As of today it is exactly one year away till the end of voting for the next local body election. That means talk about who will and won’t stand is only going to increase in coming months.
Unlike in central government elections, transport tends to be one of the key issues at the local body level which in many ways is unsurprising because voters see and experience the issues locally and it’s an area that councils actually have a large influence over – unlike topics such education, health, the economy or welfare.
For the next election we expect transport to continue to be one of the key topics and as such want to see candidates better informed about transport and what’s happening regardless of their political views. Our hope is to raise the level of the debate higher than it has been in the past. To do that we want to create a resource that all candidates can use to learn more about what’s happening with transport in Auckland and what’s being done overseas. Given the amount of issues to discuss this will be a multi part series.
The last decade has seen fundamental shifts in how Aucklanders travel. For many decades Auckland has developed in a way that has made it very difficult to get around without driving. As such metrics like vehicle ownership and how much we use private vehicles showed a near constant increase. The increase was such that transport planners and engineers felt confident in predicting this would continue indefinitely into the future.
Around 15 years ago the way Auckland developed started to change as proximity to the city centre returned to being valued. Changes in our urban form combined with a number of key transport strategic investments as well as cultural changes – particularly from younger generations – are completely upending transport models that predict how Aucklanders travel.
The distance we travel in vehicles has flat-lined despite a rapidly rising population and on a per capita basis is the same as it was over a decade ago. The chart below shows how this has changed over time compared with the results per capita.
A good example of just what impact the change in demand is having is seen on the Harbour Bridge. Traffic volumes today are lower than they were a decade ago. This means they’re well short of the growth predictions the NZTA made as part of the last assessment into another harbour crossing. One strong factor in the change in demand has been the Northern Busway which I’ll cover off later in the post.
The change in demand for driving is something that has been seen all over the world and has thrown out transport models. The example below from the Ministry of Transport shows how we’ve continued to predict growth in travel that hasn’t been realised.
As a result of the changes being seen the MoT have started to think about what might happen in the future. Below is a brief summary of the four high level scenarios they think could expect. As you can see the modelling in three of the four scenarios expect driving to decrease over time.
The changes in driving trends raise questions about whether we’re investing in the right projects for the future.
Over the same time that growth in vehicle travel has stalled, travel via public transport has increased dramatically – albeit off a much lower base. In the last decade the number of trips on PT have soared from 50 to 80 million and a large chunk of that growth has come from some of the key investments that the council and government have been making.
Patronage growth is occurring at levels well ahead of population growth which also has meant that the number of trips taken per person per year has risen from around 37 in 2005 to over 51 in 2015. This is a significant improvement however it remains well short of many of our comparator cities.
One of the stars of the show over the last decade has been rail patronage which has risen from less than 4 million to around 14.5 million. This growth has been generated as a result of investment in Britomart, double tracking, station upgrades, service improvements and most recently electrification. It is currently growing at over 22% per year and on track to reach the 20 million target set by the government for the City Rail Link in around 2017/18.
Another huge success has been the Northern Busway which didn’t exist a decade ago. Figures from Auckland Transport show it now carries at least 3.5 million trips per year with many others benefiting from the investment. Now during the morning peak up to 40% of people crossing the harbour bridge are doing so on a bus which is more than double what it was in the early 2000’s.
One area the growth in public transport use been considerably noticed is in the city centre. Research conducted in 2014 showed that the number of people accessing the city centre in the morning peak had increased considerably however the number doing so by car had remained the same. The two biggest contributors to the growth in PT trips to the CBD have been the work to improve the rail network and the creation of the northern busway.
These results are also similar to the census data from 2013 which shows that the modeshare of cars is slowly declining. The question only asks about trips to work however we would expect the change to be more pronounced if it also compared others such as those travelling for education purposes.
What is clear is that transport trends are changing and it’s already having a profound impact on the way Aucklanders choose to get around.
In addition to this there are also changes in trends of what people want to see invested in. In numerous surveys and consultations from council and independent organisations including the AA the general public have strongly supported much greater investment occurring in public transport and cycling. One example is the feedback from the council’s recent Long Term Plan consultation where a huge number of people made it clear they wanted more investment in alternative modes.
There are a number of other examples here.
In future posts I’ll look at aspects such as what’s currently being done in transport, what the current plans for the future are and what are some alternative ideas including case studies from overseas.