Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison says a report stating the council body may have used overestimated figures to give a favourable business case for four cycleways in the city is fundamentally flawed.

A Herald story last week led to a debate on cycling numbers in the report and whether they came into effect when cycleways opened or were 2026 forecasts.

The numbers used in the report were 1060 per day for Quay St, 986 for Nelson St, 975 for Grafton Gully and 443 for Beach Rd. The numbers are used in business cases to obtain funding for cycleways.

The Auckland cycle network is still being developed, which is why our forecasts are over 10 years.

Emails obtained by the Herald show AT finance officers in February last year said the cycling number for the Quay St cycleway are for 2016, not 2026.

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Ellison and NZTA chief executive Fergus Gammie are standing by "very clear statements" in the past week that the figures are forecasts for 2026.

Ellison said the AT report, which stated cycle demand was overestimated for the Quay St, Nelson St, Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways, was written by a relatively junior, former employee.

"It was not and is not an official AT document. It was not endorsed or ratified in any way. Suffice to say, the assumptions and conclusions it came to were fundamentally flawed. As such it has no validity," he said.

Auckland Transpport chief executive Shane Ellison.
Auckland Transpport chief executive Shane Ellison.

Earlier this month, AT walking, cycling and safety manager Kathryn King said the report was a "work in progress" document that was never finalised, although the issues it raised had been followed up to improve business processes.

She said traffic modelling for the first tranche of cycling projects arrived at cycling numbers that seemed too high in the early years when compared with actual cycle counts.

King said most cycle projects require estimates for a 40-year investment using variables that can be hard to predict into the future.

"We have also observed that as additional parts of the central city network have been completed, we have experienced additional increases. The reality is that we are developing a whole-of-city network," she said.

Auckland Transport walking, cycling and road safety manager Kathryn King. Photo / Supplied
Auckland Transport walking, cycling and road safety manager Kathryn King. Photo / Supplied

The Herald has obtained internal AT emails, an economic assessment and NZTA worksheets about the cycling numbers.

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The documents show:

• Figures of 1080 in 2016 for Quay St and three options between 1270 and 1310 for 2026.
Source: Quay Street Cycleway Demand for Economic Assessment, September 2015.

• Emails in February 2017 between AT finance officers on Quay St where they talk about "a total cyclists of 1060 in 2016", "total cyclists of 1285 in 2026" and "confirming that 1060 number for 15/16 100 per cent". One finance officer said the consultant who came up with the 1060 figure did not use consistent numbers, saying "I think we can't conclude with 100 per cent sure that it is the total cyclist number in 2016".

• A year-by-year cyclist demand count for Grafton Gully showing 969 cyclists per day in 2016 and 1228 in 2026.

Source: NZTA Worksheet A1.2 - Discounting Costs and Benefits Cycleways.

An NZTA spokesman said the "reference case" figure of 1080 in the 2015 economic assessment document for Quay St is not a prediction of day one cycling numbers.

"It is a starting point for building a prediction about cycle demand 10 years out (in 2026), when all of the cycling network has been constructed".

The spokesman said the figures in the NZTA Grafton Gully cycleway worksheet are part of work to forecast demand in the future, not the "day one" number.

Gammie said NZTA uses predictions with a 10-year timeframe, which assume a completed cycle network is in place.

"People typically begin using cycleways when they find it enables them to make safe, and connected journeys. The Auckland cycle network is still being developed, which is why our forecasts are over 10 years," he said.

NZ Transport Agency chief executive Fergus Gammie.
NZ Transport Agency chief executive Fergus Gammie.

Documents obtained by the Herald show AT and NZTA finance officers raised concerns over how the cycling numbers were calculated by consultants and peer reviewed - not just for the four cycleways in the report, but for the Tamaki Drive and Karangahape Rd projects.

In one email to AT finance managers in February last year, a finance officer said: "The way our cycling projects have been historically assessed has been via a combination of poor due diligence, incompetence, process failure and negligent behaviour.

"Consultants have had free reign to make up forecast usage numbers as they see fit, sometimes openly working toward an end BCR(business case ratio) so to help the project get funding," the officer said.

In another email, an NZTA officer said a "car assumption" had been used by a consultant to calculate travel time costs(TTC) for the Tamaki Drive cycle route, adding: "It would be great to come up with an agreed TTC for all our Auckland projects. Far better than forcing our consultants to be super creative."

Ellison stood by an email in January last year where King said "the forecasts are for 2026".

The email was between King and an AT finance officer who said: "The forecast numbers used in the business case came into effect on day 1."

NZTA has provided the Herald with a post implementation review of the Urban Cycleways Programme completed in September this year.

The review of 54 urban cycling projects nationwide said the way cyclist numbers were estimated were considered "acceptable and robust", including estimating numbers at a future date.

"In undertaking this review, the audit and assurance team was informed that Auckland Transport forecast cyclist user numbers were based on cyclist user estimates forecast in 2026," an NZTA spokesman said.

Cycling Q & A

What's the story about?

About two years ago, financial officers at Auckland Transport questioned the way cycling numbers were calculated for business cases being prepared to receive taxpayer dollars for new cycleways. This led to a "post implementation review" on the economics for four cycleways.

What did the review find?

A draft of the review said the cycle numbers were overestimated in all the four business cases. AT chief executive Shane Ellison says the report is not an official AT document and the assumptions are fundamentally flawed.

Why do the cycling numbers matter?

Cycling numbers are an important factor in preparing business cases to justify the cost of building cycleways. The higher the cycle count the stronger the business case.

What's the fuss over when the numbers come into effect?

Emails show finance officers believed the numbers came into effect when the cycleways are built. Ellison and NZ Transport Agency chief executive Fergus Gammie insist the numbers are 2026 forecasts.