Today the Auckland Transport board meet again and it’s been while since we covered one. Here are the things that caught my attention from the agendas and papers.

Closed Session

The closed session is where most of the interesting stuff goes, though not entirely this month, and there were a number of items up for approval and noting this meeting that stood out.

Items for Approval
  • Southern Rail Network Detailed Business Case – the paper has been withdrawn but I assume this is about the new stations between Papakura and Drury.
  • Ferry Programme Business Case – After the last time AT tried to tender out ferries ended in failure, AT went back to the drawing board on their ferry strategy and I assume this is what’s come of that. Hopefully this business case will address the issues and also cover off how we move to electric ferries. I’m also guessing this is tied to the next item.
  • Ferry Services Procurement Strategy
  • Urban Cycleway Programme Update – Is this just updating the board about how little AT have done to deliver cycling projects?
Items for Noting
  • Rail Infrastructure Rolling Contact Fatigue – I’m fairly certain this issue will be related to the section below.
  • Auckland Transport Sustainable Procurement Action Plan
  • Auckland Light Rail Update – Progress Report

Letters

Something new this time is AT have published some letters to and from them about issues.

There is this letter from a group of Councillors concerned about reports that forced labour might be being used in the construction of some electric buses.

And this reply from Auckland Transport in response.

By far more interesting are a series of letters Auckland Transport have sent to and about Kiwirail.

In the first letter, sent on 7 July, AT CEO Shane Ellison writes to his counterpart at Kiwirail complaining about their performance over the network issues and which seem to keep cropping up.

Click to access item-9-letter-3-kiwirail_greg-miller_july2021.pdf

In the second letter, sent a week later on 14 July, AT board Chair Adrienne Young Cooper and Darran Ponter, the chair of  the Greater Wellington Regional Council have written to Treasury asking that in light of the issues with the rail network, new directors be appointed to Kiwirail with relevant skills and experience.

Click to access item-9-letter-4-letter-to-dr-mcliesh-treasury-14072021.pdf

It’s good that AT are taking Kiwirail to task over this stuff. The outcome for PT users has been terrible and as a result train use has been comparatively lower than bus and ferry (they were about the same post-lockdown until this issue emerged). At the same time, AT also need to take a look at themselves, they aren’t exactly a beacon of excellence.

Safety Review

I’ve included this section as there are a number of papers on a road safety review that’s being going on but we will cover that separately.

Board Report

The board report gives updates on some of the things going on within AT. Here are a few things that stood out to me.

Innovating Streets

In an update on some of their innovating streets projects they include a few images of the changes.

Parking

In a section updating on parking, AT mention that parking prices in the city are currently being reviewed. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this as parking occupancy has been lower than AT target which would suggest prices might go down.

But doing that would send a terrible message given that public transport prices are going up and AT have a responsibility to discourage driving to the city centre. Instead of targeting levels of occupancy they should probably change their pricing policy so that parking prices increase by the same or more than the cost of public transport.

Road Surfacing

Given how poorly AT perform at so many of their tasks, especially the delivery of cycleways, it’s interesting to see a target they do exceed is in road resurfacing. Though they do say they also exceeded their targets for footpath renewals.

There has been 323.2 km of resurfacing completed which is 106% of the resurfacing programme. The SOI target for the 2020/21 year was to resurface/rehabilitate 4.6% of the sealed road network (6,774 km as at 30 June 2020) which is a combined length of 312 km. At the end of June 2021, we had resurfaced/rehabilitated 4.9% or 329.0 km of sealed road resulting in the achievement of the SOI target.

Glen Innes to Tāmaki Drive Shared Path

AT say in August they will be going out to public consultation on the boardwalk and pathway for section 4, the part that connects Orakei to Tamaki Dr.

Funding, Procurement and Contracts

AT report on large funding approved from Waka Kotahi, tenders issued with an estimated value over $2 million and contracts issued over $2 million.

They say they received funding of $21.3 million to go towards route protection and other pre-implementation work for the Airport to Botany corridor. With Puhinui now open this is something I hope we hear more about soon.

They’ve also put out a tender for the detailed design of the Westgate Station which is part of the Northwest Improvements and due to start construction in 2023.

Street Lights

AT have been pushing hard to replace all 122,785 street lights in Auckland with LEDs. They were helped in this regard by a 85% subsidy which expired on 30 June. They say they had targeted to replace 25,000 lights in the 2020/21 year, which delivers operational and maintenance savings of $3.6 million per year. However, they exceeded their target and manged to change 32,201. That brings the total number of LED street lights up to 94,122 or about 76%.

Data Science

This feels a lot like the boffins have a new toy and are trying to find a something to use it on instead of AT doing anything to try and influence demand for the type of city their (and councils) policies aim for

Using Data Science to forecast parking demand

The Data Science team are working in collaboration with the Parking Services team to improve parking services and processes for our customers. By applying text mining technologies to customer feedback, such as text data from the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system (a centralised repository of customer feedback and complaints), actionable insights can be extracted to understand the main pain points/issues for our parking customers. This can feed into a parking demand forecast to understand patterns and improve parking design and planning. The machine learning model will forecast the parking occupancy counts at different granularity levels to suit different business needs

Was there anything else I missed?


May Meeting Closed Session

With a lot of other things on at the time I never covered the May board meeting. There were a few interesting items that were up for approval in the closed session that I’ll include here:

  • Brownfields Kāinga Ora Programme Business Case – I’m keen to se
  • Auckland Rapid Transit Plan – Guidance for Light Rail Establishment on Network Integration – In documents like the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), rapid transit is treated at a fairly high-level, essentially a line on a map and a timeframe of what decade it might happen in. AT have been working on this in more detail and it appears they will be using that as part of the Light Rail Establishment Unit work.
  • Batch 3 (B3) Rolling Stock Procurement – We need 23 more electric trains for when the City Rail Link opens in late 2024. On the most recent batch of 15 new trains it took two years for the first one to be delivered and over six months longer before it was in service and carrying passengers. So it makes sense they’re doing this now so the trains are here and commissioned in time for the CRL to be completed.
  • Dairy Flat Highway Upgrade and Gills Road Link Projects – Gills Rd Link is a new road connection to create a shortcut to some housing in Albany, much like the under construction Medallion Dr Link. In June/July last year they said a review was underway (below) and despite saying it would be completed in August last year, presumably this is the outcome of that.

strategic review of the Gills Road Link project. This involves working in collaboration with the Dairy Flat Highway Improvements project, to improve network efficiencies and other transport improvements for Albany Village. This review is expected to be completed by August 2020, and there is currently no fixed date for construction to start on the Gills Road/Oteha Valley Road link project.

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37 comments

  1. On the new CRL trains – are we ever going to bite the bullet and buy continuous 6 car sets which increases capacity or just buy more 3 car sets to stick together. I would imagine we’re going to end up running 6 car sets on weekends soon if patronage keeps rising? Should be cheaper as well with half as many driving cabs?

    1. I think the issue is the repair and maintenance facility. It’s currently setup to handle three car trains.

      I’m all for skipping 6 cars and going straight to 9 car units as that’s where we’re headed, but there needs to be additional infrastructure to support the change, whatever it’s be.

      1. There’s no plans to run nine car sets initially once CRL opens as so few platforms can take them, so there’s no point in getting 9-car sets in the next batch.

        The spend on lengthening platforms is scheduled for an unknown later date.

        1. I’m not expecting 9 car units to run from day 1 of CRL, but if we’re going to build a new depot, would you build it handle 6 or 9 car trains?

          The infrastructure to support a network upgrade of this magnitude needs to go onto the roadmap and discussed openly, so that the trade offs that will be required to make use of funding are well understood.

        2. Definitely any new infrastructure/support should be with 9-cars in mind.
          As for the current situation, surely it can’t be too hard to have permanent 6-car units that are still able to be separated at the depot.
          We lose about 10% of train capacity by having 2x 3-car trains (and they cost more due to having spare driving cabs)

        3. Brisbane has the solution to this. Like us, they started with 3-car trains (and still have plenty) but they’re joined up as 6-car for services.
          But their latest trains are permanent 6-car trains but the intention is to eventually move to 9-car sometime post Cross River Rail.
          The plan is to at that time buy new carriages and slot then in the middle of the existing 6-car trains to make permanent 9-car ones.
          At some point we’ll need a new depot for all the additional trains we need so it would make sense to design that for up to 9-car trains and work our way up to that size.

        4. I struggle with this 9 Car platform story!
          If a 9 Car Set straddles a 6 Car Platform will some of the door of the Front / Rear Sets be available for access?
          Sydney & Wellington both run over length trains on some services and customers soon work out which carriages work at which Station.

        5. Westie – 9-car sets will only stop at full length platforms. Sydney only does what you describe on Intercity services, not on frequent metro services. As far as I’m aware this only happens in Wellington on the Wairarapa trains.

          It’s not really a viable option on frequent metro services where dwell times need to be kept to a minimum.

      2. Much more preferable to increase frequency to at or below every 5 min before going to 9- car, from a user point of view. Frequency is greater freedom over occasional but high capacity trains. Crowded platforms and longer waits are worse.

        Invest in higher capacity network before higher capacity trains.

    2. Even if we keep running 3 car trains on the weekends we already have plenty in the existing fleet to cover this.

      I believe the current depot isn’t built for 6-car sets but given another depot is needed anyway this shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle.

    3. And possibly construct them at Hillside under contract from CAF . Which could save time and cost in the Shipping of them and they could do the test running on the NIMT while bringing them to Auckland ? .

  2. Someone on Twitter picked up that they have changed their cycling target from “adding” 5km to “adding or upgrading” to the micro mobility network.
    So it is likely we will only see the addition of physical separation to existing cycle lanes as funded in the RLTP rather than much new work. Sneaky.

  3. Hopefully that gills road construction will include a decent off road cycleway. That plus an upgrade to Oteha valley road would provide a real decent bike trip to the busway and busway to the city.

        1. For real, not following the design guide at all for bike infrastructure at those intersections. and some pretty small changes would make it a lot better.

          The big roundabout is a bit tricky. I don’t believe best practice for cycle priority roundabouts to have multiple car lanes, it probably needs an underpass to connect to the other side of oteha valley road. Or lights.

          But definitely not to be tossed into the middle of the roundabout.

  4. Fair and reasonable letter from AT to Kiwirail. The track situation is bloody hopeless and it had been for 25 plus years. Save up all the track faults for Christmas to be repaired isn’t really cutting it.

    Similarly Fullers absolutely hold back harbour ferry potential. And unlike rail, the harbour does not need third party maintenance as such, so … AT should purchase ferries as per the EMU’s then look to tender their operation hopefully bypassing Fullers.

    And that response letter from AT to councillors regarding the questionable labour practices at the Chinese factories; it’s cute and all very lawyer like. CRRC is mentioned not just in that Australian report as a company with dubious labour practices but in Canada and the US as well. AT’s policy here appears to be “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it fall, does it make a noise?” If we ask and they say nothing to see here, it’s good enough for them. Are e buses really worth that risk?

  5. My guess is they will just appoint another lawyer or accountant to the Kiwirail board. The people who decide these things figure nobody will criticise them if that appoint more of the same. Kind of like how IBM got all their business.

    1. Yes. Likely someone who will be feted as having “years of experience in corporate governance” because they sit on the boards of several different organisations, none of which they have any expertise in. Just strengthening the groupthink with more adherents.

  6. “Instead of targeting levels of occupancy they should probably change their pricing policy so that parking prices increase by the same or more than the cost of public transport.”
    First, I would be interested to know whether pay by plate has led to less payment occurring? Surely there must be a tendency of some drivers to think that without the need for a visible ticket they might get away with parking for free? Is that exacerbated by the first 10 minutes being free? How does a parking warden tell whether the car has been there for 8 or 80 minutes when they first sight it? Why even should the first 10 minutes be free? Shouldn’t AT be discouraging the short trips that comprise the majority of travel trips? (Yeah, they should be discouraging all trips, but if they started somewhere that would be helpful.)
    Second, given that AT don’t apply the Parking Strategy shouldn’t it just be a blank canvas to do what is right? Remember that AT have come up with the plan to only reduce emissions by 1% by 2030. This is the plan that almost everyone has said is crap; have told them is crap; and apparently in some quarters AT have acknowledged is crap.
    In areas where parking is 63% or lower isn’t there good reason to say that there is enough parking and remove it for placemaking, such as planting trees, creating seating areas in front of cafes etc. The great news is that there seems to be money in the pot. If AT have over achieved in road resurfacing this year then surely the need for next year will be much less?

  7. If they’re exceeding their road maintenance resurfacing target, I’d say the target is woefully low. The main road in my area is rutted and very uneven. Its horrible to cycle over. They patched one area recently but left the rest. Its been like this for years now, following the last time the whole road was redone. Prior to that it’d hadn’t been bad.
    Similarly the cycle/shared path in Waterview beside the tunnel vent and BP. This was clearly never built correctly (compaction of fill), so the contractors should be liable. Years later it still hasn’t been fixed.
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/auckland-cyclists-face-badly-damaged-in-face-plant-fall-onto-faulty-concrete-bike-path/FNVA2Z62HBKBLHSS6FHKYMUK2Y/
    And also along the same lines, the cycleway at Newton has been a problem for years too, and still no action
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/396219/principal-says-tangible-action-on-dangerous-shared-cycleway-taking-too-long
    Setting dismal targets which result in never getting much done isn’t useful. This stuff is supposed to be one of councils primary functions.

    1. Anthony, they spend about $300 million a year on road renewals – it doesn’t feel dismal to me. It’s this magnitude of expenditure that means there is little left over for bike lanes and it seems, green paint for bus lanes.

    2. The issue is that they often reseal perfectly fine (often underused) roads every few years or so rather than fixing up roads that actually need it.

    3. How do you feel about riding on the rougher seal because my understanding is unless a road does something like 10k vehicles a day, they now seal everything with the cheap stuff.

  8. On another note, these letters make it sound like nobody at Kiwirail or AT had heard of RCF before. How can that be possible? Its nothing new to me and I’m no railway engineer, although I have done some work with gantry crane rails. Its a well understood phenomenon, rails have been around for centuries.

  9. And just to throw something else in the mix, AT told me they do not intend at this point to bridge the gap between the AMETI cycleway in Panmure and GI which I think its ridiculous. Doing so would eventually make cycling from Botany to the city much easier, and yes people will do it if they have decent infrastructure.

    1. Most people don’t cycle long distances. But yes that gap should be closed, as safe cycling between Panmure and GI supports short trips to/from train stations in one of Auckland’s fastest-growing residential areas.

      There are two obvious options, along the shared path from Panmure train station and Te Horata Road and (1) either along Morrin Road connecting usefully with Colin Maiden Park sports precinct or Hannigan Drive and the access path to Merton Road or (2) along Pilkington Road and Apirana Ave, closer to housing.

      It would be ridiculously straightforward to install simple, cheap-but-effective protected cycleways on these roads due to the road carriageway widths, lack of intersections and on-street parking along much of the routes. There are even detailed designs for cycling on these very streets. They were consulted on perhaps 10 years ago.

      Nothing ever happened though. Nothing ever will, not if the present AT management team has anything to do with it. It’s impossible not to conclude that individually and collectively they actively oppose on-street cycling. It’s well past time for a change of guard.

      1. So there are no plans to link to Hugo Johnson drive/mangere inlet shared path, making a continuous loop of the entire isthmus?!
        Not a huge distance to close a small gap. The cbr is probably good for it.
        Was a nice commute to work except for the awful gaps, where I would bike on the footpath.
        Faster than driving at rush hour too.

  10. I’m a little disappointed that no lobby group has petitioned the council to install yellow or orange LED lights instead of white.

    White has poor wet-road visibility and has been proven to have negative impacts on wildlife, with some evidence that it also disrupts human sleep (poor spectrum, big blue peak, etc).

    Yellow/orange aren’t _quite_ as energy efficient, but they are better for wildlife and visibility. Also results in more controlled light pollution – Controlled in this case meaning easier to filter and arguably less impactful.

    1. there’s a lot of info on better street lighting in the ‘Dark Skys’ groups. Basically AT need to move down the colour spectrum to between 2500K and 3000K. The lower the ‘colour temperature’ (the Kevlin number ‘K’) the better for insects and birds, but going lower you start to lose colour differentiation which makes it harder to determine the details of things that you make think could impact on your safety.

    2. At some point our self driving AI Tesla fleet will unionise and start lobbying for better conditions. Lighting would be high up their list of demands.

  11. In response to your comment as below.
    Yes, all parking spaces should be:
    a) dynamically priced
    b) have a floor price/revenue target that reflects the cost of providing that space (capital + opex)
    to remove the inherent subsidy car drivers receive.

    If spaces are under-utilised or not making a return on their cost then they can be converted to public amenity or ped/cycle/micromobility space.

    “In a section updating on parking, AT mention that parking prices in the city are currently being reviewed. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this as parking occupancy has been lower than AT target which would suggest prices might go down.”
    “But doing that would send a terrible message given that public transport prices are going up and AT have a responsibility to discourage driving to the city centre. Instead of targeting levels of occupancy they should probably change their pricing policy so that parking prices increase by the same or more than the cost of public transport.”

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