Brian Rudman: Think a bit smaller and fix the bus-stop signs

The press release accompanying "the second deliverable of the Auckland Transport Strategic Alignment Project (ATSAP)" promised "a long and complex document". The authors weren't exaggerating. But all the jargon couldn't disguise the obvious message. Auckland's roading network alone will not be able to cope with traffic demand over the long term.

At best, all the $1.5 billion of planned expenditure will do is prevent Auckland's transport woes getting any worse.

Furthermore, once the western ring route and third harbour crossing are completed, further expansion of the roading network will be either hideously expensive, or impossible, because of "geographical constraints" and "increased community and environmental impacts".

The steering committee's answer is a substantial shift to public transport over the next 30 years.

And it says the main issue is how quickly new public transport services should be introduced.

At that stage, it all gets a bit fuzzy, as the report is top heavy with guesstimates.

It says there is no risk management strategy for the current transport plans let alone any projected ones.

Nor has there been any economic impact analysis.

The authors envisage public transport passenger boardings rising from today's 50 million a year to 200 million by 2050.

But "this figure is a very rough estimate only".

It is based on "conservative modelling" and predicts a public transport mode share of about 15 per cent in 2050 during the morning peak period.

Mind you, how useful is scientific modelling, when you are dealing with tricky things like human nature, and commuters' love affairs with their cars?

The report lists the "push" and "pull" factors used in New Zealand and overseas to manipulate public transport demand.

They include behaviour-modifying techniques such as lower fares, improved reliability, reducing public transport trip times, central-city parking restrictions, increased congestion, road tolls and the like.

In other words, the report writers are saying that Aucklanders 50-odd year love-in with the individual internal combustion engine, is grinding to a halt because of an excess of cars and the sheer impossibility of finding anymore room for new roads.

The only solution is more public transit. The issue is, what sort, and how fast do we "push" or "pull" Aucklanders out of their cars and on to the buses and trains. All of which is hardly new. We've been dabbling with this approach for years now. With mixed results.

The report writers seem fixated with the need for a grand plan over 30 or more years. As a bus user, I wish they'd stopped day-dreaming and fix the here-and-now problems.

Take the bus information electronic signs at bus stops all over the city. These devices are regarded around the world as a prime "pull" mechanism for encouraging bus use. Auckland's dud system has been misleading passengers for five years at a cost of $7 million and climbing.

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority bought this dog of a system off Auckland City for $1 just under a year ago.

ACC officials' sales pitch was that after initial error rates of 30 per cent, it had settled down to an "acceptable" 3 or 4 per cent error rate. I never believed this figure and ARTA's recent half yearly report, supports my scepticism. It declares: "The accuracy and reliability of the bus real-time system continues to increase" - from 65 per cent last July when ARTA took control of the system, to 88 per cent at the end of December.

ARTA should be demanding its $1 back from the ACC. Even I didn't suspect that 35 per cent of the messages were wrong last July. Even the 88 per cent accuracy rate now being claimed is a disaster. What's the use of a handy-aid timetable which gets it wrong 12 per cent of the time.

On Friday I found the "pull" incentive to outrank any others. Stockholm Transport guarantees passengers a free taxi-ride home if public transport service is delayed 20 minutes or more. In a city of gamblers, I could see such a guarantee swelling Auckland's bus queues instantly.

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