Wellington Greens in fantasy land

July 19th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cheaper bus fares, slower speed limits, free Wi-Fi and a renewed push for light rail in Wellington are among the election carrots being dangled by the region’s Green Party local body candidates.

Party-affliated councillors from across the region have revealed what will the top of their agenda if re-elected in October.

Greater Wellington regional councillors Paul Bruce and Sue Kedgley said they would push for a 25 per cent discount on off-peak bus fares as well as a 50 per cent off-peak discount for students. …

Kedgley said introducing light rail in Wellington and replacing the city’s “polluting, noisy diesel buses” with modern electric buses within a decade would also be a top priority.

A previous story from 2013 reported:

The cost of a light rail system for Wellington has skyrocketed to nearly a billion dollars, with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown now conceding it looks unrealistic in the near future.

A detailed business case for light rail between Wellington Railway Station and Kilbirnie was made public for the first time today.

It put the cost of building the network at $940 million, largely because it would require its own tunnel through Mt Victoria.

This is the problem with the Greens. They never let reality get in the way of their ideas.

Rational people would say sure we’d love light rail but the cost is unaffordable.  Their fantasy would cost $10,000 per household.

Even worse the light rail proposal would produce very low level of benefits, compared to a bus rapid transit system. The benefit cost ratio for light rail is a minuscule 0.05 or a benefit of $1 for every $20 spent.

This is what the Greens are demanding for Wellington. Spend $1 billion to get a benefit of $50 million. Per household that is take $10,000 per household and get a benefit of $500 back!

Guest Post: Regional Council likely adding to congestion woes

July 17th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Anthony Morris:

It is quite likely that Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) policies are adding to traffic congestion in Wellington. Peak-time public transport fares are set too high because simple economic logic has been disregarded and those fares are not subsidised. The subsidies are instead all funnelled to less-used off-peak services.

Fares contribute 52% of the cost of running public transport services in Wellington which is high compared to other cities in Australasia. Given most of those services are running at off-peak times with lower passenger loadings, it is certain that the peak-time services are at least covering their cost.

If everyone tried to drive into work at peak traffic times, the roads would completely block up. The use of peak-time public transport by commuters benefits other road users by lessening congestion, providing what economists call an external benefit. This benefit justifies subsidising peak-time public transport fares from the petrol taxes collected from road users. Trains give a bigger external benefit than buses because they usually get commuters off the arterial roads completely.

Unfortunately, GWRC sets fares that recover the full cost or more of peak time services and pushes all the subsidies to less-popular off-peak routes. This means we get the illogical situation of it being cheaper for a couple to drive to work in the city and pay for city fringe parking than catch public transport, which for three zones would cost them $14.52 per day.

But it gets worse. We have buses and trains traversing almost identical routes at almost identical times, with buses often being cheaper and/or more convenient! For example, using a smartcard it costs $3.63 to get from Johnsonville to the city by bus, and the city means anywhere along the golden mile from the bus depot to Courtenay Place. Using a 10-trip ticket the train costs the same but only gets you to the main station, and you then have to walk or catch a bus to get to other parts of the city. This may be fixed with the new integrated ticketing system but this is not arriving until 2018.

The Newlands buses running from Johnsonville and traversing the golden mile with all the other commuter buses also increase congestion. If all commuters got free inner-city bus trips, the Newlands buses could run to the main depot only, and train users would also not have to pay extra to get further into the city.

Outside of peak traffic hours people with cars usually prefer to use them to get around because it is more convenient. Not everyone has a car or can afford a taxi, so for social reasons it is desirable to have off-peak public transport services.

However, some of the off-peak transport services are likely very expensive per passenger carried, like late night suburban services with one or two passengers. We don’t know for sure because there is no publicly available data available on the average loadings of those services, despite all the data that must be collected by the Snapper system.

Some off-peak public transport routes could be more efficiently served by shuttle vans or even cars. Apps such as Uber organise individual taxis to peoples’ homes so something similar could be applied to get taxis to act as public transport to bus stops. Conditions are ripe for the development of new, innovative and cost-effective public transport solutions. Peak-time users are not getting a fair deal!

Anthony Morris is a Wellington commuter and policy analyst working in an unrelated field.

Auckland rail use up

August 7th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Auckland Transport announced:

Another record for the Auckland rail network – annual rail patronage has exceeded 14 million for the first time.
Auckland Transport’s General Manager AT Metro, Mark Lambert, says this is the highest ever 12-month total. “In March, we reached 13 million passengers and here we are just five months later adding another million trips.”

That’s strong growth.

One of the criteria for early start to the City Rail Loop is being on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020. If they are adding on a million per five months then they should hit 20 million around 2018.

There is another criteria around CBD employment increasing by 25% over 2012 numbers. These were 98,000 and growth has only around 3,000 so that is well short.

However if I was the Government I’d be seriously looking at an earlier start, based on the rail growth.

Rail patronage in Auckland grew 21.7% in the year to the end of June. That’s two and a half million more passengers than in June last year. Mr Lambert says, “It’s hard to believe but when Britomart Transport Centre opened in 2003, annual patronage was less than three million.”
The number using all public transport in Auckland reached 79 million in the year to June, an increase of 9.5% or on average 19,000 extra boardings per day.

Good to see.

I find the more useful figure is average boardings per day. So in 2003 it was around 8,000 passengers a day on rail in Auckland and today it is around 38,000 passengers a day. Very good growth. But of course still a very small proportion of the total Auckland population and/or workforce.

Auckland transport funding

July 1st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Their city’s share of the overall “partnership” pot from the national programme will include $1.175 billion for public transport, $960 million to maintain highways and local roads, and $91 million to improve cycling and walking.

That is additional to $24.75m the Government said last week it would contribute to Auckland from its $100m urban cycleways fund.

Again this is what you call a balanced approach to transport. It is not a choice of roading or rail. They are complementary, not substitutes. However some (not all) public transport advocates won’t be happy until it is zero dollars for roads. Proof in point:

Almost $2b has been earmarked for public transport nationally, a 21 per cent increase, and investment in cycling will more than triple – to $251m.

But the Green Party says the programme is focussed too heavily on “carbon-polluting transport infrastructure, rather than building a clean, balanced and efficient system for the 21st Century.”

Transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said National had chosen to continue spending more than $1b a year “on a few carbon-polluting motorways that haven’t even passed a business test.”

The Greens are basically against all spending on roads.


Calling a spade a spade

May 25th, 2015 at 2:30 pm by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

HEY you! Latte-sipping hipster of Newtown or Fitzroy. You’re worse for the environment than a fleet of trucks.

Look at you, sitting there in your wholefood cafe, munching on your kale salad (yum!) and whingeing about why your city can’t be a freewheeling bicycle utopia like Paris. You just don’t get it.

This is the entirely unflattering view NSW’s Roads Minister Duncan Gay takes of Australia’s inner-city residents, as he rails against (or, should that be “roads” against?) their extremist pro-train agenda. …

He used a forum on freight in Sydney yesterday to slam Australia’s “anti-road zealots”. (Stack hats on, hipsters, coz you’re about to cop it from Mr Gay.)

“I’m increasingly concerned by the vocal anti-road movement in Sydney and elsewhere which revere dogma over reality,” he said.

“They conveniently forget that thousands of commuters each day need to drive to rail and bus stations, ferry wharves, hospitals, schools, shopping centres and sporting grounds.

“They forget their groceries, whitegoods, furniture and mail are delivered by road. I’m yet to see a freight train back into a shop in Newtown or someone hitch a ride on a tram with their newly purchased 400L fridge from Harvey Norman.

It’s a good point.

I enjoy walking and cycling when I can. I am a regular bus user, and enjoy train travel. But these are complementary methods of travel to roads, not substitutes. There are times when nothing but a car is practical.

I’m in favour of investment in cycleways, dedicated bus lanes, and even the Auckland City Rail Loop. But my observation is that many of the champions for these things are not doing it because they are pro-rail or pro-cycling but simply because they hate roads and cars.

I want a Government that invests in all forms of transport which are economically viable, not just the ones someone personally approves of.

Transport officials should be forced to use public transport

September 15th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Citylab reports:

Christof Spieler moved to downtown Houston about nine years ago and began a reverse commute to a suburban office park. He took the No. 9 Gulfton Metro bus because he liked to get things done during the ride and hated sitting in traffic, but the service left much to be desired. The bus didn’t run very often (every 20 minutes or more, even at rush-hour); transfers were hard to coordinate; and the pedestrian infrastructure near the stops was terrifying (to reach the office, he braved five lanes of car traffic without a signal or a crosswalk).

“It really gave me a good feel of what the system’s like,” he says.

Fast-forward to today and Spieler now sits on Metro’s board of directors. An engineer at Morris who also lectures at Rice, Spielerplayed an instrumental role in developing Metro’s Reimagining plan—a dazzling redesign of the entire bus system that stresses all-day frequency and smart connections. But he couldn’t have done it without his experience on Metro as a guide, which makes him Exhibit A for why the people planning America’s transit systems, from board members to senior management to project designers, should be riders themselves.

“There are way too many people working on transit who don’t actually ride transit,” he says. “If you’re going to be making decisions about transit, you really need to know what it’s actually like. Not what it’s like in theory, but what it’s actually like. “

The problem is familiar to transit leadership across the country. In August, aSan Francisco Examiner op-ed challenged the people who run Muni to “actually ride Muni.” Last year, an analysis of Chicago’s CTA found that the board chair rode the system only 18 times in 2012, and a Washington Post survey found many D.C. Metro board members either couldn’t or wouldn’t “name the exact bus lines or rail stops they used regularly.” In 2008, the vice chair of New York’s MTA board famously asked: “Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?”

I wonder how many directors and senior staff of Auckland Transport regularly use public transport?

Greens flogging dead horse

September 8th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Reviving the scrapped light rail system, introducing new electric buses and retaining a fleet of trolley buses are part of the Green Party’s $500 million vision for Wellington’s transport system.

The policy, released today, calls for money earmarked by the current National Government for upgrading and expanding the capital’s roading network to be spent on public transport, Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said.

Wellingtonians could be taking light rail from the railway station out to Kilbirnie by 2020, and the airport and Miramar by 2025 under the plan, she said.

I can understand the Greens supporting light rail as a possibility before it was fully explored as an option. But the two Wellington Councils and NZTA commissioned a study of light rail and even Mayor Celia now agrees it is unaffordable and ineffective.

So why are the Greens still backing it? Because it is about a near religious belief in rail. It is nothing to do with enhancing transport.

Light rail was costed at $940 million, and providing benefits of just $30 million. The business to cost ratio is close to zero – 0.05. The Greens are proposing to waste around $3,000 per Wellington household. If you live in Wellington think about what you could do with $3,000 instead!

The Greens would also retain the city’s ageing trolley buses, at a cost of $70m for their upgrade.

That’s $70 million which won’t reduce congestion by one passenger. In fact it will make congestion worse. The new non trolley buses will make a commute five to ten minutes  faster. The Greens are against this!

I’d love us to have light rail and trolley buses if they were even marginally cost effective. But they’re not. The Greens are unable to accept reality, and are flogging dead horses. Except that if they are in Government we’ll be paying for those dead horses.

Russel missed the bus so wants a train!

August 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Greens co-leader Russel Norman was literally up in arms about public transport yesterday – but he still missed the bus.

Norman was heading from a TV3 appointment in Mt Eden to Auckland Airport and, as a good Green, opted to use the Airbus Express service.

But he could not attract the attention of the driver, who drove straight past.

Venting his frustration, he tweeted: “Hey Airbus, you know how you just drove past me on Mt Eden Rd even tho I was waving my arms rather vigorously, it doesn’t help PT [public transport].”

Norman then plugged an airport rail link.

“Oh boy we need a rail link to Auckland airport. 45m plus wait for an Airbus that wd stop. Greens will transform Auckland transport.”

I’m not sure that a bus refusing to stop for Russel is a good reason to build a rail link to Auckland Airport.

That’s another $1.5 billion added onto the Greens spending promises!

Greens declare jihad on all roads

August 7th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

NewstalkZb reports:

The Green Party wants a complete turnaround in transport funding.

The party has released its transport policy today and is proposing to axe over $11 billion in funding from State Highway Projects.

More than a billion more will be taken from local road improvements.

Instead the Greens want to increase public transport spending by almost $11 billion.

Transport funding should generally go on projects with the highest benefit to cost ratios. The Greens just hate cars and hence roads, so they want motorists to fund trains.

My preference is to have all transport decisions based on the benefit to cost ratio – have say everything with a BCR above 1.5 funded.

The Greens supported light rail for Wellington. That had a BCR of 0.05!!! That is equal to setting $100 notes on fire and burning them to ash.

They supported a rail package out to the Kapiti Coast that would have cost $100 million and only removed 80 cars a day at peak time. Buying 80 motorists a helicopter  would have been cheaper.

The Greens do not see congestion as a bad thing. They like congested roads. They think forcing motorists out of their cars will save the planet. That’s a valid worldview, but you should be aware of it.

Wellington trolleys to go

June 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

It’s a familiar commuter nightmare for Wellingtonians: your trolley bus becomes detached from its overhead line, and you and everyone in the buses behind you are stuck while the driver gets out and hooks it up again. All that is about to end with the demise of the trolleys in 2017 – but not everyone is happy about the decision to scrap them.

They are expected to be almost five minutes faster during your morning commute and 10 minutes quicker when the roads have cleared at night.

They should leave you breathing air that is almost 40 per cent cleaner in just three short years, and be comfortable, modern, reliable and less of a drain on your pocket as a ratepayer.

They are hybrid diesel-electric buses – and after a near-unanimous vote by Greater Wellington Regional Council on Thursday, they are now the future of public transport in Wellington.

Like most Wellingtonians I have an emotional attachment to the trolleys, but the decision is a sensible one.

Land transport funding

June 16th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Government has published its long term policy statement on land transport funding. This includes the range of future likely expenditure.

Now it is worth recalling that the land transport fund is funded pretty much 100% by motorists through petrol tax and road user charges. Motorists fund not just the roads for themselves, but also a significant proportion of public transport and cycle and walking ways. That’s fine, as there are benefits to motorists in having fewer people driving – but’s remember that they are the funders. So what the expenditure ranges for the next three years. I’m going to take the midpoints of the ranges

  1. Improve state highways $3.75 billion
  2. Maintain state highways $1.58 billion
  3. Maintain local roads $1.49 billion
  4. Public transport $1.03 billion
  5. Road policing $915 million
  6. Improve local roads $593 million
  7. Regional improvements $225 million
  8. Investment management $171 million
  9. Road safety promotion $103 million
  10. Walking/Cycling $75 million

There’s also an additional $220 million for Auckland transport, which is being treated as a loan.

I’ve often said that you need spending on both roads and public transport. The problem is some extremists who are against any new roads anywhere because basically they hate cars.

The good thing with this level of transparency, is that political parties promising to spend more on public transport, have to now point to where they will spend less (or say they will increase petrol tax). Would Labour and the Greens reduce maintenance for state highways or local roads to pay for more trains? Hopefully they will put out detailed policies showing how they would allocate the funds available, so people can judge on which mix they most agree with.

Not quite edging out

June 3rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The headline:

Public transport edging out the car

Which makes you think more people now use public transport than vehicles.

during the seven years between census counts, the number of Aucklanders driving to work has fallen 2 per cent to 84 per cent and public transport has increased 2 per cent to 10 per cent.

Not quite edging out. I estimate that at a 2% swing every seven years, public transport will edge out the car in 133 years!

Sensible transport plans for Auckland must include both improvements to roads and to public transports.

What price trolleys?

May 5th, 2014 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Sad as it will be to see them go, Wellington should get rid of its trolley buses. The case is sound.

To work properly, public transport systems need to be fast, reliable and affordable. Wellington has fine public transport, with unusually high passenger numbers, but trolley buses are hampering it on all of these fronts.

To keep the trolleys running, a major $52 million electricity infrastructure upgrade looms. Beyond that, simply maintaining their overhead wires costs $6m per year.

And money spent on the trolleys is money that could be spent on providing more or faster public transport.

Critics say dropping trolley buses is environmentally daft, because of their low carbon emissions. (They’re responsible only for what’s produced by generating their electricity).

In fact, the bus fleet will get cleaner from 2018 regardless of which replacement option is chosen, because of the significant fuel-efficiency improvements in new diesel buses.

On a deeper level, it’s clear the best way to reduce transport-related carbon emissions is to get people out of their cars. That’s not easy – as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once put it, ”even the humblest person is king in his own car”.

Maybe they could invest some of the money used on trolleys into safer cycleways, which is near zero carbon emissions for use!

The best counter to this is an excellent, reliable public transport system. Every measure that makes buses faster and cheaper encourages more people to take them. Green MPs of all people should recognise this, and drop their Save the Trolleys talk.The other argument for holding on to the buses is nostalgia; they’ve been a recognisable feature in Wellington’s urban landscape since 1924. 
This is fair up to a point, but the buses are working vehicles that people rely on, not municipal decorations.

No one should get too misty-eyed over this. Only 20 per cent of the city’s current fleet are trolleys. They don’t operate at weekends at all, and they’re frequently hauled off entire routes when roadworks or other problems arise.

So the city should say goodbye to the buses. 

I like the trolleys, but I don’t think sentiment should stand in the way of doing what’s right.

It’s buses for Wellington

March 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Faster, bigger buses have been officially chosen as the future of public transport in Wellington, snuffing out any chance of having light rail in the capital for the foreseeable future.

The Regional Transport Committee – a collective of Wellington’s mayors and the NZ Transport Agency – voted today to push ahead with plans to build a $268 million bus rapid transit network between the Wellington CBD and southern suburbs.

Detailed plans are yet to be drawn up, but it will involve hi-tech articulated or double-decker buses running along a dedicated busway between Wellington Railway Station and the suburbs of Newtown and Kilbirnie.

The route forms the southern part of Wellington’s public transport “spine”.

Today’s decision brings down the curtain on the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study, which began in 2011.

The Wellington city and regional councils jointly-commissioned the study along with the transport agency to find the best solution to Wellington’s public transport needs for the next 30 years.

It began by looking at 88 combinations of routes and types of public transport, which were effectively whittled down to light rail and a bus rapid transit network in June 2013.

At that point, the study revealed light rail could cost as much as $1.2 billion, largely because of the need to build a dedicated rail tunnel through Mt Victoria.

$268 million vs $1.2 billion makes it a very easy decision.

Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was first elected in 2010 on the back of campaign promises to push for light rail, said today she had also been swayed by the ability of buses to go further than trams.

Good to see sense winning through.

The no bus lanes Mayor

October 8th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman reports at NZ Herald:

Len Brown has not built a single metre of bus lane in his first term as mayor of the Super City.

Mr Brown, who says fixing public transport, including better bus services, is his top priority, has splurged $770 million on public transport and $1.2 billion on roads and footpaths in the past three years.

But not a cent has gone on new lanes to improve bus services, which have drawn criticism and seen a fall of 2.9 per cent in patronage over the past year, from 55.1 million bus trips to 53.5 million.

I use buses in Wellington several times a week. Measures like bus lanes can make a huge improvement to public transport. Buses are flexible – their routes can change, their stops can change, and they are far easier to utilize for changes in capacity.

Good public transport needs buses and trains. Those who prioritise trains over buses unfairly do public transport a dis-service.

The pro-public transport blog said it was not good enough that no bus lanes had been built when more were needed. It said bus lanes carried more people than general traffic lanes, made buses faster, more reliable, roads more efficient and reduced operating subsidies.

Mr Brown does not have a strong record of building bus lanes. Manukau City, where he was a councillor and mayor, has just 3km of them, compared with 31km in the Auckland City area. North Shore has 9km. Waitakere – the so-called Eco City – has no bus lanes, only short bus “advance” lanes at some big intersections.

Wellington has some bus lanes. They do make a difference.

Bus vs light rail for Wellington

September 30th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Tony Randle writes in the Dom Post:

The recently released Wellington spine study recommendations on expanding public transport to and through the Wellington CBD found a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) option is the best long-term approach compared to bus priority or changing from buses to light rail.

Since then, we have heard mostly the anguished protests of light rail supporters who dispute this recommendation.

I presume these supporters do not plan to pay for the massive cost of light rail themselves!

The transport models for Wellington show the BRT option will increase public transport trips from south and east Wellington by 8.5 per cent while light rail will barely make a 1 per cent improvement.

It reminds me of the proposal to increase train capacity on one of the Wellington bus lines. It would have cost $100 million and only removed 80 cars a day at peak time. I joked it would be cheaper to buy 80 motorists a helicopter!

A key reason light rail fails is the need for thousands of CBD- bound commuters to transfer between buses and light rail at Kilbirnie or Newtown, compared with BRT where they will complete the journey with a single bus trip.

That is a strength of our bus system – not having to swap transport modes.

In economic terms, the BRT option has $90 million in public transport benefits against only $30m for the more expensive light rail option.

The Benefit Cost Ratio of BRT is 0.87 compared to just 0.05 for light rail (a benefit cost ratio of 0.05 is a total waste of money).

Julie-Anne Genter and the Greens correctly point out that some of the roads of national significance have a BCR of less than 1, which makes their economic value debatable. Surely Julie-Anne and the Greens would agree that a transport proposal with a BCR of 0.05 is barking mad!

Guest post by Daran Ponter on Wellington bus fare increases

September 30th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by Wellington Regional Councillor Daran Ponter:


The Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) bus and train fares are increasing again on 1 October (i.e. Tuesday), this time to increase the amount paid by commuters by an average of 2% (GWRC Notice).  This demand for a 2% increase in commuter fare revenue for 2013 will result in increases in the cost of Snapper and Mana card fares by 3.8% for Zone 1 fares and approximately 2.5% in most other fare zones.

On average, fares have risen by 8% over the past three years. 

The Greater Wellington Regional Council justified the 1 October fare increases on the basis of “covering rising public transport costs”.  However, the Regional Council’s 2012/13 Year End result shows that instead of a budget shortfall of $3M, the council ran a significant budget surplus of nearly $1.5 million in the transport area (see table below) !

PT Group 2012/13

Actual ($000s)

Budget ($000s)

Variance ($000s)

Last Year

Operating Revenue





Operating Expenditure





Operating surplus / (deficit)






The Year End Report of the PT Group not only shows for the year 2012/13 the GWRC spent $11.5M less than budget on public transport services, it shows it spent less in 2012/13 than the year previously ! The council has banked the 2012/13 transport surplus of $4.5M taking the transport reserve to $9M. 

Clearly last year’s 3% fare increase was actually never needed as predicted PT costs did not increase.  This also means that this year’s 1 October fare increases are simply not warranted. The regional council, through its own policies, has kept prices high and that this year it could actually have afforded to cut fares and still stay within NZTA funding rules!

The Council’s policy of increasing fares every year irrespective of the circumstances is just simply irrational and does nothing to attract people to use public transport.

Significant Drop In Patronage

As concerning is the fact that peak hour patronage on Wellington buses has dropped by 10% over the past three years (from 11,288,335 trips in 2010/11 to 10,214,328 trips in 2012/13). See http://www.metlink.org.nz/info/statistics/patronage-numbers/.  In the same period total patronage (peak and off-peak) dropped by 2%.

The Regional Council has been predicting patronage increases of 3-4% per annum, we have gone in precisely the opposite direction.  Peak bus patronage is now less than 2005/06.  Wellington bus commuters now realise that high bus fares mean it is cheaper to drive to work and are obviously doing so in increasing numbers.

These figures seriously bring into question the efforts that the Regional Council has been taking to encourage people onto public transport.  Its PT fare policy needs to be less about revenue and far more focussed on encouraging people and families onto public transport – fares cheaper than cars, wider discounts, especially in the off-peak and a commitment to park and ride facilities for bus commuters.

The GWRC plan for increasing public transport use is failing.  Increasing fares on Tuesday is the worst thing it can do when bus patronage is plummeting.   It is especially bad when all the increased revenue will not be spent on PT services . . . it will probably just end up being banked into the GWRC Transport Reserve.

I think it is wrong for the Regional Council to be increasing fares, in what appears to be a revenue generating exercise.

The policy of both central and local Government is that the fares should cover 55% of the costs of public transport, but with these increases the proportion paid for by fares will exceed that. The other issue is they are putting up bus fares to basically cover increased train operating costs. Bus fares should cover bus costs and train fares train costs.

If you are voting for Regional Council, ask your candidates whether they support an increase in bus fares, which is not justified or necessary.

Auckland transport projects

June 28th, 2013 at 1:18 pm by David Farrar

The PM has announced three major long-term transport projects for Auckland, at a cost of around $10 billion. They are:

  • The City rail link, with construction to start in 2020, or earlier if central city employment grows by 25% or in the year rail patronage is forecast to hit 20 million trips (if before 2020)
  • A second harbour crossing, with a tunnel  planned for around 2025, with route protection to start this year
  • Speeding up the  combined Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) and East-West Link project

They are also looking to bring forward three smaller projects –  to complete a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive, widen the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura, and upgrade State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard.

It’s good to have certainty over the harbour crossing. These things need huge lead times, and you don’t want to be debating whether to have one, where it will be, and is it a bridge or tunnel just a few years before you badly need it.

It will be interesting to see the funding details over time. Will they all be funded from the National Land Transport Fund or will taxpayers make a contributions (NLTF is funded by petrol tax and road charges – not general taxation) or will PPPs play a role?

CBD rail loop to start construction in 2020

June 26th, 2013 at 2:22 pm by David Farrar

John Key has confirmed the Government will make a contribution to the Auckland CBD rail loop, with construction starting in 2020.

The details will be released on Friday, and it seems there will be some other announcements also. What will be of interest is how much the Government is contributing.

I first blogged on the CBD rail loop in 2009, and commented:

The key thing is, it is not a choice between improving roads and public transport. They are not substitutes, but complementary.

Labour and Greens have been trying to say that it is one or the other – that one must cancel the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension to fund the rail loop.

I also noted at the time:

If it can be done for that much money, the economic argument really stacks up.

But the cost has grown from that initial $1.5 billion.

In 2010 I blogged:

I think it is the most sensible of the proposed rail projects for Auckland.

And said:

Let’s assume ratepayers will pay 3/4. Work out how much that is, and consult Aucklanders on whether they are happy with that investment. Then you can talk to the Government about its contribution.

The details of the cost split is critical. I have said people outside Auckland should not be significantly funding the Auckland rail loop. However if the Govt’s contribution can be funded from the approx Auckland share of the National Land Transport Fund (ie through petrol tax paid by Aucklanders), then that is fine with me.

I suspect that is why the start date is 2020. Up until 2020 the NLTF is funding the various road of national significance, and as they get completed, my guess is the CBD rail loop will be the next priority.

Incidentally as far as I know, the Government has never refused to fund the CBD rail loop. They have always been careful with their language, saying there is not currently enough money in the NLTF for it. Unless I have missed something, they have never said never (to paraphrase James Bond).

The Wellington transport package

June 19th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The dream is over, for the time being anyway.

A comprehensive study of Wellington’s transport options has concluded what has long been obvious to everyone except Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown: the light-rail system she promoted during her 2010 mayoral campaign is unaffordable.

The light rail scheme would have cost around $3,000 per household!

The study commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Wellington City Council puts the cost of turning Ms Wade-Brown’s dream into reality at $940 million. The alternatives canvassed in depth in the report are markedly cheaper.

The first – providing more bus lanes during peak hours and more priority traffic signals for buses – has a $59 million price tag. The second – a dedicated busway for bigger, modern buses separated from other traffic as much as possible – would cost $207 million.

Buses are often the most effective form of public transport. They are more flexible and cost effective. However the Greens don’t like buses because buses go on roads and roads are evil!

The bus rapid transit will cost under a quarter of the light rail option. It would result in $95m of time savings compared to $56m for rail. And critically it would lead to a 75 increase in public transport usage in the morning peak time while the rail option would not change the numbers at all.

So what else is planned about from a dedicated busway and bigger more modern buses? The Dom Post reports:

A second two-lane tunnel through Mt Victoria could be open to traffic within a decade.

The NZ Transport Agency has today revealed plans for a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and widening of Ruahine St and Wellington Rd to connect to the new $90 million Basin flyover.

Yay, a key step in the vision of having four lanes on State Highway One from the airport to Levin.

The plans for the second tunnel show it would sit directly along the northern side of the existing tunnel.

It would provide two lanes for east-bound traffic, along with a separate pedestrian and cycle facility linking to the flyover. On the Hataitai side of the tunnel, Ruahine St will become four lanes, and will also sport a pedestrian and cycling path.

Cool. If only they can get the tunnel to smell better!


Public Transport charges

February 26th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Michael Forbes at Dom Post reports:

A reduction in the discount traditionally enjoyed by those who pre-pay for their public transport is being proposed by Greater Wellington Regional Council officers.

The 2013-14 draft Annual Plan, which will be tabled at a council meeting today, also floats an average rates increase of 2.6 per cent.

Bus and train operators are required to offer a minimum 20 per cent discount on multi-trip tickets and stored value cards.

But changes being proposed by council officers would see that reduced to 17 per cent in zone 1 – an area of heavy public transport usage encompassing the Wellington CBD, Aro Valley and Thorndon.

That would be a silly decision.

If you look at successful public transport programmes overseas, one of the keys is to get almost everyone using cards such as Snapper. In London, almost no one buys tickets for single trips. They all have Oyster cards.

The key to getting everyone onto prepay cards is to have massive discounts on them (ie it is too expensive not to have one) and to have a daily limit on them.

Wellington should move to integrated ticketing, and increase the price difference between pre-paid cards and cash tickets.

Petrol Tax

December 20th, 2012 at 3:19 pm by David Farrar

Petrol tax should not be used to fund the Government’s general spending. Most people would agree on that. For several decades petrol tax was a great revenue earner for the Government. It was impossible to avoid, had low compliance costs and only four companies had to pay it.

National in the late 90s changed this. Previously almost half the petrol tax went into the consolidated fund. It then made a decision to dedicate it to the land transport fund. What this means is that petrol tax is an imperfect form of user pays.

Again I think most would agree those who use the roads should pay for them. Why should someone who works from home pay the same towards road maintenance as someone who spends four hours a day driving on them?

In a perfect world we would have GPS chips that monitor every road we drive on, how congested it is, is it peak time etc and we’d get charged directly for our road use. However that technology is a wee way off, and there are huge privacy issues around that. So we have petrol tax as an imperfect but pretty good rough system of user pays.

This then leads to two issues around petrol tax. The first is whether it is set at the right level to fund the various land transport projects, or are they making a profit from it?

I asked for a copy cashflows for the National Land Transport Fund for the the last three years.  The net revenue from petrol tax, road user charges and vehicle registration fees was $2.51b, $2.63b and $2.69b in the last three years. The expenditure or distributions were $2.93b, $3.03b and $2.67b. This means that spending was greater than income by $420m, $400m and $20m surplus last year. So over the last three years $800m deficit.

That makes it clear to me that the Government is not using petrol tax to fund non-transport projects. If transport expenditure is needed, of course motorists should pay for it. I actually have a view that the petrol tax level should not be set by Government at a set level, but automatically increase or decrease to fund all transport projects that have a positive business case.

Now the second issue is what transport projects are funded from the land transport fund. The Greenies want nothing spent on roads, and it all spent on rail. There;’s never been a road they have supported. Some think there should be no subsidy for public transport – that passenger fares should pay for public transport, not road users.

I think the current mix of both road and public transport is pretty good. The NLTP plan has $12.3b invested in land transport of which $1.7b is for public transport. Some people would have you think there is little funding of public transport.

Wellington Public Transport Survey

August 7th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Wellington Regional Council is doing a survey of public transport fares in Wellington, which is a good thing. The survey is here.

Less good is that you do the survey, and then it critiques your answers, asks you if you want to reconsider, before you submit them!

My answers were:

  1. Fare structure should be point to point as well as zonal. Point to point charges you on actual distance.
  2. We should keep the 14 zones, rather than have larger more expensive zones.
  3. Public transport fares should cost the same per km no matter how far you travel
  4. There should be higher fares at peak times, double off peak fares

They commented:

A fare system based on your responses would not be simple & easy to understand, and may encourage more people to use public transport.

The fare system would reflect the costs of providing different public transport services, and may encourage economic efficiency e.g. by reducing external costs such as congestion.

The fare system would not be easy to implement and administer, but would support efficient network design, operations and asset utilisation.

The fare system may improve access to public transport for people who do not have access to a motor vehicle, or cannot walk or cycle for most of their trips.

I’m pretty happy with those trade offs.

Useful tool

July 9th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I caught a bus yesterday down to Allen Street for a yum char. I remarked to the person I was seated next to that it would be great if there was a plugin for smart phones that tells you when the next bus is for your stop, rather than have to go and look up on their website which stop you are at, and then the schedules.

He remarked that in fact Wellington Metlink website has on its mobile site such a service. It can detect your position, and show you nearby bus stops. Click on the one you want and it will tell you the next buses due there. It even highlights the ones with GPS on the bus, so the time shown for those buses is the actual time, not just the scheduled time it will get to you.

So a handy wee site for Wellington bus users. Very useful to be seated next to someone who as it turned out worked for the NZ Transport Agency 🙂

Wellington public transport

June 2nd, 2012 at 10:46 am by David Farrar

Lane Nichols at the Dom Post reports:

Frustrated Wellington rail commuters will benefit from a massive Government investment in public transport designed to reduce congestion and delays.

The announcement of nearly $900million for national public transport projects will buoy proponents of Wellington’s costly proposed light-rail system.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown immediately called for urgent work to establish a central city light-rail or tram system.

The Government has in fact spent a huge amount on public transport, and rail. I’d be quite keen to see costings of a tram system in Wellington, but we should make decisions based on the benefits and costs.

I’m a very regular user of Wellington buses in the CBD and Thorndon areas, and generally they work very well. Would trams be more efficient?