Transport news round-up

So much is happening in transport that it’s a bit hard to keep up and put out an informed post on each happening, so here’s a round-up:

First, the bad news:

The Napier—Gisborne line is hanging by a thread after being washed out. This is a huge blow to the regional freight line, which thanks to local efforts had been running a full freight service three times a week since the beginning of the year. There is a serious risk that Kiwirail will use this setback to mothball the line, which was their watching brief to begin with.

Wellington Regional Council is putting up public transport fares in a bid to raise revenue. Unfortunately, without a comprehensive approach to transport, this will likely lead to the typical public transport death spiral wherein high fares mean fewer passengers and lower revenue, therefore hiking fares even more. Although, high petrol prices mean there is something of a captive audience… there is a better, more affordable approach to transport and this is not it.

No hint that the Government is going to defer or delay its programme of burning billions of dollars to build a few motorways with extremely poor business cases (henceforth referred to as the RoNS). I can report from my experience sitting on the financial reviews of Ministry of Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency in select committee a few weeks ago that the general managers of these organisations are not able to give satisfying or compelling answers as to how these projects will deliver economic benefit to the country.

They did, thankfully, acknowledge that the forecasting of both passenger and freight volumes that had been used in the RoNS business cases had not eventuated over the past 5 years. But they did not seem to think that recent trends should have any bearing on near future travel forecasting or project prioritisation. The GM of MoT told me that he did not share my concern that higher oil prices and lower GDP growth would result in a need to prioritise different projects over the next ten years.

There was a surreal moment when he also tried to tell me that the Ministry did not decide which projects should be funded – that NZTA did the project evaluation and funding, and therefore selection. Given that the Government Policy Statement identifies the amount of money that will be spent in each activity class, including well over a billion dollars each year on new motorway infrastructure, and the RoNS were specifically announced in Government policy, I found this claim confusing. Even if all the economic evaluations for the RoNS are low, NZTA will still have to fund some of them. He then tried to claim that the RoNS were identified as priorities in Regional Land Transport Strategies, which in the case of Puhoi to Wellsford is patently false.

What do we take from official obfuscation? These guys have no idea what’s about to hit them, and they have unerring faith in the complexity of the four-stage traffic model to provide the right outcome. You can’t really blame them, they have been employed to defend and implement Government policy.

The good news?

Cycling, bus and rail patronage all grew hugely last year in Auckland, and we can expect that trend to continue. The case will become stronger by the day for a reprioritisation of funding.

I sent a letter to the Transport and Industrial Relations select committee today laying out the case for an inquiry into the prioritisation and evaluation of the RoNS. We’ll see what happens when we meet Thursday.

34 Comments Posted

  1. Gerrit… If I am living in suburbia I can’t get around. If I am living in the city I can. If I can get around and deal with things in my constrained world and do not have to mow the fornicating lawn, I am apt to be content, and we will have some visits and that will be fine. If I am to go to the soccer I’ll make some arrangement to get there. Public transit is essential to that sort of lifestyle because WITHOUT it SOMEONE HAS TO DRIVE ME EVERYWHERE I NEED TO GO… not to the optional places, not to the sports field…. EVERYWHERE.

    Not being a burden on my kids means I live in a city that has something like a transit system. Whatever you mean by it, it does not carry a necessity of living in suburbia and winding up unable to go anywhere at all… just to be close to the grandkids. This is New Zealand. They can’t get that far away.

  2. BJ,

    You dont get the choice of being, or not being, a burden on your kids.

    Most kids will decide about caring (because of affection) for their parents to some degree.

    You going to tell your daughter to stay away in your senior years? Fat chance she will listen, kids turn up to care irrespective.

    And grandchildren love (in fact abslolutely need it) their granparents interaction. You can hop on the bus to watch Jonny play but the paddock he is hoofing the ball around on will most likely not be near a transport hub, still the problem of the “final mile”.

    Unless you would rather not be a “burden” and not watch your grandchildrens activities?

  3. Everything Andrew has said is sensible.

    Cities in NZ are low-density, and this makes profitable public transport difficult. That said, there is much room for improvement in, for example, Auckland’s public transportation system. Subsidization of buses, by a congestion charge on the CBD, for example, could be used to increase the bus frequency and number of bus routes. More bus lanes. Automated cash machines and fare cards, so the driver is not a purser. etc etc.

  4. My point Gerrit, is that when I get older I will be moving near enough to a transport node to be able to use public transit rather than driving… because I don’t want to be a burden on my kids and because the gold-card makes that transportation reasonable. I will sell my house with a yard to mow to someone who needs it more.

    This is something that anyone with the sense God gave a Marshmallow will consider, and many will I think, do.

  5. BJ,

    The “last mile” was figuratively speaking. We live 9k from the nearest public transport hub for example, unless you count the local bus service (morning and evening only) as suitable. Many live much further.

    The suburban soccer-mom lifestyle only applies to people with kids…

    rubbish, most of us oldies have grand kids both direct and surrogate. As with most grandparents we spend a lot of time being “soccer mums”.

    We also spend considerable time looking after our parents in their final years and public transport is just is no good for those emergency visits, nor regular weekly calls to check they are OK.

  6. Most of us have legs. Even as we get very old. Even if we are quite young. The last mile is a relaxing walk.

    Nor is the point to do away with cars entirely.

    The suburban soccer-mom lifestyle only applies to people with kids… and there are fewer of them than of the oldsters, and the kids don’t drive. Good public transport makes both the very young and the very old more mobile and better able to survive independently.

  7. is the only one I can find on-line.

    I agree many suburbs are not designed for public transport. Cycle networks and secure cycle parking are very good for that final link. Kiss’n’ride or park’n’ride are also better than driving all the way.

  8. John Lawson,

    Many studies (eg Kenworthy and Laube 2000, Litman 2004; Polzin, Chu and Raman 2008; FTA 2008; Pollack, Bluestone and Billingham 2010) show that good public transport cuts the overall cost of transport by around 25%.

    Would you have links to those studies?

    While public transport has cost advantages for mass transit beween two fixed places, it has significant cost disadvantages when the “final mile” considerations are taken into account for individual travellers.

    The problem for public transport always has been the bit from the public transport terminal to the individuals destination.

    Add to the cost of public transport the inconveneince when we deal with the individuals requirement for personal transport needs.

    Simply things like taking and retrieving Johnny to and from rugby practise while trying to fit in Janes trasnsport needs for ballet lessons.

    Public transport is no good for those “cross town” individual, extra mural requirements.

    Perhaps a London style mini cab system might help in these circumstances where a car individual utilisation is increased many folds.

    Another idea of the South African system of minibuses. Each owner is free to set his or her bus route depending upon patronage and their customers individual requirements.

    Vehicle utilisation shoots up for a smaller number of vehicles if used cooperatively.

    Would not require any additional levels of licensing, just more public transport licenses.

  9. It’s not true that rail schemes are more expensive than cars. Auckland has 803,000 cars. At $10,000 each that’s over $8bn, plus the expensive motorway schemes. By contrast, all the DART Auckland rail schemes are being done for $1.6bn. Many studies (eg Kenworthy and Laube 2000, Litman 2004; Polzin, Chu and Raman 2008; FTA 2008; Pollack, Bluestone and Billingham 2010) show that good public transport cuts the overall cost of transport by around 25%.

  10. I was in a mall today. Over half the shops were clothes, sports or footwear shops – products which typically require the purchaser to try on before buying, and often products where advice is sought from the staff. Neither can be accomplished on line, so yes, we will still need shopping malls, just not as many of them.

    Purchasing fruit and veges (and in some cases meat) is another area where many purchasers want to inspect or choose before they buy.

    If you know (or can find out on line) exactly what you want, then the automatic delivery system and on-line ordering would make it unnecessary for anyone to go to the mall, but we are already doing a significant amount of that already.


  11. Trevor,

    With full-automation will you need a mall like today? Online shopping supported by tiny micro-cars can post your shopping to you more than conveniently. I would say in the future malls will mostly specialise as entertainment centers and product showcase centers, as opposed to traditional retail.

    With full-automation, yes, you can support traditional public transport systems much better. But will you even need them? Using ground-induction for electric power (when and as required) it’s so much better and more energy and time efficiency to just platoon the cars together into ‘express’ lines.

    But, it will be a revolution in public transport because it will be a public auto-taxi system. Only it’s made up of privately occupied cars.

  12. Google (and no doubt others) are working on a self-drive vehicle – cars that drive themselves without a driver. Their example was a blind car owner. However it could revolutionise the taxi industry and we might see a transport model looking more like:
    – summon a self-drive taxi using a cell phone
    – ride the taxi to the bus/train station
    – taxi goes away to a taxi park and recharges itself
    – ride the bus to the train station while accessing the internet
    – wait for the train, still accessing the internet
    – ride the train to the destination area, still accessing the internet
    – hop into a waiting taxi
    – ride the taxi to the destination (while still accessing the internet)
    – taxi goes away to its next job or returns to the taxi park at the train station to recharge itself…
    with all transactions charged to a single transport card or credit card.

    Of course most journeys are shorter than that and wouldn’t need as many transfers. Trips to/from the local mall would probably be made using the mall’s self-drive fleet, although malls would be natural bus hubs (and taxi stands with recharging facilities).


  13. Improved connectivity at transport stops and on board public transport is only useful while the connected devices have power. Adding charging facilities to both the public transport fleet and at the transport stops would allow longer connected times and reduce the sense that the traveller is just wasting time. USB outlets could serve as a connection standard, but may not be able to provide enough power for larger devices (iPads are quite thirsty) and could be too vulnerable. An alternative could be the standard cigarette lighter socket (without the lighter of course) which can provide enough power to charge several low current devices, but for safety may have to be limited in output power to less than that required by a full-blown lap-top – or a mobility scooter or wheelchair.


  14. Gerrit:

    That little car would take up 4-seats of space on a train at least($$). And if you want to compress the little cars into a train, then why not do away with the train and just platoon the cars on a designated guideway(?).

    The technology for this has already been developed with the ULTra system. ULtra doesn’t platoon but that’s just a software upgrade, and some heavier duty guideways where required.


    As soon as a trip looks like this:

    1. walk to the bus stop.
    2. wait for the bus
    3. ride the bus to a train station.
    4. wait for the train.
    5. ride the train to the CBD.
    6. wait for the bus.
    7. ride the bus to your destination suburb.
    8. walk to you exact destination.

    …then the situation becomes hopeless. This is why the bulk of the demand for PT is only for CBD’s. This won’t realistically change.

  15. To expand both Kerry and Trevors suggestions, an ideal situation would be a smalish electric “car” that one uses in the final mile from public transport to home or work or sports or event.

    One simply drives to the nearest public transport hub and drives the private “car” onto a flat bed train (much like the chunnel eurostar trains) and gets whisked along to the nearest transport hub to the destination. One simple drives off the public train and onto the road system.

    Whilst onboard the train the “car” battery can be recharged, one could leave the “car” and utilise public facilties on the train or remain in the “car” if private space is desired.


    A start would be better onboard facilities for push bikes and small electric motor scooters.

  16. As pointed out above, one of the big dis-incentives for people considering a trip by public transport is the time it takes. With frequent stops and time to get back into traffic, it can take double the time a car would take for the same journey and an average speed that a cyclist can often exceed. One solution is to make the time in the public transport vehicle (bus, tram, train, whatever) more productive, e.g. by being connected, being able to view (and hear?) new items, etc. This would be easier if the vehicle announced its progress so the passengers did not need to keep a watch out for landmarks. (Always difficult in an unfamiliar city!)

    However the time taken also includes waiting for the next vehicle – unavoidable if transfers are involved. This waiting time also needs to be more enjoyable and productive, so the waiting areas need shelter from the elements and connectivity also – and I would suggest announcements of which buses (or trams, trains) are approaching so passengers can be ready when their transport arrives.

    The final problem is the time it takes to get to the stop, and from the stop to the actual destination, and the only solution I have thought of for that aspect is a shuttle service based around malls, timed to meet the longer distance services where appropriate. This would also make catching public transport less unpleasant in bad weather.


  17. dbuckley:

    “Light rail generally is built by local governments”

    From memory in America, at least from a while back, light rail infrastructure projects were about 80% funded by their federal government, and it has been claimed by some that that was the real reason why so many of them got built – that is, local bodies saw them as a way to get federal funds into their local districts (think: stimulus).
    They literally saw costs as advantages. Rail is generally recognised as terribly expensive compared to other alternatives.

    If you can get a small electric car down to about the $10-15k mark, then it should be no real problem as a mass-alternative to sky-high fuel prices. Especially if the operating-savings allow it to pay for itself, over time. Remember that in Auckland the locked-in origin-to-destination patterns of the city make is so cars are the only realistic mass-alternative – like for all polycentric cities.

    Total costs of trying to make a rail-based city (where rail doesn’t just serve the CBD) would be incredible. We would all be telecommuting before we ever did that; or maybe our employers would buy their own fleet of electric taxi-vans to provide for their staff (another option).

  18. Andrew:

    Developing electric trams and rail to support most transport demand in a network-city would be incredibly infrastructure expensive.

    Yes, it would be, but lot of places manage to do it. See Croydon Tramlink which was built whilst I was there.

    If we really need to go electric, then we should (and would) do it with cars.

    You’ve put forward a reasonable argument, but you’ve missed an important detail.


    Light rail generally is built by local governments which have no difficulties raising money, and have a guaranteed mechanism of getting the repoayments back through rates and the like.

    Whereas some private individuals are in the same boat, most are not, and thus (as already mentioned) New Zealand has a really old car fleet. If people cant afford to buy a typical New Zealand new car today, they certainly wont be able to afford a car that will be proportionately more expensive.

  19. Cannot find the link anymore, but there was a small electric car design in the UK meant to be leased as a city runabout.

    The idea was you left your gas guzzler in the garage or at the city limits for long trips and leased a battery car for commuting and local travel.

    I.E. No petrol cars in the CBD etc.

    Though I also like the electric train made of smaller car size units that separated off at the ends of the route to be driven to individual destinations. Great for the drive from Whangarei to Auckland.

  20. Geoff Houtman:

    Apologies for misquoting. I was in a rush with that response (had to get out the door). It originally came from dbuckley.

    Developing electric trams and rail to support most transport demand in a network-city would be incredibly infrastructure expensive. If we really need to go electric, then we should (and would) do it with cars.

    Advanced technologies notwithstanding, very small 50kw battery-electric cars for bulk-demand, to compliment existing cars, would be the most practical option. And surely the most popular in a world high oil prices. Here’s another of my ideas on this:

  21. Having lived overseas for many years & having returned, I see how obsessed Joe Kiwi is with the private car. I accept that there are increasing numbers who are riding public transport, BUT still only a minority.

    The classic tale.. a man who lives in my street got into his car & drove to his mates place (about 100 yards away) he probably could have walked it, in a similar time & got a bit of exercise too. OH DEAR


  22. I think I’ve said this before here, but it really is all about the incentives.

    I agree with Andrew, that as the price rise in oil and petrol really start to bit then we will see step changes in efficiency gains for private transport. We are an adaptable species and we will adapt to this.

    Choice is a real problem for NZ, public transport is (on the whole) poor and expensive. I live in the Wellington region, which probably has the ‘best’ public transport links of all NZ regions. Still, there is limited connectivity between buses and trains, both tend to run late, staffing standards is very poor with zero service to the paying client (i.e. the passenger). To top all this off, as Julie mentions, the Regional Council are looking at putting UP prices.

    If we go back to incentives, public transport for many of us simply is not a viable alternative. Private transport gives the driver and passengers choice about timing and carrying luggage/shopping at a reasonably low cost.

    I try to take my kids to school on the bus and train. This trip takes us about an hour and a half. To drive it would take 30 mins. Where is the incentive … where is the service? More importantly, when will we get a viable alternative?

  23. Andrew- Where does your tram quote come from?

    I agree, I just wonder how it came up.

    “The cost of this would be diabolical compared to electrifying transport.”

    I also do not understand this quote. Trams and light rail ARE electrifying transport… And a whole lot cheaper than converting every car to battery power.

    I’m a little confused about what you’re saying now

  24. Geoff Houtman:

    If we can bypass the air-conditioning and power-steering, the efficiency will be saved. Would people tolerate this if oil prices demanded it? Of course they would.

    Quote: “It is entirely possible that much of the roading infrastructure will get converted to tramways or light rail”.

    The cost of this would be diabolical compared to electrifying transport. Also vastly less efficiency on all levels (service performance and energy efficiency). If we were to move in this kind of direction then using ground-based Induction power might have some potential. And also, you can’t ignore the full-automation revolution coming down the pike:

    Peak oil:

    If fuel costs, say, 3x as much as today, then efficiency will be aggressively embraced. Demand will likewise be held back and this should stop peak oil from going to any crazy extreme. Peak oil would be more apocalyptic if we couldn’t adapt, but we can. Today we are are actually ridiculously wasteful compared to what we need to be.

  25. tuktuk:

    VW went for the most extreme example to prove a point. Using carbon fiber in a mass-production vehicle would be stupid. You only get a few more kilograms weight advantage over hemp-based fiber or fiber glass, and probably other material options as well.

    VW can still get incredible efficiency in a cost-effective manner. Especially as high base-efficiency gives you the need for only a small battery pack and power plant, etc. With mass-production these cars should be much cheaper than alternatives such as the Prius.

    Using VW as an example, we can see it will go about 35 kilometers on a single charge before you need to burn any carbon at all. And when you do burn the diesel only about 10% is needed as compared to an average car due to the high base-efficiency; likewise making carbon emission and fuel costs virtually irrelevant, and without the range anxiety.

  26. I think if you take into account trips chains, rather than individual trips, it is only about 36% that are under 5 km. But hardly matters -still massive room to grow walking and cycling mode share.

  27. Andrew notes

    We can also hugely improve the efficiency of the roads with congestion-charging.

    Not going to be necessary; the geological certainty that is Peak Oil will apply all the congestion charging necessary.

    Widening the scope of the thread a bit, Peak Oil is going to have a radical effect on New Zealand. A goodly chunk of our GDP is based on tourism, and soon, tourism will be back to 1960s levels, where only the very rich or those with a lot of time on their hands will be able to visit New Zealand.

    So thats another blob of the GDP gone, and you all know the new mantra by now, with thanks to Julie Anne: Its all about the GDP – stoopid! Sp losing GDP is not a good idea.

    Peak Oil is going to have a heavy set of impacts on our transport.

    Although there are more fuel efficient cars being developed, it is doubtful how helpful that will be in NZ. We have a relatively ancient car fleet, and as we are a poor and getting poorer country, the ability to afford a new fuel efficient cars will not be widespread. There will be a new social divide, between those able to afford the motoring experience, and those who cant.

    The world is not going to convert to electric cars overnight, and it is doubtful if there are adequate raw materials to make all thoe batteries anyway.

    It is entirely possible that much of the roading infrastructure will get converted to tramways or light rail.

    Next few decades going to be “interesting”.

  28. Hi Andrew

    On your comment that ‘I think we can have faith that we will not need a total modal shift as such, because we know that the cars-roads format can be radically more efficient, as required. The only reason it isn’t so much today is because fuel is still relatively cheap to the consumer.’……

    We have reached peak oil with China now setting the global price for oil due to its fast rising demand and relative economic strength. So long as present economic models are followed, anytime that Western economies do attempt to recover, they are going to be slugged by oil price increases. Supply and demand and all that. Unless you want to drill for oil in the deep ocean basins around New Zealand, the Arctic, the Antarctic and other remaining relatively undisturbed environments. The alternative is to move to an economy that is progressively less dependent on oil. I think there would be few arguments there.

    However, you should also consider that a consumer driven short term life expectancy car culture has an all-of-life cost that has a very high impact on the environment. How many non-recyclable plastic based composite carbon-fibre body panels to reduce weight in that super econo VW? The fuel economy figures are dependent on use of carbon-fibre body panels, yet give the car a massive cost disadvantage. With a price-tag like that, this car is a toy….like a jet-pack.

    Can’t see the price of carbon-fibre coming down anytime soon either. And this is without even considering the all-of-life cost of the hybrid car’s batteries. And that fact that you are advocating a roads and suburbs culture that is incredibly energy intensive.

    And yes, I also telecommute most days. A nice office at the back of the family town-house with children going to the local school which is a short walk away.

  29. Telecommuting rocks.

    My commute to work is 61KM each way, so I work from home as much as is reasonable practical, which means 2 – 3 days per week.

    Whenever possible, I arrange my commuting days to coincide with when my wife is working, so there are two of us in the little moderately fuel efficient car. (6.6L / 100KM)

  30. Hi Julie,

    Well, I personally push-bike to work each day. I see it as the perfect solution to saving time (it’s my gym), money, and my health. The biggest pain is the cars – biking is so much more of a pleasure when there are less of them around.

    I don’t have a problem with investing in bike-ways if we can afford the space. I don’t know about the relationship between bike-ways and usage, but I can appreciate that there is the argument that the only reason we don’t bike/walk as much is because we have created an environment which under-facilitates it. But to what degree is this the case? How much would you cut into car demand? I don’t believe that a city’s evolution should revolve around an (inherently) minority demand. I myself accept the tension that comes with negotiating through all those cars on my bike ride.

    Also I think if people want to just blob-out in their cars, and regardless of the options, then my attitude is so be it. It’s their choice. Maybe our health system should function with more of a self-abuser pays model(?).

  31. Andrew- Cars today are way more fuel efficient than in the past. Of course, the stereos, air conditioning, dvd players etc that we now install negate that efficiency.

  32. Hi Andrew,

    What do you think about the public health implications of high car use? You know that 1/3 of peak hour trips in Auckland are less than 2km round trip, and about half are less than 5km. Seems unecessarily expensive, and not good for our health, to make those trips necessarily be vehicle based (even if they are fuel efficicent vehicles). Making it safer and more attractive to walk and cycle for short trips would cost us less in many ways…

  33. In the short-term a spike in higher oil prices will hurt. But in the medium and longer term we can always chop down to high fuel-efficiency cars. VW produced a most extreme example, recently demonstrating its 260mpg concept car.

    We can also hugely improve the efficiency of the roads with congestion-charging.

    I think we can have faith that we will not need a total modal shift as such, because we know that the cars-roads format can be radically more efficient, as required. The only reason it isn’t so much today is because fuel is still relatively cheap to the consumer. However, as Auckland continues to aggravate congestion via its intensification agenda, rail transport should grow.

    And why don’t we invest aggressively in telecommuting (broadband) as a priority? Surely the most energy efficient transport system is the one that doesn’t even need to exist!

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