Trains and light rail versus roads and buses

The Government has an obvious preference for railway lines over roads, but there are concerns about the rail option in the US, where in many areas passenger numbers are static or falling.

Installing railway lines is expensive, and it is relatively inflexible, both in the short term and the long term. It’s far easier to deploy buses over a wider area, and to move buses to where they are most needed at any given time.

I suspect the preference for rail is because it can be electric, while battery run buses don’t seem to have caught on yet. And roads for buses can mean roads available for cars as well.

But what if there are big advances in battery and fast charging technologies, making electric buses more viable? That would be a great alternative energy industry to invest in, but if successful it could make newly installed  light rail infrastructure limited and expensive.

Stuff: As Government signals big light rail spend, public transport concerns grow in US

As the Government signals it wants to spend billions on light rail in Auckland and billions less on major roading projects in the decade ahead, worries about the future of public transport are growing in the US.

Those concerns were summed up by a story in The Washington Post last month, headlined Falling transit ridership poses an ’emergency’ for cities, experts fear.

Data showed 2017 was the lowest year of overall transit ridership in the US since 2005. A 5 per cent decline in bus ridership was the main problem, but some commentators suggest the figures indicate light rail is also struggling, given the heavy investment in the mode in recent years.

In the US, the debate about light rail is particularly fierce, with skeptics often suggesting buses will do the job perfectly well if organised properly, as well as being lower cost and more flexible.

In its transport policy for the 2017 election, Labour said light rail to Auckland Airport was part of a range of projects that would ease congestion. “A world-class city in the 21st century needs a rail connection from its CBD to its airport.”

But that is just one route. The population is scattered across a wide area in Auckland.

Auckland Transport said light rail would have fewer stops, but be more frequent and travel faster than buses.

Fewer stops and more frequent only for those with easy access to the rail routes.

Light rail also had much greater capacity than buses and cars.

Really? Again, the capacity is only where their are rail routes. And it depends on how many buses or cars you use. Obviously, one train has more capacity than one car, but it’s not a one to one equation.

Among the most forceful opponents of light rail in the US is Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. O’Toole blogs as The Antiplanner’ “dedicated to the sunset of government planning”. He’s a big supporter of buses over light rail.

Last October Cato published a paper of his called The Coming Transit Apocalypse. In it he said public transport use in the US had been falling since 2014, with many major systems having “catastrophic declines”.

Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, were the most serious threat “as some predict that within five years those ride-hailing services will begin using driverless cars, which will reduce their fares to rates competitive with transit, but with far more convenient service”.

He made the extreme prediction: “This makes it likely that outside of a few very dense areas, such as New York City, transit will be extinct by the year 2030.”

He did note that in 2014, transit ridership in the US reached its highest level since 1956,with 10.75 billion trips, but was not impressed. “This is hardly a great achievement, however, as increased urban populations meant that annual transit trips per urban resident declined from 98 in 1956 to 42 in 2014.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

An Auckland Transport report said more than a third of employment growth in Auckland between 2013 and 2046 – about 100,000 jobs – was expected to be within 5km of the city centre.

That’s still a lot of people outside the city centre.

What if there is a major move towards dispersal of the workforce, around the city and to cheaper areas elsewhere in the country? It’s easy to re-deploy buses, but impractical to re-deploy railway lines.

However this could all be moot. The current Government seems intent on benefiting some with better rail links, but not addressing the needs of those who live away from railway lines.

And regarding the light rail link to the airport – what if we stop using fossil fuels but solar powered long haul aircraft don’t take off?

Or more feasible, what if small capacity shuttle air travel becomes a thing – this could render railway links obsolete.

 

 

 

34 Comments

  1. Griff

     /  April 17, 2018

    We’ve published a couple of articles recently on Shenzhen’s dramatic electrification of over 16,000 buses — something completely unprecedented around the world. But to say this is an isolated case of Chinese electric bus leadership would be to miss the much bigger and broader story. Below is a roundup of electric bus stories from China from November and December. The full article on EV Obsession covers the whole year, January–December of 2017, in this way. Check it all out if you want to really be blow away or want to turn your brain into a mesh of electric bus stories and statements.
    https://evobsession.com/2017-china-electric-bus-round-up-shenzhen-officially-goes-fully-electric-electric-brt-buses-double-decker-electric-buses-and-40-more-stories/

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 17, 2018

      Electric buses have been around for decades here; what do people think that trolley buses run on ? Or ran on, I think that these have been removed now.

  2. Blazer

     /  April 17, 2018

    not convinced that comparisons with the U.S or China are really valid.NZ is a smaller narrow country ,and existing rail infrastructure ,combined with new investment would seem the way to…go.The mooted bullet train from Hamilton to Auckland is a worthwhile …concept.As for costs,from what has been published,the cost of a kilometre of roading is…unbelievable-
    https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2017/08/01/escalating-costs-building-roads/
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/96652489/East-West-Link-to-cost-an-estimated-327-million-per-kilometre-Infrastructure-New-Zealand-says

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 17, 2018

      The projected use of the Hamilton – Auckland train was very low, and the estimated cost per person was $68, which nobody would want to pay one way, let alone two. The stupidity of using a station in a suburb rather than the one in town is incredible. The other problem was that, although the train takes a short time, this doesn’t take into account the time for stops from the sound of it, and there would have to be a lot of trains going to suit people’s starting times. There was also the obvious one of them getting to work from the railway station/s at the other end. It’s a lovely idea, but a non-starter, I think.

  3. Griff

     /  April 17, 2018

    Cost of Auckland city rail link.
    3.4 billion..
    Length 3.4 km.
    Billion dollars a km .
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11865055

    Auckland transport ?
    Don’t ya mean Auckland trains port.
    They have cho cho’s on the brain.
    Buy them all a Hornby set for their bedrooms t othem spending our taxes on white elephants.

    • Blazer

       /  April 17, 2018

      probably never be cheaper though.A house in New Lynn that sold for 150k 15 years ago is now 6x dearer,so the rate of price inflation will take care of costs.I assume a feasability study of a sky train system was…done as well?

      • David in aus

         /  April 17, 2018

        You should compare apples with apples. The cost of building (a similar house)in new lynn compared to the average wage, now and then. Remember most of value of houses is in the land.
        With light rail, the public own the land already.

        Also if build something with little demand there is large upkeep, interest, and opportunity-costs. You cannot invest in more worthwhile projects because there is limited pool of money.

  4. PartisanZ

     /  April 17, 2018

    I found this article in Spinoff by Hayden Donnell interesting and somewhat amusing –

    ‘Another incredibly stupid week in the never ending transport debate’ – April 10th

    I guess the incredibly stupid weeks are rolling into incredibly stupid months and years …

    Perhaps its just a plain example of how governments believe they must create EITHER/OR dichotomies? Either road … Or rail …

    As Donnell points out, the Labour-led government’s transport policy is not like that at all … Some neat turns of phrase from him …

    “No country is immune to bad transport debates, but few could boast one as pant-crappingly dumb as the one still raging over the Government’s $11.7 billion land transport strategy. The plan cuts funding to National’s FINANCIALLY NEGLIGENT Roads of National Significance, and redirects it into public transport projects, road safety, and regional roading upgrades, in what is either a sensible and encouraging move, or the first part of a plan to tax people into extinction and abolish driving, depending on whether you listen to sanity or the nostalgia-inducing siren call of New Zealand’s arch-morons.” [emphasis mine]

    https://thespinoff.co.nz/media/10-04-2018/another-incredibly-stupid-week-in-the-never-ending-transport-debate/?utm_source=The+Spinoff&utm_campaign=f92beda69c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_16&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e017e1d3e8-f92beda69c-525250457

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  April 17, 2018

      Nice rant. Pity about the facts. Should get out more.

  5. artcroft

     /  April 17, 2018

    Green policy is that we all live in the jungle and swing to work from vine to vine. Very carbon neutral.

  6. Zedd

     /  April 17, 2018

    This is definitley one Policy area, that ALL 3 Govt. parties do seem staunchly, in unison on !
    “Hey.. Good Idea Man !” 🙂

    • PDB

       /  April 17, 2018

      No doubt a very bad idea if all three of this govt agree upon it…

      • Zedd

         /  April 17, 2018

        oh ye of little faith….. :/

        • PDB

           /  April 17, 2018

          Only someone who has never been in Auckland traffic thinks light rail from the CBD to the airport will do anything at all for congestion (will actually make it worse for those areas where it passes through) or for travel times between those two points already greatly improved by the opening of the Waterview tunnel.

          • Zedd

             /  April 17, 2018

            more Tory nonsense from pdb 😀

            • PDB

               /  April 17, 2018

              Bloody whinging poms!

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 17, 2018

              Play nicely, boys, no name-calling :D.

              I was here when the Hamilton/Auckland thing was first tried. It was a failure.There just aren’t enough people to justify it !!!

            • Zedd

               /  April 17, 2018

              ho hum pantzi…
              name calling again

  7. David in aus

     /  April 17, 2018

    Living in Melbourne, i have reservations on Auckland building a light rail network from scratch. Sharing roads with light rail and cars are a bad mix, especially with car accidents and tram breakdowns causing the line to seize. Bad news for anyone needing to catch a flight. Melbourne is spending a fortune on removing rail crossings for heavy rail. To cross a train line in peak hour can take 30 minutes in melbourne, with limited crossing points on Dominion rd and frequent services, i can see that happening as well.
    A line through Dominion road to the city centre exacerbates the city centre focus.
    Ross Boswell, a former colleague of mine, wrote a cogent article in the herald, most commuters to the airport live in the South. I am afraid that the new infrastructure is something to show off to visitors and each other, rather than a practical solution.
    I would like a heavy line from puhunui to airport and then perhaps extent the manukau spur to botany sometime in the future . Have a second city centre approach, decongest the cbd.
    Unfortunately politicians of all stripes a prone to fund white elephants, its their nature, be it Games, train sets and stadia….. anything to say they have a legacy and talk about themselves.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 17, 2018

      The plural of stadium is stadii, pron. stah-dee-ee.I don’t know why people think that all Latin plurals are -a.

      I would say stadiums, anyway, as the word has become de facto an English one and has an English pronunciation. Giving it a Latin plural would mean knowing all the endings (nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, singular and plural) and using the correct one. There are five declensions, all different. One has to know which one any given word belongs to. The people who invented Latin grammar had far too much time on their hands.

      The word Mensa, a table is declined thus

      Mensa, mensa, mensam, mensae, mensa,mensa (the last two pron. differently to the first two)

      Mensae, mensae, mensa, mensarum, mensis, mensis.

      There are four more like this, every Latin noun has 12 endings and one has to memorise 60 of them.

      • Ah, Latin declensions; I remember them well. I became so befuddled by them that one day I asked the teacher what the Latin for television was.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 17, 2018

          Did they tell you that it’s derived from Greek and Latin words ?

      • 2Tru

         /  April 17, 2018

        It’s been a very long time since my schooldays learning Latin. However I am very confident that the plural of stadium is stadia. I have a faint memory that stadii is the genitive version of stadium, which I think is used as a descriptive option. Maybe the safest option is the commonly used stadiums, but I don’t like it.

        • Gezza

           /  April 17, 2018

          Stadiums is the best way to go because the Romans who spoke latin are long gone & once we anglos grab a foreign word we can pluralise it like an English word if we like. Best thing.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 17, 2018

          To the best of my knowledge, no noun ending in -um has -a as a plural.

          If you can’t take my word for it, look up stadium in a Latin dictionary.

      • david in aus

         /  April 17, 2018

        Kitty, you seem passionate about your Latin. I have enough issues with proofreading my grammar and the intricacies of Latin are beyond me.

        ‘Stadia’ sounds more pleasing to me than ‘stadiums’.

        Searching Google (or is it Googling):

        “Stadia is indeed the correct Latin plural of stadium. It is, however, far more common for English speakers to use stadiums. Latin plurals such as appendices, crises and fungi are still widely used in science and academia.
        Is it ‘stadia’ or ‘stadiums’? – Emphasis
        http://www.writing-skills.com/is-it-stadia-or-stadiums

        also

        http://grammarist.com/usage/stadiums-stadia/
        “Both stadia and stadiums are accepted plurals of stadium. Neither is right or wrong, but stadiums is far more common. This is the case throughout the English-speaking world, and it has been for several decades.”

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  April 17, 2018

          Latin has been around for more thatn several decades, and stadii has been correct for thousands of years, I have two Latin dictionaries, and both say (unsurprisingly) stadium, -i. In other words, stadii. Stadia is not Latin and never has been,

          • david in aus

             /  April 17, 2018

            The beauty of English is that it is a living language. Whether a term is correct or incorrect is dependent on common usage. As people have mentioned, the English language is replete with bastardised and borrowed words. Because a word was originally Latin does not mean its usage or spelling cannot change.

            I want to segue to the problem I have with Maori Language fanatics. The pronunciation of Maori-derived words in New Zealand should be based on commonly used forms. When speaking Maori, Maori have every right to be pedantic about pronunciation; but English with its many delightful dialects have many ways of saying words.

            The Maori-language police are more interested in using language as a political weapon to emphasise the pre-eminence of Maori in NZ society. Taika Waititi’s rant about NZ being racist because some NZers refuse to pronounce Maori in the prescribed way, in my opinion, is the height of cultural arrogance. There is racism in NZ but the use or misuse of Maori words in NZ English is not an example of it.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  April 18, 2018

              I don’t believe that many, if any, people REFUSE to use Maori words properly.

              With Latin, I think that one should either use plurals correctly rather than the cod-Latin -a for all which makes for non-existent Latin words or simply use the English -s.

  8. admiralvonspee

     /  April 17, 2018

    One is surprised the govt haven’t considered the effect autonomous vehicles will have on our urban/regional roads. If the purported improvements on traffic flow, congestion and safety are realised (along with the vehicles being electric) it seems like an almighty overlooked elephant in the room.

    • It is not hard to see the day when autonomous cars – due to this removal of stop-go waves, and computerised following and braking – will effectively be trains, with individual compartments like they used to have on British trains. They will be all-electric, need no special tracks, able to go anywhere, undoubtedly very cheap, and can be summoned to your door. What’s not to like?

      I think this obsession with trains shows a refusal/inability to face up to the future. Or has some Focus Group calculated that it will garner more votes?

      • Blazer

         /  April 17, 2018

        haven’t you seen the.Jetsons ..Sailor?

    • PartisanZ

       /  April 18, 2018

      “Dissipation of stop-and-go traffic waves” … only without any actual ‘stops’ … just slow-downs and speed-ups … going in a simple circle, without the idiosyncrasies of terrain, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycles – will they ever be autonomous? – and other motor car traffic, including ‘poverty’ cars still driven [and lived in] by human beings … This proves what …?

      The ‘obsession’ with autonomous vehicles is the only real elephant here …

      The “autonomous cars that are effectively trains” you describe thesailor, will also have to follow prescribed routes … just like trains on tracks that have only ONE engine for all those compartments …

      New autonomous vehicle … a bus!