It’s no secret that we felt that Auckland Transport’s preferred option for mid-town buses is incredibly stupid. Both because we think it’s bad for buses and bus users, due to buses getting caught in traffic and also because it actively works against the city’s goal of transforming Victoria St into a people focused space, particularly in the form of the Linear Park. Thanks to the Indicative Business Case (IBC) Harriet obtained from a LGOIMA request, we can now reveal that AT’s preferred option is so bad for buses it has a negative Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) – even though they try to hide this.
The issues with the report start right from the first sentence of the Executive Summary. It states “The Auckland Plan seeks to nearly double the number of trips to the city centre whilst holding car travel to the city centre at current levels“. Except the Auckland Plan doesn’t say this at all, the only mention being one of the key targets which states:
Increase the proportion of trips made by public transport into the city centre during the morning peak, from 47% of all vehicular trips in 2011 to 70% by 2040
Nowhere does that say car travel should be held at current levels. But this is fairly minor in comparison to the rest of the report.
As you’d expect, the IBC lays out a lot of information as to why improvements need to be made. It identities four key problems that need to be solved and five potential benefits from successfully addressing those problems. These are described below with the biggest single problem being the need for reliable bus operations in the city centre.
The IBC creates a long list of options looked at in six different combinations on the following three east-west corridors, one with each on their own and one combined with others
- Wellesley Street
- Victoria Street
- Cook Street / Mayoral Drive
These were then mixed with three different options for terminating buses from the North Shore.
- A: City terminal
- B: Grafton Gully Terminal
- C: Out of the study area.
The terminal options themselves are quite interesting and I’ll take a closer look at these in a separate post.
The assessment also included how and east-west mid-town cycleway, linking Grafton Gully to Nelson St, would work through the area. Some options were able to be immediately ruled out, such as those that relied on Mayoral Dr/Cook St as the primary route, or those that required a terminal in the city centre (due to cost). Other options were ruled out after more investigation. They ultimately narrowed things down to four options.
In a number of multi criteria analysis tables, looking at how the various options align with the problems, the potential benefits, the potential dis-benefits and the project objectives, one option stands out as being noticeably better than the others.
Option 1B is clearly the best based on these (and the other tables).
In the exec summary and a few other places in the document, reference to the costs and BCRs have been scrubbed clean and replaced with TBC so we can’t see how they compare, but in the middle of the document they forgot to do this so we can see some of the information or at least an indication about it.
So here is the do minimum and the four shortlisted options:
This has both North Shore and isthmus buses using both Wellesley St and Victoria St. North Shore buses would also use Princes St and so to would some isthmus buses.
Option 1B – Wellesley Street with a Grafton Gully Terminal
This was Option 2 in the recent consultation and all mid-town buses would use Wellesley St in both directions with Isthmus buses using the slip lane up to Symonds St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $44.5 million and an operating cost of $49.68 million
Option 1D: Wellesley Street (Grafton Gully terminal) via Wakefield Street
This was Option 3 in the recent consultation with outbound isthmus buses using Wakefield St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $45.5 million and an operating cost of $49.56 million
Option 4D: Victoria Street, Bowen Avenue, Symonds and Wellesley Streets (Grafton Gully terminal)
This was Option 1 and ATs preferred option in their recent consultation. Outbound isthmus buses would use Victoria St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $51.5 million and an operating cost of $50.18 million
Option 4E: Victoria Street, Bowen Avenue, Princes and Wellesley Streets (Princes Street terminal)
AT didn’t include this in the consultation. In this option, inbound North Shore buses would use Victoria St while isthmus buses would use Wellesley St including the slip lane to Symonds St. The document says this would have a capital cost of $35 million and an operating cost of $49.2 million
ATs preferred option is the most expensive to build and operate.
One of the more detailed aspects that caught my eye in the report related to walking catchments. During the recent consultation, one of the comments from AT against the Wellesley St corridor was that it had a smaller catchment than the Victoria St option. Interestingly the report has this to say about it along with the accompanying map.
A Victoria Street bus corridor pedestrian catchment would overlap with this northern corridor and not provide the same level of pedestrian accessibility as a Wellesley Street corridor could.
Back to the options and the real kicker comes in this summary of the options. In the version in the exec summary, AT have deleted some key information, most notably that Option 4D, their preferred option, has a negative Benefit Cost Ratio because of its use of Victoria St. Option 4E also has a negative BCR due to using Victoria St while Options 1B and 1D have positive BCRs. But they forgot to remove this information from the same table in the middle of the document (page 67). They also note that multiple corridors are less efficient, require more space and provide worse service to customers.
In the exec summary version (page7) there is an additional column with a recommendation for each option. Option 4D says “Preferred Option to take forward to the DBC” (detailed business case) while 4E also says it should proceed to DBC as a short-term solution. By comparison Option 1B says “Option 1B is not preferred and discounted from going forward to the DBC Option 1B is not supported by stakeholders due to potential patronage impacts, poor customer outcomes, and the use of the slip lane“. The idea 1B delivers poor customer outcomes completely contradicts the text in opportunities column stating it would be better for customers.
It’s pretty clear then that ATs preferred option is actually one of the worst. The fact they’ve suggested that as their preferred option boggles the mind. It seems the only reason they didn’t go with option 1B was because of opposition from stakeholders, mainly the two Universities. If AT did decide to go with Option 4D, I wonder how much those universities are contributing to make up for it being a worse option?
I have to wonder if anyone from the stakeholder group even stopped to consider the impact on bus/PT users. The report lists all stakeholders as:
- Auckland Transport;
- Auckland Council;
- NZ Transport Agency;
- University of Auckland;
- Auckland University of Technology;
- Waitematā Local Board;
- Mana Whenua;
- City Centre Advisory Board; and
- Learning Quarter Forum.
On top of all of this we’re very confident that the thousands of submissions AT have received (we know they had over 1,600 from the Generation Zero form alone) have supported the Wellesley St option. Combined with the technical analysis showing the Wellesley St option as being the best and it seems clear that AT need to reassess their position. To not do so will make themselves look incredibly foolish.