Auckland’s emerging but sadly ignored rapid transit plan
We have long lamented the lack of a real rapid transit plan for Auckland, a plan showing how the city’s rapid transit network should evolve over time to act as the heart of a network of wider public transport suitable for a city that will reach 2 million people in the next 10-15 years. After all, the Congestion Free Network that we first developed in 2013 and then updated in 2017 is really just a rapid transit plan for Auckland that we created to fill the void of a real official plan.
More recently, the implications of not having a proper rapid transit plan have become more apparent than ever – through a series of baffling decisions about how to develop Auckland’s rapid transit network. For example:
- The tunnel light rail option between the city center and Māngere appears to have been driven largely by the need to also accommodate light rail from other corridors like the North West – even though the business case for it newer for Northwest Rapid Transit suggested a bus lane.
- The 2020 business case for the additional connections to Waitematā Port seemed to suggest retaining the northern bus route and simply adding a light rail or city light rail line to Takapuna and Smales Farm, although that would result in vast underutilization of this new rail link.
- There appears to have been almost no progress in planning and design work on the Northwest Rapid Transit over the past five years, despite several policy documents suggesting it is the fastest growing new rapid transit corridor. urgent to progress.
- Most rapid transit planning work in recent times (apart from downtown in Māngere, which is a torturous story in itself) appears to have been done in pristine areas by the Supporting Growth Alliance, even though these are the least urgent corridors to build or upgrade.
- The East Busway is ruined by a change aimed at modifying its route in an attempt to avoid the slightest inconvenience to vehicles or impacting commercial sites with high potential for redevelopment.
However, the good news (if it’s rather late to the party) is that it looks like Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and Waka Kotahi have been quietly working in the background on the very thing we’ve been calling for for the past decade : a rapid transit plan. We’ve seen a few small pieces of it in relation to light rail, but recent inquiries from LGOIMA have revealed larger work on:
In this article, I’m going to look at the second of these documents, as I think it’s probably the most relevant to some of the issues above. The report is the most in-depth report of what we’ve seen in the last year:
This means that it has focused on the three corridors that are planned to meet and interact in the city center: North Shore, North West and City Center towards Māngere.
It appears that one of the first things the work did was to undertake high-level modeling to estimate the rough level of likely future demand on these three corridors. While we’re often skeptical of modeling, that’s the kind of jobs it’s actually quite well suited to: a high-level ballpark estimate that will mostly be used for comparison between different corridors. The result of this was largely consistent with what we had seen before and proposed in our 2017 congestion-free network – that North Shore has roughly the same level of demand as the other two corridors combined, and that Northwest has (slightly) more demand higher than City Center in Māngere.
There are obviously a lot of assumptions behind these numbers, like where and when the growth is happening (these numbers seem to predate the rather heroic growth assumptions in the business case for the inner-city tram in Māngere, for example) . But headlines are always a useful starting point.
The next step examines which modes can be adapted to meet the projected demand in the corridor over time, taking into account the capacity of the different vehicles and the feasible frequency at which they can operate efficiently. It’s also a useful graphic to illustrate how rapid transit capacity absolutely crushes a lane of travel:
A whole stack of modal choice options on the three corridors was then developed and first assessed. These include:
- Surface tramway on the three corridors (including a variant with a second downtown corridor)
- Light rail on the North Shore and CC2M corridors, and a busway to the northwest
- Light rail on all three corridors
- Light rail on the inner part of CC2M (downtown, Mt Roskill, Onehunga) and on the northwest, light rail for the north shore and along Manukau Road to the airport.
- Light rail on the inner part of CC2M (as above) and the northwest, heavy rail to the north bank and from Onehunga to the airport
- Light rail on CC2M and the northwest, heavy rail to the North Shore connected to the current East Line.
- Light metro to the northwest and on CC2M, heavy rail to the North Shore connected to the current East Line.
- Light rail on CC2M and light rail on the North Shore and the northwest
Interestingly, it seems that light rail was assumed in all options for surface travel (with the possible exception of a tunnel under the port). It seems that this work has realized that wasting the capacity of extended tunnels on lesser capacity light rails might be a bit silly.
The different options were rated at a high level against various criteria, with four options shortlisted for further analysis:
The analysis seems quite high, with options 1, 3, 6 and 8 considered for further analysis. This seems to have been based not only on the good performance of these options in the evaluation above, but also on a reasonably wide range of approaches (i.e. light rail only, light rail only, some heavy rail, a mix of metro and light rail). -rail) being analyzed for further analysis.
Each of these four options was then analyzed in more detail, including transport modeling – to understand both at the corridor and overall system level what the differences were. Perhaps the most interesting finding is the smallness of the differences, especially at the regional level.
The modal share in the peak direction on the three corridors was also examined. Again, the results are all quite similar, with the biggest difference being a lower mode change along Dominion Road for the subway option (likely because it’s underground rather than by reallocation of road space ).
The only measure where there is a large variation seems to be the better job access performance of Option 3 for people living in Māngere. However, this is later explained to be largely due to the slow and indirect alignment of the light rail used for the CC2M corridor, which could easily be optimized.
While the performance of the various options was broadly similar, the same cannot be said for the costs. High level cost assumptions have been used to allow comparisons and while I’m sure these assumptions are not perfect, they seem reasonable in terms of allowing comparisons like “the tunnel is x times more expensive than the surface “. I assume that station costs are absorbed in the global assumption per kilometer.
Adding up the different options, you can see that option 1 (surface light rail) is about $12-15 billion cheaper than options 3 or 6, with option 8 being about $5 billion cheaper than options 3 and 6.
There’s also a discussion of how each option could be staged, with a key conclusion being that option 1 has the most flexibility.
It should also be noted that the North West Corridor is usually sequenced before North Shore in this work, which is different from the government’s light rail announcement in January, which seemed to suggest that North Shore had “jumped the queue”. ‘waiting’. I will talk more about it in a future article.
Interestingly, the work ends by discussing how option 1 could evolve into option 8 over time, building the inner city tunnel as “stage 4” in the table above , allowing the Northwest and North Shore Corridors to switch from light rail to light rail. light rail because the rest of their routes are off-street (unlike CC2M). This is something we suggested should happen with light rail.
Overall, while there may be a few things to do, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work. Finally, it systematically addresses many of the issues essential to the development of at least this part of Auckland’s future rapid transit network. Importantly, rather than focusing on a single project, it examines these three major corridors together. I think that actually makes a pretty compelling case for the staging route highlighted above – which is actually quite similar to many of the points we’ve been making for some time.
Ironically, it seems this work was largely ignored by the Auckland Light Rail Establishment Unit – who instead came up with an option (tunnel light tram) that was not even on the long list of options considered in this plan. This means a huge upfront investment in a massive tunnel (something the work above was trying to avoid), while ruling out the possibility of upgrading the northwest and north coast to light rail – because the tunnel downtown they would need is used by light rail.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this plan, which has probably evolved into other parts of the rapid transit network now (like heavy rail and intercity corridors). It seems such a shame that the only time our transit agencies finally get to do the necessary planning work in at least a decade, they end up being completely ignored.