For drivers, school holidays must seem almost magical with traffic seemingly vanishing for a few weeks. Commutes that might normally take an hour in mind-numbing congestion can, for a few weeks, be achieved in less than half that time. On the motorway, the speedo might even reach 80km/h or more even during the traditional peak hours.
I don’t have a number of the exact impact of school holiday’s but I’ve seen suggestions that suggest it represents only a 10-15% decrease in traffic volumes. That might not seem like much but it’s enough to take significant pressure off our roads. I think school holidays are also a great reminder of what might be able to be achieved if we had our PT and active modes working well. At the same time, it highlights that despite significant improvements in PT in recent decades, we still have a long way to go.
So what would it take to get public transport attractive enough to draw enough people out of their cars to emulate school holiday conditions?
Ultimately, most people will make rational decisions on how they get around. They will generally use what’s fastest and most convenient. Price will also play a part, but that will mainly be the cost of driving and parking.
To me, getting services fast enough to attract significantly more people doesn’t have to mean that PT will be faster than someone driving off-peak or during school holidays (it would be nice though). But it has to be much closer than it is now. There are plenty of stories out there from people who’d be happy to take public transport but it would take say 1hr 20 to do via PT compared to an off-peak driving option of 30 minutes. Obviously driving at peak times would be more. But how different would perceptions be if the PT option took say 40 minutes, what about 50?
These longer travel times are usually not for travel to the city centre, which is generally well covered, but to many other parts of Auckland that may require people to transfer services to reach.
All of this got me thinking about our rail timetables. Over the last few years we’ve talked a lot about the need to improve the speed of services, with the biggest opportunity we see as being through reducing our horrendously long dwell times. A new timetable is due in just over a month that is meant to deliver more frequent weekend services among a few other things and AT are promising faster journeys with another timetable change likely in February. Of course, in the future the City Rail Link will make many journeys much faster again. Here’s what AT say in their latest Statement of Intent under the heading “Improvements to rail services”
Deliver new and improved train timetables:
- new timetable improving Friday evening and weekend services by end of Q1 2018/19
- new timetable to reduce dwell times, with a target of reducing journey times by 2-3 minutes per service on the eastern, western, and southern lines by end of Q3 2018/19
- Work with key agencies to progress development of electrification between Papakura and Pukekohe
Saving 2-3 minutes is good but how much impact will that actually have?
To help answer that, I happen to have a copy of all of the Western Line timetables since Britomart opened (unfortunately I haven’t been so diligent with the Southern and Eastern Line versions). Given Swanson is the end of the line, I’ve looked at how long trains were scheduled to take to get from Swanson to Britomart. For consistency purposes, these are all all-stops services and I choose the service closest to arriving at 8:30. The blue and yellow represent actual timetables while the red bars represent:
- The current timetable minus three minutes – likely by Feb-19
- What speeds should be based on the modelling I’ve created (the CAF modelling suggested even faster was possible)
- What the modelling suggests should be possible with the City Rail Link in place.
What you can see is that even with the improvements we’ve seen so far, the electric trains are slower they were with diesels. Thanks in part to the longer travel times, the new trains are much more punctual though – where previously trains might arrive on time only ~80% of the time, now it’s in the high 90’s.
If the new timetable/s delivers the full 3-minute saving mentioned above, at 52 mintues it would finally, just, deliver us services faster than the old diesel timetables (from late 2005 onwards).
Thinking further to the future, we believe the trains should be capable of travelling even faster – which would match the 2003 times. And finally, with the completion of the CRL they should come down even further, possibly as low as 39 minutes. At point, travel to the city at least becomes faster by PT than by driving at peak and at least competitive with driving off-peak.