There were a couple of interesting (unrelated) bits of transport news late last week

Congestion Pricing Supported

Earlier this year Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee conducted an inquiry into congestion pricing in Auckland. You can see our feedback to that inquiry here.

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.

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    1. They should scrap punctuality requirements across the board. The only way to meet them is to pad out the timetable. They make even less sense on buses.

      1. +1
        They will end up with conservative heavily timetables – long journey time and low frequency to met the punctuality.

        When questioned why train are so slow and frequency are low they will end up with many excuses and can’t do.

        I suggest just focus on having high turn up and go frequency so punctuality doesn’t matter.

      2. The timetable doesn’t need to be padded out, in fact there is so much slack at the moment that they could speed the timetable up with no problems. At the moment the trains are slowed down between stations to meet timetable. The drivers cannot get the trains up to line speed because they would run too early

        1. Compare that with the Northern Busway as far as Albany – the NX1 & NX2 have no precise timetable for most of the day – only intervals between bus services.

          Why couldn’t/shouldn’t the same philosophy be applied to the rail network? Guarantee that you’ll never have to wait more than 10 minutes for the next train (well, except for the Onehunga Line I suppose).

        2. The Northern Busway does have a timetable, there is an operating schedule that has to be kept to even if the passengers don’t need to see it.
          ‘Padding’ of the timetable is essential to some degree to keep an even separation.

        3. For turn up and go frequency, it just need a maximum wait time between service.

          If two services arrive close to each other only one service need to speed u or slow down. most of the service runs at highest speed.

          The current timetable based on exact arrival time forces all service to slow down to compensate for unexpected traffic congestion.

          IMO it is not efficient.

        4. Your observations are clear evidence that the time table has been padded out to meet punctuality requirements.

  1. The two bits of good news are related. Pricing, done properly, will drive a step change in PT use and generate new funding sources for significantly improved operations, both directly and through increased farebox. Win/win

    PT gets more effective for user and more efficient for the provider the more it’s used, not less, unlike driving, which degrades with more use (congestion).

  2. I hope that the new group will be more positive about their service. Advertising, promotions, examples of people who benefit from PT and savings made, encouragement for people to learn the AT App and journey planner, welcoming signs at stations and friendly staff.
    I hope there will be less disruptions and dwell times and that they take down signs with warnings such as a “burglar stole my hop card and penalities apply”. I sometimes wonder how serious fare evasion is!

  3. The 2028 timetable with 15min off peak is still poor.

    It will remain as the bottleneck to discourage transfer between train and bus.

    Also to implement NPS UD around train station , the train needs to be as good as car. It needs turn up and go frequency and fast journey time.

    15 min frequency is unattractive and hard sell for developers to build transit oriented development.

    1. Given the growth of PT demand over the last decade (excluding covid) I have almost no doubt that demand would ensure that the frequencies will be better than 15 minutes off peak. Especially with some further improvements that will be made. 5-6 years is a very long way away and a lot could change in that time. Couple years post CRL with better access, another 6 years of density building around PT hubs, that will really impact off peak usage in a good way. I think this is AT just being pessimistic about things.

      I have some sympathy, its very hard for a PT operator to predict demand and growth of things totally outside their area of operation. Who knows if the council or next government will tow the line in terms of zoning for example. Who knows exactly how much will be built in 6 years, the error bars are huge, especially if there is any solid economic slowdown.

      1. I think it is a chicken and egg problem.

        If train service are poor, then developers may not build around train station.

        With few new residences, the service cannot make a profit, so service remains poor.

        Usually the best approach is build the infrastructure first and residence will come.

        It means having very good transport first, then it will attract development and residences.

        Not doing this ends up locked into chicken and egg problem.

        I don’t see this happening for our model.

        1. All speculation obviously.
          Most people are most concerned about their transport to work when purchasing a home. So the good on peak service will support the development around stations.

          You are right there is an inherent chicken and egg problem with PT that is hard to get around. But I think the most difficult times around this are over. It used to be extremely hard to get any public support for investing in PT and now we see ever increasing focus on this. The northern busway and britomart were hated, and the councilor (mayor?) pushing britomart basically signed her resignation when she got it done. I think we’ve broken the chicken / egg issue. Especially on the northern busway.

          Most of the services have had a rolling increase over the last few decade, more bus lanes, more busses etc. It is hard to see when you’re in the middle of these changes, but looking back its amazing to see how much everything has improved over the last decade.

    2. But Auckland doesn’t have the tracks to achieve these frequencies in a reliable consistent way. The third main is an improvement but still nowhere near 3 tracks from Pukekohe and 4 from Papakura which is the basic requirement for fast, frequent trains.

      1. We have 10 minute frequencies on peak now (except with the maintenance failure) why do you think 15 minute frequencies off peak will be really hard?

        1. Freight trains, breakdowns, trespassers, still years of trackworks to come, very little redundancy, etc. The list goes on and on. Trying to run the system at 100%+ (can’t even cope with a couple of Te Huia trains) is a recipe for failure.

      2. We currently do 10 min frequencies off peak between Westfield and Wiri with two tracks, which is also the busiest section for freight. 10 min frequencies would be easy south of Wiri on two tracks.

  4. I believe we should offer road transport operators free access to transporting goods within the congestion priced area as long as they use electric vehicles. My other comment would be to provide reserved parks for EV vehicles at park and rides. I would suggest Papakura and the Hibiscus coast park and rides are also fitted out with charging points. This would encourage the uptake of EV both for personal transport and freight and reduce range anxiety for regional people who need to visit Auckland for business. This will be more important once the stations at Drury are built and the track is electrified. I would also suggest to all commentators on this site. If they need to visit Hamilton that they should drive to Huntly and leave your car in the Park and Ride and catch the bus to the city centre. There are security cameras. Ideally we would have better walk up passenger transport systems to other centres but we don’t at present.

    1. “I would suggest Papakura and the Hibiscus coast park and rides are also fitted out with charging points. ”

      I don’t disagree, but I think good protected cycling routes around the stations would be more effective long term.

      1. Is that right. Last time I looked in the bike shed at Papakura there were 3 bikes and a motor scooter and actually traffic isn’t off the scale around the station. My experience of bike riding has being exhausting of late although I did ride a bike in Christchurch as a boy. I wouldn’t leave an e bike at a station even in a secure shed. Cars are a little different they are identifiable and they can’t be carried. And who would ride their bike from Matamata for a day visit to Auckland.

        1. Fair enough about inter-regional travel.

          But lots of people do want to ride, and by far the majority of any station users live locally. It seems like an easy equation to solve given that feeder roads around Auckland are often not a pleasant experience.

          The bike sheds at Albany are pretty much full everyday, with a wide variety of types. So, we have different experiences.

          Our climate responsibilities mean we have to reduce our k’s travelled by car. Doubling down on car infrastructure is no longer a valid answer. Whether ICE or EV. Radical reallocation of existing car infra is what we need to do.

        2. I’ve been wanting to write a post on bike and ride for a while (when I get time).

          Its unbelievable how much bigger the catchments are when you see it on a map. a 3x in speed / distance is a 9x in area, and that’s comparing a fast walker with a pretty slow biker.

          Yes it wont work everywhere, and it wont be for everyone. But given such a large area, not that many people have to do it to make it have a massive impact on ridership.
          Its not some pipe dream either, plenty of other countries do it, and it could decrease our spend on PT (per rider), providing consolidated services is cheaper than spread out low frequency feeder services.

        3. Jack I took my bike on the southern pathway and I got overtaken by a runner for Pete’s sake. There was a slight headwind and a slight uphill gradient but it was really pathetic considering I usually walk between 6000 to 12000 steps per day. Maybe when the trees grow up a bit and provide a bit of shelter I can do better. So sorry I just doubt that biking is going to expand the catchment and ridership as much as the enthusiasts on this site believe.

        4. Royce, are you willing / find yourself biking further than you would walk? There is absolutely no way I would walk to the beach or city from my house in Ellerslie, but biking is totally acceptable.
          Person for person, it expands the catchment a lot. Sure some peoples will still be short, but for sure still longer than otherwise with no bike.

          Again, there is empirical evidence from overseas that this works, and even locally, the northern busway stations often fill up their bike parking (not just albany too)

          Your runner anecdote is somewhat irrelevant. Going the other direction you would have (probably) owned them, and if they were on a bike they were likely to overtake you even faster. They for sure were putting out more energy to overtake you on foot. If they put that energy into a bicycle then they’d be going much faster / further.

        5. Royce you are letting your own unfitness bias your judgement. There is no way a runner any conditions will be faster than me on a bike.

        6. The difference between the bike shed at Albany and Papakura is the perceived risk of your bicycle still being there when you come back.

        7. Wayne good for you and others like you. I don’t consider myself unfit I can climb the stairs from the platform to the concourse at Britomart no problem. I just struggle with biking. Still skeptical that cycling is going to change the world especially the part in South Auckland.

        8. Much of South Auckland is flat as a pancake, so maximal potential for bicycles.

          And while some people struggle with bicycling, other people will struggle with walking more than bicycling. Many people certainly will be faster on a bicycle. And less tired after the same distance.

        9. I used to ride my bike to the Papakura station, got hit once, and almost hit 3-4 times. I don’t ride my bike to the station anymore. Some safe routes to the station from the nearby suburbs would be great.
          I’ve also seen the bike rack with 6-7 bikes on it Royce, I’ve also seen the park n ride almost empty too. Anecdotal evidence.

        10. A fit person should easily be able to do 20km in an hour on a bike. No chance of that distance walking.

    2. The problem with adding the charging points at park and rides is usually these parks are all day type deals, so a charger getting used one a day is actually a pretty poor return on investment. Unless the cost of slow chargers is that much lower. The park and rides do often offer convenient land / locations for decent fast charging stations though, so that might be a reasonable thing to do.

      Making some of the parks special EV parks without chargers is not a bad idea too.

      “I believe we should offer road transport operators free access to transporting goods within the congestion priced area as long as they use electric vehicles”
      I’ve thought about something similar for a while, making all the inside lanes (or outside) on motorways, where there are 3+ lanes a t2 & truck lane. Something to get the trucks and more valuable passenger vehicles going a bit faster, not congestion free, just a bit better. Some of the large infrastructure projects have moved their concrete pouring operations to at night, purely because the trucks are tied up for so long in traffic, and the risk that it might go off without all the concrete in place is too high. This is a huge workforce to shift to night operations, and I can only imagine how much it costs (not to mention impacting on workers lives). Now magnify that over all the other commercial vehicles, and its quite a significant cost on all of us. Projects costing more, goods costing more etc.
      The congestion charging will hopefully serve the same functionality, so that would be great.

      1. Yeh they should be trickle charges less damage to battery’s than fast charging and less chance of fires. Also if you are going into the city you are probably going to be away for at least four hours. And maybe they can even pay for themselves with a power mark up. And you could have some fast charging with an operator to watch over it. Valet charging for those who can pay.

  5. The Select Committee recommends that
    (i) Cities be authorised to implement congestion charging, and
    (ii) Central government impose congestion charging in Auckland

    So the right authority to design and implement a scheme for a city is the local council, unless that city is Auckland. If Auckland Council can’t be trusted with the same powers given to other cities, is wider reform needed?

    1. Probably. But this is possibly just because Auckland congestion is worse and the change is urgently needed here. Other places will then benefit from seeing the experience in Auckland and may be able to improve the design of their schemes by using that experience….?

      1. So the smaller and more nimble central government is better placed to act than the local council? Are you sure that’s how it’s meant to work?

        1. Yeah, central government is way more nimble. LIke remember how they took over skypath and lightrail in 2017. Can’t wait to see the same progress on congestion charging.

  6. Excited to see positive progress on congestion charging and as usual Facebook was full of comments from people saying that you shouldn’t do that until public transport is much better. The same happened when this came into London (which already had much better PT than we could hope for here). But the response should be the same as then – piss off! The PT will get better after the CC comes in because there will be less traffic so the PT will flow better which will make it more attractive so more people will use it so there will be less traffic so the PT will flow better which will make it more attractive so more people will use it so there will be less traffic so the PT will flow better. Sorry got caught in my own loop of positivity even without mentioning the greater fare revenues and funds from the CC going into making the PT better.
    Another interesting thing that I really like about the London experience is that some clever lawyers at TfL noticed that they could use the same legal powers they had been given to use charging to reduce congestion to also use charging to deal with pollution and introduced the Low Emission Zone.
    I wonder if the NZ laws will be flexible enough to help with some more of our issues – seems like a point worth raising subtly in submissions to encourage flexibility but without giving the game away so that politicians lock it down unnecessarily.

    1. Translex
      Good points. If Auckland waits for the perfect public transport system people will find all sorts of reasons to say, we aren’t there yet.
      London had phenomenal success in decongesting the city centre. Unfortunately they allowed those benefits to erode by allowing more and more ride share to operate.
      I note that the Mayor is already saying mid 2020’s. This to fix a problem he says costs Aucklanders over a billion dollars a year. He needs to get on the right page.

    2. Living in London without driving all the time is certainly easier than living in Auckland without driving all the time. Obviously congestion charging in has been done before elsewhere, but as far as I know it has never been introduced it in a city as hostile to not driving as Auckland.

      I can see a scenario happen where people will just suck up the extra cost as an additional tax, because what else are they going to do?

      Not that we have to wait for the PT network to be “finished”, whatever that means. But watching how AT treats things like cycling or living in the central city I can understand a lot of the cynicism.

      1. Hopefully, if the Congestion Charge works as planned, it should be evident in two ways: some Mode shift – ie using PT / Cycling / Walking; but also Time shifting – ie people not all arriving to start work at 8.30 and leaving at 5.30. That’s the big mental leap we need to make, especially in the post-Covid world, where we can work from home in the morning, and if we want to, go into the city later in the day. There’s not a desperate need to pay the congestion charge.

        1. Hopefully, yes. But people have to be actually able to do this. There is no way around this. If the employer says 8:30 sharp then what are you going to do? Also if public transport takes twice as long that is a serious hit on your lifestyle.

          And cycling, well: read the latest post of Bike Auckland on how that is going.

      2. Also – worth remembering how the Congestion Charge in London has changed over time. When it was first introduced it only covered a small area (inside the Circle Line?) and only cost 3 quid or so. Now, I believe it covers vastly more area and costs north of 20 quid – its that massive cost that is having the biggest effect ! Big boom in sales of bikes and motorbikes as a result, plus train/tube usage also boomed (pre-Covid).

        1. The change in price is interesting, that effectively provides a transition period.

          We could do the same with overnight parking permits, ramping up from the current token fee to a more realistic price (i.e. $1,000s per year or more).

        2. When the London Congestion Charge was introduced in 2003, it was 5 pounds (not 3); now it’s 15 (not “north of 20”); and it covers the same area now as it did then, not “vastly more area”.

          It’s not hard to check facts like these.

        3. Yup, basic confusion between the congestion charge zone and the ULEZ zone which is much bigger but designed to reduce pollution rather than restrict private vehicles

  7. I understand the parent company to the new rail operator specialises in transit oriented real estate development around the train stations.

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