL isn’t due to open until around 2021/2022 and also that the bus network will be revised significantly by 2016 to improve the efficiency of the PT network tremendously. In short, it seems that we simply can’t delay CRL’s opening date beyond 2022 without utter chaos resulting.
  • We know that other options to “solve” this problem, including surface buses and an underground bus tunnel, perform significantly worse than the CRL in terms of a benefit-cost analysis. I suspect that this is because they rely upon significant existing roadspace being taken away from general traffic and given to the exclusive use of buses – whereas CRL uses a completely different transport network. This highlights an amusing irony: that the CRL is likely to clearly be the best option for car users. I wonder if the AA will start changing its tune from supporting “buses instead of trains” now?
  • We know that there’s something strange going on in terms of accurately capturing the benefits of the CRL project, if it’s clearly the best option for improving access to the city centre, the implications of “do nothing” are horrific, but it still doesn’t have a cost benefit ratio of greater than 1. There is something of a logical fallacy there: the best solution to a problem that needs to be fixed almost by definition must be worth doing.

On this last point, Rudman’s opinion piece highlights the connection between this clear logical fallacy and the often vexed issue of discount rates, which lower the benefits of a project by a certain percentage each year to take into account net present value and the opportunity cost of spending money now. New Zealand uses an 8% discount rate and assesses projects over 30 years – which is pretty high compared to most international countries and means that in year 30 after a project’s completion we’re only saying the benefits are worth 11% of the benefits in “year one”, while we don’t bother counting the benefits in year 31. For some projects, like an intersection upgrade or widening a road, the benefits get “eaten up” pretty quickly and a shorter assessment period and a high discount rate make sense. But for projects with very long-lasting benefits – the CRL being perhaps the most prime example of that – the high discount rate and relatively short assessment period are illogical.

This is perhaps best illustrated in a graph comparing the benefits of CRL under New Zealand’s system and the UK system:

Of course lowering the discount rate and lengthening the period we count the benefits will improve all projects and doesn’t magically mean we can now afford a whole pile of stuff we couldn’t afford before. But it highlights that BCRs are perhaps not the objective tool for measuring whether or not we should do something they’re often made out to be (and of course this rings true for motorway projects as well), but rather an excellent tool for comparing apples with apples – like has been done in CCFAS. Likewise using a BCR to compare the Puhoi-Wellsford project with possible alternatives such as bypassing Warkworth or the more extensive Operation Lifesaver would tell us a lot about which option makes the most sense

Judging by what we do know, and assuming that there’s no massive change between the draft report and it being finalised, it will certainly be interesting to see what Central Government’s eventual response is. They may rely on the BCR number (which could still go up in the final version) to say there’s no proof the project is worth doing, but now that the consequences of a “do nothing” seem to have been explored in more detail – and are pretty horrific – that approach seems unlikely. What’s perhaps the most interesting conundrum for the government is that it sounds like CRL is clearly the best option for those people government really cares about: the car drivers. Will the government help out the poor car drivers by helping fund a project which means hundreds of extra buses on downtown streets are no longer necessary and avoids the need for whole major roads to be completely closed off to general traffic and given up to buses only?

I guess we will see.

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  1. Spelling out The Core Rail Link’s benefits to truckers might do more to persuade the current Cabinet, though an expensive PPP seems likely to be their preferred option in any case.

    1. Yes it is the only solution and is urgent but why does our basic economic tools back that finding up. Does that not show clearly that there are flaws in the system, probably still has a lot to do with the stupidity of things like valuing PT user time savings at only 50% of car drivers.

        1. Yep they still do, for existing users at least. I’m guessing they used the NZTA EEM for the analysis. This from the Northern Busway Review earlier this year which as far as I’m aware, hasn’t been changed yet.

          In the evaluation of transport projects, travel time savings typically represent a very large proportion of total benefits and so deserve particular attention.
          For the NB, there are some particular aspects concerning the application of travel time values that require consideration as follows:
          Users of the busway have high car availability, with up to 50% of new users being former car drivers and even more who have a car available
          The EEM treats existing public transport commuters as having a significantly lower value of time than car drivers. In addition, all car drivers and car passengers have their time values increased in congested conditions. Only those who are standing on PT (a small minority) have their time increased, but even this this remains well short of car time values. The contrast between car and bus is even greater for non-work travel purposes.
          Whilst this approach may be justified for some PT evaluation purposes, a different approach is required in the case of rapid transit system (such as NB) users because of the high service quality and significant mode choice available. In such circumstances it is illogical to assume that NB users have a lower value of time than car users.
          There is a strong case in the case of the NB, for PT user time values to be at least equal to average car (driver and passenger) time values. In other words, the average bus user time value (whether seated or standing) are likely to be at least equivalent to the value of car users.
          The approach of using an equity value of time for all modes is applied within evaluation procedures elsewhere, for example in the UK. This is particularly important to avoid potential distortions when evaluating rapid transit systems (such as the NB) which have a high proportion of car available users.

          So we are expecting to have 20-25m rail users by 2021, most of who would benefit from the CRL yet they don’t get treated the same way as if we cut the same amount of time off a drivers trip.

          1. This idea, justified very unconvincingly, simply reflects the institutional view that Transit users are losers whose time is of little value. It is a technical way to ensure that there is greater capture of public funding for projects considered by those in control to suit their own section of society. Shameful.

  2. What I’ve never understood inter alia about this crude metric is that any car users, including relatively non-productive ‘units’ such as school children, have double the value of PT users. So, logically, according to this sort of analysis, a child on a school delivery run (yummy mummy with Sebastian and Charlotte en route from Remmers to Kings and Dio in the Beemer SUV) has twice the time value of a suit in a train going from Meadowbank to the CBD?

    1. The ‘logic’ basically is that a person in a car is quite useless, so saving them travel time allows them to be much more productive with the time they otherwise wasted in a car. On the other hand a PT user isn’t quite useless, they can be somewhat productive with their time, so saving them time isn’t as valuable as saving the time of someone who is completely useless.

      The horrible outcome is that logic gets used to justify spending huge bucks on infrastructure that results in more people travelling via the mode where their time is completely wasted, rather than spending it on the mode where people can be productive and travel at the same time.

      Oh and school children don’t factor in, they only look at peak commuters.

      1. Yes, and the EEM logic seems to be applied inconsistently too. If you implement a PT project that attracts vehicle drivers onto PT then this should generate a little “time saving” equal to the differential in value of time.

        E.g. Nic spends an hour on the car @ $15 per hour. Stuart builds a new bus lane. Nic now uses bus to travel for an hour @ $10 per hour.

        In theory Nic has just saved $5, but most analyses don’t count this saving even if they use a lower VOT for PT.

      2. Nick,
        By the same token then a passenger in the same car, should have a VOT value the same as a PT user as their time in the car is no less productive than if they were on the bus/train/hovercraft/ferry etc.
        And in a congested environment the passenger is no better off (or worse off) than said PT user.

        But I don’t see that talked about in the above EEM discussion points (from NZTA?), so yeah apples with apples in their modelling would be nice for once.

      3. Car driver or PT passenger, they are all close to useless if you were to adopt a “lean manufacturing” approach and ask if anyone is prepare to pay them for what they achieve during their journey so I can’t see any compelling reason for a difference in value. About the most productive thing I managed on PT or as a carpool passenger was sleeping – it saved some of the night for more productive purposes. Having said that, is there any evidence that the difference is a factor of 2? I recall it being something like 83% on a previous thread.

  3. I don’t think that anyone (Government included) would agree that a “Do Nothing” option is a viable one given the CCFAS draft findings.

    However, the usual choice for Transport projects involving Government money (when it is not a Roads based Transport project) is the “Do Minimum” option
    – which is this case would include the Bus system reorganisation to better utilise the Rail network plus no doubt some more “bus priority” measures as well as – which is about the best of a bad lot and already under way.

    However, as Matt points out, even that is still not really going to achieve anything to solving the looming problem longer term, as the CCFAS assumes that the “Do Minimum” has already been done.

    – “Putting lipstick on a pig” is how I’d describe that type of Do Minimum, others may describe as “rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic”.

    As Patrick points out the time for urgency is upon us, as the completion time for the “Critical Rapid [Transit] Link” (aka “CRL”) is now even if we started tomorrow, not due to 2021/2 – which is too close even now, 10 years out from the looming traffic chaos to easily avoid.

    What I can see ahead (before we get closer to the CRL Nirvana) though is yet more buggering around with the decision making and funding arguments (sorry “discussions”) between Auckland Council and the Government – dragging on for some time no doubt.
    These “discussions” could be stretched out, possibly until (a forseeable worst case scenario) beyond the next election in 2014, until after the Economy, Petrol prices and of course those Bus changes are all “bedded down” – r.g. sometime in 2016 if ever..

    Then finally they’ll end up needing to do a “Do Minimum” CRL in a hurry – with you guessed it – no stations on it – as the (only) way to deliver the then obviously super duper critical CRL – in any moderate time frame
    – and as a result with most of the CRL benefits pushed out further as a result of zero or fewer stations built and probably the CRL build itself running 2 years later than planned, and of course, at it will all cost at least double the price it would have been if we’d started 2 years ago – a price which is looking cheaper and cheaper by the minute compared to the alternatives.

    But of course, then we have to put up with years of station construction for the Aotea, KRd and Symonds St CRL stations, so it may not be until 2032 until the “proper” CRL as envisaged today opens – 20 years from now! And don’t like to think what the traffic will be like in 2032 without a fully functioning CRL in place!

    Guys, tell me I’m wrong here, but isn’t that a totally forseeable (and shiveringly likely) outcome of the current CCFAS process – leaks or otherwise?

  4. ship me off to sea in a beautiful pea green lifeboat if you will, but I just can’t see how “even by 2021 (a mere nine years away) the CBD is projected to be one heck of a congested place.” I do understand that the buses and the trains will be increasingly busy, and likely at capacity, but given that the demand for vehicle travel into the city centre is falling, or at least stagnant, why are we expecting so much congestion?

    Given all that we have talked about on this blog in terms of trends in per capita travel demands, and falling per capita demand for vehicle travel, why would we expect traffic congestion in the city centre to suddenly worsen from that which we experience right now?

    Reading between the lines I see two potential causes:
    1. The models are wrong – Are they the same models as those used in the recent Waitemata Harbour Bridge Crossing Business Case? From what I can tell those models were calibrated to 2006 traffic levels and have not been updated since despite the massive change in travel trends that has occurred since; or
    2. Road capacity is being gutted – maybe AC’s City Centre Master Plan are (not unreasonably) gutting road capacity in the city centre and thereby contributing to increased vehicle congestion. If so then that’s OK, but we should acknowledge that these policies are creating costs elsewhere, even if we think they’re worthwhile for other reasons.

    Not that I don’t support the CRL, I just can’t see how vehicle congestion is going to cripple the city centre any time soon. Am I missing something?

    1. Yes that is something I have been wondering myself. Part of it will definitely be CCMP related however I think that for the most part isn’t so much related to vehicle traffic increasing but the increased bus numbers which will require more space thereby reducing available road capacity.

    2. I would say it’s probably the first option Stu mentions. Oh the irony of the stupid transport modelling working in our favour for once!

      Though if the modelling is wrong then it’s probably vastly underestimating PT patronage.

    3. ‘Horribly congested’ is a subjective phrase. So lets look at it a bit harder.

      The term ‘congested’ implies that the most important issue is the view from the drivers seat. Congestion is the thing that happens to the traveller, people in a place dont experience this effect as congestion but as
      some other term that implies a loss of place quality. Say vehicle domination. If we were to replace ‘congested’ with ‘dominated’ we can the shift the point of view to a more general view of the city for all it’s users and not just drivers. The over emphasis on this term in all discussions and official reports about our urban places shows the institutional mindset that dominates all analysis and spending. Yet it is this very bias that has led, over the last 60 years, to this poor situation.

      And I would contend that Auckland City is already now ‘horribly auto-dominated’ and that even though there a fewer cars but more buses than a decade ago this doesn’t show any improvement much in this experience. Remember 50% of the people coming to the city on weekdays now do so not in a private vehicle. There are also increasing numbers of City Centre native residents. So why is it somehow only important that we can show that the road users will be affected in order to see the need for this critical off street movement system?

      Auckland needs the place quality improvements that come on the back of liberating our streets from domination by vehicles. Auckland also needs the improvements in efficiency and higher value land use that also flow from this. These are the two critical issues that indeed are missed if all we do is evaluate this project by siloed transport models.

      The models are crap in part because they fail to understand the enormous placemaking effects of transport systems. And crap in: crap city out.

    4. Stu, travel demand generally may be falling, but commuting to and from work will have a lower elasticity than “discretionary” travel (e.g. http://www.bikeweek.org.nz/resources/research/reports/331/docs/331.pdf). People might switch modes but they’re unlikely to stop going to work altogether. So that’s one thing which would be driving peak traffic – and no one goes to and from the CBD because they want to, they do it because they feel they have to. That’s one issue, and as you mention there’s not much extra capacity on peak-time public transport as it stands.

      The second is that employment in the CBD continues to rise – there’ve been plenty of developments in the last ten years, with many more planned in the next ten (e.g. Wynyard Quarter), and that trend will offset any trend towards decreasing per capita travel. CBD employment grew by 24% or 17,500 jobs over 2000-2012, and has grown by 5,000 odd for each of the last three years as we recover from the recession. There are now 90,000 jobs in the CBD.

      So all things considered, I’d expect there to be quite a few more people trying to get in and out of the CBD in ten years time, and of course even a few people at the margin can have a big effect on congestion.

      1. Maybe! I agree, more jobs in city centre = more commutes and yes commutes are less elastic than travel demand generally. And understand that there’s lots of growth planned for Wynyard but …

        Have the models been calibrated to actual 2012 vehicle demands? History suggests otherwise.
        How much of the employment growth is a gain versus a transfer from other parts of city centre? ASB for example.
        How much of the city centre employment growth will be met by simultaneous residential growth? Walking/cycling etc.

        Interesting times! But yes, I’d implement the CRL, CCMP, and new PT network. I’m just deeply sceptical whenever anyone says the “c” word.

        1. How much of the employment growth is a gain versus a transfer from other parts of city centre? ASB for example.

          ASB hasn’t shifted yet but they and some of the other developments have been both a transfer from already within the CBD but also a consolidation of staff from different offices around the region/country. What internal shift there has been is also opening new opportunities that didn’t exist before which will likely make it easier to see rapid growth in the future.

          1. I don’t agree. and on second thoughts I suspect JohnP is referring to net additional jobs, which would render the transfer issue redundant.

            *** Sorry meant to say “I don’t disagree” ***

          2. There has been a net increase over the last decade but as mentioned, many of the large corporate moves have also resulted in them consolidating more of their workforce in the city centre e.g. Westpac, BNZ, Telecom, etc. ASB and ANZ will be doing the same as their new building/refurb gets completed

  5. But the point is that we do want to facilitate an increase in employment and entertainment and living in the centre city. So it can’t just be an argument about is happening but also about what we want to happen.

    And those who claim they don’t want any Central City growth, that it should all happen somewhere elsewhere [because they aren’t anti-growth] don’t understand what makes for a thriving city. Furthermore those arguing for an abandonment of the centre are always also those arguing to only invest in the auto dependent movement systems so it seems that they are really choosing their preferred urban form after their preferred transport mode rather than the other way around. Surely this is not the ideal order?

    And as Stu has astutely observed elsewhere on this site if we don’t facilitate intensification in the Centre then we will have to allow more of it elsewhere in the suburbs or the countryside. At lower efficiency and in a way that is unlikely to be popular with the public [tall buildings in old suburbs? very long commutes from exurbia].

  6. Interesting to see that the C+R ticket is now deeply confused about the CRL. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10850138

    Wood and Quax clearly concluding that they can make electoral fortresses for themselves on this issue because rail doesn’t reach their electorates, so they continue to talk nonsense about the project and wilfully misunderstand the role of rail and buses in the network redesign. And frankly lie about the amount and proportion of money being spent on roads by AT. Really their only argument against it is that the government have yet agreed to to help fund it, an argument that will loose its foundation sooner or later. Good to see they are passionate about increasing bus lanes everywhere [yeah right]!

    Brewer torn between wanting to oppose everything that the current mayor proposes and no doubt a fair bit of feedback even from his Remmers base that people understand that this is the way for Auckland to reach its potential. No love for bus lanes there.

    Christine Fletcher gets it and is not playing petty politics like the rest of her team of four.

    1. Apparently since that episode aired there hasn’t been a single monorail system built in an English-speaking country.

      Weird how many random people keep thinking they’re a good idea though.

  7. Hmm can you only embed one video per post? Here’s the one of Phil Twyford’s question. Brownlee still doesn’t seem to be showing much love towards the CRL…

    1. Don’t worry we already have a post going up about this exchange tomorrow. I actually think it is one of the more positive responses Gerry has had on the matter (which isn’t hard from how he has talked about it in the past).

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