Rodney Hide: Trains over buses - It doesn't add up

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Photo / NZPA
Photo / NZPA

It's not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.

Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That's because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can't do that.

Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.

Nonetheless, Auckland Transport has produced the Auckland CBD Rail Link Business Case (2010) and the City Centre Future Access Study (2012), both saying rail is more cost-effective.

The result puzzled me and I decided to figure out how both reports reach such a counter-intuitive conclusion.

I started with the 2010 Rail Business Case but it proved little use. This study cost millions of dollars but critical figures are missing. For example, we are not told how many commuters will travel into the city centre by car, bus and train for the various options.

My research led me to Wellingtonian Tony Randle, who spent months trying to get the analysis underpinning the 2010 Rail Business Case, succeeding only after a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Once Tony got hold of the analysis he found:

1. Basic spreadsheet errors. The spreadsheet fails to calculate the running costs of the second purchase of 26 trains. That ignores $689 million on the train option.

2. Incorrect exclusion of costs from the rail option. The study excludes the necessary funding to extend the Northern Busway into the city centre. Building this access is a necessary part of the rail option.

3. Addition of a second bus tunnel without explanation, adding hundreds of millions to the bus option.

4. Unreasonable assumptions, including a prediction that under the rail option, present bus capacity into the city centre will carry another 20,000 passengers a day without any new bus lanes or busways.

The errors and poor assumptions total $1.5 billion. The bias is systematic; each and every mistake favours rail over buses. Correcting for the errors reverses the study's conclusions and shows the CBD bus tunnel more cost-effective than the City Rail Link.

Tony Randle's review is damning of Auckland Transport's report. And it's damning of the rail option. Auckland Transport's response? Stony silence.

Last December, Auckland Transport released a second report. City Centre Future Access Study also concludes that the city rail link beats the two bus options considered, but now for different reasons to the first report. And, once again, Auckland Transport published the study without the underpinning analysis.

I followed Randle's lead and requested the spreadsheets and the relevant model output reports. Auckland Transport has refused to supply them to me.

Its latest is a lawyer's letter explaining that Auckland Transport will provide what I want but only if I pay them $3850.

Oh, and they won't send me the spreadsheets.

Instead, they will send a printed output. That's useless to me. It won't allow me to check the very calculations that Randle showed were so devastatingly wrong in their first report.

I am left to conclude that Auckland Transport doesn't trust its own analysis. So how can I trust it? And, more especially, how can you?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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