Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Back on track: a missed opportunity

It should be time for some cheerful and frivolous posts (and it will be, once someone correctly identifies the mystery bar), but here's another serious post that I have to write now. A few weeks back, there was an article in the Dominion Post entitled "Commuters return to cars". The trouble was, since it only showed relative figures ("Peak-time passenger growth soared 11.6 per cent in mid-year as fuel prices peaked. This had slowed to about 9 per cent by September."), it was hard to tell whether passenger transport numbers were actually falling, or just growing more slowly. I had to email Greater Wellington in order to get the underlying figures. I then graphed these with a different series for each year, in order to show both month-to-month and year-to-year changes. Here are the results.

For most of this year (dark green), ridership has been considerably higher than previous year. There was, however, a big drop from August to September: more than the usual seasonal spring easing, and in fact enough to take it lower than last September. There's been a slight recovery in October, and since the October numbers are incomplete (some small bus companies take a while to file their figures), the final counts may be higher than last October.

It's hard to escape the conclusion, though, that passenger numbers have peaked for the time being. Recent falls in petrol prices are the obvious main culprit, but don't forget that Metlink put their prices up (in a notably complex and unpopular manner) in September, and even the weather may have something to do with it. It seems obvious that cost is the main driving factor in choosing public vs private transport.

Imagine if the $40m or so spent on the bypass had been invested in public transport. When petrol prices rose this year, instead of facing packed carriages, clapped-out buses and unreliable service, new passengers might have actually thought "hey, this isn't bad!", and become regular patrons rather then switching back when the costs changed. It's clear that the challenge is not "getting Kiwis to give up their love affair with the car", as we're constantly being told, but making sure the infrastructure is ready when they do.


At 7:18 pm, December 19, 2006, Blogger Br3nda of coffee.geek.nz said...

first time i've heard the new metlink fares criticised (maybe i missed it)

we previously paid 3 sections to get to town from vogeltown - now it's the same price but it's one zone.

Less complicated for me - there were end of sections at the top and bottom of every signicant hill (brooklyn road, hutchison)..

now it's all one zone.

At 9:50 pm, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the complaints were from people whose fares rose anywhere up to 150% because of the stupid layout of the zones before. And the implementation on the trains was really poorly-publicised.

At 10:11 am, December 20, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

I submitted criticisms about the fares at the time, partly because I live closer to the CBD than parts of the next zone in, and partly because some fares shot up disproportionately.

Given that service has yet to improve, perhaps the surprise is that there hasn't been a greater move back to the car :-(

But let's see what happens next time there's an oil shock...

At 2:48 pm, December 20, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Part of the problem with the fare rises is that the pre-publicity set inaccurate expectations. All they really said was "Fares will rise by about 15% on average: see the paphlets for details". A lot of commuters evidently didn't look up the details, expecting "on average" to mean that there would be only slight variation, and when the actual changes occurred the massive increases for some journeys (compare to small increases, no change or even slight drops for others) caused quite a bit of anger and negative publicity. And still no integrated bus/rail ticketing.

At 7:12 pm, December 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of trains, I see in the paper they have already shortlisted the suppliers. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominionpost/3906379a6479.html)

"Regional council transport officials have shortlisted three firms to build the new trains: Bombardier Transportation from Australia, Spanish firm CAF, and Rotem/Mitsui from Korea and Japan."

Browsing these options I'm not all that impressed. We may well it seems end up with comfier trains but not faster ones. Have fired off a letter to GW asking what their required characteristics were in making a selection (acceleration rates, speeds, floor heights, etc.), and what suppliers/models they discarded.

So ah, expect a response in 6 months time after they've already made a purchase.

At 5:41 pm, January 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, for what it is worth. The figures in the tender are:

Acceleration: at least an average of 0.8m/s^2 up to 65km/h, but no greater than 1.11m/s^2. Acceleration will average at least 0.6m/s^2 up to 100km/h.

Speed: maximum operating speed to be 100km/h, but designed to achieve at least 120km/h.

So basically they're after miserable performers. The requirement that acceleration not go greater than 1.11 is interesting, this is a safe and comfortable level of acceleration, around 1.0 should be a minimum requirement, none of this maximum requirement business!

The difference between running a service, e.g. the Kapiti line, at current paremeters (e.g. above) vs. decent parameters, say 1.0m/s^2 and a speed of 135kph (which is easy on todays systems) is a time savings of up to 50%. I.e. travel from Kapiti to Wellington in 30 minutes. That is the incentive for people to get out of cars, because its a whole lot faster. Why people and groups like Option3 don't see this I'll never understand.


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