There were a couple of interesting (unrelated) bits of transport news late last week
Congestion Pricing Supported
On Friday they released the result that inquiry and positively, they unanimously they’ve given congestion pricing the thumbs up.
I think this is a really good outcome and an important step towards implementing a congestion pricing scheme. It particularly helps that it was unanimously supported, though I imagine that if the government did decide to try and implement it there would end up being political opposition to it for the sake of political opposition.
One area we will also see push back on is the idea of exempting some road users from the scheme. I’ve only seen a few other submissions but one thing that stood out was a lot of road user groups such as trucking organisations were supportive of the scheme but argued their members should be exempt, even though they stood to benefit the most from reduced congestion as it would enable them to be more efficient. Thankfully the committee didn’t agree with them noting
We consider that industries which rely on the road network will experience some of the most significant benefits of reduced congestion. We therefore do not consider that industry specific exemptions to a congestion pricing scheme would be appropriate.
I hope the government progress this.
New Rail Operator
Also on Friday Auckland Transport announced a new rail operator would be running our trains from March next year.
Auckland Transport today announced the result of an international tender for the City’s rail services, worth around $130 million a year. The contract has an eight-year initial term.
The successful operator is Auckland One Rail (AOR); a joint venture comprising ComfortDelGro Transit Pte Ltd (CDGT) and UGL Rail Pty Ltd (UGL Rail) in a 50:50 equity relationship.
AOR brings the expertise of two world class transport organisations.
CDGT’s parent, CDG, is one of the world’s largest multi-modal passenger transport providers, with a footprint in seven countries, more than 24,000 employees and annual turnover in 2020 of NZ$3.4 billion. CDG, through its subsidiary SBS Transit, is the operator and maintainer of two Singapore mass rapid transit lines and a light rail system.
UGL Rail’s parent, UGL, is Australia’s largest supplier of outsourced rail asset management and rolling stock maintenance services, with a fleet of more than 2,000 rail vehicles across its Australian rolling stock maintenance contracts. UGL is also consortium partner in Metro Trains Melbourne, Metro Trains Sydney, Canberra light rail and the operator of the Adelaide light rail system.
The unsuccessful tenderer was Aka Tangata Ltd (ATL); a consortium comprising Transdev NZ Ltd, John Holland NZ Ltd and CAF NZ Ltd.
The existing Auckland passenger rail contract has been in place since 2004 and, following several extensions, expires in March 2022.
AT’s chair Adrienne Young -Cooper says the review of the current way of delivering rail services provided an opportunity to change the delivery model to better integrate all aspects of operations, with an eye on $7 billion of investment that is being made in rail with the construction of the City Rail Link opening in 2024, electrification of the rail line between Papakura and Pukekohe, and the purchase of additional electric trains over the next few years.
As a result, the new contract will see AOR having responsibility for not only train operations but also electric train maintenance, station operations and maintenance, safety, and security.
“The prime driver for moving to a more vertically integrated model is to reduce organisational interfaces and to improve customer and safety outcomes,” she says. “While cost savings were not the primary outcome sought, the pricing received through this very competitive procurement process has resulted in savings over current costs.”
Mrs Young-Cooper adds that the transaction has been structured so that the incoming operator takes over the existing Transdev Auckland operating company and all of its staff, ensuring that the Transdev Auckland staff remain on their existing terms and conditions of employment.
At this stage AT will continue to employ transport officers to manage fare evasion.
AOR will also establish an additional rolling stock maintenance facility for train overhauls in South Auckland with targeted employment of Māori and Pasifika into trades and engineering apprenticeships. This complements the existing facility at Wiri.
Transdev and it’s predecessors names (Connex and Veolia) have been running the trains in Auckland since 2004 so this represents a big change and hopefully one that’s as AT claim here.
One thing I was interested in that’s not included in the press release is how that average cost of $130 million a year compares with what we currently pay. AT told me:
“The $130 million figure is not directly comparable with current contract costs due to differences in scope and commercial terms. However, overall the new arrangements represent a saving over current rail system costs for AT“.
It’s a shame they won’t give more detail on this as they must have done the work to be able to say it’s a saving.
While AT won’t say what it costs, I’ve tried to estimate them using figures that get reported on such as the amount of fares paid and farebox recovery. We don’t have the 2020/21 results yet but in 2019/20 ones suggest we paid around $150 million overall to run our trains. However, that figure includes costs outside of this contract like the track access charge AT pay to Kiwirail for maintenance.
I was also interested if the contract includes any planned increase in frequencies either before or after the CRL open, especially off-peak frequencies, and if we would see improvements such as fixing the stupidly long dwell times we currently have due to poor processes. They said:
“The timetable post-CRL is still being modelled but there will be additional services at peak times and at off-peak. Journey times will improve and dwell times will reduce. The new franchise holder was provided with provisional plans and has priced their service accordingly.”
It’s frustrating that AT are so cagey on this. In their current Regional Public Transport Plan they say they will improve frequencies and it would be good to know if they intend to deliver that. It remains bizarre that we have some feeder buses running off peak and weekends more frequently than the trains they connect to.
Though the frequencies above are less than their aspiration of at least every 10 minutes all day.
It would also be good to know as without the details we can’t be sure they will actually deliver anything. They’ve failed to before, for example this was what they promised in their 2013 version of the plan, and nothing came of it.
The final thing of note in the press release is the mention of a new maintenance facility somewhere in South Auckland. I wonder if AT will consider making this big enough to cater for permanent 6-car trains or if it could be related to their plans to buy more electric trains in time for the City Rail Link.