In December the council released the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The study came about after the government rejected the original business case for the City Rail Link and Steven Joyce asked for among other things, more information on the alternative options. Crucially the work on CCFAS also included representativeness from the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Treasury.  The intention was to finally gain a consensus about the best transport solutions for the city centre.

Unsurprisingly to us, the CRL came out as the best solution but reaction from the government was swift in dismissing the study. The most frustrating part of the governments comments were from Gerry Brownlee questioning the assumptions and investigations undertaken as part of the study seeing as staff in his own ministry were deeply involved. It seems fairly reasonable to wonder, if they had concerns then why didn’t they raise them during the study?

So that night (13 Dec), I flicked of an Official Information Act request to the MoT to find out just what they knew. The request took a very long time and I only got it back a few weeks ago. It definitely wasn’t a small amount of info as there were over 250 pages worth (they wouldn’t provide me soft copies). I have however now read through it all as well as scan all of the pages and here is perhaps the most interesting bits. Note: due to the number of documents I have split it up into sections, in total they come in at just over 100MB so probably best not to try and read them from a mobile device.

10/10/2011 – (Part 2, page 9) The draft terms of reference for the study were sent to Steven Joyce for his comments along with the points raised by the MoT. Unfortunately the ministers comments have been excluded from the request.

04/11/2011 – (Part 2, page 20) Comments in a report to the minister that both the MoT and NZTA are attending fortnightly meetings project meetings which shows that they were very deeply involved right from the start.

23/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 37) Brownlee is now the minister and has been asked to sign a letter to Len Brown around the amended terms of reference (the final version he signed off on is here). Brownlee has refused to sign it as he wants a more detailed briefing on the project first. What is most interesting though is point 20 on the background information (page 40) where the MoT raise the suggestion that there needs to be a more “realistic target date” for the CRL. This is important as one of the key responses to the study from the MoT and government has been to talk of the project being more viable a decade later. Does this suggest they went into the study with that outcome already planned?

24/01/2012 – (Part 2, page 47) This is the additional briefing that was given to Brownlee and there were a couple of notable points. It mentions that the CRL would allow 5 minute frequencies across the network, something that AT won’t even promote for some reason. There is a section on the history of the project but seems to have some mistakes in it e.g. says the idea was first around in the 1970’s when in fact it has existed since at least the 1920’s.

19/04/2012 – (Part 3, page 4) The next few pages talk about kicking off the CCFAS project and includes the project and governance structures, this shows that MoT, NZTA and Treasury staff were very clearly involved in the project including at the highest levels. Also included is the proposed methodology that would be used for the project which includes discussion assumptions and how important it is that they are agreed upon. This is important as one of the key issues the MoT later objected to were the assumptions used.

20/08/2012 – (Part 4) One of the big changes to the study was a request by the MoT to do a detailed deficiency analysis on the transport system. This document is a presentation showing the outcome of this work. You can see from the email that it seemed to really help the MoT understand just how much of a problem the number of buses in the city centre would become.

07/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 1) A report to the minister advising of progress, of note is that the MoT say that the working group have agreed on the short-listed options for further study which were the CRL, surface bus improvements or a bus tunnel. They also note that they are providing comments on the draft versions of the report.

12/09/2012 – (Part 5, page 2) A small briefing given to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet ahead of a meeting between John Key and Len Brown which again states what the short listed options were. It also points out that the CRL was likely to be the best option.

06/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 28) A letter from David Warburton to the head of the MoT thanking him for the way the staff from both organisations worked together. This is important in light of the upcoming comments.

09/11/2012 – (Part 5, page 30) Perhaps the first sign that there was trouble brewing. In a report the the minister, MoT officials complain that they haven’t been adequately consulted on some elements. This is despite them having been involved in various stages of the process right from the very start.

03/12/2012 – (Part 6, page 12) A briefing to Brownlee on the CRL. Unfortunately most of it is blacked out so we can’t see what was actually said. Some of the comments suggest that the MoT weren’t happy with the modelling and forecasts yet also confirms that MoT staff were closely involved.

04/12/2012 – For some reason I didn’t scan these page but it is repeated in the next part anyway.

06/12/2012 – (Part 7, page 3) This is the feedback that the MoT provided to AT. With some of the points you really have to wonder why they weren’t raised earlier. One particularly interesting point I noted, is below. It is perhaps the first time we have had a government official acknowledge that our modelling is likely to overestimate vehicle trips and under estimate PT trips.

MoT OIA docs - Modelling 1

This comes about because there are missing feedback loops between the congestion in the city and change in travel. It is an incredibly important revelation as resolving this issue is likely to vastly benefit the CRL. We will look at the modelling issues in more detail in another post. However despite that, the MoT then go on in the very next point to suggest in the surface bus option that the modelled congestion on Vincent and Albert St could be improved by scaling back the bus lanes. I also have to question this comment in particular.

MoT OIA docs - Latent Demand

My understanding of latent demand is, demand which exists but that cannot be fulfilled because a product or service doesn’t exist to enable it. Under that definition there is latent demand for the rail network, it just needs the CRL for the latent demand to be realised.

07/12/2012 – (Part 8, page 2) Following the earlier mentioned briefing to Brownlee, he obviously came back with some questions which perhaps show where his thinking is, asking about the east west link and and ferries. The most interesting part though is the letter from AT to the MoT regarding their feedback. It is quite clear from the letter that AT were not happy perhaps feeling a bit ambushed by the fact the MoT came back with so many issues so late in the process.

As you can see, there is a heap of information about the project as well as some insight into the MoTs thinking. I made the comment a few months ago that I suspected the government and the MoT went into the study thinking that they could prove that AT were wrong and that buses would be the best option. However that backfired and it seems interesting that officials only really started getting upset about the study and the assumptions made in it after it emerged that the CRL was the best option. These documents confirm that government officials were deeply involved in the study all the way through and for them not to have raised the major concerns they had until the last minute makes me highly suspicious. Adding to that they seem to have gone into the process with a predetermined outcome if the CRL was chosen, in the form of questioning the timing of it, something that ended up forming one of their key complaints.

Another interesting point is that some of the concerns mentioned by Brownlee in his initial response to the report (below), weren’t even raised by his MoT officials to AT which makes you wonder where they even came from.

“Yet the report underplays State Highways entering the Auckland CBD from the south, both SH1 and SH16, and how improvements to these might impact central city traffic.

“Completion of the Western Ring Route in 2017 will also draw many thousands of traffic movements away from the CBD, yet none of these major transport corridors is explored in detail.

“Also overlooked is that evolving workplace practices and emerging technology will most likely have a considerable impact on peak hour travel over the next 30 years.

“These may offer considerable gains for a fraction of the cost of the CRL.

If there is one positive to come out of this, as I mentioned the other day, it is that at least we now have MoT officials agreeing that there is some need for the project, what is in dispute is the timing.

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  1. Ah yes, the curious case of all those low occupancy private vehicles. Good to see the ministry picking up on this.

    1. What do you mean Swan? That car users are going to suddenly start running informal ‘jitney’ style services for each other and thereby up the efficiency of car use? Hmm? I can imagine some scenarios where that might happen, say at the next big jump in petrol price for example.

      But there is nothing curious about low occupancy rates of cars because the chief benefit of them as transport, as the minister never fails to remind us, is that they go point to point. So except for family members or flat mates carpooling undermines the best thing about driving; taking your own route.

      Add to that the fact that cars are private not public space so there is an emotional resistance to carrying strangers around in your pride and joy, which also helps to explain the low level of carpooling in western countries.

      Sure I can see a more third world use of our existing vehicle fleet in more difficult economic times but I’m pretty sure that neither the ministry nor the minister is hoping that this outcome will be the best way to avoid investing in high quality public Transit.

      1. My comment wasn’t so much about the occupancy rate of the vehicles, as the number of them. I agree occupancy rates are not likely to change much for privately owned cars, although I could conceive of a mobile app internet based car sharing platform that actually worked.

        1. Yeah apps will help connection for people want to carpool, but they won’t make people who ‘love their cars’ want to share them any more than now. Carpooling requires a culture change, which as I say above, is really only conceivable under economic stress.

        2. Exactly. People are happy to carpool when they’re with friends/family, or the cost is large. Or both – the average occupancy for cars going up to Whakapapa skifield is 2.8 people/car. No “apps” required.

          But if you’re going to have to share a vehicle with strangers, why would you take a chance that you can carpool, having to wait for someone who happens to be going your way, taking detours to pick people up or drop them off? It sounds pretty much like hitch-hiking, which is not popular amongst people who can afford anything else.

          It certainly doesn’t seem more appealing than the option of a bus that goes along a guaranteed route at predictable times, driven by a relatively competent professional.

    2. I think Swan is actually referring to the Ministry pointing out how nonsensical it is for the modelling to be suggesting such big increases in private vehicle trips to the city centre when they’ve actually been declining or holding steady.

      Something that i strongly agree with.

    3. Swan will also be pleased to know that senior ministry officials were asking about the impact that road pricing would have but were told that would be looked at separately as part of the alternative funding discussion. It is a political problem, not a technical one.

  2. THis is brilliant work Matt, so interesting.
    It was not just the great summary from your hard work but seeing how the process works for these large studies is also interesting.

  3. I find this bit to be interesting from part 3:

    “Upcoming issues. AT may seek agreement in principle that the should use assumptions consistent with the Auckland Plan. This may present a number of difficulties that require further consideration: (1) The Auckland Plan assumes an ambitions programme of projects that do not currently have a funding source.”

    I think this is a very enlightening comment, however not sure if the MoT quite understand the implications. From what I understand the modelling assumed the full kitchen sink of transport projects from the Auckland plan, including the harbour motorway tunnel, the east-west link motorway and various other smaller projects. Right there are many billions of dollars worth of jumbo road projects that would be very difficult to fund under any circumstances.

    So what happens if we take this package of mega road projects out of the equation, what does the modelling look like then? What happens to congestion, demand for train and bus travel, what happens to the land use responses. My guess is the case for the CRL becomes even stronger if we don’t have them.

  4. Yes this is more great work Matt, just such a shame that we can’t see what the directives from our employees, the politicians, really are. So much black ink makes me very suspicious.

  5. “I also have to question this comment in particular” (about Latent Demand).

    Yes, that is interesting, what the MoT are saying, is that the demand doesn’t “occur” until we deem it to “occur”. i.e. we don’t accept “Latent demand” is valid until we can actually satisfy it.
    So they mean we (the MoT) could delay the CRL for say 8 years to 2029, and the “demand” would not occur until then, when it could be satisfied (by the CRL).

    Thus giving them a hook to hang their assertion that 2021 is “too early” for the they can then deem there is no “latent” demand until then.

    And they also say, that buses don’t need capital investment, so don’t count in this argument as to when latent demand becomes actual demand as with a bus it can happen any time and be funded without capital spending.

    Which is a nonsense, as no bus operator will magic a fleet of buses into the air for some “latent demand”without a big lot of $ investment – admittedly not ATs or NZTAs money though (well via the subsidy it will be in part), and certainly not without a big fat PTOM contract to ensure said buses are kept busy making money for the operator for 10+ years and not be stuck in traffic not earning $.

    All of which is trying to skew the argument back in favour of the Bus Option.

  6. Yes there is a determined effort by gov to shift spending from capex to opex. Even though opex costs can add up over time meaning that smart capex spending can often by more cost effective. Why? Perhaps so they can later point to the growth in subsidies to ‘prove’ that Transit is uneconomic? Or is it because ideologically they are happier with public money going to private companies (bus companies) than the local authority? Or is it their very clear mode prejudice against rail? All three?

  7. We in Christchurch have just been told of new highways being built. At almost the same time the GPS firm TomTom releases a study showing Christchurch has the 5th most congestion in Australasia. The roads will be pushed ahead and finished very quickly. When it comes to public transport no one is pushing that along like they should and there have already been cuts as if the government can’t bring itself to acknowledge the role of public transport in easing congestion.

  8. I guess it would be a pretty big piece of work, but would be interesting to correlate congestion status with modal investment and land use policy. Difficult I know. Not surprising to see Perth up there in congestion terms, cause while it has gained kudus for massive investment in rail , the rail has facilitated increasing sprawl

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