Auckland Transport may have used exaggerated figures to receive taxpayer dollars for four cycleways in the city, says an internal AT report.
“The cycle demand was overestimated in all the four business cases” for the Quay St, Nelson St, Grafton Gully and Beach Rd cycleways, says an AT report, obtained by the Herald.
The City Centre Cycle Network: Post Implementation Review report looked at the number of cyclist figures used in the business cases to receive funding from the Government’s Urban Cycleways Programme against the actual performance.
The reality is that we are developing a whole-of-city network
Two projects – Nelson St and Grafton Gully – went over budget, performed worse than expected and may not have been economically viable, said the report.
The business case for Nelson St predicted 986 cyclists would use the cycleway daily, but in January last year the count was 333 when the report was written. The latest figures from AT at the end of September this year show 448 cyclists a day using the cycleway.
The divergence between the forecast and actual figures for Grafton Gully were also significant, said the report. The business case forecast 975 cyclists and the January 2017 count was 292.
In the case of Nelson St, the AT report said a 647 figure for cycle trips on Nelson St pre-cycleway came from an “unknown report” and the consultants doing the business case, Beca, “commented the estimate was very high, but ultimately stuck with this estimate”.
A Beca spokeswoman said the 647 figure was provided to Beca to enter into the economic analysis, saying “the use was agreed with our client, Auckland Transport”. She did not say who provided the figure.
The Quay St and Beach Rd cycleways did not have such a big difference between forecast and actual numbers, and Quay St now has more cyclists than forecast in the business case.
The report said possible reasons for the differences included exaggerated data to improve the business cases to give a favourable cost-benefit analysis, inappropriate forecast methodology, cycleways not being up to standard and people not being aware of the facilities.
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Cycling demand was not living up to expectations, said the report, but noted the CBD cycle network was still to be completed.
AT walking, cycling and road 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 for the 2018-2021 cycling programme.
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,” said King.
Latest figures show 281,000 cycle movements were recorded in September 2018, an increase of 15.5 per cent when compared to September 2017.
When it comes to the 2018-2021 cycling programme, analysis will need to consider both actual and modelled results and explain any differences, she said.
The New Zealand Transport Agency, which approves taxpayer funding toward council cycleways, said it had not seen the AT report and cannot comment on it.
It provided the Herald with a review of the Urban Cycleways Programme completed in September this year.
“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,” a spokesman said.
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.
The review said the cost of cycling projects went over budget by 15 per cent on average, saying Auckland’s Lightpath and Nelson St cycleway project shot 71 per cent over budget, from $9.76 million to $16.67m.
Business Case forecast: 1060
Count January 2017: 689
Count September 2018: 1111
Business Case forecast: 986
Count January 2017: 333
Count September 2018: 448
Business Case forecast: 975
Count January 2017: 292
Count September 2018: 375
Business Case forecast: 443
Count January 2017: 265
Count September 2018: 318
– The business case and January counts were part of the AT report. The latest counts were provided by AT to the Herald.