There was a quite angry editorial in the Sunday Star Times (SST) yesterday about Len Brown’s mayoralty which included this stunningly bad comment on transport.
He did manage to slip through one win, the city rail link, just before details of his sex antics became public. Unfortunately, this $2.5 billion project will do nothing to address Auckland’s transport problems; 99 per cent of Aucklanders will never use it.
This is a vain egotistic folly that will serve only to shuttle the ladies-who-lunch between the leafy suburbs of Mt Eden and the trendy restaurant precincts of Federal St and Britomart, and to deliver more sad-eyed gamblers right to the doors of SkyCity casino – the same powerful constituent that donated generously to Brown’s election campaign and greased his palm with free hotel rooms.
One of Auckland most ineffectual leaders, Brown would be quickly forgotten – but for this white elephant in the room. The city’s ratepayers and, indeed, the nation’s taxpayers will still be picking up the bill for his rail project decades into the future.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen comments like these about the City Rail Link from a mainstream media outlet, with the anti-CRL vitriol now normally the domain of the rabid anti-PT types.
Work is now happening to shift services on Albert St and in May the diggers will get started on the project itself. Due to that it’s been a while since we last did a bit of a recap of why the CRL is needed, so I thought perhaps it was time for a new one.
Firstly, where things are at so far.
Rail is becoming an increasingly important mode in Auckland, and while it may only be a small percentage of all trips in the region, the impact it has is far wider. To the end of September rail patronage for the prior 12 months was 14.6 million and growing rapidly: up almost 23% (2.7 million) in just a year, and up 65% (5.8 million) over the last 5 years. Further, that growth hasn’t come at the expense of other modes with bus patronage up 6% over the last year and 24% over the last five years. Based on the growth we’ve been seeing I expect we’re likely to reach 15 million trips sometime this week, and patronage is on track to reach 20 million trips some time in 2017.
At 14.6 million that equates to 40,000 trips per day across the year. However, most trips take place on a weekday, with people commuting to work or school. Auckland Transport include the average weekday patronage in their monthly stats reports and the most recent showed the weekday average had increased to over 51,000 trips per day – but that also includes times when not many people use trains, such as in January. As you can see from the chart below, since about February/March it has averaged about 55,000 trips per day.
Auckland Transport say that every day, around 35,000 people pass through Britomart on their way to or from a train. That is considerably more than the 21,000 in 2021 forecast when the business case was written and is only set to grow – this is shown below. Patronage is also on track to exceed the predictions of modelling done to support projects such as electrification despite implementation of it occurring two years later than expected (prediction was 15.6 million trips by 2016 – we’re on track for about 16.1 million trips by then).
During the two-hour morning peak (7am-9am), around 8,500 train passengers arrive at Britomart (probably more now as that figure is some months old). This highlights a couple of key points.
- Imagine the impact on the roads and the overall economy if 8,500+ people had to shift how or when they travel because the rail network wasn’t invested in on the basis of “not a high percentage use it”. Imagine the impact if we took the same approach to roads.
- This is only a small amount of total 55k daily trips across the network.
- It also represents only about half of all patronage arriving at Britomart every day with the other half arriving off peak or counter peak in the afternoon. Add in the trips leaving Britomart, and the morning peak accounts for only about 25% of all trips to or from the city.
- The busiest single road entry to the city is Nelson St which is fed by two motorways, but during the morning peak it only carries around 6,000 people.
There are of course many other roads that lead to the city for cars (and buses, walking and cycling). The screenline surveys that produced some of these numbers are no longer conducted due to the cost and because much of the data is now available from systems like HOP. The last one was in 2014, and at that time just 47% of people entering the city during the peak did so in a car. Interestingly the car figures have remained static or declined slightly for more than a decade, so all growth in travel has happened on PT.
But why is the CRL needed? The simple answer is growth. Auckland, and especially the city centre, is growing rapidly. It is predicted that by 2041:
- Auckland is expected to have another 700,000 people
- The number of people living in the city centre and the city fringe will double to 140,000
- Employment in the city centre and the city fringe is expected to increase to more than 200,000
- Tertiary Student numbers in the city centre are expected to grow by 30% to 72,000
Catering for that growth isn’t easy. The roads are already busy, which is starting to limit the ability to increase bus capacity, and Britomart is also approaching its capacity – at a rapid rate, as pointed out above. The figures from the past seem to suggest that without the CRL, patronage on the current network will top out at somewhere between 20 and 25 million trips in the early 2020’s.
The CRL may only be a short 3.4km piece of track, but by busting through the cul-de-sac that is Britomart it enables significantly more trains to run, so it is an upgrade to the entire rail network – turning it into a higher frequency, 100km metro-like system. By through routing many services, AT’s suggested future operating pattern would see up to 36 trains per hour passing through the city during peak times, each carrying up to 750 people. That’s almost double what is possible without the CRL, although some of those will be counter peak so won’t be as full.
The last figures we saw were in the City Centre Future Access Study a few years ago – it looked at over 30 different options to address the expected growth in the city centre. It was modelled then (integrated CRL + Surface Bus) that around 30,000 per day would come in to the city on the rail network in the morning peak.
If we use the assumption that the morning peak only accounts for around one quarter of all patronage to the city and extrapolate that out to the numbers above, it suggests that by 2041 the CRL enables about 120,000 trips per day. That’s over three times what we have now and doesn’t include any trip destinations outside of the city centre. Train trips to other destinations would also become more attractive, since for most of them frequencies will increase as a result of the CRL. For example, if you want to get from Henderson to New Lynn, currently there is only a service every 15 minutes at peak (eventually to be every 10), but the CRL enables a train between those destinations every four minutes. Total annual patronage on the rail network is likely to rise to close to 50 million trips per year.
As for who will use the CRL, yes there may be some ladies from leafy suburbs using it, just as there may be gamblers, but many others will too – and the vast majority of people who will use trains in the future will do so because it offers the most rational choice for them.
Lastly along with the editorial and accompanying article the SST ran a survey asking a few questions. Among them was one on what the next mayor should focus on. It may only be an internet poll and it doesn’t say how many voted, but at the time of writing this post there was a pretty clear winner. Results like these are in line with many other surveys we’ve seen over the years from a range of organisations using a number of different methodologies. Interestingly in the same survey is a question about who people would like to see in the running for mayor and Phil Goff is the clear favourite with 41% ahead of John Banks on 12%.
I’m not sure about you but I would personally put the CRL in the improving public transport category.
If the editor of the SST is looking for White Elephants to slay then he’s looking in the wrong place with the CRL.