‘They always say time changes everything, but actually you have change them yourself’ -Andy Warhol

Ka mua, ka muri is a Māori proverb that expresses a great truth around a simple image. The image is of a person walking backwards into the future. It suggests that the past is clearly visible but the future is not, that we have imperfect information for the road ahead, but also that this is a natural state of affairs. Let us look back for clues to the way forward, but also understand that the future is unwritten. The future comes out of the past but will not be identical to it. The only unchanging thing is change.

It is in this spirit then that I want to take a walk through the following chart showing the last decade Auckland Public Transit ridership.

We constructed this chart deliberately in order to more clearly show some trends that we feel are important but are not so evident in the way Auckland Transport usually illustrate their data. Some observations:

1. Auckland is a harbour city and therefore Ferries are important, offer some the most pleasurable PT trips you’ll enjoy anywhere in the world, and are worth working on. But, as the chart shows has been the case over the last decade, Ferries will not drive a ‘transformation shift’ in Transit use. In Nov 2006 there were some 4.14m annual Ferry trips, or around 7.9% of the total, by Nov 2016 this has risen to 6.01m and 7.1%. Ferry use has been growing consistently but not as fast as land based Rapid Transit so we can also expect its proportional contribution to continue this gradual slide. Will it reach 7m out 100m total?

People often point to Sydney as a model, but with around 15.4m annual Ferry trips there in a city of 5m the numbers suggest that Auckland is already doing proportionately pretty well by comparison. The major difference between the two cities is fares, Ferries are expensive in Auckland, with the high volume routes unsubsidised [though the low volume ones are heavily subsidised] whereas they are really cheap in Sydney. The best deal of all, and strongly recommended, is a trip to Manly on a Sunday, because of the Sunday fare cap this Waiheke like trip, plus all your other travel that day, is capped at $2.50! Only beaten by the 65+age group in Auckland who can get to Waiheke and elsewhere for free at any time.

Ferries are, of course, permanently limited by geography, and even with greater investment, up zoning around wharves, better bus and bike connection (all worth doing) they will struggle to hold on to the 7% contribution. This is why we separated them out and made them the floor of our chart: Ferries are the hard biscuit base of the AKL Transit cake.

2. Buses do the heavy the lifting and will continue to do so, this is the middle band of the chart, ordinary buses, non-Rapid buses on local roads. Over the last decade (remember we’re walking backwards here) most Transit users were on these buses. And although this proportion is shrinking because the relative growth in Rapid Transit it’s still hefty: 60m trips out of 84m total, 71% in Nov 2016.

However over the last 18 months or so growth in bus use, outside of the Northern Busway, has stalled. Some of this will be people unsurprisingly choosing the improved train or Rapid bus where they can. But also we are in the middle of a total shakeup of the bus system, the New Network, which can be expected to disrupt use before it builds new ridership. But perhaps there’s a more worrying trend here too? Perhaps there is a need to give more attention to this important but more quotidian part of the system? More, more contiguous, and longer duration, bus lanes. Better physical and timed connection with Rapid Transit stations. Furthermore the New Network needs to be understood less as an end point but as a start; there will be a need for constant re-calibration and improvement of its design and implementation as it rolls out.

This part of the bus system mustn’t get lost in the necessary swing of attention to the shiny new kid on the block; the Rapid Network, as it is not being replaced by this newcomer but rather is pivoting into a vital more foundational role for it. These non-Rapid buses are the main filling in our cake, they provide the most nutrition and heft, and will continue to do so, even as their role morphs and shifts.

3. Rapid is where its at. There is no clearer lesson from the last decade in Transit in Auckland than this. People want high quality, frequent, turn-up-and-go, moving free of congestion, Transit. Our backwards view shows that where ever been delivered, particularly since the rail network was upgraded with electrification in the last few years, Aucklanders have piled on the services, and in consistently increasing numbers. Year on year growth of 20% has been standard on Rail and Northern Busway as their services have approached Rapid status (and neither are truly there yet).

There is no surer bet in transport provision in Auckland today than this [except perhaps that every new urban motorway lane we add, particularly in the absence of a Rapid Transit alternative, will clog quickly with induced traffic].  For all Aucklanders, and particularly for drivers, the lesson of the last decade is that we need to accelerate provision of Rapid Transit to the whole city. Particularly to those areas with none: The North West, The South East [AMETI], The South West [including the Airport and environs], and the Central Isthmus. Because a full network of high standard attractive Rapid Transit services will be so much more powerful than its parts, enabling and encouraging many thousands more people to go about much of their daily business without their cars.

This will require investment in permanent right of ways, but the bulk of these capital costs are one off and of enduring value, and as they will limit the endless spiral upwards of costs imposed by unchecked driving demand, this direction offers better ongoing value. This is transformational, this is real change, but to achieve it requires a change in both direction and pace; a change in what we fund and in what order. The trial is complete: We know what we need to keep AKL moving and prospering as it grows; it is, like Seattle, a policy of going all in on high quality Transit. The blue part in the first chart above is the only part of the pie that can rise profoundly, meaningfully, have any real impact on the burdens of traffic congestion and transform the way our city operates and is. But to achieve it the chefs have to get on and make it.

Same as it ever was.

Around 1958-59, after returning from a four month tour of galleries in North America, Colin McCahon painted ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ with house paint and west coast sand. It is in the collection of the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu, despite the opposition of some Councillors at the time. Listen to Sam Neill discuss this work

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  1. Well put. All cakes should have a tasty biscuit base. But it’s the underdeveloped rapid transit network, and the sadly forgotten buses plodding their way gloomily through traffic because they don’t have bus lanes, that really need the attention.

  2. Nice summary. I would argue that of all modes, the ‘heavy lifting’ buses are most dependent on land use intensification for further strong growth. With ferries and rapid transit, one can get away with shuttles and park and ride to mitigate poor land use. That may be one further reason for high uptake – they are an easier fit onto the existing Auckland. With the buses, Transport Blog will have supported the professional planners pushing very hard for simplification and higher frequencies which have become a cornerstone of the new network. Now, they need the congestion beating bus lanes to help make the network successful. This will be a tough and ongoing challenge fighting the petrol-heads for road space.

    There is a silver lining to the SH20 (WRR) motorway through Mt Albert, and the East-West link in that in theory they free up space on local roads. How quickly can the surplus road space on Dominion Road and Church St be reserved for PT once those motorways are complete? It needn’t be the final form of proposed PT, but gosh I’d be going hard out to snaffle up the Dominion Road space right now!

    1. I doubt those roads will have less traffic after the motorway – off peak maybe. I’m sure the business case for the motorway says they will – would be interesting to see how true that is.

    2. Strongly agree. One of the systemic failures of the last 60 years was to build the bypassing motorways without spending that little bit more to take the place quality dividend that the new bypass offers to the old route. For example, SH16 through Newton Gully should have lead to traffic calming and quality transit and active services being installed on Great North and New North Rds. Motorways are always sold as ‘freeing up’ local roads, yet we have no track record of taking advantage of this possibility. I suspect this is because of the spilt between the motorway builder and the city. This must be reformed. Especially because in fact the reverse is happening, NZTA’s monotonic focus on its assets, the motorways, and its power over local authorities means local roads, far from being ‘freed up’ by a nearby motorway are being supersized for traffic too in order to relieve any infarction on the State Highway. So we get terrible byproducts of NZTA’s urban work like at St Lukes, and actual declines in place quality rather than the reverse. Which should and could be the promise of the huge motorway investment. Bypasses are potentially great; but we have to make them so by banking the dividend in traffic calming the old routes.

      1. We have massive *predicted* reductions on numerous local arterials due to Waterview tunnel. Like Carrington, Mt Albert, as some of this traffic reroutes. I am not aware any projects on these arterials to add cycle lanes or do road diets. So traffic may drop initially on some of these, and in 5 years it will be back where it was.

        1. Damian not five years, but instantly. If you dig around in the Waterview business case, and I have, you will find that yes indeed it does claim that local roads will be relieved by (IIRC) some 8%, and they bank this figure as an economic benefit, but elsewhere in the same report, as a little aside, they mention that the project will induce new traffic also to the tune of 8%. This figure is not included as a disbenefit in the costing however. Furthermore some of these drivers will be current PT users, enticed by the glorious new motorway. What we feed grows, massive new roads = more driving = more congestion. And more driving and congestion everywhere, especially on the surrounding rat-runs streets, unless they calmed. This is a broken system.

        2. I have no idea how they can claim this. Without alternatives the only choice in Auckland vs population growth is more vehicles.

          However the high-speed road networks still have a limited capacity. Drivers will make an opportunity cost decision when driving to use a surrounding low-speed network if the high-speed network is roughly the same travel time. ie. continued congestion on local roads.

          I still worry about the impact of the Water tunnel on traffic patterns all the way down to Wiri and Manukau. Maybe it will take traffic off other parts of the motorway in the short term, but I’d not entirely convinced that the combination of the current traffic patterns, increasing airport traffic and and the new transit traffic from North to South is going to be a good mix.

  3. I want to see Auckland and its leaders embracing rapid transit throughout the city as the only way forward, the bottom line, with bus use contained purely to linking a suburban hub with that suburb. If the past has taught me anything its that buses were a cheap sop to fill the gap from the 50’s abandonment of trams, ferries, the promise of rail to the real destiny our planners had, cars. Buses cannot continue to be the basis of PT if we are to truly go forward.

    That means building a rail and light rail network to all corners (Howick, Silverdale, Mangere, Mt Roskill, Blockhouse Bay, North West Auckland, South East Auckland, North Shore), not being good Kiwi sheep and accepting what we have will do or it is good enough or we will plod on being car-centric and continue with appalling waste of money building motorways and encouraging never ending gridlock.

    Sir Dove Myer Robinson saw it in the 70’s, why not now?

    1. I’d caution against throwing the proverbial bus out with Auckland’s dirty PT dishwater.

      Buses can make a major contribution to growing Auckland’s PT patronage. It’s just the way they have been (mis)-managed in Auckland in the past (which understandably left many such as yourself somewhat scarred) that is the root cause of the issue, in particular:
      — We ran down the rail network and expected buses to pick up the slack, with no associated infrastructure
      — We generally failed to install quality bus infrastructure (corridors and terminals), such that buses stumble down the road like drunken fools (NB: Notable exceptions being Dom Rd bus lanes and Central Connector).

      Buses work perfectly fine in most places. Even ones with fast and frequent rail networks, like Vienna. If you want to see how well buses can function, then you’re best looking at our Australia comrades, notably Perth and Brisbane. They also happen to be relatively similar to Auckland in some important respects.

  4. Don’t forget the chart shows boardings not trips. One impact of the new network is that many people who would have sat on a reasonably convenient bus service now have to interchange. That partly explains the increase in rapid boardings, but may also be the cause of a drop in bus boardings if they find the whole thing less useful than before and don’t bother with PT.

    1. By my count there are 125 months on that chart, of which the last three had the new network rolled out over part of Auckland, I think you may be overstating the impact of transfers as a result of the new network somewhat!

      1. That data is till end of November, NN in South rolled it end of October so only really 1 month affected. It will be a more valid criticism going forward though and AT should really publish both (although can’t really separate out modes that way as trip could involve multiple modes)

        1. I don’t think there is any chance of them publishing both. I think the only purpose of the new network is juking the stats.

        2. “I think the only purpose of the new network is juking the stats.”

          This has to be your worst troll ever, usually there is at least some basis to oppose whatever you are trolling, but implementing a best practice network is undeniably a good thing.

        3. He’d only be tagging bus shelters otherwise. This place is providing a community service, innit?

    2. Haven’t you also stated that the new network buses in south auckland are ‘mainly empty’? In that case, the boardings as apposed to journey’s arguement you just made, is invalid? (based on your assumptions of course)

  5. A great summary!

    Will all politicians, both local and national and of what ever political hue please take note.
    We cannot say this often enough – for the good of Auckland as a place to live, urgent reform is needed for our transport funding mechanisms and for infrastructure priorities within the existing transport budget.

    And the best thinking is coming out of this blog, certainly not from NZTA or the Minister of Transport who still have a long way to go as far as up to date urban thinking is concerned.

    School Report – Must do better!

  6. It would be interesting to compare our proportion of PT trips on rapid transit against a number of other similar cities. I suspect we are still well below normal and what we are seeing is a correction due to long overdue development of the rapid transit network.

    1. Yes, that would be an interesting comparison. I started doing it a while back, and then stopped due to the fact that it was tedious to pull together the data. APTA publishes a lot of data on public transport ridership in US cities. So for instance, that suggests that around 34% of the PT ridership in Portland, OR is on the RTN (light rail), compared with just 8% in Seattle, WA.

      Of course, there are a lot of US cities that simply have *no* RTN-style services and hence move all PT passengers on buses.

  7. Regarding busses – I was looking at the finalised Isthmus New Network and it occurred to me how much of a difference it will make to my life – the CRL is not relevant to 90% of my trips, but the frequency of busses that will allow me mobility will change my life for the better (except that damned outer link).

    Speed isn’t the main concern in most cases – when Living in amsterdam I rarely lamented the slowness of the trams or metros, only enjoying that travel required very little planning beyond knowing which line to use – they would (mostly) come often enough. If Auckland central can get a bit more bus priority then transit use will inevitably continue to grow. Even when I own a car park and car in a couple of years I certainly won’t be driving anywhere near kingsland, mt eden, newmarket etc…

  8. fantastic post Patrick; great read.

    Reminds of something profound that Jarrett Walker said once about modelling: Most models implicitly assume people will continue to behave like their parents’ generation, whereas cultural evolution only occurs when we reject something about our parents’ generation.

    The assumption that we all behave like our parents is perhaps reasonable in contexts that are not experiencing rapid technological change. In others, arguably land use and transport, the assumption is somewhat dubious.

  9. I note Patrick’s comments about ferry patronage, but I’ve often wondered what the patronage would be if there was a mode-neutral fare system in place. As things stand, ferries are significantly more expensive than other forms of transport which use the zonal fare system BUT ferries are also LESS highly subsidised than other modes – IIRC passengers pay around 80% of the cost (ie 20% subsidy) where buses are around 50% and trains rather less (but moving up fast as patronage booms). As I understand it, the target is 50% cost recovery overall.

    The argument used by AT has been that if they lowered the fares to meet the zonal system, patronage would go through the roof and heavy investment in new vessels would be required. What a terrible problem to have! Frankly, given the heavy investment in new trains and buses that’s already occurred, I think this argument is an excuse, not a reason.

    How about a publicly-stated policy of holding ferry fares at present levels until the zonal fare system creeps up to match those fare levels? It might take years to achieve such parity, but that would give time for any patronage impacts to be accommodated and new vessels purchased. Another way forward is the idea of a “ferry surcharge” (toyed with by AT but no announcement) to accommodate ferry fares within the zonal structure – the surcharge could be progressively lowered to zero over a period of time to create a mode-neutral structure.

    I wonder if part of the reason for not proceeding with the zonal fare system for ferries so far is pressure from Fullers, who enjoy very good returns on their Devonport and Waiheke services (though I note they have asked to relinquish Stanley Bay as a “commercial route” and will presumably be looking for subsidy there in the near future). If this is the case, it’s shameful.

    Bottom line is that in a civilised PT system passengers who are dependent on water transport should not be discriminated against – and there is no way that it’s fair that they should have to pay 80% of the cost of travel when the cost recovery target overall is 50%.

    1. Personally I wouldn’t support Waiheke Island ferries being 50 % subsidised as this would effectively be a hefty subsidy for the lifestyle choice of living on an island. One of the reasons PT is subsidised is to move people away from driving and onto PT, this is not the case for Waiheke.

      1. I really feel the lack of a subsidy at the moment, as most weekends I cycle from the North shore to the city.

        Pretty much only choice is a 50km+ detour via upper harbour drive or take the ferry form Devonport. It really is expensive way to get into town – far more than the bus fare, but I can’t take my bike on the bus 🙁

        Roll on SkyPath and choice.. but don’t quite understand exactly why (if on foot) I can take a bus which is subsidised or a ferry which is not. Perhaps subsidy should top up so that the fare is equivalent – i.e. mode neutral.

    2. The problem is the farebox calc includes the commercially run ferries, not just the contacted ones. I did a back of an envelope calc the other day which showed the average subsidy of the contacted services was nearly $9 a trip vs Less than 8 for rail and the two had similar distances travelled.

    1. Yes, if well implemented, ie with priority and as much separation as possible. Same for Ismuth, the NW, and, probably the Shore. Especially because large chunks of these routes will be entirely grade separate.

  10. Was very very impressed by the Vision Zero presentation the other day, thank you again! What it really brought home was that although individual steps aren’t unreasonable, we aren’t systematically putting it all together. Who is the right person to talk to advocate for this global strategy?

    1. Hi Alistair, crack into it. The Urbanists and Bike Lobby all evangalise Vision Zero but it desperately needs its own advocates. There are frequent instances where the bike advocates are the only ones standing up for humans on our roads and this can be counter productive to progress with bike issues. i.e. Our input is easily dismissed as being from the crackpot, Lycra wearers, so issues of safety and liveability become pro or anti bikes. Would be great to have a V Zero Organisation.

    2. Initial steps have been taken to get momentum behind a Vision Zero NZ campaign. At the 2 Walk & Cycle Conference last year I was part of a Vision Zero workshop with Brake, the road safety charity (Caroline Perry), Cycling Action Network (Patrick Morgan), NZ School Speeds (Lucinda Rees) and Walk Auckland (Abby Granbery) calling for Vision Zero NZ to be adopted. http://www.brake.org.nz/campaigns-events/take-action/latest-news/1286-call-for-vision-zero-to-be-adopted-for-nz-to-bring-down-road-toll

      The Waitematā Local Board has adopted this advocacy position: Safer Streets – Auckland Transport to adopt a target of zero serious injuries or deaths on our roads as part of a comprehensive safe systems approach to road safety including safe road design, enforcement, safer speeds and driver education. (if you want your own Local Board to do the same the opportunity is through the Annual Plan 17/18 consultation starting in Feb)

      More reading here on why Vision Zero


      What we need now is to build up strong grass roots support for Vision Zero to be implemented. I would like to see it made an election issue this year so Vision Zero becomes transport policy for the incoming government.

      For anyone interested in getting involved the FB group administered by Patrick Morgan is probably the best place to connect. We need to get planning for 2017 underway. https://www.facebook.com/groups/VisionZeroforNZ

  11. I think ‘Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is’ comes from McCahon’s dismal period. His life’s works are composed of his grey period, his dismal period, his religious claptrap period and his abjectly depressing religious claptrap period. I like it. It is one of his more cheerful paintings.

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