Auckland has made impressive progress on improving public transport over the last 10-15 years, when you consider how low the base was we were coming from. The city also has a lot of exciting plans for the coming decade, many of which are already underway. However, a question that’s been on my mind a bit recently is “are we doing enough?”.
The reasons for this is that getting more people to use public transport is one of the key outcomes:
- in our bid reduce the environmental impact of our transport system
- to give people more options in how they get around the city, ideally free from congestion
- to improve road safety and public health as PT is both safer than driving and people who use PT tend to walk more.
One of the reasons I worry we’re not doing enough is that our current planning system doesn’t allow us to think about that question.
At a high level, whether it be a single project or even entire programme of work like ATAP, and many others, the process effectively just takes the current state, adds in one or more projects that are likely to happen and then takes a guess at what the impact will be. That guess will be called modelling but it’s often not much more accurate than sticking your finger in the air to determine wind direction and speed. Within that process different options for a project or programme may be compared, usually by a multi-criteria analysis, to see which one performs best on issues such as climate change, but not whether it does enough.
So what’s the alternative?
One option could be to start with the vision for the city that we want to achieve for and then work backwards. We shouldn’t just accept a programme that doesn’t achieve the original vision so if the original proposal doesn’t stack up, then it needs to be amended till it does. That may mean moving the timing of projects around, adding/removing some projects or other changes to policy settings. The question then becomes, what should that vision be?
A good place to start would be the Auckland Climate Plan (ACP), which among other things calls for the following goals:
|Vehicle Kilometres travelled by private vehicles reduced by 12% as a result of avoided motorised vehicle travel, through actions such as remote working and reduced trip lengths|
|Public transport mode share to increase from 7.8% to 24.5%||Public transport mode share to increase from 7.8% to 35%|
|Cycling modes share to increase from 0.9% to 7%||Cycling modes share to increase from 0.9% to 9%|
|Walking mode share to increase from 4.1% to 6%||Walking mode share to increase from 4.1% to 6%|
|100% of Auckland’s bus fleet to be zero emission|
|40% of passenger and light commercial vehicles to be electric or zero emission||80% of passenger and light commercial vehicles to be electric or zero emission|
|18% increase in fuel efficiency of the light vehicle fleet (internal combustion engine)||25% increase in fuel efficiency of the light vehicle fleet (internal combustion engine)|
|8% of road freight to shift to rail||20% of road freight to shift to rail|
|40% of road freight to be electric or zero emission||80% of road freight to be electric or zero emission|
|15% increase in fuel efficiency of the freight vehicle fleet (internal combustion engine)||25% increase in fuel efficiency of the freight vehicle fleet (internal combustion engine)|
In reality even if we achieved these goals it is probably not enough but it’s a place to start. With this post I’m going to take just the 2030 goals and using a few back of the envelope calculations see what that might actually mean. You might recall I made a comment about this in a recent post, with this post I’ve gone into a bit more detail.
As of 30-June last year we had just under 101 million annual boardings on PT, however, with nearly 20% of all trips involving one or more transfers, the total number of journeys is just over 84 million. The ACP tells us that those journeys equate to a mode share of 7.8%.
Working backwards it suggests that Aucklanders make nearly 1.1 billion trips annually. With an estimated population of 1.68 million people that works out at around 650 trips per person or just a bit under two trips per person per day. Some people will obviously make more than this but many will have days where they make no trips, so this seems about right.
Auckland’s population is currently growing at about the ‘low growth’ projection by Stats NZ and with challenges like COVID that is likely to continue going forward. This suggests that by 2030 we’ll reach a population of about 1.9 million people. Assuming everyone continues to make about 650 trips per year we’ll see our total number of trips increase to about 1.24 billion.
Using the mode share goals from the ACP this gives us the following breakdown
|2019||2030||Change in Trips|
|Trips (m)||Mode Share||Trips (m)||Mode Share|
So to achieve the ACP we would need to be achieving almost 300 million journeys, almost 360 million boardings, a 260 million increase on what we reached pre-covid. To put that in comparison, the largest increase in boardings we’ve had in any 11 year period is about 46 million, from late-2008 to late-2019. Separately, my gut feel is with a proper connected and safe network the cycling goal is more achievable even though it requires a higher rate of growth.
Of course COVID has upended the world and many people are now working from home (WFH) regularly. As a bit of a sensitivity test let’s assume that going forward we collectively make about 10% fewer trips over all those all come from the PT and cycling share. In that scenario the number of journeys needed by PT drops to about 212 million (250m boardings) and the number of bike trips to 61 million.
What the current plans achieve?
The current version of ATAP estimates that by 2028 we’ll have around 170 million boardings. From 2019 to 2030 that works out at about a 6.1% annual growth rate and if that continues to 2030 would equate to 191 million boardings.
That’s clearly quite a bit less than the ACP suggests is required, even after discounting for more WFH, and tells us we need to do a lot more. It means we need more projects and projects delivered sooner if we want to make public transport to be good enough to encourage people out of their cars. It may also mean we need policies such as higher parking costs, fewer car parks and road pricing to provide push factors.
How could we achieve more?
To get an idea of where we should focus, we can perhaps break the numbers down a bit more. For the purpose of this I’ll take the 250 million boardings number from above as it’s more achievable than the original result.
Currently about 28% of all trips currently on Auckland’s PT network occurs on the Rapid Transit Network (Northern Busway and the rail network). That’s up from about 16% a decade or so earlier. However, looking a number of overseas cities, most tend see their rapid transit networks accounting for around 40-50% of total trips. At 40% that would mean we need to accommodate about 100 million trips of the RTN, up from about 30 million.
The big projects currently underway will clearly help with that goal. With a few guesses as to their impact by 2030:
- we might see around 50 million trips on the rail network once the CRL is completed
- I’ll assume about 12 million tips on the Northern busway, up from about 8 million pre-covid
- AT assume they’ll get about 8 million trips on the Eastern Busway
- the Northwestern Bus improvements might deliver another 5 million and perhaps so too the Airport to Botany route.
All up that’s about 80 million trips. Perhaps light rail/metro might plug that gap but we should also look at ideas like rolling out at least interim improvements for the other RTN routes, such as the Upper Harbour line or the crosstown one (New Lynn to Onehunga).
Perhaps too we need to consider some new RTN routes not currently on the map, for example upgrading the route up Pakuranga Highway towards Howick, or more crosstown routes like something from Flat Bush to Otahuhu, or something with Onewa Rd.
If we did manage to achieve 100 million trips in a decade on the RTN, that would still leave another 150 million trips needed on buses and ferries, essentially doubling their level of use before COVID. One particular target might be to get better off-peak and weekend use. Currently nearly 60% of all weekday usage occurs just the five hours of the peak (7-9am and 3-7pm). To get people choosing to use PT off-peak it needs to be more competitive with driving. That means we’re going to need to see local bus routes given more speed, greater priority and better frequency. Of course, all of this will also need more funding.
As you can see, if we turn our thinking around and work backwards from where we want to get to, we end up with quite a different result and one that sees us having to recognise that what we’re currently doing isn’t enough. It highlights that we need our transport agencies to come up with bolder plans and to implement them sooner.