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RLTP: Investment in the Rail Network

The announcement that AT is looking at Light Rail has understandably received a lot of attention – and will continue to for some time – however there is a lot of other fascinating information in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) that is worth covering. Like more discussion of Light Rail, I’m going to try and get this information out over a few posts starting with this one.

One area in the document that quickly caught my attention is on what works are planned/needed for the existing rail network to get it working properly prior to the CRL. Improvements are needed to increase the capacity, performance and resilience of the network. Perhaps most concerning is they say that there’s still a significant amount of track and underlying formation that has yet to be renewed by KiwiRail.

The performance of passenger rail services has improved over the past decade at the same time as service levels have increased significantly. Service punctuality (trains arriving within 5 minutes of schedule) has improved from just over 70% in 2005 to around 88% in the year to June 2014. Delays to trains caused by network infrastructure problems have dropped from an average of 1.4 minutes per train in 2005 to just over 0.4 minutes in 2014. However, further improvement in infrastructure performance will be needed if desired levels of reliability and performance are to be achieved by the opening of the CRL.

One factor in improving punctuality and reliability will be ensuring that rail infrastructure is in a fit for purpose condition. While there has been significant improvement in the condition of the Auckland network over the past decade through KiwiRail’s DART and AEP projects, including total replacement of the signalling system, there is still a significant extent of track and underlying formation which has not been renewed.

To get the network up to speed there are four programmes of work planned.

Network Performance Programme – to address existing network performance issues, including catch up renewals to address existing formation, drainage and track issues and replace sleepers.

Network Resilience Programme – to improve current network resilience to provide additional operational flexibility, ability to recover from delays and incidents, make maximum use of the existing network capacity and capability, and improve management of network maintenance and development.

Network Capacity Programme – to enable the operation of regular 10 minute peak EMU services and existing peak freight services following the completion of electrification, and to provide the base for the pattern and frequency of passenger services planned for introduction following the completion of the CRL.

Level Crossing Programme – to remove level crossings on the Auckland electrified rail network to reduce safety risk for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and rail users through closure or grade separation, including safety improvements at existing vehicle and pedestrian crossings.

This has set a few alarm bells off for me:

If there’s still a lot of backlogged maintenance yet to happen that means KiwiRail is likely to need a lot more network closures to get this work done. That could mean that we’re likely to continue to see parts of the rail network shut down during some long weekends and probably the Christmas/New Year period for this maintenance to occur. While AT and KiwiRail might try and minimise the impact but doing the work when the network is quietest, such shut downs will increasingly affect more and more people as patronage continues to grow.

The second concern is the suggestion that work is needed to enable 10 minute frequencies. These frequencies have already been delivered to the Southern and Eastern lines however we’ve been waiting for them for around 5 years after they were promised to happen when the New Lynn station was complete. Now admittedly this could just be me reading into the text wrong however later in the document AT say one of the benefits of the investment is to “Increase capacity to enable the operation of regular 10 minute peak passenger rail services and to cater for expected growth in both passenger and freight services“. In the meantime then until I see a Western Line timetable with 10 minute frequencies on it I will remain sceptical.  What is clear is that we need to get on with building the third main between Otahuhu and Papakura.

The third key concern is that to pay for what’s planned it relies on KiwlRail getting additional funding from the government. If that funding doesn’t happen then it could put the brakes on how well and how quickly the rail network develops and improves.

RLTP - Kiwirail funding

There does seem to be a few issues with this table due to there being nothing in the 2015/16 year and with the negative 2018/19 to 2024/24 column. This table from near the end of the document seems to be more accurate (click to enlarge)

RLTP - Rail Funding

In addition to the KiwiRail costs there are also Auckland Transport’s projects. The basic transport programme that has been proposed doesn’t include much in this regard with the only really notable point being the need to spend $8.1 million on refurbishing some of the old Diesel trains to service Pukekohe. I suspect that’s probably more than the trains are work these days.

RLTP - AT Rail CAPEX basic

This just really highlights that despite all the improvements in recent times that there’s still a lot of work to do even just to get our rail network up to a decent level of quality. Will the government provide the funding that KiwiRail need to get this work done?

How Light Rail could transform Queen St

I’ll be looking more into Auckland Transport’s announcement that it’s considering installing Light Rail down some of the central isthmus streets during the week. In the meantime the suggestion that trams could be back on Queen St reminded me of these images. They come from Cornelius Blank who created them in 2011 in the lead up to the City Centre Masterplan.

For me one of the most exciting possibilities from the idea is that Light Rail could finally be the catalyst to transform Queen St into a transit mall. One of the aspects of Queen St that people often forget is that between Mayoral Dr and the water there isn’t a single need for a car to be in Queen St. There’s not one entrance to a carpark or service lane or road that can’t be accessed by some other method. The only need for vehicle access is for emergency services and perhaps deliveries.

So instead of four lanes of traffic we could have two lanes for tracks – which could also used by emergency services and delivery vehicles in the early hours of the morning and the rest of the space taken up to expand the existing footpaths. One of the best things about this is that generally the centre of Queen St is filled with sun so I for one would love to be able to stroll up Queen St without being in constant shade.

Light Rail in Queen St 1 - Nilut

If you took out the Customs St sign most people probably wouldn’t realise they were looking at Auckland and would think this looks like quite a nice place to visit. Another idea could see some of the space used for decent cycle lanes

Further up Queen St this is how it could look outside the Civic where again the extra pedestrian space would be most welcome.

Light Rail in Queen St 3 - Nilut

And going further up Queen St north of Mayoral Dr how about this with a grassed corridor like seen in many other cities with trams.

Light Rail in Queen St 2 - Nilut

Some of these ideas seemed to flow through to the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) where some similar images cropped up.

Queen St

queen-st-tram

Fanshawe St

fanshawe-proposal

 

Quay Stnorthsouth-stitch

In fact the CCMP even includes this suggestion for a tram network.

pt-connections

The fact that council documents suggest light rail in the city centre makes Len Brown’s seeming unhappiness over AT looking at it all the more odd. On Friday while launching the LTP he was clearly not very warm to the idea – perhaps thinking it stole from some of his LTP limelight. He was quick to point out that people shouldn’t get their hopes up as it’s the politicians who will make the decisions and that this isn’t something on the council’s agenda. Perhaps he should be reminded of his own council’s plans.

Why the “Pohutukawa 6″ has got people so passionate

Patrick’s post last week on the Western Springs Pohutukawas has easily been our most read post of the year so far and highlighted what seems to be a deeply held sense of outrage over Auckland Transport’s plans to remove these trees. Many people, including ourselves to an extent, who normally wouldn’t feel so passionate about the loss of six trees (after all there are a whole heap more of them a bit further along Great North Road) are up in arms over the plans. While Auckland Transport continue to argue the removal is necessary, it feels like only a matter of time before they change their mind and try to find a compromise.

So what gives here? What is it about this particular issue that has struck a nerve so deeply?Part of the issue of course, is that the trees are pretty amazing:


However, I think as much of the angst has come about because of the way in which Auckland Transport has gone about this project and some of the broader issues with the project itself.

Looking first at process, a few months back Public Address carried a post by Jolisa Gracewood that outlined the absolute clusterf*ck that had come about through the consenting process – with most people who made submissions being very unfairly denied the right to have those submissions taken into account. Here’s an extract:

It has come to the commissioners attention from the hearing today that your submission has been lodged on the wrong process (there were two for this hearing – A resource consent and a notice of requirement) and the Commissioners will be unable to take it into account when making their decisions.  This is addressed in the Council’s report on the applications which was included in the agenda circulated before the hearing.

The Commissioners think it’s fair to advise each of the submitters concerned in advance of their attendance so they can elect whether to attend or not given that they will have to travel into the city and pay for parking etc.  They are happy to hear from you, however it is not legally possible to switch a submission from one of the processes to the other.

The commissioners will be happy to explain this more tomorrow if it doesn’t quite make sense as this effects a number of submitters, they just feel it’s fair to let you know before showing up.

This didn’t make sense to me, so I asked for more information. I was told that the mistake had been mentioned in the Hearing Agenda. Sure enough, there on page 921:

It is also noted that a number of submissions have been incorrectly lodged against resource consent application ref R/VCC/2013/4724/1 (which is the s127 variation to conditions of the regional consent for Stormwater Management – Quality, pursuant to Rule H.4.14.3.1 of the PAUP). All submissions should have been lodged referencing the Notice of Requirement for Alternation to Designation Plan Modification PA371. In any case, all submissions have been reviewed and reported on the project jointly.

In other words, a number of submissions had mistakenly used the reference number for a stormwater issue (specifically, how to handle the stormwater issues from the extra 762m2 of impervious area created if the trees are removed), instead of the reference number notifying intent to remove the trees. Moreover, “Resource Consent” was the wrong phrase, “Notice of Requirement” the correct one.

The post outlines how it was completely clear which application submitters were intending to comment on, yet nothing was changed to fix the matter and therefore most people were not able to have their opinions heard on the application. Really really dodgy.

The second issue is that the project itself is a dog. Even if there weren’t any trees being removed, what Auckland Transport is proposing to do here it terrible, dangerous and belongs a 1960s traffic engineering handbook, rather than a redesigned intersection of the 21st century. If you are walking between the St Lukes overbridge and MOTAT/Western Springs Park, you will potentially have not one, not two but three “beg buttons” you’ll have to push to get across:

st-lukes-3begbuttons

Obviously the intersection needs another pedestrian leg across Great North Road on its city side. Why haven’t we got that in the design? Who knows – more lazy engineering from Auckland Transport seems like the only plausible answer here.

Lazy engineering comes to mind when Auckland Transport start to describe why the trees can’t be saved. Back to the recent press release:

Auckland Transport would not have supported the application to remove six Pohutukawa trees from Great North Road, if there had been any other viable option, but all engineering experts agreed that there was not.

No other viable option? As Patrick pointed out in his post, what about sending the walking/cycling path behind the trees? Speaking of cycling, AT still continue the absolute lie that this is all about providing cycle lanes to the St Lukes Rd bridge. Perhaps I’m going blind because I can’t see a single cycle lane being added on Gt North Rd – because in my book a shared path doesn’t count. In fact why go to all the bother to removal the trees and not install best practice separated cycle lanes.

Carrying on, what about only having two citybound lanes on Great North Road instead of three (after all, only two lanes will ever feed into it at one time)? What about having only a single left-turn lane from Great North Road into St Lukes Road? Of course there would be trade-offs with all these options, but none of this analysis has been made public – aside from a few seconds in the PM peak hour at some point in the future that apparently will be saved by having a squillion lanes through here. AT should be confident enough in their analysis that they should release it all to the public tomorrow so we can see exactly what they’ve considered and why it’s been ruled out.

So I actually think it’s these wider issues which sit behind much of the passion over this issue. And frustration with Auckland Transport’s absolute shoddiness. Running a shoddy consenting process, undertaking a shoddy assessment of alternatives, proposing a shoddy outcome for pedestrians in a very busy pedestrian area.

It’s just shoddy, and that pisses us off.

Sunday reading 25 January 2015

Every week we read more than we can write about on the blog. To avoid letting good commentary and research fall by the wayside, we’re going to publish weekly excerpts from what we’ve been reading.

Bob Dey, “UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?“:

The theory put in place in 2013 was the 70:40 model – the council would aim to get 70% of new development inside the metropolitan limits as they were in 2010, plus areas rezoned since then, but would have the flexibility for up to 40% to be in greenfields outside the old limits. The council would set a 30-year goal for all urban development to be inside these fences, though plan changes & consents for external development would still be possible.

The hearing panel won’t have the economic analysis before it to justify doing away with the concept in its entirety, though there’s been plenty of time to do that job properly since the Productivity Commission had a shot in 2012 at analysing what it deemed a flawed concept.

Critics of the rigid boundary concept had thought the council’s own capacity for growth studies would provide answers, but that source of information has kept changing, been redefined, and information from the newest version is not only still on the way but won’t give the definitive answers showing how the existing boundary has affected costs.

This is the first entry in Dey’s coverage of the Unitary Plan hearings, which is well worth reading. Articles in the series (thus far):

Articles in the series:
UP1: The PAUP, the MUL, the RUB, the RPS & the LRP – the what-the?
UP2: Council tells panel the evidence backs compact city, and new urban boundary will work
UP3: Paper on preferred form an important backgrounder
UP4: Fairgray doesn’t fix on the far horizon, but says million new Aucklanders will fit in
UP5: Rule changes would shorten land supply and discourage new villages
UP6: McDermott argues for better ways than compact city to accommodate growth

Emily Badger, The American decline in driving actually began way earlier than you think, Washington Post:

I mentioned last week that car travel in America appears to have peaked backed in 2004. Since then, “vehicle miles traveled” per person in the U.S. have been falling or flat-lining, prompting a fascinating debate over whether we’re witnessing some fundamental shift in the American relationship to the car, or some economic blip instead.

Timothy J. Garceau, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Connecticut, and professors Carol Atkinson-Palombo and Norman Garrick offer a different way to think about the answer. In research they presented this week at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, they looked at travel data not at the national level, but by state instead.

Their results further challenge the argument that Americans have merely been driving less of late because of the bad economy: Washington state experienced “peak car travel” all the way back in 1992, and Nevada, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia all did before the new millennium. By this measure, peak car happened in D.C. in 1996.

Hamish Campbell, “Popular New Zealand Road Names“:

Rank Name Frequency Length (m)
1 Accessway 2414 220,876
2 Service Lane 492 54,500
3 Roadway 452 335,172
4 State Highway 1 125 2,168,214
5 George Street 74 38,105
6 Queen Street 69 50,181
7 Beach Road 69 103,280
8 High Street 68 68,671
9 King Street 66 42,302
10 Station Road 66 80,138

Anna Maria Barry-Jester, “Why the rules of the road aren’t enough to keep people from dying“, Fivethirtyeight:

“The engineer will usually calculate the load a beam must bear and then design it to hold some percentage of higher load, for safety. When building roads, the 85th percentile calculates the speed the engineers hope or intend people will travel, but then it’s used to design a road to meet that speed at a minimum, with a factor of safety allowing for faster travel,” he told me.

In other words, by adding additional “safety” to the road, it is designed to make people comfortable going faster than the engineers’ intended speed. This is known as the interpreted design speed (the speed people actually feel safe traveling), which is often significantly higher than the intended design speed. Think of a subdivision with wide, flat roads. The speed limit may be 25 mph, but you feel utterly comfortable doing 40.

Anne Gibson, “Housing warning: It’s an Ireland repeat“, NZ Herald:

Precisely the same factors that plunged Ireland into its housing crisis last decade are now in play in New Zealand and could spark a big correction, says a leading Auckland fund manager.

Milford Asset Management executive director Brian Gaynor said house prices might come down “10, 15, 20 or even 25 per cent” and he cited the former Celtic Tiger as a warning.

Westpac’s chief economist, Dominick Stephens, shares Gaynor’s concerns, and said the outlook was for a possible 5 per cent adjustment by 2018.

“Our forecast has been for declines of 2 per cent per annum in 2017 and 3 per cent in 2018, so 5 per cent overall,” Stephens said.

“But there’s a wide range of possibilities and a sharper decline is certainly a possibility.”

Ireland’s house prices stabilised in 2007, then started falling until the second quarter of 2010, by which time they had dropped 35 per cent.

Andrew Price, “The Negative Consequences of Car Dependency“, StrongTowns:

I’ve lived in both cities (taking transit and walking everywhere) and suburbs (working in a suburban office campus and driving everywhere.) When I lived in the city, I used to have random encounters with strangers, often daily. These were usually nothing more than simple interruptions. The elderly lady that asks for help at the train station. Overhearing the couple’s conversation behind me on a bus. The homeless man asking for my spare change. These people were rich and poor, old and young. Even though the idea of being forced to interact with strangers sounds undesirable, there’s something very human about feeling that you are part of a living world. I was never the most sociable child, so these random encounters played an important part in developing my social skills and feeling comfortable around strangers.

Living in the suburbs, I have eliminated most of these random encounters.

Jason Burgess, “Mighty Mouse“, Renovate Magazine:

Being domiciled in a space the size of a hotel room might not be everybody’s idea of living, yet with property prices soaring, traffic jams stalling and downtime getting shorter, there are some compelling reasons why astute buyers seeking the convenience of an urban lifestyle are now looking to apodments as their choice of future living.

Think about it – a bigger life does not necessarily mean a bigger house. Technology coupled with transformable furniture makes it possible to trick out a modest sized pad with all the bells and whistles of a manse thrice the size, for a fraction of the price.

mighty mouse apartment

Auckland’s 175th Birthday

This weekend is Auckland’s 175th birthday and there’s a lot on (click image for a larger version)

Auckland Anniversary Weekend

As you can see Lower Queen St outside Britomart has been closed and it appears that already people are flocking to use it.

Making this permanent is the longer term plan for the area after the CRL is finished so it’s great to see it effectively trialled. Also why can’t we close roads like Queen St and put out chairs and beanbags more often. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to do every weekend.

Lower Queen St

Last Chance to submit on Skypath

If you haven’t already, you’re running out of time to put a submission in for Skypath with submissions closing today.

Skypath Consent - From Westhaven

If you want the full details of the proposal you can find all of the details here.

Submitting is really important as some of the locals (but not all) on either side of the bridge are opposed to the project as highlighted in this piece from One News a few days ago.

Skypath One News

You may recall our friends at Generation Zero created an easy submission form to fill in.  Fantastically yesterday they were able to announce that over 10,000 people had filled it in showing their support for the project. That’s a massive response and more than the council received of the Unitary Plan last year.

If you still want to make a submission this is the quickest and easiest way. They’ve also put  together this info.

5 Reasons Why You Should Submit

 

1. The Skypath will provide much needed transport choices by providing a long overdue walking and cycling link between the North Shore and the City.

Choice.jpg

2. The Skypath will be a great way to encourage cycling. It will connect the two sides of the harbour allowing people to commute or for a Sunday ride.

 Skypath_Encourage_Cycling.jpg

3. It will be easily accessible with great work done by the Skypath Trust to accommodate all stakeholders.

Skypath_Easily_Accessable.jpg

4. The best thing about it though is that it’ll be amazing iconic attraction for Auckland.

Iconic_Attraction.jpg

5. There’s one thing we think that should be changed and that’s it’s opening hours. We think it should be open till midnight rather than closing at 10PM. If you support this make sure to tick the box to add it to your submission.

Skypath_Sensible_Hours.jpg

Please also share the submission form with friends, the link is http://www.generationzero.org/skypath+

Update: Generation Zero say that around 11,500 used their submission form and the council have said they received over 4000 directly meaning probably close to 16,000 submissions for this fantastic project.

Light rail to fill the void

Trams – well modern light rail – could be making a comeback to Auckland after an absence of 60 years if Auckland Transport get their way. That’s the major surprise hidden in the draft Regional Land Transport Plan that has been released today. The RLTP is the document that outlines at a high level the what AT and other transport agencies such as the NZTA and Kiwirail plan to do over the next decade and with specific detail about the next three years.

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland

Is Modern Light Rail coming to Auckland? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

Immediately there are a number of important questions many will be asking such as why Light Rail, why now and what about the City Rail Link. AT say everything stems back to the City Centre Future Access Study (CCFAS). The CCFAS was a response to the government questioning whether the CRL was the best way of solving access problems to the city centre. It found that the CRL plus a combination of street improvements to cope with buses would be needed.

In the outer parts of the region buses will feed into one of the planned Rapid Transit lines (Rail or busways) – and the CRL was key to making the RTN work – however crucially there is what AT call a large void in the central isthmus not covered by the RTN network. In that void are some of the busiest and most heavily used bus routes in the city – which is unsurprising as the suburbs were initially designed and built to support PT.

RTN Void

The central isthmus void in the RTN

 

It turns out that even with the CRL the sheer number of buses that will need to come from this area will overwhelm city streets. The image below from the last Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing study shows projected bus volumes in 2041 even with the CRL.

 

2041-buses-withcbdrl

And this is the outcome of too many buses on city streets, a veritable solid wall dividing the street.

Bus Congestion

So far from being in competition with the CRL AT are looking at light rail to complement it as a way of addressing bus congestion from areas the CRL can’t touch. It also allows AT to put a higher quality service to areas the rail network is close to but doesn’t pass through such as the Universities and Wynyard Quarter.

The future solution must provide additional capacity, without degrading the quality of the City centre or surrounding neighbourhoods. AT is evaluating a number of options to address this including double-deckers, bus lane expansion and bus interchanges. While many of these bus improvements still need to happen, they will not provide sufficient capacity to move the increase in Aucklanders wishing to travel into the city centre.

Following assessment of options, a light rail network serving the central isthmus has been identified, as the best option to overcome these issues. Similar issues and constraints in successful cities such as Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast have reached the same conclusion; that light rail has the ability to provide the necessary public transport capacity and support the city’s intended development. Recent projects in Australasia mean significant recent experience can be drawn on for analysis.

Modern light rail solutions avoid the visual pollution of overhead lines and generate significantly less carbon emissions than the equivalent movement of passengers by bus. Figure 19 below illustrates how different modes have different capacities and travel speeds.

Mode Capacity

The bus numbers are a bit lower than I suspected however this might be due to AT comparing bus priority on the isthmus streets they’re talking about. In effect one modern Light Rail vehicle every 1-2 minutes will hold more people than a double decker bus every 30 seconds.

So which streets are they considering installing light rail, they say that after investigation the most appropriate are

  • Queen Street
  • Symonds Street
  • Dominion Road
  • Sandringham Road
  • Manukau Road
  • Mount Eden Road

There is no maps to show just what routes they would take so I’ve taken a guess based on the streets and key locations near them (hence the extension of Sandringham Rd Along Stoddard Rd).

Draft RLTP LRT Routes

AT say the development of such a network would also open up the opportunity for light rail to the airport, on the North Shore or to other locations which I suspect could mean to the North West or out East.

Of course the biggest question of all is the cost which AT haven’t given any details on but say is potentially significant. They say they are currently evaluating funding options including looking at private sector investment i.e. PPPs. They also note that while the capital cost is high that the operational costs are lower than the equivalent bus fleet and the benefits of the initial investment extend over generations.

Completely coincidentally I wrote a post just a few days ago looking at what it might cost to restore the old tram network. This obviously isn’t the entire old tram network but at ~29km it is a decent chunk of it. There seems to be a wide range in costs from around $6 million per km of single track in Wynyard Quarter up to over $100 million per km (double track) in some Australian cities and averaging around $30 million per km in US cities. As we would be putting any light down existing roads that used to have trams I would expect costs to on the lower end of the scale so including vehicles to run on it we may be talking around $1 billion. That’s a hell of a lot of money that could be spent on a lot of transport projects however the benefits to the city centre, the central isthmus and the city as a whole are also likely to be significant making it an exciting prospect.

We’ve only seen some basic details and much much more information is needed but until then I’m cautiously supportive.

Light Rail in Melbourne 2

Could this be gliding down Dominion Rd in the near future? Photo by Oh.Yes.Melbourne

Photo of the Day – Shared Space instructions

From reader Isabella Cawthorn in Wellington, some instructions on using shared spaces.

We need more choice in transport markets

Via economist Donal Curtin, I ran across the draft report that the Australian Competition Policy Review issued last September. It’s a long and fairly technical document, but the introduction made some good points in accessible language:

Competition policy sits well with the values Australians express in their everyday interactions. We expect markets to be fair and we want prices to be as low as they can reasonably be. We also value choice and responsiveness in market transactions — we want markets to offer us variety and novel, innovative products as well as quality, service and reliability.

These are generally sound principles, and I think it’s worth considering how they might apply to transport policy. The first and most important observation is that New Zealand suffers from a serious dearth of choice in urban transport markets. Unlike most other developed countries, we have failed to invest in high-quality public transport, walking, and cycling alternatives.

This is what lack of choice looks like.

This is what lack of choice looks like in the US, another prominent exception.

In fact, it’s even worse than that: transport policy has actively sought to reduce or block choice and competition in urban transport markets. Late last year, I discussed how Auckland ended up with a motorway network rather than a regional rail network in the 1950s: politicians and planners misrepresented the costs and benefits of the scheme in order to scupper the alternatives. The same story has been repeated, with variations, over and over since then.

But surely more lanes will fix it?

Building more lanes will not give us more choice.

Things are changing – but too slowly. For example, changes to public transport policy and agency mindset are starting to deliver more useful bus networks. In Auckland, extensions of the rapid transit network – Britomart, the Onehunga Line, and the Northern Busway – have been highly successful. It is important to build on these successes, as they are integral to having real transport choices.

These people now have a choice.

These people now have a choice.

The Australian Competition Policy Review carries on:

Access and choice are particularly relevant to vulnerable Australians or those on low incomes, whose day-to-day existence can mean regular interactions with government. They too should enjoy the benefits of choice, where this can reasonably be exercised, and service providers that respond to their needs and preferences. These aspects of competition can be sought even in ‘markets’ where no private sector supplier is present.

This is especially true of transport. Low-income families have the most to gain from better transport choices, as they are in the worst position to afford the costs of owning and operating a car. As I found when looking at the costs of commuting by car and public transport, households could save thousands of dollars a year by cutting back on car ownership and riding the bus to work. (Findings reinforced by a recent study of commuter costs in Australian and NZ cities.)

Cycling is free! (Source)

Cycling is free! (Source)

At the moment, low-income households in Auckland and other large NZ cities disproportionately live in far-flung suburbs with limited transport choices (as I found when writing a research paper on housing and transport costs). Auckland’s New Network will improve service in many historically under-served areas of the city, but this is only a small step. As Luke showed when he looked at walking and cycling in Manukau, post-war suburbs are still pretty grim for everything but cars.

At this point, New Zealand’s transport policies should be oriented around giving people more and better transport choices. If we want transport to raise our quality of life, the best way to do it is to build our “missing modes”. More lanes on the same motorway will not cut it.

What choices would you like to make when travelling?

Governments New RMA reforms

The government have said that reforming the Resource Management Act (RMA) is one of their top priorities and yesterday the Environment Minister Nick Smith outlined 10 major changes it was planning. This comes after they failed to make controversial changes to the RMA during the previous term but failed after losing the support of some of minor supporting parties. The major changes planned are

  • Add natural hazards
  • Recognise urban planning
  • Prioritise housing affordability
  • Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
  • Greater weight to property rights
  • National planning templates
  • Speed up plan-making
  • Encouraging collaborative resolution
  • Strengthening national tools
  • Internet for simplicity and speed

While we don’t have any real details on what’s planned some of these – such as making greater use of the Internet – are simply plain sense.  Of the other ones a few particularity stand out.

Add natural hazards
Presumably this means giving more weight to projects that provide resilience against natural hazards. If true it could be about further making it easier to build projects such as large duplicate roads such as Transmission Gully where the government can use the threat of an earthquake in Wellington as an excuse to build it.

Recognise urban planning
I’m not quite sure what this could mean but hopefully it means there will be greater emphasis on how our planning affects our urban environment.

Prioritise housing affordability
This will be covered further on in the post.

Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
All the talk in the press release relates to the impact of housing however the RMA also covers a lot of non housing development including roads. Again could this be about making it easier for infrastructure to be built and/or making it cheaper for developers to tap into existing infrastructure.

Greater weight to property rights
One of the big issues we had with the Unitary Plan debate was that those advocating for more restrictions (e.g. height, density, carparking etc.) or for developments to happen anywhere but near their backyard are effectively restricting the property rights of others. Addressing some of the NIMBYism we saw could be a very useful change but would the government go that far?

Despite the lack of public detail, Len Brown has been quick to praise the government over the suggestions for change.

Mayor welcomes ‘pragmatic’ proposals to reform RMA

Mayor Len Brown has welcomed a review of the Resource Management Act announced today by Environment Minister Nick Smith.

“From Auckland Council’s perspective, there is considerable scope to improve the RMA, in particular streamlining the complex processes councils are required to work within, reducing duplication and providing more affordable housing,” Len Brown said.

“I particularly welcome recognition of the needs of cities and urban areas, including housing and infrastructure, which the current legislation doesn’t cover well.

“Auckland Council is working closely with the government and we have had significant input into this discussion. We welcome the government’s desire to seek broad support for any legislative changes.”

To go along with the government announcement they also released a report from Motu that had been commissioned by Treasury looking at impacts of various planning rules and regulations have on the cost of developments. The paper is based on the responses from developers on many of the regulations we’ve long thought are stupid or counterproductive such as density limits, height limits, room sizes, balcony requirements etc. If accurate some of the costs impacts are quite staggering with balcony requirements – something Stu touched on recently – being one of the worst.

I’ll go the report in more detail in the future however the cost impacts are shown below. Importantly the authors say that while they have attempted to look at the costs, that the benefits of any of the regulations isn’t something that they’ve considered. As such some of the items on the list will likely still need to happen.

Motu - Impacts of planning rules

While not all we would want to change, taken at face value it suggests that the regulations can add almost $200k to the cost of an apartment and around $150k to the cost of a standalone dwelling.

We’ll obviously have to wait to see just what the government proposes to see if they’re good or not but they certainly seem to have opened up a lot areas for discussion.