For many years now one of the biggest areas of difference between the government and the council has been in the area of transport. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the City Rail Link where the government dismissed the project for years until it became politically untenable to continue doing. Even when government agencies and the council/AT worked together – like on the City Centre Future Access Study – the two sides couldn’t agree even on some of the basics.
While the government changed its position of support for the CRL back in 2013, the two were still worlds apart on the future of Auckland’s transport system during the Long Term Plan debate last year, most notably over the issue of how to pay for future projects.
In August last year there started to be a light at the end of the tunnel – and it wasn’t a train coming through the CRL. The council and government signed a Terms of Reference for what they called the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which over the course of a year would look at trying to come to an agreement on a broad 30-year plan for transport in the region.
On Friday Transport Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown released first of three reports ATAP will produce over the course of the work – the Foundation Report. Before going into that I must say I was quite impressed with the speeches, especially that of Bridges who I thought covered some of the issues very well. He even talked about trying to take the politics out of transport as much as possible and ultimately that is what ATAP is about.
The Foundation Report is essentially all of the agencies involved agreeing on the assumptions and evidence they will use to assess how effective potential solutions will be. This is important as by having an agreed set of inputs to the process they should avoid the disputes of the past were each side ended up with widely different results. It also helps to define just where the focus on solutions needs to be.
Now that they’ve agreed on the how Auckland will change over 30 years the next step they are taking is to come up with and model a range of transport packages (combinations of
transport projects, services and policies). This will be used to try and find the ultimate package they end up recommending. Having picked the low hanging transport fruit they note that solutions from here on out get much more challenging and expensive – although I’d argue they haven’t quite finished picking all of the low hanging PT and cycling fruit just yet.
I haven’t had a chance to read all 64 pages of the report but at first glance it appears to cover many of the issues we’ve been highlighting for years which great to see.
Starting off with Auckland’s Geography they note the impacts on the city’s urban form caused by the harbours which has resulted in development stretching out considerably giving it the appearance of being lower density than it actually is. They also make this observation which succinctly covers why:
Auckland’s geography presents a number of major transport challenges and opportunities. Infrastructure and demand are focused into a small number of narrow corridors, leading to congested pinch points across the transport network. Conversely, this concentration of demand should be well suited to supporting high capacity public transport systems – although Auckland’s relatively dispersed employment creates challenges for the efficient provision of public transport.
I guess another way you could say this is, we have a geography which through its multiple pinch points is almost uniquely suited to high capacity public transport solutions but we stuffed it up by spreading employment too thinly – which of course we did in the belief it would reduce congestion.
Moving on to how Auckland has been performing recently. Over the last decade or so Auckland has had significant investment in transport which in part is starting to catch up on decades of underinvestment. Since 2003 the regions population has grown by about 300,000 yet they say travel time surveys show that AM peak congestion has actually fallen, PM peak is fairly stable while there’s a slight upward trend in interpeak congestion. They do note that this is at a regional level and some areas may have more localised congestion issues. They also say travel time variability has increased.
They also note that people at an individual level are driving less but that had been offset by population increases however even the total vehicle travel has flat-lined recently.
PT use has also improved but as we talk about that regularly I don’t think I need to cover it again.
Comparing Auckland to the key Australian cities they note that on average we have less congestion all of them with the exception of Perth. Where we do struggle is with travel time reliability and particularly in the afternoon peak. Of course with the exception of Adelaide, Auckland is smaller than all of these cities.
ATAP are using Stats NZ medium growth projection which out to 2043 sees an additional 700,000 people living in the region. They also expect another 250,000 jobs in Auckland with the sector seeing the most growth being business services. The maps below show where the growth for both metrics is expected to occur. The darker the colour the more it is expected to change. The shaded areas are the future urban areas.
One of the concerns they’ve identified is that a significant amount of the population growth is expected to be over 20km from the city centre while much of the employment growth will be closer to the centre.
Again they seem to be suggesting that road focused solutions are going to struggle.
These projected household and employment growth trends will place significant pressure on the transport network through longer trip lengths, especially to major centres. The low level of growth in local employment is also likely to make improvements in employment access by car more challenging, as trips lengthen and become relatively more focused towards major centres with constrained access. Furthermore, the high value of land in major centres presents a key challenge of providing significant people-moving capacity without using extensive amounts of space.
Despite this they’ve tried to predict the future vehicle travel demand which they think will increase substantially over the next 30 years. They say the demand growth is largely in line with population growth so effectively represents a flat-lining of per capita car travel.
ATAP is also considering the impact of technology changes. They make no predictions about what will happen but do say that the next stages of the project will look at them in more detail and the impact they would have on the options they assess.
To assess how well the transport packages work they’ve created five high level objectives and under each is one or more measures and KPIs. The objectives are:
- Improve access to employment and labour
- Improve congestion results
- Increase public transport mode share
- Increased financial costs deliver net user benefits
- Ensure value for money
In addition to the objectives they’ll also be assessing the packages against some other outcomes. Again there are one or more measures and KPI’s under these outcomes.
- Support access to housing
- Minimise harm
- Maintain existing assets
- Social inclusion and equity
- Network resilience
Understanding the Problem
To get a base case, ATAP have assessed how the plan used in the Long Term Plan performed. As you may recall this was a build everything plan and had the following major projects completed in over the three decades
So here’s how it performed.
Over the 30 years the proportion of jobs able to be accessed by a car within 30 minutes declines while the number of jobs accessibly by PT in 45 minutes increases but the rate of that increase reduces after 2026. The report doesn’t say why they assess cars and PT using different travel times.
This is shown more visually in the maps below.
Out to 2026, despite the investment in the Western Ring Route jobs accessibly by car decline most significantly in West Auckland while PT improvements are mostly in Central Auckland and the North Shore.
At the end of the 30-year period it’s the North Shore that benefits most with the most improvements in both car and PT results. The Northwest Busway obviously has quite an impact too.
In all scenarios West Auckland (as opposed to the North West) and South Auckland don’t fare all that well compared to other parts of Auckland. They note that this is something they’ll need to address through the ATAP process.
Overall congestion is expected to get worse for cars with the biggest impact being off peak. For PT though the increase in the Rapid Transit network or use of bus lanes means that PT trips suffering from road congestion will improve.
PT modeshare is expected to increase from 7% to 15% over the 30 years. Combined with walking and cycling driving modeshare is expected to continue to decline. Taking out active modes and PT modeshare rises from 13% to 29% across the region but will obviously be much higher in some areas like the city centre.
Maps showing PT modeshare changes are similar to the ones above showing the most change happening on the isthmus, North Shore and Northwest with little change in the west and south. They note that rail service levels used in the models for the West and South are not likely to be good enough. They note:
Overall, the APTN analysis highlights that public transport mode share growth needs to make a greater contribution to reducing congestion, particularly for long trips where people using private vehicles are utilising highly congested motorway corridors
Overall it’s an interesting report and given the constraints on the road network – i.e. there isn’t any space for new or much wider ones – suggests they’ll need to significantly improve what is planned for PT if they want to get better transport outcomes for Auckland. Getting more people on PT will be the best thing for those that need to drive.