My Thoughts on the Royal Commission’s Report

I’m slowly getting through reading the entire report by the Royal Commission on Auckland’s local government, and I have also read quite a few articles giving differing opinions (and a few nice summaries of the important bits) on the Report as well. So I’m starting to get a reasonably well-informed opinion on what it means for Auckland’s local government future, and whether or not it’s a step in the right direction.

As I said the other day, I think overall the changes are good. Auckland needs to be unified and that is what’s largely proposed. The functions of the existing District Councils will be legally shifted to the new Auckland Council, along with the functions of the ARC. There will be six local councils, but their functions will only be what the Auckland Council decides they can do. This is most likely to be focusing on local roads, parks, rubbish collection, footpath upgrades and the like. Planning will be centralised, most major decision will be centralised – with the local councils being basically more powerful community boards. I’m a bit mixed on this, as I think we’d be better off with a few more local councils or with community boards being retained in some form or another. The effectiveness of community boards seems to vary throughout Auckland, and in many cases they have so little power that they are fairly meaningless – but they are the most local form of local government. It would seem that the proposal does “take the local out of local government” to some extent. Maybe that will be something the government messes around with – perhaps deciding on more councils (11 was another proposal) or perhaps insisting that community boards are retained to some extent. I wouldn’t put too much faith in the government sorting it out though – as they generally do the opposite to anything I would think is a good idea.

So what’s good here? The best outcome of the Report is that it has recommended significant change. We could have had a really half-arsed outcome which said “things should stay the same, but everyone should work together more”. This would have been a tragedy, and I’m glad that hasn’t happened. Instead, we are going to (hopefully, if the government agrees) end up with significant change to Auckland and the biggest outcome of it is that we are going to have a Super City. There will be only one REAL Auckland Council, and that’s a good thing. There will be one District Plan, one rates bill, one transport organisation (more on that soon) and one voice for Auckland’s issues. That is the biggest gain, and will do a lot of good things for Auckland in the long-run I believe. The Report also gives special status to the central city and waterfront area – which will hopefully allow for significantly better regional planning for Auckland’s CBD. We might even have a bit more power to kick Ports of Auckland off the precious waterfront wharfs that are used as used-car storage at the moment. Another thing that’s good is that the local council boundaries are split between urban councils and rural councils. This creates a much more fixed division between urban and rural areas, and will be a significant step in minimising future urban sprawl. While the Metropolitan Urban Limits (MUL) have achieved this outcome fairly well over the past decade, they have been under pretty much constant attack from developers and from many councils – so it’ll be good for that rural/urban divide to be set in concrete by a little more than one map in the Regional Policy Statement.

Now, for transport. I have plucked out the transport chapter of the Report so that it’s a bit easier for people to find if they want to read it. I do need to probably read over it a little more, but effectively the big change here is that we get a new Regional Transport Agency (known as the RTA I guess). This agency takes over the roles of ARTA – but also has many more jobs than before, having equal status with NZTA about state highway development in Auckland and also having many responsbilities that are currently undertaken by city and district councils – like maintenance and improvements to arterial roads, the provision of bus lanes and bus stops, setting policies regarding levels of off-street parking provision and so on. In short, this is fantastic news. One of the biggest reasons Auckland’s transport is so problematic is because there are just too many agencies involved, often with incompatible agendas and differing priorities. All this kind of stuff leads to stupid situations where Manukau City looks after its rail corridors well but Auckland City ignores their; or how you have bus lanes in Auckland City, transit lanes in North Shore City but basically nothing in Manukau City. Having all of this stuff under the control of one agency, and as a bonus having that agency somewhat separated from the day-to-day politics of councils, will be brilliant.

Of course, nothing is set in concrete yet about what’s going to happen. As a few people have mentioned, the government doesn’t seem particularly happy about what’s in the Report and may not decide to implement all of its recommendations (or indeed any of them if it so pleases). It’s likely that Central Government might also be rather worried about Auckland having such a strong council – potentially undermining Wellington’s authority. Well apparently we will have a “government’s response” within the next week or two so that will be interesting to look out for.

RMA Amendment Bill Submission

Here’s my submission on the RMA Amendment Bill. Might be a chance to speak at a select committee too!

I make this submission in general opposition to the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill. There are some aspects of the bill that I support, but in general I oppose it on the grounds that it will lead to significant adverse effects on the environment and reduce the opportunity for the public to be involved in protecting the environment. It is my opinion that many of the changes to the RMA proposed in this bill will contradict the purpose of the Act, to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

I make this submission as a concerned individual who has a working knowledge of how the RMA operates. It is my opinion that the RMA is an excellent piece of legislation, and already has (with a few minor tweaks) the flexibility to meet the improved efficiency outcomes the Bill hopes to achieve. I consider many of the ‘problems’ associated with the RMA actually occur because the Act is poorly understood and because the quality of District Plans varies so greatly across the country. In short, it is my opinion that this amendment bill uses a sledgehammer to fix problems when far more delicate changes would suffice.

Parts of the Amendment Bill I support:

As I stated in the introduction, there are aspects of the amendment bill that I support.

1.       I support the proposed amendments to reduce the incidence of appeals backed or motivated by trade competition. The long saga involving the opening of the Pak N Save supermarket in Wairau Road has clearly highlighted that change is necessary to avoid such situations happening in the future. Therefore, I support clause 77 of the amendment bill.

2.       I support the increasing of penalties for offences proposed in clause 141. There may be some cases where more is to be gained financially by not following the conditions of a resource consent than would be lost through the financial penalty. This is an unacceptable situation, and I support any measures taken to ensure such situations do not occur.

3.       I support the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency. Some standardisation of planning issues across the country is likely to be beneficial, and it is my hope that this agency results in greater environmental protection for the country, rather than allowing less protection.

Parts of the Amendment Bill I oppose:

There are a number of parts of the Amendment Bill that I oppose. In particular, I most strongly oppose clause 151, which would remove the ability for councils to have general tree protection rules.

The specific parts of the Amendment Bill I oppose, the reasons for my opposition and any suggested modifications I have, are detailed below:

1.       Requirement for Security for Costs – clause 133

Clause 133 repeals Section 284A of the RMA. This has the effect of allowing the Environment Court to require a party to give security for costs.

I oppose this change on the basis that it will lead to appellants being forced to provide many thousands of dollars in security “up front” if they are to appeal a decision to the Environment Court. This will inevitably lead to situations where only the rich can afford to appeal a decision to the Environment Court – therefore creating a high level of inequity with regards to the ability of less well off people and/or community groups to have their say in the resource management process.

The justification for this amendment is that it will lead to fewer frivolous and/or vexatious appeals to the Environment Court. In my opinion, the amendments proposed are unnecessary, as the Court already has the power (under Section 279(4)) to strike out frivolous and vexatious appeals. 33 cases were struck out between 2006 and 2008 on these grounds, which indicate that the current provisions are working adequately.

I consider the current law, as well as an increase to the filing fee of an Environment Court appeal will suffice in minimising frivolous and vexatious appeals. The proposed change will create a situation where the ability to appeal a decision is highly inequitable, and based on the appellant’s ability to raise a significant amount of money for security, rather than on the strength of their case.

I submit that Clause 133 of the Amendment Bill be deleted.

2.       Restrictions on Appealing Plans – clauses 132 & 136

Clauses 132 and 136 restrict the right to appeal a Council Plan to only points of law. Appeals on broader grounds can only be taken with the leave of the Environment Court.

I oppose this change on the basis that it will unfairly restrict the ability of people to appeal Council Plans. Plans form the foundation of the resource consenting process, and therefore it is critical for them to be of the highest possible quality. Plans also have a long shelf-life, of ten years at the moment and potentially longer in the future due to the changes proposed by Clause 56 of the Amendment Bill. Because of this long shelf-life it is critical that a Plan adequately responds to the needs of its community, and that the community has a significant role to play in the creation of that Plan. By restricting public participation in the formation of a Plan, the inevitable outcome in my opinion will be a reduction in the quality of Plans.

Furthermore, requiring appellants to seek leave of the Environment Court may clog the court system and slow down the Council planning process. Therefore, the proposed amendments may in fact be counter-productive by both decreasing the quality of Plans and also slowing down the planning process.

I submit that Clauses 132 and 136 be deleted to the extent that appeals against Council Plans on broader grounds than points of law can be made without the leave of the Environment Court.

3.       Removal of Non-Complying Category –  clauses 147 & 152

Clauses 147 and 152 will lead to the removing on the ‘non-complying’ activity status in the RMA. After three years all non-complying activities will revert to being discretionary.

I agree that many activities that are currently classified as non-complying, such as the provision of offices within the residential zones of Auckland City, should undoubtedly be classified as something else (either restricted discretionary or discretionary). However, the isolated cases of such wrongly attributed activity statuses should not lead to the complete removal of the non-complying status altogether.

Through section 104D, known as the ‘gateway test’, non-complying activities are subjected to an additional level of scrutiny – ensuring that they are either not inconsistent with the objectives and policies of the District Plan or that they have no more than minor adverse environmental effects. This gateway test provides an appropriate extra level of assessment, which ensures that an activity with significant adverse effect and which is contrary to the objectives and policies of the District Plan cannot be granted consent. Arguably, the gateway test allows the processing of an unacceptable application to be curtailed, thereby increasing the efficiency of the planning process.

Without the non-complying activity status, it is arguable that the relevance and importance of objectives and policies is severely reduced. Activities that are clearly envisaged as “probably unacceptable” will also be lumped together with existing discretionary activities that are “probably acceptable” – creating confusion for the general public and for applicants about what council expects and does not expect.

I submit that clauses 147 and 152 be deleted from the amendment bill, so that non-complying activities are retained.

4.       Removal of the ability for a Public Interest Group to join an appeal – clause 131

Clause 131 amends Section 274 of the RMA so that community or interest groups can no longer join the appeals process.

In my opinion this amendment would result in the loss of important input into the decision making process of the Environment Court. Community/interest groups often do not have the resources to submit on every proposal, or may only hear of a proposal once it has reached the environment court. In many cases, such groups have valuable knowledge that could be added, and it would be a loss for this to not be possible.

I understand that the Environment Court is not an appropriate location for an entire resource consent process to ‘begin again’ if a large number of interest groups join an appeal. However, I consider that existing rules and procedures ensure that the scope of an appeal is not unnecessarily broadened through the inclusion of such additional parties.

The status of an organisation such as the New Zealand Historic Places Trust is uncertain under the proposed amendment. The NZHPT is the primary national advocate for the protection and preservation of historic heritage – so therefore should certainly be allowed to join Environment Court appeals through section 274 of the RMA. If this clause is to be retained, then it should be modified to ensure that the NZHPT is able to join an appeal.

I submit that clause 131 be deleted from the amendment bill. If the clause is not deleted, then I submit that it be modified to ensure that the New Zealand Historic Places Trust is able to join appeals through section 274 of the RMA.

5.       Removal of General Tree Protection Rules – clause 151

Clause 151 revokes all existing general tree protection rules in District Plans, and bans councils from proposing such rules in the future.

Of all the changes proposed in the Amendment Bill, I oppose clause 151 the strongest. This opposition is based on my opinion that the clause will result in widespread environmental destruction, that it strongly infringes upon the rights of council to protect the environment, that it will result in councils having to undertake an enormous amount of work to individually schedule each tree they wish to protect and that it is clearly in contradiction with the purpose and principles of the RMA.

General tree protection rules are generally applied in urban areas to ensure that the environmental, amenity and community benefits of large and mature trees can be retained without having to undertake an enormous amount of work to individually schedule each tree under a council’s jurisdiction to protect it. Blanket protection is also applied to historic housing, most notably in Auckland City’s Residential 1 zone – where each house within that zone that was constructed before 1940 requires a resource consent if it is to be demolished or significantly modified. Clearly, there is an acceptance in the community of blanket controls.

The number of tree consents applied for across the cities and districts of New Zealand clearly indicate that there is a significant tension between allowing the removal of trees for a variety of reasons, and retaining them for their environmental, amenity and community benefits. All urban councils within the Auckland area have general tree protection rules, indicating that it is widely accepted that protecting trees through this mechanism is effective and efficient. The tension between removing and retaining large and mature trees is a fundamental planning issue – comparing the private benefits of removal with the public benefit of retention, and therefore the resource consent process is an appropriate way in which the tension can be resolved. If councils are unable to create general tree protection rules, then the balance between private benefit and public good will be completely lost – with the clear outcome of many large and mature trees being lost throughout the country’s urban areas. This result would be a disastrous environmental outcome, the exact outcome the RMA is designed to prevent, or at least require a resource consenting process to be undertaken before such a situation can happen.

Councils are required, by the Local Government Act, to promote the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of the area they have jurisdiction over. Clearly, many councils have decided – through the District Plan process with significant public input – that general tree protection rules are a significant way in which they can achieve their environmental objectives. To my knowledge, there are very few situations where the RMA specifically forbids council from enacting a particular rule in their Plans and to do so over an issue as fundamental as tree protection seems completely nonsensical and at odds with the purpose of the RMA.

If councils are to continue to protect mature trees within their jurisdiction, then the proposed amendment will mean that they will have to schedule such trees. Whilst a significant number of trees are already scheduled in District Plans, the vast majority of generally protected trees are not. The additional work required by councils to schedule important trees will be immense, and certainly contradicts the overall goal of the amendment bill to streamline and simplify the planning process.

The purpose and principles of the RMA are outlined in Part 2 of the Act. Section 5 of the Act outlines the purpose of the Act, to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources. Clearly, large and mature trees are a natural resource – so therefore the Act is required to provide for their sustainable management. In my opinion, it is blatantly clear that clause 151 completely contradicts this requirement, as without general protection, large and mature trees are very unlikely to be ‘sustainably managed’. Section 6 of the Act outlines matters of national importance – which District Plans are required to give effect to. Section 6(b) and 6(c) are both related to the protection of trees, and are undermined by the proposed amendment. Section 7 details other matters of importance that should be taken into account: and of particular note are: (c) – the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values; (d) – the intrinsic values of ecosystems; (f) – maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment; and (g) – any finite characteristics of natural and physical resources. All these “other matters” will be significantly compromised by the proposed amendments.

I understand that there are some problems relating to existing general tree protection rules. For a start, they can discourage landowners from planting large trees in the first place – as they do not want to restrict future redevelopment options. Situations where landowners decide to remove a tree just before it reaches the required height for protection are also potentially common, creating another unforeseen consequence where fairly large trees are removed due to the very rules that are meant to protect them. Finally, there are valid concerns that some councils have overly restricted assessment criteria that decide whether a tree should be retained or removed. This issue was highlighted in the recent Woolley Trust v Auckland City Council case, with the conclusion that council’s tree protection rules were inadequately drafted. However, these problems are not sufficient for such rules to be completely revoked by the RMA.

Clearly, there must be a better way for the above issues to be resolved that does not result in the widespread destruction of large and mature trees in New Zealand’s towns and cities. A possible alternative may involve a sped-up consenting process for tree consents with standard assessment criteria across the country that takes into account not only the health of the tree in question, but also the wider requirements of Section 5 of the RMA. Allowing general tree protection rules to be revoked will result in environmental destruction on a widespread scale, and would completely contradict the purpose of the RMA.

 

Conclusions:

In my opinion there are a number of aspects to the proposed Amendment Bill that need to be removed or modified. I have attempted to be as balanced as possible in my opinion towards this bill, and have supported aspects of it that I believe will be of benefit. However, there are certain parts of the bill that I consider will have significantly adverse effects – both on the environment and on the ability of the public to participate in the resource management process.

 It is easy to criticise the RMA as being a ‘handbrake’ on development, yet at the same time it is easy to notice the environmental damage that is happening throughout the country – seemingly unchecked by the very piece of legislation that is supposed to stop this from happening. Resource management planning is about balancing the private benefit of development with the public good, in particular the environment. It is my opinion that the proposed changes to the RMA go too far in advancing private benefits and will result in a significant loss of public good, through damage to the environment. This is particularly the case with regard to the proposed changes to general tree protection rules.

A Good Day

Today is a very good day for Auckland. Firstly, it’s Leila’s birthday – happy birthday!

Secondly, the Royal Commission has recommended a single city for Auckland’s local government future. It has also recommended some excellent stuff for public transport. Everything is available to read here.

I’m yet to read through everything, but from what I have read it looks like very good news for public transport. ARTA is to be replaced by a Regional Transport Agency, that will be much more powerful and take on all the responsibilities for transport in the region. The kind of integration I’ve been begging for over the past few years. The Royal Commission also clearly values public transport a lot more than the Government, so it will be interesting how Steven Joyce and his bunch of roads-crazy supporters respond to this.

I’m pretty happy about it all. I will post more details in the next few days. I just hope the government doesn’t mess with their recommendations too much.

The Importance of Integrated Ticketing

If one thing annoys me more than anything else in all the transport announcements we’ve seen over the past week or two – removal of the regional petrol tax, creation of a national petrol tax, news the government will pay for Auckland’s new electric trains, unsurprising news that the government is investing billions in state highways at the cost of everything else – it has been what has happened to Auckland’s integrated ticketing project. Regional petrol tax dollars were critical for funding this project and – unlike electrification – there has still been no word as to how the $100 million or so needed for implementing integrated ticketing will be provided. Furthermore, today we learn that awarding the contract for the development of an integrated, smart-card, ticketing system has been delayed. Well, on the positive side, at least it hasn’t been cancelled. It’s still damn frustrating though.

So, what’s up with this whole “integrated ticketing” thing that everyone seems to talk about? Why is it deemed to be so critical? Why is it so expensive? Why has it taken so long? These are all pretty good questions that do deserve and answer and some further discussion.

For a start, integrated ticketing is necessary because a variety of operators run our bus, train and ferry systems across Auckland. Veolia run the trains; NZ Bus (MetroLink, North Star, GoWest and Waka Pacific), Ritches, Birkenhead Transport, Howick and Eastern and Urban Express run the buses; and Fullers, along with a variety of other small operators, run the ferries. Apart from the NZ Bus family, each operator runs their own independent ticketing systems that are not interchangeable with each other. There are a couple of minor exceptions, in that you can get a daily Discovery Pass that can be used on any transport operator and a monthly Discovery Pass. But they’re so expensive and so poorly promoted that barely anyone seems to end up using them. So, effectively you’re left in a situation where you either need a different pass for each company (to get the small discounts they offer for multi-ride tickets) or you need to constantly carry change around with you.

From personal experience, this is REALLY annoying. Before I moved house recently the 008 bus route was the only way I could easily get from my home to my work and back. This route was run by Urban Express. However, all other buses that I ever needed to catch (home into town, work into town and so forth) were operated by NZ Bus – through either MetroLink or GoWest. After having the annoyance of always needing to dig around for change to catch the 008 bus, I finally gave in and spent $10 on an Urban Express pass – even though I already had another bus pass for my NZ Bus journeys. Needless to say, now that I’ve moved house the chances of me ever catching an Urban Express bus again are minimal – so it’s just a worthless piece of junk now.

Now while situations like this are annoying, the main issue that a lack of integrated ticketing creates is that it discourages trips where an interchange is required – from one bus to another or from a train to a bus. We all understand that it is very difficult for public transport to compete against the convenience of the car at the best of times, and also that it’s near impossible to bring high-quality public transport to near the doorstep of everyone in the city. The best way to get around this issue is to make it easy for people to transfer between services: so they’ll walk from their house a couple of minutes down the road to a bus stop, catch a bus from there to a transport interchange before jumping on a train whisking them into town. Feeder bus services bring a far greater proportion of the city within the reach of the train system. However they clearly won’t work when people need a different ticket for their bus trip and their train trip, or situations where someone has a monthly unlimited travel pass for their train trip – but that doesn’t cover the feeder bus to actually get them to the station.  The lack of integrated ticketing is a huge disincentive for people wanting to use public transport.

I have previously detailed how I would reform the ticketing of Auckland’s public transport system, which I hope to refine and post on here at some stage in the future. Needless to say, it’s a pretty major overhaul of how ticketing works in the city and would work much more around “time-based” ticketing rather than “trip-based ticketing”. At a basic level, a single ticket would be valid for as many different trips necessary within the space of 2 hours to get where you need to go. You would pay a varying rate, depending on how far your total trip would be. Daily, weekly and monthly passes would also be available at each varying rate to encourage the use of such “unlimited travel” tickets.

So why has it been so difficult to get integrated ticketing? And why is it so expensive? To answer the first question I really have to point the finger at all the transport operators throughout Auckland and say it’s completely their fault. Personally, I cannot comprehend why they would all want to doing something that will clearly have benefits for themselves (through increased patronage), but it has seemed over the past 10-15 years that the transport operators throughout Auckland are only interested in keeping their “slice of the pie”, rather than trying to “grow the pie” – as the saying goes.  It took the passing legislation last year, which gave ARTA a heck of a lot more power than before, to really kick start moves towards integrated ticketing – but only because the operators now had little choice but to accept it. So it is happening, as long as the money can be found for it.

Which brings us to the last question – why is it so expensive? To answer this question you have to distinguish between “integrated ticketing” and “smart-card ticketing”. Integrated ticketing is pretty simple process of coming up with some form of ticketing that can be used on each transport operator, working out a way to record who should get what percentage share of the fare, and making sure there is standardised equipment necessary. The last bit could be a reasonably significant cost, particularly so as all the operators are so stubborn about the whole integrated ticketing process and will probably force ARTA to pay for something they themselves arguable should be funding. But in the end, the process of integrated ticketing probably isn’t THAT expensive. If you completely change the way in which tickets and fares are structured, that would obviously be an additional cost, but once again probably not that great. Most of the cost in this process comes about from “smart-card ticketing”. Smart-cards are clever things like London’s Oyster Card and Hong Kong’s Octopus card, that you wave in front of a machine, the machine reads the card and lets you on the bus or the train. Then at the end of your journey you wave the card again, the machine interprets how far you’ve travelled and charges you accordingly. In London there are clever things like you can hook your Oyster Card up to your bank account so that it automatically tops it up when your funds start to get low. You can also often use these Smart-Cards for small purchases at dairies and other stores. Wellington has the beginnings of a Smart-Card system – with their Snapper Card. Ironically, the Snapper Card isn’t an integrated ticket though – and can only be used on some of Wellington’s buses and none of its trains. Smart-cards are expensive to roll out – as you need the back-office computer power to run the system, you need the special card-readers to be placed on every bus and at every trains station. This is where the serious costs start to occur, leading to the figures of $100-150 million for Auckland’s system.

Which gets us back to the current situation, where it seems like Integrated Ticketing for Auckland will be further delayed. After rail electrification, it is my belief that a Smart-Card integrated ticketing system is the most important next step for Auckland’s public transport. We’ve been waiting decades for it…

Government Roading Policy… I mean Transport Policy

So the government has decided to review its transport policy, and fairly unsurprisingly the result is masses of money for roads and bugger all for everything else.

Thanks to g.blog I have tracked down the 2009-2019 Amended Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding. At the moment it’s just a draft, and you can give your feedback on it up until 2 April.

Written feedback is preferred and can be provided: by e-mail to GPS@transport.govt.nz by writing to GPS Development Team, Ministry of Transport, Novell House, 89 The Terrace, PO Box 3175, Wellington
For contact by phone: Ian Stuart (04 439 9369) or Aidan Smith (04 439 9251) will be available between 8am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

The full GPS can be viewed here: http://greenvoices.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/draft_gps_20091.pdf

For some reason it doesn’t seem to be publicly accessible on the Ministry of Transport website – perhaps they’re trying to limit who can provide feedback, I don’t really know.

The GPS seems to be the “political spin” that governments can apply to transport funding and initiatives, so no real surprises that the amendments are “rrrrrrrrrrrrrroads, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads and more rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads!” There has been some hooplah about the loss of funding for coastal shipping, although I think there are some bigger issues with the GPS than this.

Let’s have a look through it in some more detail, starting with the overall objectives.

The Minister of Transport is amending the GPS 2009/10 – 2018/19 to align investment in the land transport sector more closely with the new government’s priorities of national economic growth and productivity. The Minister’s main reasons for changing the GPS are:
1) to reflect the government’s priority of investment in transport infrastructure for economic growth
2) to reflect the modal choices that are realistically available to New Zealanders.

Gotta love how there’s no mention of the environment, future oil scarcity, any attempts to change the current roads-centric nature of transport or anything of the like  :(

So what is the GPS? What effect does it have?

The GPS outlines the government’s objectives and funding priorities for the land transport sector for a 10–year period with detail for the first 3 to 6 years. The GPS outlines what the government expects to achieve in the land transport sector over this period, how it will achieve this by funding certain activity levels, and how this funding will be raised. The Minister of Transport issues a GPS every 3 years.
The GPS signals to both the NZ Transport Agency and regional transport committees what type of activities or combinations of activities should be included in regional land transport programmes and the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).
The NLTP is a statutory document prepared by the NZ Transport Agency that describes transport activities or packages of activities expected to be considered for funding for the 3 years from 2009/10. The GPS outlines the funding central government will make available through the NLTP.
The GPS sets the funding ranges that the NZ Transport Agency can allocate to particular activity classes, such as maintenance of local roads and State highways, construction of local roads and State highways, passenger transport services and infrastructure, and road policing. The GPS provides a national picture. The allocation of funding is the responsibility of the NZ Transport Agency, which must give effect to the GPS and which will also take regional land transport strategies and programmes into account.

I am still kind of trying to get my head around all the different transport policy documents, but this one does seem particularly important. It outlines the funding priorities of government, and as they’re the ones with the cash – if it’s not a government priority it’s unlikely to happen. It also outlines the “objectives” that government seems to want from transport. I assume that this will guide Regional Land Transport Strategies to some extent as well.

The summary of key changes are outlined below:

The government’s priority is to achieve economic growth and productivity in New Zealand. The GPS will ensure that the use of land transport funding supports this goal. This will mean investing in high quality infrastructure projects that support efficient movement of freight and people. There will be a particular focus on the State highway network, which is critical to the efficient movement of freight and people. There will also be a strong emphasis on value for money, and the economic efficiency of projects.

So a particular focus on State Highways, nothing new there I suppose.

The Minister of Transport proposes that the amended GPS replaces the outcome targets in the current GPS with a list of impacts that the government wishes to achieve. This list would include specific impacts the government expects to contribute to economic growth and productivity. For example:
1) Improvements in journey time reliability.
2) Easing of severe congestion.
3) Improving transport connections to areas that have economic growth potential.
4) Increasing access to markets.
5) Improving transport efficiency.
6) Improvements in road safety.

Wow, so nothing about reducing reliance on oil, nothing about reducing greenhouse emissions from the transport sector, nothing about creating a more balanced transport system, nothing at all about public transport.

Now let’s look at funding:

The total level of expenditure through the National Land Transport Fund is expected to be approximately $2.75 billion in 2009/10 rising to $3.75 billion in 2018/19.
The amended GPS will need to reflect that $258 million of capital commitments for Wellington rail infrastructure will be funded from the Crown account and not from the National Land Transport Fund, freeing up more revenue generated from road users for road–related activity.
In addition, approximately $660 million additional funding will be provided over 6 years to compensate for the removal of regional fuel tax schemes as announced by the Prime Minister and Minister of Transport on 16 March 2009.

Kind of weird that Wellington’s rail infrastructure gets removed out of transport funding, but Auckland’s doesn’t. It’s also amusing that particular move is justified on the grounds of “let’s get those annoying rail improvements out of the way so we can focus on building rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads!”

So now let’s look at state highway funding – the big beneficiary here:

The current GPS signals a reduction in investment in State highway construction over the term of the GPS. This reduction equated to a nine percent decline in investment in State highway construction over the first 3 years of the GPS relative to the last 3 years of actual expenditure.
The Minister of Transport proposes a significant increase in State highway construction. Increasing funding for State highway construction will bring benefits for national economic growth and productivity, particularly given that State highways carry most inter-regional freight and link major ports, airports and urban areas. In particular, it will help address strategic ‘bottlenecks’, and may allow new economic growth areas to be better connected into the national network.
The State highway network represents only 11.6 percent of the total road network yet accounts for almost half of all the kilometres driven each year by New Zealanders. The heavy use of the State highway network highlights its importance for moving people and freight, which is essential for economic growth.

Just another example of the government living with its head in the sand. NZTA studies last year showed declining traffic volumes are likely over the next 10-20 years. So it’s no surprise that funding for state highways was to decline. Furthermore, much of the funding of state highways in recent years has been a huge “catch up” by the previous Labour government for transport projects that were neglected throughout the 1990s. I don’t think anyone really expected that “catch up” level of funding to continue forever…. well clearly except for National.

On page three we finally see that public transport gets a mention:

It is important to rebalance current investment to better reflect the modal options realistically available to New Zealanders now, given that 84 percent of journeys to work in urban areas are by car and 70 percent of freight tonne-kilometres are by road. Our major cities of Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch will need to continue to increase the use of other transport modes. This is why the government continues to place emphasis on ongoing investment in public transport, both within and outside the National Land Transport Fund.

Ummmm…. so the “rebalancing” means that the government is taking money away from public transport to spend on roads. Doesn’t really sound like much of a balance to me. But it’s good to know that government is not going to completely stop funding public transport – which seems to be what the final sentence is saying we should be grateful for.

The real result of this becomes obvious in the table below:

GPS-funding2

So out of $8.559 billion of total transport funding, we see that public transport services and infrastructure only gets $767 million – that’s around 9% – utterly pathetic! When it comes to “new infrastructure”, which is what we’re really talking about as necessary you end up comparing $134 million for new public transport with $3.496 billion for new roads. Wow, twenty-six times the funding for new roads than new public transport. How is that balanced? The interesting thing also is that the national petrol tax is clearly NOT funding Auckland’s rail electrification. In fact I don’t see where funding for Auckland’s electrification or electric trains is within the GPS. I guess its funding must come separately – which means that the national petrol tax is JUST going into more roads. One must hope that funding for rail infrastructure will be funded separately than from this mechanism – as clearly there’s absolutely nothing in here for rail.

The main features of the proposed reallocations are:

The revised GPS would increase the level of funding for the New and Improved Infrastructure for State Highways activity class by almost $1 billion over the next three years by: reallocating approximately $420 million over 3 years from non-State highway activity classes freeing up $258 million over 2 years for road–related activity by moving capital investment in Wellington rail infrastructure outside of the National Land Transport Fund providing approximately $660 million over 6 years from Petrol Excise Duty and Road User Charges as an alternative to proceeding with the Regional Fuel Tax Scheme.
Forecast State highway expenditure is lifted to remain at around 34 percent of total NLTP expenditure.
Forecast expenditure on local road construction is maintained at the same level as that in the current GPS. Road maintenance expenditure will still increase relative to the 2008/09 level.
Forecast expenditure on Public Transport Infrastructure differs considerably from the 2008/09 forecast, primarily because other capital commitments for Wellington rail infrastructure funding will be funded outside of the National Land Transport Fund.
Demand Management and Community Programmes and Walking and Cycling will receive funding allocations near their 2008/09 expenditure levels.
Changes in forecast expenditure for Rail & Sea Freight and Domestic Sea Freight Development reflect that the Minister wants to focus on other non-monetary interventions that will help increase the market competitiveness of rail and sea freight transport.

This really is roads, roads and more roads. I don’t even know whether Maurice Williamson would have been this bad.

This is why I say our government is stuck in the 1960s with its thinking on transport.

A Day in the Life of an Auckland Public Transport User

Occasionally I do ask myself whether Auckland’s public transport is that bad after all. Perhaps it’s because I’ve had a few buses turn up on time, not take forever, I’ve caught a train that provided me with a pleasant trip, or something along those lines. I get lulled into this false sense of security that maybe we’re OK, maybe things don’t really need to change THAT much. Then I end up with days like yesterday, where a combination of patheticness and just plain bad luck on my behalf, made it seem like I spent half the day battling with Auckland’s public transport.

To start things off, yesterday morning I readied myself to catch the 004/005 into town. On Monday morning Leila and I generally have a coffee together up the road, and then I wander across the road to catch the 8.25am bus into town. So 8.25 rolls around, no bus…. not in fact until around 8.40am. Now I know that in the scheme of things having a bus turn up 15 minutes late isn’t the worst thing that can happen, but the strange thing was that the 8.40am bus that turned up wasn’t a late 8.25 – it was just the normal 8.40am bus. So for some reason the 8.25 just didn’t exist – rather frustrating (especially at that time of the morning).

I spent all morning in town, sorting out stuff there – and then in the afternoon needed to head back to Avondale. I could have caught the bus back home and then driven to Avondale – but that seemed a bit silly considering there is a direct bus between the two. I was also quite curious to see how the roadworks along Symonds Street are progressing – as the university section should be fairly close to completion. The bus turned up on time, a good start, and the university section of Symonds Street has had some really good progress made along it, hopefully leading to the bus lanes becoming operational in the fairly near future. In the meanwhile though, the bus trips along Symonds Street – and just in general – are pretty painfully slow. The bus driver on my 224 route seemed like the bus equivalent of the “Nana drivers” who cruise along streets at 30 kph. Added to that, just about everyone who got on the bus seemed to have to dig through their bags for their wallets and then dig through their wallets for a $20 note, make the bus driver dig around for the required change, all while asking for detailed directions about where to get off for whatever place they were hoping to go. It’s certainly enormously frustrating to be sitting there thinking how utterly slowly the whole process is going. From the city to my work in Avondale is around 9.6km, via the route of the 224 bus. Now, the bus took about 40-45 minutes to complete that trip – creating an average speed of around 13 kph. Wow you could certainly cycle the trip faster than that, and could almost jog it quicker. Do Auckland’s buses need to be quite that slow?

After finishing off my work for the afternoon, I came to the conclusion that I certainly couldn’t face another bus trip of that length any time soon – so I’d catch the train. The Avondale train station is about a 10 minute walk from my work, so I set off early enough to get there – and to zip in to a dairy and get some cash out for the train trip. It would have been nice to use my bus pass for the train trip, but of course Auckland still lives in the 1960s when it comes to ticketing and our train tickets are not interchangeable with bus passes. After walking for yonks in the wrong direction to find a dairy, I came back to notice that my 5.05pm train was departing the Avondale train station – at 5.01pm! As the saying goes “the only thing worse than a late bus or train, is an early bus or train”. So I missed that one. The next train did arrive a bit early too (or were they in fact both 10 minutes late?) and the train zipped me into town in under 20 minutes – twice the speed of my geriatric 224 bus route!

As I rushed out of Britomart train station to catch my 005 bus back to Herne Bay I saw it pull away from the stop before I could get there. It was leaving on time, but I kinda felt like it was no real surprise I would miss it – considering my general poor luck with public transport.

A lot of emphasis does get put on improving Auckland’s railway system – perhaps to the neglect (at least among public transport advocates) of essential steps that need to be taken to improve the bus networks too. The huge majority of public transport users in Auckland catch the bus, and that’s likely to remain the case in the foreseeable future. Buses clearly need to work out ways to board much faster (smart-card ticketing is essential for this as it doesn’t require driver interaction) and to also travel faster (bus lanes are essential for this). A good argument could be made that getting faster boarding times and more bus lanes is perhaps one way in which the greatest number of public transport users would benefit. Not that I’m saying we should ignore rail improvements of course though!

Jim Hopkins – the 1950s man

I just about choked on my coffee this morning while reading Jim Hopkins’ opinion piece: Supporters of rail are on the wrong road. With such proclamations as “…the fact there’s more voters in one Auckland electorate than there are in the entire South Island” I was certain this was just a joke, some funny sarcasm perhaps in there to just show what dinosaurs the supporters of roads-centric transportation policies are. But no, in fact he seems quite serious about the whole issue. According to Jim “Expecting trains to solve Auckland’s transport woes makes as much sense as lassoing rogue elephants with spaghetti or telling Phil Goff he can win our hearts and minds by being himself.” Well, I guess there’s possibly some sort of argument going there, as for a large city “solving” congestion completely is a rather impossible task – as you create supply people use it, which means that generally the roads of a big city are somewhat congested no matter how good the transportation system is. Of course, one would not want to think what the roads of a place like London or Tokyo would be like WITHOUT their vast rail networks, but let’s just leave aside that obvious issue for a minute.

So what is Jim’s solution here? Teleportation perhaps? No…. in fact it seems like he’s Steven Joyce and his roading pals’ biggest fan. Once again, according to Jim: “Build a motorway and get over it.” One wonders from where should one build a motorway to where? He suggests Devonport to Sylvia Park, which I’m sure the residents of Devonport and the Eastern Suburbs will be just superbly happy to hear about. Seemingly, because Auckland has grown a lot in the last 50 years, it is an AA city (after automobiles) and therefore a train system will never work for it. Trains only work for BA (before automobile) cities. Never mind the fact that Tokyo is largely an AA city yet has the biggest train system in the world, Singapore is another fairly recently built city with a fantastic rail system. The list goes on… Furthermore, it’s actually pretty debatable whether Auckland is an AA city in any case: as a lot of its development was pre-WWII and was based around trams routes. Devonport is definitely a BA suburb, and grew because it was a short ferry ride from downtown and a short tram ride along Lake Road from Takapuna.

I shall be calm in the face of this stupidity. I shall be calm. Here is a well-reasoned reply to Mr Hopkins:

In response to the opinion piece by Jim Hopkins, entitled “Supporters of rail are on the wrong road” I feel compelled to disagree on almost every point Mr Hopkins makes. For a start, his assumption that there are more voters in one Auckland electorate than in the whole of the South Island is completely wrong: the population of the South Island is around 1 million while the population of an Auckland electorate is well below 100,000. But while that “fact” proclaimed by Mr Hopkins is amusing in its complete absurdity, it is more important to dispute the many claims that he makes about trains not being suitable for Auckland, and not being a step forward for transport, but rather a step back to the 19th century akin to returning to using wakas for coastal shipping.

It appears as though Mr Hopkins’ assumption that further investment in motorways and cars of the future fueled by hydrogen and the like can only be based on a myopic view of the world that clearly avoids looking at what every overseas country is doing. If trains don’t make sense for “after automobile” cities, then why is almost every country in Europe, Asia and even North America investing in rail infrastructure at a greater rate than they have done so in decades? Shanghai and Beijing are building vast metro systems as they grow extraordinarily quickly, California is investing in a high-speed rail link between its major cities and even Los Angeles (surely the ultimate after automobile city) has realised its folly and has stopped the construction of further freeways. Los Angeles residents voted for billions to be spent on public transport improvements last year, perhaps the ultimate sign that in fact it is the roads centric policies of the last 50 years which are starting to look out of date and “waka” like.

Rail is clearly the future as well as the present and the past. A magnetic levitation railway line now links Shanghai airport with its downtown – zipping tourists between the two at over 400 kph. And this is current technology, unlike the “self-steering car” and “hydrogen powered vehicle” whose proponents even admit are decades away from widespread use. By putting all its eggs in the roading basket, people such as Mr Hopkins are living in the 1950s and committing New Zealand to an unsustainable, congested and incredibly ugly (thanks to all the motorways) future.

Ah, great to get that off my chest.

National’s Nationally Important Rrrrrrrroads

Steven Joyce, Minister of Transport, is certainly having a busier week. After the myriad of media releases surrounding a new national petrol tax, the end of a regional fuel tax, confirmation that electric trains for Auckland are going ahead, more money for State Highways, less for local roads, walking cycling and public transport…. today we find out about the “seven roads of national importance“. I guess we should have a look at what they are:

  1. State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford. This one is certainly interesting as previously it hadn’t really been considered much of a priority. When ALPURT B2 opened back in late January there was a lot of media criticising how the two lanes of motorway heading northwards shouldn’t decrease down to one before the tunnel. Nobody’s really sure what this work actually would entail, considering building a 4 lane motorway between Warkworth and Wellsford would be nigh on impossible. Perhaps some safety improvements are on the cards along with a Warkworth bypass and the extension of 4-laning somewhat northwards towards Warkworth.
  2. Completion of the Auckland Western Ring Route. This effectively means the Waterview Connection as everything else has been either built or is currently under construction. This is interesting as the only thing the government has done so far about the Waterview Connection is delay it by probably about a year by forcing NZTA to look at cheaper alternatives than the multi-billion dollar tunnel that was ready to have its designation notified.
  3. Victoria Park bottleneck. As I’ve said before, this is one project that I’m OK with. The sooner the better I think.
  4. Waikato Expressway. If I’m cheeky I’d say anything that bypasses Hamilton and Huntly is a good thing! This project is largely justified on the basis of safety improvements (and also avoiding Hamilton), and it was going to happen anyway. I’m generally more supportive of inter-city roading projects as there are no viable public transport alternatives at the moment.
  5. Tauranga Eastern Corridor. I don’t know too much about this, except that it looks to turn the road between Tauranga and Te Puke into something like a motorway. Although it’s a fairly congested route at the moment, it does seem like this route is only really needed to allow Tauranga to sprawl even more to the west. Interestingly, Tauranga has grown in a way that would make a commuter rail system quite viable in the future (growth has been along the rail corridors and there’s potential for a rail station close to the CBD) – perhaps some funding should go to that instead?
  6. Wellington Northern Corridor. Well at least it’s not the Transmission Gully Motorway!
  7. Christchurch motorway projects. I don’t really know that much about these projects, but Christchurch is already a fairly auto dependent city (almost as bad as Auckland), with further motorway projects likely to only make that even more the case. That said, Christchurch has had virtually no transport spending in the past decade so they’re probably due something.

I’m certainly not opposed to all of these projects, as some are probably quite justified. However, this press release just reinforces the fact that the government sees State Highways as pretty much all that matters when it comes to transportation projects in the country. Where are the rail projects of national importance? I could certainly come up with a few! This type of approach to transport is hugely unbalanced towards roading projects, reinforcing the country’s automobile dependency. I may sound like a broken record, but with peak oil either just around the corner or having already occurred this imbalanced transportation agenda is playing Russian roulette with our future. How wise it is for us to put all our eggs in the roads basket?

It is also interesting to note that tolling has been considered as one way of advancing the Puhoi to Wellsford route (as well as the Eastern Tauranga bypass). Existing legislation on toll roads says that there has to be an easily accessible alternative to the toll road (like how the old State Highway 1 is a viable free alternative to the new ALPURT B2 toll road). Now this means either one of two things: firstly, it could mean that the government is considering the full realignment of the Puhoi-Wellsford section of State Highway 1, a project that would probably cost an absolutely massive amount of money, as the topography of the area means that a lot of tunnels would probably be necessary for a motorway grade road. Alternatively, the government could look at doing away with the legislation that requires a free alternative to be available. That would quite probably go against a lot of what National were saying before the election (where Maurice Williamson got squashed by John Key every time he even mentioned the word “toll”) and could lead to a huge number of toll roads around the country. Now I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to this, as road-pricing can be a fair way to pay for new projects, but it certainly would be an interesting change of tack.

More Petrol Tax Shennanigans

The wild swings in transport policy on a daily basis continue to happen, with a national fuel tax of 6c a litre (introduced over the next two years) taking the place of the 9.5c a litre regional fuel tax that was to be imposed in Auckland. Furthermore, it appears as though the national fuel tax won’t actually even be paying for the new electric trains, but rather that KiwiRail will be dumped with the train debt, while all the new fuel tax money will go to where National reckons transport money should always go – rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroads of course!

The various press releases on the issue make somewhat disturbing reading, when looked at in detail. It is clear that the National government does not particularly value public transport, and considers that because most people currently use roads, the vast majority of funding should go to new roads – regardless of whether that’s a sustainable transport strategy moving into the future. In a way, it’s a shame that oil prices have decreased so much in the last few months, and that petrol is no longer at record levels, as I suspect in such an environment anyone proposing the continued long-term domination of transport by the private vehicle would be simply laughed at (that is, unless they were coming up with some serious electric car proposals). Unfortunately, our politicians are too short-sighted to realise that the huge decrease in oil prices is most likely to only be temporary (and strongly linked to the recession). Once the global world economy recovers (whenever that may be), oil prices will skyrocket once again, and possibly even more severely than last time – due to a suspension in investment over the past few months. On the bright side, I guess we’ll have a lot of empty roads to drive along (while paying $5 a litre for petrol).

Leaving aside the broad political/ideological stupidity of the National government’s transport policies, there are clearly some gains and some losses out of what has happened in the past few days. Let’s look at the gains first:

  1. Auckland will be getting electric trains. Although this isn’t really a “gain” from the previous situation, there was a worry that we’d end up with nothing at all.
  2. The national funding of Auckland’s trains will mean that we are not disadvantaged in comparison to Wellington. Wellington currently is getting a pile of new electric trains manufactured, which the government fully funded.
  3. With KiwiRail owning all the trains on Auckland’s suburban network, there is potential in the future for a smaller number of players to be involved in the train network. This should help things.
  4. It looks like the Victoria Park Tunnel might be built sooner. This is perhaps the ONE Auckland motorway project that I wholeheartedly support.

And now for the losses:

  1. The big one is integrated ticketing. Although a “cheap” paper-based ticketing system is likely to still go ahead at the end of this year, the smart-card contract (which was about to be let) is likely to be delayed as the ARC scrabbles together its begging hat and goes to the government for general funds to help out with the $100 million price tag.
  2. Station upgrades. We might end up with a half-built Newmarket station unless money is found immediately to complete it.
  3. Wharf upgrades. Once again this was meant to be funded by the regional petrol tax – likely to be delayed until general transport funds can be found.
  4. Electrification is likely to be delayed. KiwiRail and ARTA/ARC don’t really seem to agree with each other on much, so it’s unlikely that KiwiRail will want exactly the same trains that ARTA/ARC had tendered for. This will delay the trains by at least 6 months I would imagine, meaning that we definitely won’t have new electric trains by the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
  5. The ARC is severely weakened in terms of the power it has over transportation in Auckland. As I trust the ARC a lot more than central government (one actually wants to improve the train network, the other loves roads and has only continued with electrification because it had to) this is a big negative.
  6. Money will be redirected away from sustainable transportation (walking, cycling & public transport) and towards building more State Highways. This will just further entrench Auckland (and New Zealand’s) auto dependency and make us even more susceptible to the effects of peak oil.

So, while the outcome could be worse, public transport in Auckland is definitely left the poorer as a result of what’s happened in the last few days. If the smart-card issue can be sorted out, I will feel a lot better about things, but overall it is highly depressing to have the government being so obsessed with roading projects in the future.

The Public Transport Roller-Coaster

Wow. What a crazy few days for public transport in Auckland. Firstly, on Friday we get what appears to be the worst news possible from Wellington, that the Regional Fuel Tax is likely to be scrapped. As electrification of the rail system, integrated ticketing, new ferry wharves and the PenLink road all depend upon regional fuel tax money, this threw everyone into a spin about how these things would be paid for. The justification for not wanting to go ahead with the regional fuel tax seemed pretty lame: “We have been considering whether the regional fuel taxes are the right way to go” says the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, also saying “Nine and a half cents over the next two years is just too high on top of the national increases as well. We’re into tighter economic times now.” Ironically enough, this came on the same day that petrol prices went down by 5c a litre, probably because someone sneezed too loudly or too quietly somewhere in the Middle East.

The point being that even 10c a litre is nothing in the scheme of things, at around 7% of existing petrol prices. When one considers that prices have gone from around $1.50 a litre up to $2.20, back to $1.30 and now sit around $1.60 a litre, the effects of a regional fuel tax could be negated (or doubled) in just a few days at the whim of nearly nothing on the oil markets. The other main point is that regional fuel taxes are actually an incredibly fair and efficient way to raise money for regional transportation projects. Whether or not the purchase of electric trains is the right project for regional fuel tax funds to go into, especially when one considers that general tax funds are being used for Wellington’s new electric trains, is not really the issue here. The issue is that a regional petrol tax allows for the region to improve its transport infrastructure by paying for it themselves through a tax that only applies in that particular region. It’s a good question to ask why someone in Invercargill should pay for Auckland’s electric trains, just as it’s a good question to ask why someone in Auckland should pay for Wellington’s new electric trains. A regional fuel tax gets around all those debates and means that the cost for a project is borne by those who are most likely to benefit from it. Even the Mayor of North Shore City – which will pay the tax but doesn’t have any railway lines to benefit from electrification – supports the regional tax because he realises that the benefits to Auckland from electrification will also flow on and benefit North Shore City. It’s a much tougher argument as to how the tax-payer in Invercargill would benefit.

But anyway, throughout the weekend the big question was “how else will electrification be funded then?” Today we get some good news, that (it appears) the government will step in and fully fund electrification – through KiwiRail. One could be cynical, and say that this move will just lump a huge amount of debt onto KiwiRail and further lead to calls for it to be privatised, but (for now) I think I’m going to go out on a limb and give some credit here. Although the taxpayer from Invercargill will now be paying for Auckland’s trains, at least it put us on level-pegging with Wellington as the government will be paying directly for their new trains. So I’m OK with the train being centrally owned and funded. This might also lead to fewer operators running, owning and managing the Auckland rail system –  which will also hopefully lead to improvements.

However, a number of issues remain outstanding, and haven’t really been picked up on yet. The most obvious is to point out that it wasn’t just electrification that the petrol tax was paying for. Money for Auckland’s smart-card ticketing was also supposed to come from there, as was funding for the PenLink road improving access to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. So was money needed to upgrade many of the wharves served by ferries. So what happens to those projects now? Are we never going to be able to fund a smart-card ticketing system, meaning that we’ll be left with half-arse backwards paper-based integrated ticketing (or possibly no integrated ticketing at all?) I’m not that concerned about PenLink, but I certainly imagine there will be a lot of annoyed people up on the Hibiscus Coast. The other issue that really annoys me is how central government appears to once again be totally walking all over local government. Why shouldn’t regions be able to impose petrol taxes? They have councils that are democratically elected, and are therefore answerable to the people, what makes central government think they know so much better?

There’s still certainly more to come on this, and I am particularly keen to find out about the future of smart-card ticketing. The optimism of my post just a few days ago seems to have now been dashed.