Two weeks ago in the weekly roundup post I made this comment in relation to the Northern Busway extension following a flyover video of the Northern Corridor project.

I also confess I still don’t get the point of the busway bridge across the motorway north of Albany which will result in buses doubling back. This will be particularly odd if we do put in that light rail conversion – are we going to have another Newmarket Western Line situation with train drivers changing ends?

Unexpectedly, on Monday the NZTA provided me this response.

The construction of the Northern Busway between Constellation and Albany is already underway as part of the Northern Corridor Improvements project. The Albany Bus Bridge has one lane in each direction for buses to enter and exit the station. The busway route has been designed to allow light rail options and for the future extension of the system to Silverdale. This includes future proofing the busway between McClymonts Road Bridge and Albany Bus Bridge on the eastern side, to accommodate platforms for light rail. Therefore it wouldn’t be necessary for light rail to utilise the Albany Bus Bridge to access the station, as there would likely be other platforms available along the route. All of this would need to be developed as part of the light rail project scope in the future.

For clarification, here’s what’s currently under construction. The busway travels up the eastern side of the motorway and under McClymonts Rd and past the existing busway station but then doubles back over the new bridge. Like they do now, buses heading further north need to pass through the Oteha Valley Rd interchange. In the future the busway could potentially be extended further north and/or as suggested, be converted to light rail. In that latter situation, the comments above suggest the platforms would be added on the eastern side, presumably somewhere around where the blue marker is (the location of a gantry sign).

I can’t help but thinking there’s a good level of strategic folly at play here. A case of public transport infrastructure being designed without thought as to how services do and should operate. Here’s why:

Station Catchment

One reason I’ve seen suggested as to why a station would be better on the eastern side of the motorway is that it puts the station closer to more houses and therefore is easier for a lot more locals to access. Now that is a good thing but it also ignores what is happening on the western side.

Albany right now has a lot of empty paddocks but that is rapidly changing with a large amount of residential and commercial development underway and proposed. There are thousands of apartments already proposed or under construction near the busway station and more will come in the future. The number of people in those apartments will eventually dwarf those living in the houses on the eastern side of the motorway.

The best indication of the scale of this comes from Stats NZ population predictions – although these are still based on the old area units and 2013 census data.

Nonetheless, if we compare Albany with those area units immediately to the west we get these population projections out to 2043 based on the medium growth scenario. On the high-growth the eastern sides do grow a little bit more but it sees Albany reach 25.5k people.

Of course we also need to think about employment catchment as we want public transport to be useful for people getting to Albany to work just as much as we want it to be about people commuting to the city. Unsurprisingly on this metric Albany again scores highly. This uses the newer Statistical Area Unit 2 which splits Albany off from Albany from Albany heights and splits Northcross into Oteha East and West. We also don’t have projections for employment only the data from 2000 to 2019 however we know there’s a lot more growth coming, such as the Council’s recent decision to move hundreds of staff to a new building there.

So whether it be for population or employment, the closer the station is to the Albany town centre the better. The same obviously also applies to retail too.

So with that clear, let’s have a look at a quick catchment analysis of the two sites. These two maps show an approximate 800m walking catchment but show that while the stations may be only about 100m apart, they’re much more than that in real terms.

If the light rail proposal did go ahead, a bridge across the motorway would be essential to reduce as much severance as possible but still wouldn’t be as good as having the station closer to the town centre. In fact, given the catchment it opens up we should probably do it anyway.

Bus integration

It is obviously too early for the NZTA or AT to be making decisions about where buses will run in future but in the scenario where the busway is upgrade to light rail, how local buses integrate with the station will be crucial. Does it mean we need a new busway station or will people be required to walk between the two stations (that bridge mentioned above would be essential). But even if a bridge was built, that’s not the greatest user experience compared to the current situation of being able to walk across the platform.

RTN extension to Silverdale

The NZTA also cite the potential future extension of rapid transit to Silverdale as a justification. However, their own process as part of the Supporting Growth work identifies the busway as separating from the motorway and heading west through Dairy Flat to serve future communities there. So at some point the rapid transit line is going to have to cross the motorway regardless.

So what should they have done?

One of the things I thought at the time the extension was being planned, and even more so having recently seen the scale of the busway extension with structures already above the motorway in many places, is that the NZTA should have taken the opportunity to shift the busway to the western side of the motorway at around Greville Rd.

This was actually one of the options initially considered back in 2012 when the high-level scheme for getting the busway from Constellation to Albany and then to Silverdale was assessed. Interestingly, the idea of crossing the motorway performed better in the analysis than staying on the eastern side but was rejected in part because it was considered about $5 million (2%) more expensive and because the eastern side “provides the greatest flexibility for future State Highway improvement projects“. In other words the public transport outcome was compromised to make future motorway changes easier. At the time there also wasn’t all of the growth now proposed at Dairy Flat.

As well as better access to the Albany station, the other thing that’s notable from those walking catchments above is that the existing station being at the Northeast of Albany doesn’t do a good job of serving the south and west of Albany, such as the stadium, Massey University and the growing numbers of commercial buildings such as around Corinthian Dr. A western alignment could also have allowed for a second new station closer to these areas which would have further increased the coverage and usability of the busway.

A more radical change could have seen the busway diverted further west to allow an even better placed station – although would have likely required more compromises on grade separation, like exists in the city and would likely be a little slower for passengers north of there compared to the alternatives.

It’s obviously far too late to change the design now given the project is well under construction but when it is something I think we’re going to have to think about more when it comes time to convert the busway to light rail and means a more expensive option is likely going to be required. I’m also sure we will be able to come up with some creative solutions for reuse of the segment that would end up stranded on the eastern side.

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51 comments

  1. Matt, I was involved with AT and NZTA as a key stakeholder in discussions about this and the motorway works. For a very long time the proposed second station you suggest was the favoured option over the Rosedale one now being constructed. Everything you write makes perfect sense which presumably is why it didn’t happen.

    1. The yellow alignment and station at Conrinthian was looked at. This was the alignment favoured by the network planners.
      Basically NZTA said be grateful your getting the red alignment. It was stated at the time this was inefficient and would create problems for the future with extension northward. NZTA is telling porkies in their response.
      Conrinthian station was not favoured over Rosedale. Rosedale station is well located on an east west axis which isn’t a motorway access. It significantly improves access to an employment area and Browns Bay. An additional station at Conrinthian would have been good, but the model said no, which others further up the chain hold to be the source of truth.

      1. The report linked to in the post says a station at Greville was preferred over Rosedale but the analysis had them performing very similar. It also says there only needs to be one of them but I think there’s enough spacing and differences in catchment that we should have both

      2. The saddest thing is they’re right, we are lucky to be getting this at all, highway engineers have no interest, in nor understanding of, proper transit. One look at the NW shows the the level of their values and skills.

        Sadder still is that highway engineers are in charge of everything, including things they shouldn’t be; transit planners should not be over-ruled by civil and traffic engineers on critical issues of transit network design.

        Pretty obvious that’s what happened here; look at that daft hairpin! … on what planet is that in anyway ‘futureproofed’ for rail?

    2. Quick look shows the busway going further, crossing over then coming back is 600m extra length. Add in those two right angle turns and this adds about 90 seconds each way to every bus. Don’t sound like much but with the volume of buses on the busway this equates to around $600k of extra operating cost every year, forever.

      They could have spent an extra $10m on capex to avoid this and it would still have been cheaper and had a better BCR.

      Conclusion: don’t put highway engineers in charge of rapid transit.

      1. About 800 buses per day on the busway x 1.5 minutes longer = 20 bus-hours of delay each day.

        Multiple that by about 300 (allowing for a bit less service on the weekends) and you get around 6,000 bus-hours of delay per year.

        Gross total cost of running a bus is something like $100 per service hour, so it’s $600,000 a year in extra opex.

        Net present value of $600,000 a year over 40 years at a 4% discount rate = $12m of year-one cost using NZTAs parameters.

        Also that’s just operating cost… NZTA values travelers time at about $17 an hour. If you assume those buses have something like 15 people on board (average across the whole day), that’s around 90,000 person-hours of delay per year. That equals $1.5m a year in travel time costs, every year. That’s actually worth $60m on the NPV.

        So that $5m ‘saving’ will cost over $70m in the long run.

        1. Highway engineers never think about vehicle opex cost cos in their world making more vehicles drive longer actually increases tax income…..

  2. I thought the reason for the busway staying on the east side of the motorway was due to there being a protected reserve north of Oteha valley Rd on the west side of the motorway.
    But regardless I have always thought it should have switched to the west side of motorway on a bridge somewhere around Rosedale Rd under pass.

  3. This is why you should never get highway planners to design rapid transit. They just don’t know what they’re doing and add a lot of cost to deliver a shit customer experience.

    I hope if NZTA ever do get on with the rapid transit projects they were meant to be delivering that they set up a specialist team and not give it over to their highway planners.

  4. Well Gee.

    Thank God we have you looking at these things. And thanks to the top commenters here who’ve shed even more light.

    I suppose NZTA will dig their toes in because nobody’s accountable? Do they not even care about their reputation? Because there just seem to be too many examples of prioritising highway building above good public transport planning. It has to stop. Who’s in charge there, anyway?

    1. Good question, who exactly is in charge? This new board at NZTA who are permitting this hairpin scheme to proceed need to be sacked immediately. Replace them with properly qualified and experienced professionals who possess an awareness that roads for cars and trucks do not take priority over routes for public transport.
      It certainly appears this new board is just for the same old same old moar roads nzta. Is there not even one board member with the gonads to publically speak out against this folly?

      1. This project started construction 18 months ago, and was signed off in 2016. The new board has nothing to do with it, except I guess not cancelling it years after the contracts were signed when it’s almost finished.

        1. John, do you know how much information the board at the time would have been given when they signed it off? Is the problem that boards just aren’t getting into the details enough to force a culture change?

        2. Board members read blogs like GA as well, and have (or should have) other sources too. In fact, if a board doesn’t “sniff around” and get other views than what their organisation reports to them, they are not doing their job. They are an oversight body after all.

        3. That said, I do agree with John D – there’s not much a new board can do at this stage about this specific matter.

  5. When the busway is extended they can send the northbound buses south to McClymonts bridge and have a northbound on-ramp there to create a double doubling back. Just think how AT and NZTA will be able to spin it as an extra km of rapid transit.

  6. Seems like yet another case of NZTA dogma, that public transport needs to fit our roads, rather then the destinations. The Roads first primacy, ahead of just meeting rational local connectivity needs by the best combinations of the many means available, The overall NZTA culture and skill set still needs addressing by the government.
    I suggest this culture is still slanted by a continuing dominance of career roading engineers and roading needs analysts who wish to preserve their career path.

  7. If they built the light rail station on the eastern side, they would absolutely need a pedestrian bridge, and one that’s covered and protected from the elements. Then I guess the walk to the local buses would be an acceptable distance and the western side would essentially just be another station exit like you see in big metro systems overseas.
    Without a bridge though a station on the eastern side would be so much less useful.

  8. AT have recently announced that from next month they are going to start peak NX2 services from Hibiscus Coast to the City as express services not going via Albany Station. This to save large numbers transferring from NX1 to NX2 at Albany and shorten the journey by more than 5 minutes. When the busway extension is completed how are these services going to join it without going through Albany Station?

  9. This is a shocker. Such poor planning, and it was so easy to predict given that Albany has been identified as a major centre for 20+ years.

    1. Planning for the busway started 20 plus years ago as well. Surely someone must have thought this through before putting the Albany Station in such a daft place. I thought the whole reason the plonked it so far from the centre was so it could connect conveniently with the extended busway. But clearly that wasn’t the case.

      1. They plonked it there because they were only thinking about a convenient place for a big open lot park and ride accessible from the motorway.

        However, the original network plan did run the northern express through the station and the town centre to the university, so the station was only intended to be an interchange and park and ride.

  10. It’ll just have to change sides at Oteha Valley Rd, which will also ease the grade.
    Yes the current proposal is dumb.
    But who in the government or council is going to get it stopped and fixed?
    This is just as bad as the NW motorway widening not considering a busway or LRT.

  11. It sure does look like a giant mess but I do understand the logic behind it with a few caveats.
    Keeping LRT on as straight an alignment as possible improves that service and adding another station on the Eastern side does improve that catchment. What they should build between the 2 when/if built should be a pedestrian bridge with travelators between them to make the user experience far more pleasant and useful. I’m assuming they plan to improve bus services around the Albany area with multiple buses looping around.
    That way they can cross the motorway around Redvale.

  12. I disagree on this. I think the new bridge is going to be a blessing in disguise. Imho we’ll get the station on the eastern side, with half of the services going to Silverdale and half going to the Massey campus with a central Albany station.

    1. That ignores the future development at Dairy Flat and then we end up with a continuing motorway aligned busway (think PnR) rather than a more natural route through the development – walkup / cycle).

  13. The discussion here seems quite binary. Why is rapid transport planned as a linear approach? Isn’t that encouraging sprawl?

    The current congestion free network proposes a join at constellation but should this be Albany? Would have thought such major stations would be better as major hubs.

  14. Changing to LRT will allow it to pass under SH1 just north of Greville Road. With diesel buses, I imagine the tunnel option would need to be quite large from a double decker / diesel emissions POV. With LRT, the tunnel/s can be very compact.

  15. Will it allow us to finally put in a monorail between the new easterly station and the Massey University campus, going past/through the mall and stadium?

        1. Erm Nick R…
          …driverless cars, whilst no transit solution, are definitely going to happen. It’s not unusual for disruptive technologies like that to be first met with skepticism.

      1. I would have thought trackless trams are a more logical progression from a busway. Light rail is ten times more expensive and less flexible.

        1. Daniel
          Some disruptive technologies work. CNG and LPG cars didn’t. Bio fueled cars haven’t. Mono rails haven’t. Single track trams haven’t.

          I am sceptical because shared vehicles, of which driverless cars are a subset, have not been widely popular. Most people prefer a taxi to a cheaper shuttle. Maybe driverless cars will find favour to replace taxis and ubers because they will likely have a cheaper operating cost, but probably a much greater capital cost.

          I know that a huge number of people are saying driverless cars, bring them on. An equal number are saying, my next car will be an EV. In the latter case what most people appear to mean is, when an EV becomes as cheap as my current car, and does more or less what my current car does, then I might by one. Time will tell with driverless cars.

      2. @0:27
        “Will assert Palmerston North as an innovative, vibrant & green city”
        ARRRRGHahahaha!

        To be fair though; these sorts of gondolas have been mass transit successes in South America. Maybe they could find a place in certain parts of Auckland, Wellington or Dunedin?

        But Palmerston North? Maybe it makes more sense to build a second bridge across the Manawatu…

  16. I have mixed thoughts about what should of been done, but regardless it did just seem like the most el-cheapo option & leave the motorway some room for easy expansion. I suspect if they were to start this planning now from scratch it would of been different.

    1. Grant
      Most likely it would have been different. If the new Skypath is to cost $360 million then I doubt that NZTA would be able to design today’s bus way for anything less than a billion (current cost $300 million.)

      1. Which is hardly surprising, because if you use the SkyPath comparison fully, then the newly-designed busway would be more than twice as long as before, another lane wider, have more fly-overs to avoid inconvenient detours and waits, add more distance to local residents, and generally be more classy than a project designed one a shoestring as if PT or walking and cycling paths) should make money, rather than serve a city…

        1. Damian
          I was being facetious suggesting that if the bus way extension can be built for $300 million why is Skypath $360 million. $360 million is no shoestring!

  17. If or when the busway is converted to rail why would you presume the service would require a driver? With luck the NZ Infra Quebec proposal will win out and we will have grade separated light metro built to the airport, if would make more sense if the busway was converted to the same standard.

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