A week or so ago I wrote a post about how I think we can make sense out of ferries in the mix of Auckland’s public transport system. I think my key conclusion was that ferries do make sense in certain locations and we should try to take advantage of where they do make sense rather than pushing new routes all the time. Another piece of the public transport jigsaw puzzle is light-rail (or trams). In a number of ways light-rail is actually quite similar to ferries – it has its ardent supporters, it’s pretty expensive (although more in terms of capex while ferries are expensive in terms of opex) yet it also probably makes sense in some circumstances.

Let’s look at those circumstances, firstly by seeing what light-rail’s general advantages and disadvantages are compared to other modes. This is reasonably well summarised in a useful Australian Transport Study that highlights the importance of mode-neutrality when assessing transport projects (in other words, finding the best solution and recognising that all modes have a role to play in the right circumstances):different-transport-modesDefinitions of different modes is a much debated area, particularly when we’re discussing the “in between” modes of bus rapid transit and light-rail. In my mind there’s effectively a gradation of different types of both technologies – ranging from both buses and trams running in mixed traffic right through to Northern Busway style style bus operations or completed grade separated light-rail.

My general opinion is that in mixed traffic there’s little, if any, advantage to be had from running a tram or light-rail vehicle compared to a bus – as the capacity of the corridor is not determined by the vehicle itself but by the amount of congestion in that lane. At the other end of the scale once we’re talking about full grade separation it seems that light-rail once again doesn’t offer too many advantages over either a busway (which will be a cheaper) or heavy rail (which may be of similar cost but will have much higher capacity). Vancouver Skytrain style light-metro systems are a different issue entirely and have been covered extensively previously in posts that I’ve made.

The most obvious improvement to make as bus patronage grows along a route (or where there’s potential for fairly high bus patronage) is to install a bus lane. By separating the buses from general traffic, the capacity of the lane increases pretty dramatically while reliability and speeds of the bus services also improve a lot. With bus lanes being cheap and quick to implement, in the vast majority of situations probably the most important thing we can do to improve our public transport infrastructure is through extended, new and improved bus lanes.

However bus lanes only suffice up to a certain level of use – something which in many ways was the key finding of the City Centre Future Access Study’s Deficiency Analysis. In terms of buses per hour this is shown below:bus-lane-capacity
Once you start to push the limit of a bus lane the results are fairly ugly:sydney-bus-congestionBefore I go on to discuss the different options for what to do when a bus lane hits capacity I think it’s worth noting the difference between high frequency bus corridors where a large number of buses converge on a particular street (think Symonds Street or Fanshawe Street) compared to a high frequency bus corridor where frequencies are high of a single route (think Dominion Road north of Mt Roskill). Analysis tends to suggest that simply adding more and more buses in the latter situation hits a limit where it’s not really adding much value anymore as the buses tend to get in each other’s way as they’re all trying to do the same thing but not achieving it particularly well. Of course you can run local/express splits to reduce this problem but once again eventually you’ll hit a wall.

Now moving on, once a basic bus lane no longer has sufficient capacity there are a few options for what you can do about it – and the right solution is likely to depend on the circumstance:

  • Upgrade to a higher-quality BRT bus based system. This could involve median bus lanes, a semi-grade separated median busway (like proposed for AMETI) or a full grade separated busway (like the Northern Busway between Akoranga and Constellation).
  • Build heavy rail. This could involve a new line completely or extensions to existing lines. It could be underground, at grade or elevated.
  • Build light-rail. In this scenario I’m thinking about something that runs at street level in its own lanes but isn’t grade separated at intersections.

What’s probably going to make or break which of the three solutions above is most appropriate will be a number of criteria – the most important in my mind being the level of additional capacity required, the nature of existing infrastructure and the land-use impacts of the option. Oh, and of course the cost. Let’s explore this with a few case studies.

In the case of the City Rail Link project, future growth in public transport demand to the city centre effectively overwhelms the bus network (and the rail network at a later date) requiring something to happen in order to retain high quality access to Auckland’s city centre and around the region. Enhanced bus solutions don’t really work because our existing infrastructure only has a busway to the north whereas railway lines spread out west, east and south – as well as not working due to the capacity required (which would take away too much road space to provide for with buses alone) and also the land-use impact (widened approach roads throughout the isthmus). Light-rail doesn’t really work either as it’s of insufficient capacity and doesn’t integrate with the existing infrastructure.

In the case of the AMETI busway corridor, heavy rail is probably cost-prohibitive due to the need to get across the Tamaki River, while light-rail gets stuck between the need for a lot of feeder buses into Botany and then heavy rail connections at Panmure and Ellerslie at the route’s potential other end. In this situation the busway makes pretty good sense.

In the case of Dominion Road’s long term future, things start to get interesting. Because of the corridor’s significant heritage and character value, large-scale widening for a massively upgraded bus solution is unlikely to ever be feasible. Even widening the existing bus lanes outside the retail centres along the route proved to be impossible to make ‘stack up’. Heavy rail is clearly infeasible at street level or elevated and is almost certainly cost prohibitive underground – so light rail starts to look like it could be worth exploring further. Further potential aspects in favour of light-rail on Dominion Road include its huge potential as a high-intensity mixed-use corridor where amenity of the street environment is important as a shaper of land-use patterns. Plus the route is potentially well anchored at the city end by putting the tracks down Queen Street (probably via Ian McKinnon Drive) and at the southern end by a future rail station/bus hub – so it’s likely to be a single route without any deviations or branches.

Perhaps in summary we can try to distill a clear rationale behind situations where light-rail might make sense for Auckland. I think it’s in situations where demand along a single corridor (rather than where a number of corridors come together) can no longer be efficiently provided for by standard bus lanes and where land-use factors make either enhanced bus priority options or heavy rail infeasible or cost-prohibitive.

In my mind this is a fairly difficult test to pass and I don’t actually think any corridor in Auckland at the moment (perhaps except for Queen Street) would fit the criteria. This will probably annoy some, who want to run trams everywhere and anywhere, including seemingly with mixed traffic along Ponsonby Road. It might annoy others who think that light-rail is an expensive folly which doesn’t make any sense in Auckland. If I annoy both sides of the debate then I’ve probably got it just about right.

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  1. The expensive folly is demonstrated by places like Edinburgh who blew a whole pile of cash it sounds like – when they go wrong, they might go very wrong! Light rail on Queen Street seems to stack up, along with the link to the waterfront. Is this still scheduled for 2014?

    Would be interesting to see if a system such as this: http://www.trevipark.co.uk/gallery-pages/wfinali1_jpg.htm would work to resolve critics complaints of car parking/loading bay access as some light rail schemes require the removal of parking.

    Side point, but looks like potential ownership changes at NZ Bus according to NZ Herald http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10865530

    1. How about a change in the legislation so AT could become a deliverer of services too? It’s a balance though between the potential improvements though disintermediation and the potential sluggishness of large beauracracies…?

      1. Agree that it must come, but also say sadly it won’t happen under this government:.
        As doing so any time soon would immediately prejudice the listing/selling price for NZ Bus and we know that the Government won’t like getting complaints from its mates about that now.

        Secondly once its listed, well, we couldn’t change the rules like that as it would negatively impact all those (mum and dad) NZ Bus investors, and that would, well, “harm the markets” as they would be having the rules changed after the fact wouldn’t they and we can’t have that can we?
        – no we can’t do that ever – private enterprise/investors have to have the ground rules at time of purchase remain unchanged for ever and ever as thats the only way investors will remain confident in the markets.

        Gosh, you know it all makes sense why Brownlee hates the CRL so much – since his NZ Bus mates have been no doubt whispering in his ear about the sell off of NZ Bus assets, and well, that CRL thing will be the biggest threat to the value of NZ Bus assets longer term wouldn’t it? So it makes sense for Brownlee to oppose CRL as long as possible – until at least the NZ Bus is sold off/listed, then maybe a change of stance might be possible.

        Of course a change of Government may happen before then, so who knows..

        1. Assuming it is listed. Might again become part of a multinational company like Stagecoach….. The Port of Tauranga model seems to work quite well – council controlled but listed to avoid excessive bureaucracy. Then again, comes down to management and maybe the bus contracts should be disbursed to avoid dependence on one big operator, strikes etc.

        2. “Gosh, you know it all makes sense why Brownlee hates the CRL so much – since his NZ Bus mates have been no doubt whispering in his ear about the sell off of NZ Bus assets, and well, that CRL thing will be the biggest threat to the value of NZ Bus assets longer term wouldn’t it? So it makes sense for Brownlee to oppose CRL as long as possible – until at least the NZ Bus is sold off/listed, then maybe a change of stance might be possible”

          had nzbus ever indicated their opposition to the CRL??can you sxxt more out of your mouth?

      2. Wonder if they could get around it by putting the bus company in the arms of the councils investment CCO. Then it isn’t AT issuing contracts to itself and there would still be competition between bus operators. In future if there was a change in law then the assets could be moved between the entities.

        1. This, there won’t be any law about AC owning theoretical NZ Bus shares. If they had enough shares to have a member on the board of directors that could make things very interesting indeed.
          Even from a dividend flow this could be very worthwhile. If NZ Bus makes too much money from AT tenders at least the profits would go back to AC again.
          All without AT operating a bus company.
          I for one would be happy for AC to sell its auckland airport shares if it bought into NZ Bus.

  2. Good post Peter. The traffic problem is LR’s big issue, along with high capex. Melbourne is dealing with that by removing cars form CBD streets to give the trams a free corridor, and elsewhere they work by basically monstering general traffic off those streets say like Brunswick. For those who apparently want trams on Ponsonby Rd like Nikki Kaye you have to ask are they happy for the number of cars to be substantially reduced there? Well that certainly isn’t consistent with the rest of her party’s policy which seeks to promote and encourage private car use for all journeys and at all times, and is spending billions to achieve this?

    So in summary, Queen St could work for LR with car removal, like Swanston + Bourke in Melbourne, [this will happen at some stage] and Dom Rd probably has the demand but would lose on-street parking and car use would need to be ‘frustrated’ out of the trams’ way [so would face huge retailer and driver opposition]…. so for the money, and especially in comparison to the CRL which of course is fully grade separate, it is hard to see that the timing is right for this technology in Auckland.

    1. Nikki Kaye should explain how she plans to make trams work. Given that she also wants taxis in bus lanes I don’t know what her opinion would be on removing traffic capacity. Al

  3. Thank you Mr M. I was talking to someone at great length about Transit options which included LRT and which would benefit Auckland well enough.

    I just noted something though:”In the case of the AMETI busway corridor, heavy rail is probably cost-prohibitive due to the need to get across the Tamaki River, while light-rail gets stuck between the need for a lot of feeder buses into Botany and then heavy rail connections at Panmure and Ellerslie at the route’s potential other end. In this situation the busway makes pretty good sense.”

    I’d say going heavy rail on the high cost side would be as expensive on the Tamaki River Crossing for the Botany Line as much as the Airport Line slung under the duplicate Manukau Harbour Bridge crossing yet the Airport Line is trying to be pushed through.

    Would you incorporate the costs the the duplicate bridge at Mangere/Onehunga as it was needed in order for the Airport Line to be built any way – unless you wanted a separate rail bridge if the duplication never happened.

    Recommendation: Future proof the AMETI Busway for Heavy Rail later on. If intensification was ever strong enough out east then a straight forward replacement can happen. Te Irirangi Drive was built with a green corridor for a rail line going from Manukau to Botany (until some idiot buggered up the Manukau Station) in due time.

    1. The original longer term plans for AMETI included a duplicate crossing of the Tamaki River next to the current crossing in effect doing a Managere bridge on it,
      There was talk at the same time during the old ACC/MCC days of future proofing this second crossing for light rail but little came of it and as I recall no plans to future proof the duplicate crossing were made then.
      Maybe someone can comment about that. Of course, thats not actually near the current Busway plans over the Panmure bridge, and maybe they’ve decided to concentrate on that crossing instead?

  4. Great post Peter. On a similar note, I was actually wondering whether some of our bus lanes are wide enough? For example on the Pitt Street bus lane, bus drivers are not confident to pass cars in the lane because of the narrowness of the lane.

  5. I would say the defining characteristic of light rail trams is that they run on rails. In other words they are self steering and the vehicles never shift more than a couple of millimeters from their guideway. This gives certain advantages in niche applications for street based public transport.

    Perhaps the biggest advantage in the Auckland context is lane width. Trams vary from about 2.4m to 2.8m wide, and because they’re stuck on rails the tram lane can be as little as 2.8m wide to accommodate them. Furthermore the rails allow them to automatically line up with stop platforms with only a tiny gap. Taken together this means they can have a very high capacity street transit in a 3m lane, whereas the equivalent BRT would need considerably wider lanes and bigger stops. On the likes of Dominion Rd’s 3m lanes, that could mean the difference between good bus lanes and excellent street rapid transit.

    The other thing is that trams play nicely with people in pedestrian environments. Again the lane is a bit narrower, and most importantly they’ll never swerve or shift from the rails. On a Queen St mall a tram would allow a better urban environment than a two lane roadway for buses.

    1. nick,assume the width of tram lane you worked out is correct,how can we archive the goal of building a very high capacity street tranzit system with a single tram track??i thought you would always need something like double track at least to make the trams efficient…which means double of the space required on the road.

      1. Of course you need double track for high capacity, so yes you need a corridor of around 6m width midblock for a high capacity tram line. Like I said above, Dominion Rd already has a 3m bus/parking lane each way so there is no problem there.

        Careful James, your ‘buses only ever’ stance is just as bad as the ‘trams only ever’ stance. Try to keep an open mind, there are some specific situations where either mode is superior.

  6. Interesting to note the table summary doesn’t include environmental and oil-dependent considerations. I would suggest one of the advantages of Light Rail is being overhead grid powered. Having said that I don’t see why we don’t see more electric bus use, especially with bi/tri articulated models with computer controlled steering to deal with tighter corners. I know the trolley bus system in Wellington can be a bit of a pita with the connects getting loose – so perhaps a catenary style connection would be better (or even two – allowing for short gaps/neutral zones – and reducing the likelihood of power loss). Putting up wires is easier and less expensive than putting down rails as well, so we end up with a bit more flexibility with electric bus than light rail, with similar capacity outcomes. Certainly I’d have thought the Northern Busway (when completed through to Albany) would be a fine place to do this.

    1. The Tramway_de_Nice system uses batteries for part of the route so the need for wires the full length is not a compulsory requirement these days. Think the ground supply based system used in Bordeaux might be cost prohibitive.

      1. If done poorly then overhead line certainly can look terrible. There are some intersections in suburban Melbourne that look more like a municipal trampoline in the sky than anything else.

        However done correctly they are almost invisible. On the likes of Swanston St you never notice them.

        I will note that Queen St is future proofed with light poles and underground conduit that can be fitted with tram lines, no extra poles or supply cables required. The difference would be a couple of thin black arcs in the sky.

    2. Yeah, it’s 2013 and we’re still ignoring climate change. It’s usually included in consideration, but it’s a token consideration well down the list behind other things.

  7. Amenity is one other consideration of arguable merit for trams. How much personality (and soul) would be lost from Melbourne if those trams disappeared off its streets? There is no doubt that the existence of its tram network has added to the attractiveness of Melbourne as a place to visit, do business in, and to its general live-ability. Trams are an integral part of Melbourne’s marketing brand. However, I’m not aware of any formulae that can actually provide a dollar value to this. Of course, those large shelter trees also help along with Melbourne’s urban infrastructure programme made up of both large and small enhancements over the last two decades.

    Amenity is not limited to trams either – many would argue that Vancouver’s Sky-train or Dubai’s Light Metro have signalled a 21st Century “coming of age” to both these cities that adds to their “brand value” and attractiveness in the global marketplace.

    Buses and busways are interesting in light of a discussion on amenity. Their beauty is their flexibility, potential for mass-production (low build costs), extremely low operating costs, and in the outcomes they can achieve through lower traffic congestion and a more carbon friendly city. Some would argue they run on subsidised roads. Fundamentally however, relatively light weight for high capacity, and a well thought-out and fine-tuned package are compelling arguments especially in an era of austerity.

    This really is a case of horses for courses.

  8. This reply isn’t really in response to your post, more in response to that figure from the Australian Transport Study. I think the case against light rail is a little skewed to be honest and I am not sure how much of a role the bus industry has had on that. If one analyses the German Stadtbahn systems (which are light rail and segregated from standard traffic). Each of the Stadtbahn systems I can think of has riderships of above 100 million per year in cities of 1 million or so (Cologne being the most striking of all with its 208,000,000 ridership of a 192km system of mostly segregated light rail). A lot of the assumptions made about pph seem to use spurious data such as that obtained from Brisbane that states that when a bus passes through the cultural centre busway every 12 seconds, it achieves a theoretical pph of 18,000. Technically if we run light rail every 75 seconds then we can achieve a pph of 17,968 assuming a full loading of a standard Stadtbahnwagen Typ B in a 2x coupling (222 standing and 144 sitting). Now in the real life scenario, there is a train every 75 seconds in Cologne running through a common stretch in a 2 car coupling, so currently that theoretical value could be achieved by the system (4 lines running at 5 minute frequency), ergo the pph is absolutely not 6,000 like that document assumes.

    Coupled with this, far too often is international best practice in developed countries overlooked and compared against BRT in wildly different circumstances such as in Bogota or Curutiba – two cities that can in no way be paralleled with a developed city with wildly different demographics and mobility needs (and choices).

    1. Hear, hear. Skewed is the right word.

      Once we factor in domestic electricity vs imported oil and add emission free vs untuned diesel bus fumes I bet the balance changes considerably.

      Any word on the tram extension to Britomart? Already budgeted for…

    2. (Cologne being the most striking of all with its 208,000,000 ridership of a 192km system of mostly segregated light rail)

      die stadtbahn köln is more like a network of segregated urban metro railway,bearing no resemblance to the street-running light rail/tramway we are talking about.

      ” far too often is international best practice in developed countries overlooked and compared against BRT in wildly different circumstances such as in Bogota or Curutiba – two cities that can in no way be paralleled with a developed city with wildly different demographics and mobility needs (and choices)”

      i wonder if the german city of dresden has ever been considered a developped city?perhaps not as the city is trailing a new mega bendybus system invented by a local research institute dedicated for transportation and infrastructure systems development,the director of this insitute has made a simple— but conclusive comment regarding their buses:
      “The AutoTram has a considerable advantage compared to light rail systems.”


      funny thing is that the city already have a raletively large tram network in place..yet they still want buses,unbelievable!!!

      1. Yes talking about the Stadtbahn is inappropriate here, that is much more like our heavy rail network. However Cologne does have a Strassenbahn which is a street running light rail tramway.

  9. the signal advantage of a busway is the ability of the vehicles to join and leave the facility at will without additional infrastructure, this ability gives the opprotunity to link multiple origins and destinations

    the second major advantage is the ability to provide a high level of service during development phases, that the Northern Busway doesn’t (yet) continue across the AHB doesn’t prevent 1) taking great advantage of the existing infrastructure and 2) continuing the Busway LOS beyond the formed sections of infrastructure

    1. Problem with this is that you have a LOT of dead running, as seen with the Brisbane system where certain buses during non-peak hours are transporting air due to the need to race down the busway rather than interchange at stations to serve suburban areas. This is why a system of feeders and a central trunk is actually the best way to run a system, making the running of a popular BRT no different to running a rail-feeder bus and railway line (LRT, heavy rail, metro etc).

  10. it’s interesting to note that most tram-using cities installed their systems before these criteria became true, suggesting that they’re certainly not universals.

  11. The other thing with light rail of course is that, while certainly more expensive than buses, it has a ‘cool’ factor which may lead to increased patronage over buses. Used as a transit service (wider spaced stations like rail) as opposed to a pedestrian enhancer (bus stop type services) it makes sense. Used along the NW corridor, with widely spaced interchanges, but also with some closer stops through Arch Hill etc, it could make a lot of sense.

    1. but how much do you pay for the “sexy” LRT? I supplied a number of graphics to a co-worker who was putting together a multi-modal presentation, unknowingly, she put a picture of a rubber tyred rapid transit vehicle on the LRT page, sexy indeed!

  12. Oh, you pay lots (according to what I’ve read) but if the goal is to create a Auckland that people want, people who are otherwise going overseas and staying there (no I don’t mean mining towns – more Europe or even Melbourne), we need to up the game. I’m not talking a tram network like Melbourne in the short term (would be nice though) but more using LRT to fill the obvious gaps we have now – Pakuranga / Howick, North West Auckland. Northern busway (not a gap as such but getting PT under the harbour will be much cheaper if it is electric) and the back of Glenfield. I think Mt Roskill etc will be serviced by the heavy rail branch, although a tram down Dom Rd would ok.

          1. Sounds good to me. I would say the following would be the progression:
            1) Extend Wynyard loop tourist tram to the viaduct, to be a slightly more fun tourist tram (this is apparently happening shortly).
            2) Extend Viaduct tourist tram to the Britomart bus/rail/ferry interchange. This makes it an actually quite useful waterfront distributor for access between Britomart and Wynyard (hopefully this happens quite soon).
            3) Extend the Waterfront tram up Queen St to K Rd, replacing the City Link Bus with a City Link Tram. Probably in conjunction with pedestrianising and paving Queen St (apart from the tram tracks of course).
            4) When Dominion Rd buses start to get too busy to handle (or the number of buses in the CBD is too big to handle), convert the side bus lanes to median tram lanes in conjunction with removing street parking entirely, but probably allowing for cycle lanes to be added in the process. This would be a sort of phase two of the Dominion Rd upgrade works that are about to start, and totally consistent with them.

            The first three I can see as nearish term stuff, the latter probably a while away.

          2. Extending the tram at this time does not make sense. In fact, I see it as a money pit into which Waterfront Auckland (and so the council) are pouring cash into. The cost to extend it onto the viaduct will likely be very high considering the supposed benefits. I mean, people cant walk 200 m? Don’t we have far more important projects to be spending money on? Why extend the tram just to K’Rd in the short term? Possibly, within a similar timeframe, we could have 3 x rail stations over almost, the same route so to spend so much on what would be a walking accelerator seems overkill and not as important as the South Eastern or NW busways. Don’t get me wrong, a tram system like Melbourne’s would be nice but since we ripped ours out 50 years ago, it is at this time quite unaffordable given the other things that need to happen first. LRT (grade separated) as a replacement for, or instead of, busways, would provide far greater benefits I think.

          3. Wouldn’t building along Dominion Road to end at Queen St (or K’Rd with the new CRL station) and then Quay St / Viaduct etc be the most beneficial in terms of patronage? Quay St can be fixed cheaply by doing what NY did and moving some planter boxes, painting lines and removing the majority of the traffic. Leave 1 lane each way with a median. The resulting pedestrian amenity would more than make up for any lack of a tram in the meantime. I would say electrifying to Pukekohe seems much more important to me.

        1. I caught the bus from Te Atatu to Britomart yesterday. What a bloody rough trip. Doesn’t help when the driver is on and off the brakes and accelerator all the time. I think I’d cycle if I had to work in town and had to travel at peak times.

  13. Some other points in favour of light rail

    1. Its capacity under event conditions is higher than heavy rail, and up to 6 times greater the quoted 6,000 pph. I read on a forum that after Melbourne’s Grand Prix they could load one tram per minute at each of 2 stations on the St Kilda light rail line. Trams would load in pairs, one at each station, then move off in convoy. So with a capacity on the standard trams of 180 per tram this is 180 per tram x 2 per minute x 60 minutes per hour = 21,600 per hour. The larger trams hold 300, and would have a capacity of 36,000 per hour. Most cities would not have enough trams available to continue this rate of loading for long.

    2. There is less impact on the urban environment. Along CBD streets such as Bourke St in Melbourne, there is about 1 tram every 3 minutes, holding between 180 and 300 passengers. To provide this same capacity in buses holding 50 passengers each would require a bus every 30-50 seconds. This frequency of buses would be more noticeable, particularly along the Bourke St Mall. This is why Sydney is building its CBD light rail.

    3. Tram stops require less street space than bus stops. A bus stop requires a passing lane (3m), a stopping lane (3m) and passenger waiting area (2m) – total 8m. A tram stop requires its tram lane (2.8m) and platform (2m) – total 4.8m. The bus stop also needs to be long enough for at least 3 buses to stop separately, whereas the tram stops on minor routes need only be long enough for one tram, while on major routes long enough for 2 trams. These are minor points in suburban areas where there is plenty of space, but in a CBD it means that to achieve high capacity bus stations need to be built underground (as in Perth and Brisbane), whereas light rail can use relatively low-cost street stops.

    1. FYI the St Kilda light rail line was a heavy rail line that was refitted with tram tracks and tram vehicles and linked into the tram network. The core of it is fully off line, fully grade separated, has no significant curves or hills and retains large train station style stops with very long platforms. So that really represents the very top end of light rail and it’s particularly representative of “street” light rail.

      The largest trams in Melbourne (the C2) are actually rated for 206 passengers (56 seated). They can hold more than that, but 300 would be a serious crush load.

      Bourke St is probably not the best example for frequency, Swanston St carries around one tram a minute in each direction at peak and holds together reasonably well.

  14. One thing people should not forget when it comes to Trams vs. Busses is the fact that people don’t like busses. I was involved in a market research project about reintegration of a Tram System in my former Hometown (similar size like Hamilton). We surveyed people and about 40% said they are not using PT because it is provided in the means of Busses. Besides the obvious point that they are slow, people mostly complained about (1) the long time the Bus driver takes to sell tickets (and that is even worse here in AKL). (2) The fact that they stop too often, and that there are no real dedicated stations, and (3) surprisingly about 15% of people said they are not riding busses because they get sick of the movement in the bus. While they said, when visiting other cities, they like to ride trams and heavy rail. Furthermore we checked how long people traveling, finding, that up to 4km the Bus is competitive, everything more than 4km the bus was not seen as competitive. So i guess when it comes to Dominion rd, only a light rail system can be competitive. It is a fairly straight road, gradients are not too bad, and some trams can climb up to 4.5%. Even an easy lining could be done, connecting Dom Rd, Ian McInnon and then down to K’rd, take there the corner along K”rd, and down Pittstreet and follwoing Mayoral Dr. and down Queen street. That would be a long needed aterial connection, given the fact, Dom”rd is one of the most Bus intense roads of the city. Along DomRd. an express inner way could be easy built, what means not the outher lanes are blocked for the tram, instead the inner ones. The only thing what is gone are then crossings eg. between New North and Balmoral etc. Thus the tram could speed up to more than 50, and is quicker than any other option.

    1. Yup, the ride in a bus on AK streets is very poor, especially on the hopelessly labyrinthine route the 020 takes. Also the poor quality of our buses make them very stinky and noisy with you’re on the street near them, and often when you’re in them. Give me an electric tram any day, so long as it isn’t stuck in traffic all the time.

    2. Wai I don’t think you can draw those conclusions from that sort of question.

      As the Northern Busway (and to a lesser degree the Central Connector has shown), people’s perceptions of buses are able to be shifted quite easily and quite quickly. And I’d argue that it’s often (not always) actually cheaper to change perceptions (i.e. provide high-quality bus-based solutions) than it is to provide rail-based PT.

      Your first two points above are perfect examples of the poor logic that often infuses these types of debate. The ability for people to buy tickets onboard (and thereby slow down the bus) is a policy decision, not something that is inherent to buses. As is stop spacing. It’s perfectly possible, for example, for bus systems to have stop spacing that is identical to LRT; we just don’t do it for other reasons (e.g. the desire to increase access).

      With regard to what people do when they visit other cities, that’s also a function of 1) where visitors tend to stay and 2) the role that each mode plays in these networks. In general, you will probably find that the longer people spend in various cities the more they migrate towards the bus system, because even though the latter is typically more complex (and hence difficult to understand), it is also usually more frequent, provides greater coverage/span, and often cheaper (because it is typically cheaper to operate).

      Here’s a killer statistic for you: Even post CRL (i.e. $2 billion investment), buses will still be carrying 2-3 times as many people as the rail network. And for lower subsidy. That tells me two things: 1) rail is definitely not always “best” and 2) people’s stated preferences (i.e. for rail) are quite different from their revealed preferences (i.e. they tend to use buses).

      One final suggestion: If you had $5 billion to spend on PT in Auckland, but had to invest it all in only in one mode (i.e. bus or rail), then I bet I could get higher patronage for lower ongoing operating costs by investing in buses.

      In saying that, some rail investments definitely make sense – just don’t push the case too far. Which I think is the point of this article …

  15. I was in Bordeaux last year and the trams there are wonderful. Is that underground power system really expensive?
    I suppose that being a UNESCO heritage site, overhead lines were a no go.
    As to buses being worse to travel on than trams or trains: the old London Routemasters were fantastic to travel on. They were very smooth and you could stand and walk inside with comfort. On our local buses I get flung around.
    And to address the “travelling young” comment. It’s rather ageist is it not? It is as if you are suggesting older people should stay at home. I travelled when I was young and will continue to do so; in many ways I get more benefit from it now than when in my teens/twenties.

    1. We get flung around because of the topography of our city, quite different to London. Buses will always give Aucklanders a rough ride on specific routes. And until we get investment in more comfortable and permanent systems that address grade (rail) so it will continue.

    1. Here are a couple of reports re costings:

      Looks like Bordeaux (Part 1) cost GBP 23.1m per kilometre.



      The Portland scheme was significantly cheaper than most European schemes.

      Quite interesting the the Karlsruhe Model is forming the basis for a number of new schemes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karlsruhe_model. Would think this could be useful model in Auckland for example.

  16. Wai’s point above is a great one. I don’t use buses at all. I really don’t like feeling like I’m going to vomit after sitting on a bus for just ten minutes.

    The user experience counts for a lot. I think that the perception of Aucklanders is very heavily influenced by the fact that the second closest major city has the world’s largest light rail network – and that feeds into our thinking. We’ve seen it, and we know how it operates and what it feels like. It does create some misperceptions, in that duplicating that network is obviously not possible, but for the most part it means that thinking is grounded in something real. Much as London’s metro has been a model for underground heavy rail around the world, and is now an inspiration for the massive Shanghai metro.

    I fear that the reality is often lost in charts like the one above. We know what non-grade-separated buses are like, and now that we have a decent busway we have an idea about that too. Such charts give us a lot of information when they’re correct (I’m skeptical of some of the figures provided) but they leave out a lot.

    1. I hate to say it so bluntly, but do you think the world revolves around people like you? Apart from the logical issues with Wai’s comment (noted above) I think it’s worth pointing out the limitations of such “surveys”.

      Like it or not our “average” public transport user is younger and of lower income. They are not the people who typically show up in surveys, but they are the types of people who catch PT. In Auckland they catch buses approximately 50-60 million times per year, and rail 10-12 million times per year. And they catch buses more than rail because the buses go where they want to go, when they want to travel, and at a frequency that works for them.

      It’s even more important, however, to recognise that the most immediate (and significant) passenger response to PT improvements is that your existing users start using PT more. Sure, at the margin you can expand your market into new demographics, as the Northern Busway and rail improvements have shown. But such expansions are very very expensive. I’d wager that more than 50% of the patronage growth we’ve seen in Auckland has come from existing PT users making more trips, rather than entirely new users being attracted to the system.

      That’s why I shrug my shoulders when people start talking about “50% of people would never use a bus”. First, much of this perception is tied up in the way that buses have been deployed in the past, rather than anything that is intrinsic to the technology itself (as I note in my response to Wai’s comment). Second, those 50% of people are not really our key market: Getting them onto PT is relatively hard work.

      So I’d suggest we all focus more on understanding what the current PT market is and how it might be grown at the margin (i.e. young professionals) than on investing billions into LRT in an attempt to get rich old buggers out of their BMWs and onto PT. And, by the way, if we focus our PT investment to better meet the needs of (existing) users, then as they age and start to earn more money they are less likely to go out and buy a BMW in the first place.

      Note: I’m not saying we give up on older/higher-income demographics, only that they’re not the low-hanging fruit. Better off meeting the needs of young people and adjusting the system as their tastes change. I.e. more of a lifecycle approach to PT system development.

  17. I notice the Northern Busway has finished being torn up now. I wonder what the math was re putting MonoRail down the centre of the motorway? Easier to expand and one driver can drive 500 people. As is the case now employing and keeping busdrivers on split shifts for $19 hr is proving a challenge and whats more once a Northshore bus drops you off in the city you’re still up to 500m from Britomart. I believe we have the whole system wrong and need a BIG rethink. We need to stop paying private companies to run buses in direct competition to trains and instead run buses where possible to feed trains. But first we need to sort Britomart and cheaply!!!

  18. It is notable that light rail has never demonstrated a positive business case in London, which has densities and intensity of bus activity that one might think it should, but it doesn’t (Croydon Tramlink is almost entirely a localised case of running mostly on ex. rail corridor, and is not widely seen by policy wonks as being a success, and the DLR is entirely grade separated (bearing no resemblance to a tramway at all) ).

    The issue is simple. BRT can deliver the same capacity with more flexibility at a lower cost, and the only way you can get more capacity (beyond segregated corridors) is grade separation, in which case you may as well consider a proper railway/metro/busway.

    New light rail is the worst of both worlds, neither faster than bus, many times more expensive than bus, far less flexible than bus and while it is preferred by users, it isn’t so much better that they’ll pay the cost premium. About the only time new light rail looks worth considering is replacing heavy rail and offering a cheap way to extend service into a downtown area. Indeed, there is a reasonable argument to say that if it were not for freight creating apparent safety issues, it would have been far better to convert the commuter rail in Auckland to light rail and then it could all have run in the streets of the CBD, and at other ends at well, but the then LTSA put the skids under that idea.

    1. How can you explain the highly successful light rail system currently being expanded in Stockholm as one of the “new” light rail systems? The one line alone carries over 57,000 people per day (that’s a yearly patronage of around 20,000,000 just for the one 11.5km line that doesn’t even travel to the city centre). This is a modern light rail line built from scratch in the year 2000 with a large expansion and frequency upgrade due to finish this coming year. Certainly the business case stacked up here and patronage beats our busiest bus line that runs with segregated lanes, traffic priority and that plies trade between the most populated areas of the city centre linking up all key metro lines. It has a speed of 80km/h on segregated sections and so can most definitely compete with buses in any stretch of the imagination. The patronage increase seen compared to the old bus line that plied the route was astronomical, so much so that new light rail lines are planned all over the suburbs all in places where current bus lines are simply not seen as good enough.

      As for your case regarding the Croydon Tramlink, I find it odd that you think it isn’t a success. If it were not successful, would it really be carrying 71,000 people per day and be under planned expansion now? Using another English example, the Manchester Metrorail system is under a gigantic expansion period with the network doubling in size and with phase 3b currently underway. Patronage rose from 8.9 million per year upon opening in 1992 to 21.9 million in 2012 – another success story I would say in a city that has traditionally had low public transport uptake and a higher reliance on private vehicles.

      You can also not explain away the German Stadtbahn light rail systems and their massive patronage levels – like the Cologne example I cited above as having over 200,000,000 journeys per year in a city of 1 million. Cologne is not a dense city by European standards and actually has a density over the urban area more reminiscent of Auckland than other cities in Europe, yet it has a very large trips per capita ratio, mainly due to its Stadtbahn system.

      Now, I would most certainly agree with you that modern American light rail systems have been fairly disappointing in their performances, but to discount the examples I mention above shows an agenda. I would like to hear of a BRT system in the developed world that has lived up to (or exceeded expectations) as those examples above do.

      1. These numbers are very interesting, and do seem to show that light rail can be used successfully. As a passenger who has been on several of these lines, I thought I’d give some feedback to complement this info. Of course this is purely subjective, but I think still relevant.

        The Croyden Tramlink’s main problem (to me) was that it was slow. You expect buses to be slow, but trains (and trams of course feel like trains) should be faster. It took an age to get anywhere, despite being grade separated and looking/feeling the most like a train out of all the trams/light rail I’ve been on. This is probably due to using an old rail corridor – the tracks are mostly hidden away, so the scenery certainly isn’t a reason to take the tram. It is used, yes, but it seemed to me that this was mainly because there aren’t many other options in the area (I was visiting, so I could be wrong). It was always busy, which I guess can be counted on as a measure of success, but it was frustrating.

        The Manchester tram feels more useful, because it essentially replaces long bus journeys. It gets out of the city reasonably quickly, is more comfortable and feels safer than a bus, and fills the gaps where the train lines don’t go. The people I knew who took it regularly seemed quite happy to use it.

        The Cologne trams I went on as a tourist, and I found them easy to use, and a great way to see the city. I liked that the stations/platforms were obvious (and easier than catching buses if you don’t speak the language) and really enjoyed the scenery, and the chance to get off the tram if we saw something interesting on the way (as opposed to getting an underground line straight to your destination). I don’t know what they would be like to commute on, but from everything I saw, the Cologne PT system is extensive and well integrated. I particularly liked the train station directly underneath the airport, but that’s getting off topic!

        I also caught the tram as a tourist in Melbourne, and again found it a wonderful way to see the city.

        I have only been on one light rail line in the US, in Portland. Similarly to Manchester, this was a line that connected the city to outlying suburbs (and nearby town centers), and was much more comfortable and easier than catching a long distance bus.

        Overall I think that there are definitely cases for trams/light rail, several of which we have demonstrated here: a pleasant way to see a city (especially for tourists or non-commuter passengers), a comfortable and safe way to travel instead of a long or congested bus journey (where no train line exists but only a single non-branching route is needed), and as a central and fully integrated part of a PT system. I don’t think the last one would work so well in Auckland, due to our geography and currently existing transport corridors, and I think Cologne is a bit of an anomaly in having so much integration of light rail (correct me if I’m wrong).
        But certainly in Queen St and along the waterfront we could use a tram, and as someone mentioned, Dominion Rd would be a good option (no train, buses might get a bit out of hand soon, and it can be well served by a single route).

        1. Er both the western core of the Croydon tramlink and the initial build of the Manchester metrolink are old heavy rail lines so be careful how you pick your points.

          1. Are you replying to me or one of the other posters? I was just giving a passenger opinion of those lines. And I had quite different opinions of those two lines: In Croyden the rail lines make the tram feel like it should be faster, but in Manchester it seems to work. But I guess that it’s good to keep the rail corridors in mind, because we don’t have the same resources/space for light rail in Auckland. Personally I think we should focus on trains and improving the bus services, although I’m not averse to extending the tram along the waterfront. Having shown a few visiting friends around the CBD lately, I have realised it could do with some more things to see/do.. and a tram might help. Visitors are very keen on the waterfront, even if us Aucklanders forget that it exists sometimes. But that is more of a tourist attraction, rather than public transport.

      2. Nailed it! Cities like Portland, New Orleans and Los Angeles must be really stupid to be building tram lines now.

        Far better to be like Auckland and “used to have them”.

        I guess that makes us the 4000th most innovative city in the world?

    2. Paris on the other hand is investing heavily in trams. They are faster than bus, as they don’t get stuck in traffic (bus lanes always seem magically to disappear), run in the middle of a boulevard and have priority on traffic lights. And in contrast to Paris metro or bus they are really barrier free. In the case of Paris tram does not connect to the down town area as there is already metro, but line T3 A still has a ridership of 112 000 a day.
      Your argument about costs should be more differentiated. While initial costs are higher than for buses, the operating costs for trams are usually much lower as you need less driver, less fuel, lower maintenance costs and rolling stock needs replacement after 40 year whereas buses fall apart after 10 years or earlier. The main difference between a BRT and tram / light rail is the operational model. Trams generally operated by transport organisations belonging to city councils making profit of this long term investment. On the other hand binding yourself to company like Viola for 40 years seems not a good idea.
      Comparing the costs for building a new(!) BRT or tram there is probably not much difference. The AMETI project seems with $1.5 billion for BRT rather expensive to current tram projects in Paris http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/paris-line-t6/.

      1. AMETI is more than a busway, it includes a major train station upgrade, a rail over bridge replacement to allow for electrification,a flyover above Reeves Roads (not for buses) and a new road partially in a tunnel from Mt Wellington Highway to Morrin Road (at least in stage one, in later stages it may be extended to Merton Road, but it’s possible that would be considered a separate project).

        1. Yes it is a big roading project on a rail designation. The station upgrade is an improvement but the rail corridor is now seriously restricted in a way that I predict we will regret and sometime this century very expensively have to fix. This aspect of it is very short sighted.

          My point was that the bus amenity, while a big improvement is not true BRT because the buses are not on their own ROW, still stopping at lights etc, so not comparable in speed to a fully grade separate system, whether on rubber or steel. So what ever it costs it doesn’t deliver Auckland a single additional metre of RTN.

      2. I have not seen any evidence to suggest that trams run faster than buses provided the they are running in the same conditions. In mixed traffic, bus always wins. In segregated ROW (with the same stop spacing) they tend to run at comparable speeds.

    3. Dear Scott,

      That London doesn’t have trams so therefore they cant work is a very poor argument. Of course what London does have is the world’s most famous, longest running and highly successful fully grade separate rail urban transport system. Quite rightly any available capital is put into extending and improving that beauty. Which rather proves our point, better to invest scarce capital (it’s always been scarce in London too, but they have had periods of longer term vision than we have recently) in permanent solutions.

      As pointed out by others above there are other cities that offer different models. But perhaps despite your ideological loathing of all things rail you are right that London is a good model for Auckland.

      Because, luckily, we just managed to save the existing rail ROW from the wreckers and vandals in the wake of our demonstrably failed neo-liberal experiment, so it is still there waiting to be used efficiently and sensibly.

      Of course the last wag of that destructive dog of a world view is to argue that good permanent solutions can’t be afforded. This argument then points to the broken and ravaged public institutions, the previously public owned resources now in private hands (ever wondered why Newmarket station is so narrow now and surrounded by nasty tenements?) and the absence of appropriate and effective funding mechanisms for public capital works. Very Ironic.

      So the argument goes (see other thread) public income, taxes, are owed to subsidise commercial sectors. We must only build motorways because big trucking ‘owns’ this resource, it can never be used more intelligently or fairly. The only purpose of gov institutions is to act as servants to the appropriate commercial interests in their sector. Hence charter schools, privatised electricity generation etc.

      Anyway we can afford to invest in our future but it does involve abandoning this atomised version of ‘public good’. And no, the alternative is not North Korea, much more Scandanavia.

      Anyway always enjoy reading your posts, but how do you cope living in London where they have got it so wrong for so long, always building more and more rail based transit systems? Is it a big multi century delusion or conspiracy? Or maybe, just maybe, could your version of things just be a little bung?

    4. One of LibertyScott’s points is very important and seems to have been overlooked by many of those that sit on the pro-LRT side of this debate: “… while it [LRT] is preferred by users, it isn’t so much better that they’ll pay the cost premium.”

      That’s a crucial point: Even though people say that LRT is better, it’s not that much better that people are prepared to pay for it. It’s like the difference between a $30 bottle of wine and a $60 bottle of wine on the top shelf. The latter is better, but not twice as good. And when you consider the reduction in your potential market that comes from higher LRT pricing, then you realise that society often really is better off is you invest in buses. Not always, but usually.

      1. No, no, no, Stu, unlike the more expensive bottle of wine, which enough do choose, we never get the chance to exercise any kind of choice in Auckland. We are told to drive or put up with a shitty bus service. Which, by your own earlier comment, when offered a better one, the NBW, we clearly do choose. There is no kind of market choice in operation here that you can point to. When we go to Melbourne we choose among the options there but how can you possible argue that we have chosen in Auckland? This argument is specious and circular. There is no LRT [any more] or CRL or any other fully connected network to pick between at any price therefore we haven’t chosen or rejected any of them.

        In Mr Scott’s world the choice is between a road system with completely socialised costs or any other system that must fund its capex and opex from operating cash flow. That my friend is a typically tilted playing field straight from the neo-liberal playbook.

        Not, I might add, that I think LRT is urgent for AK, completing the proper rail network and improving the bus service and its priority on the streets is the more urgent task at hand. Along with the other operational upgrades; fare integration, better parking and speed policies etc…. But the principle of the argument still holds.

      2. “The latter is better, but not twice as good.”

        So you need to get someone else to pay for the $60 bottle. You could justify this by claiming your $60 choice frees up a $30 bottle for someone else, therefore the buyers of $30 bottles need to subsidise you. Your wine analogy is good on many levels.

        I don’t see where light rail fits in Auckland. The Wynyard loop is a disaster and proposals to extend it to Britomart ignore the fact it is an easy five minute walk that doesn’t even warrant a minivan. You could implement light rail on some high-density bus routes, like Fanshawe St or Dominion Rd for instance, but I think mixing buses and light rail on the same route is sort of strange. I think you’d need to replace end-to-end bus services with ones that transferred to light rail, and that is just going to annoy passengers unless the transfer yields some subsequent benefit. Which, with light rail, doesn’t exist. I think light rail is a technology in search of a purpose and that is the wrong way to implement any strategy. Instead, concentrate on implementing the currently committed and near term future rail improvements.

        1. I tend to agree with Obi here in terms of where light rail would fit in Auckland.

          I am an unashamed fan of light rail and use it wherever I can on my travels. But in Auckland we have much to do/spend on optimizing our bus network, as well as opening up the potential of the rail network. Light rail seems to muddy the waters and take our eyes off the first two balls.

          Light rail would be perfect if you were starting with a blank canvas (say, a redeveloping Christchurch) or only had a bus network with some pretty heavy point-to-point corridors (think the North Shore). I could possibly see the northern busway becoming light rail, crossing the harbor, going up Queen St or heading east before linking up with AMETI. But that would be a stretch and a long way off.

          Better to focus on small (relatively) affordable enhancements to bus (NW expressway, dominion road lanes, lanes on bridge and fanshawe) and post-CRL rail (link Onehunga line to airport, Avondale-Southdown link) which will make huge differences to these networks.

        2. The Wynyard loop is a disaster because it is not serious public transport at all. It was never intended to be anything more than a token tourist tram and the price level it was set at was beyond the service offered so is it really of any surprise that it’s an unsuccessful and not well utilised form of “transport”? To throw the baby out with the bathwater and state that light rail is useless in Auckland based upon the Wynyard loop is like saying that the railway system in Auckland should never have been expanded and renovated because it was poorly used back in the days of Tranzmetro.

          In many ways, the wide arterials (and yes, they are fairly generous by international standards) are well suited to trams/light rail. As others have stated, Dominion Road is perfect for light rail and I would also argue that transverse connections such as along from Morningside station, S:t Lukes Road, Balmoral Road, Green Lane West to Green Lane Station would be highly useful to link up the western suburbs with the south and east. Perhaps that’s a pipe dream given the funding for public transport in Auckland, but it does have a precedent abroad where light rail is used as a high quality corridor linking up heavy rail lines in a number of more successful multi-modal cities.

          There is also another point that should be brought up with regards to light rail – it tends to spur development along corridors. Unlike heavy rail that is above ground, light rail is often easier to live next to, has greater “pull” factors given it is a highly visible form of transport that is, generally, fairly quiet and seen as a high quality form of transport. Improving connectivity for these inner suburbs is a perfect way to spur intensification – something that Auckland is pushing for with its brownfield consolidation. To use another example from where I live – Hammarby Sjöstad (a docklands-style redevelopment in the suburbs of Stockholm) was built specifically along the new light rail line that opened in the year 2000. This area of the city now commands significantly higher property values than similar areas even in traditionally more upmarket areas due to its proximity to a highly reliable, visible and desirable form of transport.

        3. “It was never intended to be anything more than a token tourist tram and the price level it was set at was beyond the service offered so is it really of any surprise that it’s an unsuccessful and not well utilised form of “transport”?”

          If it was a tourism project, then why was it conceived and implemented by transport people? Mike Lee sponsored the project and drove the trams on opening day. Surely a genuine tourism project would have been implemented by a council tourism office, although even then we’d question why they felt they needed to construct tourist “attractions” rather than promote them and why Auckland ratepayers need to subsidise tourists to travel around Wynyard in trams. The fact is it was Auckland Council’s first transport development, it loses money, it serves no purpose what so ever, and almost no one uses it. It carries about 70 people per day… about the number you can squeeze on to a single bus. In the bigger scheme of things, it has devalued all Auckland Council transport business cases. Why trust the rail link business case when they got the Wynyard trams so tragically wrong? And it also calls in to question Auckland Council’s transport priorities, since the trams were their post-merge priority number one. Why would central government contribute money for Auckland transport projects when Auckland Council spends its own money on the higher priority of Wynyard trams?

          I can’t see how trams would intensify development along Dominion Rd. There isn’t a derelict old docklands to redevelop. Would replacement of buses with trams (and offering marginal transport benefits in terms of journey speed, capacity, or frequency of service) create the economic conditions required to bulldoze hundreds of existing homes and replace them with apartments? I just can’t imagine that happening.

          1. Because it was initially developed as a high profile transit link between the Britomart train/ferry/bus terminus and the commercial development zone at Wynyard Wharf. The masterplan for Wynyard is based upon a 70% PT/walk/cycle mode share and maximum parking limits, which allows them to make more city and less roads and parking in the given space. However to get that they felt the need to put in something ‘sexy’ to appeal to the new corporate and commercial tenants who would otherwise demand liberal parking allowances to set up there. So the plan was for a tram starting at Britomart, running along Quay St, through the viaduct, over a new bridge, across Jellicoe St and down the middle of the development via Daldy St to terminate next to the Air New Zealand building and the North Shore bus corridor. Basically it was to be a distributor through the site anchored by Britomart at one end and connections to the North Shore at the other.

            Fast forward to the Banks mayoralty and good old Jonny was doing everything he could to cut spending and redirect capital expenditure away from public transport. One of his first actions was to cancel the tram bridge between Wynyard and the viaduct, and replace it with the much cheaper footbridge we have today. That immediately killed the ability for the tram to do anything useful. There was nothing got tragically wrong, it was simply Banks doing everything he could to bury PT and pull through on his ‘keep rates down’ platform.

            So rather than just dump all the work so far, the project was re-purposed as a temporary tourist attraction to attract people visit Wynyard while it was still in the first phase without any real commercial or residential development. The transport funding was cancelled and the much cheaper tram loop project was paid for out of the Wynyard civic development budget, the same pot of money that built the childrens playground and runs the Silo Cinema and various other non-transit activities that also don’t make any money. At $8 million it’s arguably fairly expensive for a tourist attraction, but chicken feed compared to the amount being spent on Wynyard to attract the right sort of investment. A little loss leader to kick start the image of the precinct if you will, and arguable it has had some effect as Wynyard is very popular and well regarded by Aucklanders.

            However, that isn’t the end of the story. Now we have a local government that isn’t lead by the road crazed John Banks, extending the tram to Britomart is back on the agenda to provide a useful distributor from the transit interchange and downtown to the site the council is trying to develop commercially. The first step of this goes to the Viaduct only, because that is where Waterfront Auckland’s jurisdiction stops. The second step along the public roadway of Quay St and into Britomart bus operations is more complex and will take a little longer to sort out.

          2. “So the plan was for a tram starting at Britomart, running along Quay St, through the viaduct, over a new bridge, across Jellicoe St and down the middle of the development via Daldy St to terminate next to the Air New Zealand building and the North Shore bus corridor. ”

            Britomart to ASB: 800m.
            Britomart to Air NZ: 1200m, duplicating an existing high frequency bus route.

            There is no need to replace a short walk with a light rail service. It would be throwing good money after bad. Wynyard is a success because there is a cool playground and some great cafes and bars there, and it is a really nice walk from the city through the viaduct. Not because 70 people a day ride on a subsidised antique tram. Walking is the attraction, and having at-grade trams rumbling past would actually detract from the experience if someone ever manages to extend the route.

          3. Nick R covered the points about the state of the tram quite succinctly so I don’t need to address those.

            Firstly, there is one point you are potentially overlooking here and that is the benefit of having extended the tram from the waterfront to Britomart meant that easy expansion up Queen Street or Quay street and beyond would possible. Unfortunately, as Nick R also points out, the image of light rail and trams is now that trundling circus at the waterfront – which was unfortunately overhyped to the point of being almost embarrassing when it was opened, and as such it has tainted the image of light rail in many peoples eyes

            Secondly, to again use my example above – the main portion of Hammarby Sjöstad is 1300m from the metro station Gullmarsplan where three metro lines go through providing a service frequency of a train every 1-2 minutes, but they still built the light rail to this area anyway. The kind of distances you speak of are not inconsequential and given that the majority of people who might go to the waterfront probably don’t originate from the city themselves (they’ll have taken transport to the city) it probably means they’ll want a door-to-door service rather than a journey and a medium distance walk. This was certainly proven to be the case here where very few people walk from Gullmarsplan but prefer to transfer to the light rail and complete their journey a bit closer to their destination so I’d imagine the case would be fairly similar in Auckland, too (as long as there was no transfer penalty).

            Thirdly, no matter how short the stretch, an interchange with the transport hub of the city would have immeasurably added value to the tram – especially in terms of public visibility. If people see a service, they think about it, talk about it and are more likely to use it and see its benefits – especially if they are able to use the service with an integrated ticket (coming soon to a cinema near you).

            Finally, to go back to your post about Dominion Road, well, the plan is for as much as possible to be built within the current urban limits of Auckland as possible. I see no harm in developing along a road corridor if there is a willing buyer, willing seller and people actually want to develop along a corridor. There are notable examples in academic literature about the land value increases along light rail corridors. To use an American example, rather than a European, in Santa Clara, CA, land value premiums were 45% higher on a light rail corridor all other factors being equal (size, lot size, bedrooms, bathrooms etc). This suggests that there would be a private sector incentive to develop the corridor upon the supply of a high quality transit connection, thus helping Auckland intensify and improve transport in one fell swoop.

          4. Seriously Obi, you think that it’s a good sell to prospective companies wanting to set up at Wynyard that they are not allowed to build much carparking, yet their employees and customers will have to walk around 1,000m each way to get to either the central transit interchange or the rest of the CBD?

            It’s strange that you call Wynyard a success, because it barely exists yet. Sure the restaurants are a success, as is the playground and the lovely walk along the waterfront. But it’s currently filled with piles of free grade carparking… what happens when we actually want the corporates to move in and fill the blocks up? Do you think ASB will be happy with all their staff and clients having to walk a kilometre? Is walking really the attraction for the employees, or is it a reason for companies to reconsider moving to Wynyard? Either they put in some high profile transit, they don’t develop the site and leave it half abandoned concrete and empty tanks, or they build parking buildings and have wider roads than planned. Considering the place is an island off Fanshawe St I just don’t think they can do the latter actually, the traffic effects would be horrendous.

            And good money after bad? There has been no money spent so far, let alone bad! A few million out of the tourism budget. Seriously, forget about the loop tram. It might as well have been a ferris wheel for all it’s relevance to transport. Whoo, can’t possibly build a light rail link between the central city transit interchange and the new docklands commercial development site because only 70 people a day ride the ferris wheel they built out there. Sounds pretty ridiculous, but that is effectively what you are saying.

          5. Nick… It is a 500m walk from the existing public transport corridor on Fanshawe St to ASB. Which means an average walk of only 250m to offices built around Wynyard. If that is too much, then divert some buses through the area, which I think happens already with the City Link buses. I don’t see what is so special about this development that requires light rail when other areas of intensive employment around the city make do with buses.

            If light rail is required to make Wynyard attractive to commercial tenants and property developers (which is what I think you are arguing), then they can pay for its development and subsidise its operation. Otherwise we’re in the perverse position where ordinary people buying new homes are expected to pay for their infrastructure, but the Council will pay for expensive infrastructure like light rail that benefits ASB and other businesses. A sort of reverse Robin Hood situation.

            “A few million out of the tourism budget.”

            Tourism? Someone forgot to tell Mike Lee: “The opening included the re-launch of trams in Auckland, driven in the city of sails for the first time since 1956. Two historic trams painted in the original carnation red were revived and driven around 1.5km tramway loop by transport committee chairman, Mike Lee. Lee trained to be a licensed tram driver for the launch.”


          6. Ok so you’re asking people to catch some service into town, quite possibly involving a transfer to get there, then they transfer to a bus that goes the long way round to Fanshawe, then walk 500m to get to the office. Great, let’s sit back and see how successful that is. Geez the ASB workers were screaming blue murder over their move and the ASB site is by far the easiest to walk to, and that is while they have the masses of temporary grade parking at their disposal. What about when there are dozens of such buildings in place?

            You’ve missed the point with your libertairian tinged view on how the commercial tenants should pay for the light rail. The commercial tenants don’t have to do squat, they certainly don’t have to set up there. They can set up elsewhere, Melbourne or Sydney for example. It is the council that is going to make money out of them setting up in Wynyard, and it is the regional and national economy that will benefit from intensive commercial activity there.

            The city ends up paying one way or another. Either they pay for a high profile tram distributor which allows them to maximise development returns and minimise the cost of providing roadspace and parking, or they pay to build wider roads and carparks and traffic mitigation, or they pay by not being able to sell and lease the land and not recover the commercial rates. It is simply cheaper to do it with the tram, and much better for the city. Now I’ll just add that it isn’t really the tram which is key, it is the direct high profile quality transit link. The fact that it costs just the same to make it a tram or a bus bridge tilts it in favour of the light rail option. The difference between a short BRT route or tram LRV route is insignificant, however if it is as busy as predicted then the LRVs will have lower operating costs per passenger.

            What is so special about this development? Well for a start the existing CBD is a compact core serviced directly by regional bus services. This development is a peninsula on the far corner of the central city that requires a circulator service to reach it. Sending all the buses up through Wynyard is a false economy, the service delivery costs of extending them a few kilometres over, around and back would be on aggregate much higher than the costs of a simple tram line on the direct route. It would simply cost more to do it that way.
            Another thing is the fact this is a cornerstone waterfront regeneration project leading the future of the city centre. It’s not some light industrial office park on a subdivision up the back of Westgate. Horses for courses, and if the council wants to squeeze as many buildings in as possible and collect million dollar rates from the tenants who set up there, then they need to put in the effort to attract and maintain them.
            And of course the biggest ‘speciality’ is the 70% mode share target which the intensity of commercial development and the allocation of roadspace has been designed around. The CBD gets about 50% and that is soaked with all the public transport in the city. This precinct is over a kilometre away yet we are expecting almost three quarters of everyone visiting it to come by public transport. That requires a solution that is better than most of the CBD gets already. Sure the RPTP plan of bringing buses over to Fanshawe is a good idea, but that can’t be the whole story to get 70% mode share.

            As for your comments about Mike Lee, yes he is a ‘tram tragic’ and drove the first tram on city streets since the 50s. But that doesn’t magically mean it wasn’t funded by Watefront Auckland out of the Wynyard Quarter civic development budget, and it doesn’t magically mean even Mr Lee himself was under the pretence that a short one way tram loop in an abandoned industrial zone was anything more than a toy. If you want to moan about how it’s a huge failure, you’ll just have to wait a year or two until it is extended to Britomart and the Wynyard precinct starts to fill in with new development. Then we can make a call on success or failure.

          7. If Wynyard’s success were judged on “opening up the waterfront to the people” it’s already failed. The ASB block is as effective a harbour hider as any of the Scene buildings.

            I guess it’s always been about giving corporates better water views rather than anything else.

            Has anyone else noticed that ASB has a toilet seat on top of it? Auckland is going to be a laughing stock if we keep this up..

          8. Oh please Geoff, there needs to be actual business going on somewhere; the city can’t be all old villas and dinky trams. And Wynyard has to be more than just bars and playgrounds… Someone’s got to be able buy a coffee or a drink in those cafes or they can’t be sustained and the whole area will be a faux place, not a real and sustainable part of the city

          9. Again with the “dinky trams” Patrick?

            I guess you don’t agree with Rudmans arrive last week and another yesterday regarding the lack o “affordable” housing on Wynyard. Without residents, and not just Princes Wharf never there type residents, it’s not a community it’s just a bunch of office buildings. Yes?

          10. No I don’t agree that Wynyard is the right place for affordable housing, the market should find the right level for the cost of dwellings there and I expect that level to be rather high as it should be, and that will certainly make the public body in charge there more able to provide everyone with quality public space and amenity like the trams [which i do want to see turned into a transport system with real modern rolling stock]. Premium apartments and offices = premium public amenity. Of course it also should mean better design and non-boring places and events…

            I think Mr R is wrong on this one.

          11. I do believe there needs to be and that there will be residential development in Wynyard, just not easily affordable residential.

    5. Again, the UK generally relies on conventional Rail rather than Light Rail for both inter city and intra city movement. Of course the UK inherited a huge network of rail ROW from the 19C rail boom but this resource was neglected and declined substantially through the 20thC as resources were diverted to fighting and recovering from two world wars and then the global fashion for road only investment in the second half of the century.

      It is important to note the role that available energy sources has played in this history.

      The move to liquid fuel-hungry road vehicle systems was aided by the steady fall in oil price from the end of the war until the approach US production peak in 1970 and the subsequent assertiveness of previously colonial exporting nations [OPEC]. The UK was even slow to upgrade steam locomotives after WWII because of its coal resource base [even though it was already in decline then and was a big contributor to the terrible air pollution of the 40s + 50s]. And when it did it followed the American lead and replaced steam with diesel as the cheaper option than the better but more expensive-to-build electric systems [even though nuclear power was expected at this time to become ‘too cheap to meter’!].

      Then of course the discovery of North Sea Oil seemed to confirm that cars, trucks, and diesel locos were the better option as NS production enabled the country to become an unlikely net oil exporter. But the wheel has turned again, the North Sea resource is in decline: The UK became a net oil importer again in 2006 with NS production declining by more than half from 2.9 mbpd in 1999 to 1.1 in 2011 and is falling, with new fields failing to replace the decline in older ones fast enough. Most of the NS resource was rushed to market during the last boom often selling below 20USD a barrel. Bad timing as the continuing global supply crunch means outside of an even bigger economic crisis than the recent one oil will never be that affordable again. This predicament goes a long way to explain the UKs economic woes. NS oil propped up the UK under Thatcher and Blair; take that away and it’s pretty much a house of cards, including the casino of the City financial centre.

      At least there is some recognition in the UK that there is an energy supply problem and the dependency of the nation’s systems on an increasingly expensive resource is major threat. And that the only rational response is to actively rebalance away from reliance on oil to electricity. And this of course has to happen particularly in transport:


      The important lessons here are that had the UK moved to electric rail earlier like much of Europe it would be in a more resilient shape now. Had it taken care of its oil resource better [more like Norway] it would be in much better economic shape now. Both of those poorer choices were decided on short-term value.

      So is only building a road system in NZ because of how we set up our funding mechanisms. We are dangerously impoverishing our future:
      NZ oil imports NZD 7.1 billion
      NZ vehicle imports NZD 4.8billion
      And these figures are of course repeated ever year. That’s a lot of milk.

      Any government seriously concerned about current account deficits would see the value in investment in long term electric movement systems. Freight and passenger.

      It is false accounting and extremely poor economics to simply point to the cheapest near term capital cost as the only important consideration.

  19. Very good answer Patrick, to the inexplicable negativity that gushes from libertarian types towards anything on rails. And you make a very pertinent point: That given the existence of London’s enormously effective metro system, it makes sense to continue focussing resources on that rather than get side-tracked by introducing new and separate systems (eg trams), even if those systems might be a good choice if starting from scratch. Likewise in Auckland, any move to introduce light rail (or any other capital-intensive system) needs to be carefully weighed up as to whether it really will integrate beneficially with what is already there, or lead to a system that is fragmented and half-pie.

    The same is true in Wellington, where there is an excellent heavy rail network that screams out for extension to the south of the city. But the debate has been captured by light rail enthusiasts who are not interested in building on what we already have, but would rather go for something separate and at best only partially-compatible. Both heavy and light rail options were originally retained in the current Spinal Corridor Study, but heavy rail (branded unhelpfully as a “Metro” option and with zero acknowledgement as being an extension of what is already there), was dismissed on a whim. Of course the current reality is that all capital-intensive PT options have temporarily been swept aside by the present obsession with roading but hopefully this will run out of steam before any serious resources are squandered. Then perhaps the debate can resume, although to call it a “debate” with only one person (me) attempting to argue the motion is a bit of a stretch.

    1. Despite some rather weak – and even bizarre – arguments in favour of buses and against light rail (like “you will probably find that the longer people spend in various cities the more they migrate towards the bus system..”- what!?) this post has drawn out a comprehensive case for light rail. Obviously all modes are in the mix but it’s really about a vision for the long term and creating a city we want to live in, not just exist in.

      1. ““you will probably find that the longer people spend in various cities the more they migrate towards the bus system..” – what!?”

        There is a very simple and clear rationale for this. When someone first arrives in a city (as a tourist or a new arrival) they will tend to stick to legible and easily understood metro, rail and tram services. Likewise they will generally just visit the city centre, inner suburbs and popular touristy areas, the sorts of places that are serviced by rail. However as people settle in to a city over time they find need to venture further afield to visit ‘local’ centres, suburbs and locations, they don’t just stick to the city and tourist spots anymore. To do that they usually need to use local bus services.

        I found this perfectly apparent when I lived in Melbourne. Everyone was always telling me how great the tram network was and how the trains went everywhere… which is perfectly true when you are tourist and you only visit the central areas. However when you live there you rapid realise that the tram network is fairly limited in extent, and to get around most of the city by public transport you need to take a bus.

        1. Well if we are basing our arguments on anectodal evidence only, I lived in Melbourne and NEVER took a bus. Always used trams and bicyle. So you must be wrong, right? Well we dont know because it is just two stories told by two people who may have very different reasons for what they did. Where is the evidence?

  20. Sorry I think that’s a lot of vagary and supposition. I’ve lived in various cities around the planet and not ‘migrated towards the bus system’… last time I was in Melbourne for any length of time – and staying with locals way out from the CBD in North Balwyn and doing the same stuff they did every day like commuting into town – we all used a mix of trains/trams & private car – not one bus trip. In fact they loved the tram and would walk a little bit further to catch it. In London I’d always opt for the Tube over bus if possible – same in Paris etc etc.

    1. Agree with Ben here, but then I will always choose a better quality experience where available. Surely any migration to bus, or in fact any other mode depends on service and coverage etc…. Perfectly possible to live in Melbourne and never use a bus, or never use a train. Depended largely where you are and need to be.

      1. I think you guys misunderstand slightly there. He’s not suggesting a migration to bus as in stop using one mode and start only using the other. Rather a widening of where people want to go and what modes they are comfortable with over time and as familiarity increases.
        Sure you can live in Melbourne only using trams, but after a while you’ll have occasion to go to Chadstone Mall, or Monash University, or visit friends in Doncaster, or a cafe in Elwood etc, and the fact you have to take a bus won’t be a barrier like it might for a tourist on their first day.

  21. The references to BRT (bus rapid transit) seem not to have factored in the known carcinogenic effects of diesel-based motivation.

    1. Battery electric bus technology is now to the point where it is feasible and more economic than diesel. Shanghai just bought 1,000 of the things. I would say within five years all out new buses will be electric from the factory.

        1. No they are not on our streets, and neither is light rail so that’s a pretty moot point!

          This isn’t a cold fusion pipe dream that is just around the corner, this is a technology that is more economical than diesel already, and is already working abroad. Like I said Shanghai has a fleet of one thousand electric buses. Sure they are the early adopters, but a recent report by EECA has show they will work in New Zealand all the same. I too am hesitant to make bold predictions based on technological messiahs, but this one really seems to stack up. If is is cheaper right now to buy and operate new electric buses of the sort already in use en masse in china then we will see them very soon.

          I agree with you on electric cars, but private car fleets and transit buses are very different beasts.

  22. Do you need another anecdote to add to the list?

    I lived in Melbourne for seven years and what Nick R describes is exactly what happened to me. I very quickly learned that trams were extremely slow and completely ineffective for commuting to and from work in a timely manner. The older ones lacked both seats and aircon, the newer ones lacked seats. That was a very very long time to be standing up on rails that a very shaky even when cornering. I tolerated the similar crush on trains because they were so much faster.

    And so when it came to getting around I discovered the bus. Unfortunately, because Melbourne is subsidising trains, trams and buses, one of these scukers was gonna be neglected, and it turned out to be buses, despite their inherent flecibility in routes. On my route, the service was just two per hour. In addition, because fare evasion on trams is so incredibly easy, the loss of income that would otherwise be generated on buses wasn’t available for reinvestment, making the whole system weaker. So there you have it, anecdotally – trams are dinky for tourists, occasionally useful for short trips within the city, but ultimately, a hassle for long-term residents trying to go about their daily lives. That’s probably why Melbourne is not expanding its tram network and the fleet is being upgraded only incremetely. I still laugh att he suggestions of extending the Wynyard line along Tamaki Drive to St Heliers. Great, see you in an hour or two.

    Ultimately, the most salient point made here is that those advocating trams don’t value it enough to actually pay for it.

    1. Well again, I commuted every day by tram and never used a bus. So these stories prove….nothing. I also used trams almost every day in Prague and they worked fantastically, especially combined with an incredible metro system for travelling the long distances.

      I think the most salient points are:

      1. people use whatever form of public transport suits them the best and works the most effectively; and
      2. public transport (in fact all transport) only really works effectively when it has its own ROW. This is one of the big reasons trams were removed from the streets of Auckland/Wellington/Christchurch/Dunedin. Cars werent as effective when they had to share their ROW with trams so the trams had to go. It’s also why motorists love motorways.

      1. Well I think the conclusion there is that the level of service and reliability is more important than whether the vehicle has rubber tyres or steel wheels. Obviously the biggest issue is whether there are dedicated lanes or not. In that regard Melbourne offers good and bad examples of just about all tram options, from the fully grade separated St Kilda line with its separate stations and fast travel speeds, to the likes of Brunswick St and Swan St where they crawl along in a single lane of mixed traffic through congested shopping streets, forcing traffic to stop as people wander into the middle of the road to step up to the tram. Perhaps the sweet spot is the likes of Nicholson St, where the tram runs in a dedicated lane protected by a curb and mid block right turn bans, and has platform stops accessed by pedestrian crossings. That is perhaps the pinnacle of street based transit.

    2. Melbourne continues to incrementally expanded its tram network outwards and has a overarching strategy to systematically rebuild all stops as wheelchair accessible platforms, and to segregate tram lanes. It is also taking delivery of the new E class vehicles, initially twenty vehicles to expand the fleet with an option of 100 to replace the ageing Z class fleet. But Melbourne is also investing heavily in the smart bus network of orbital routes and rail connectors. Horses for courses, but I don’t think the insinuation that they have given up on trams is accurate.

    3. well said TimE!

      “I still laugh att he suggestions of extending the Wynyard line along Tamaki Drive to St Heliers. Great, see you in an hour or two”

      🙂 🙂 🙂

  23. Light rail doesn’t need to be entirely distinct from heavy rail or tramway. There are plenty of examples in France and Germany of tram-trains running on bi-modal systems.. in terms of signalling, power supply and operating practice.. i.e. operable as street cars on one route section and on conventional rail on another.. with overhead DC or AC or even diesel. Just as long as the gauge is the same.

    Could be worthy of consideration for future Dominion Road, cross-harbour, cross Tamaki, airport line extension, etc..?

  24. The last line extensions were to Vermont South and Docklands back in 2005. That’s nearly ten years with no apparent plans for more, from what I can gather. The E-Class purhcase was actually for 50 trams, but out of a fleet of about 400, a substantial proportion of which are very very old an have serious accessability issues, this is the bare minimum they could purchase to keep the system viable. The initial intent was for much more but, and this will increasingly occur, the bus network finally won some favour from government. I know because I was involved.

  25. The CRL is no threat to NZ Bus as we still have plenty of areas that don’t have rail coverage as well as needing feeder services. The RPTP proposes to reuse the same amount of bus km’s just in different ways which in many cases means being able to provide higher frequencies. Also in its RPTP submission, both written and verbal NZ Bus said they strongly support the CRL.

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