Well after a lot of bad news relating to public transport recently, it’s very nice to see some good news emerging for once. ARTA and KiwiRail have announced a jointly funded study into Auckland’s CBD Rail Tunnel project, to determine the best route, the best station locations and an economic justification for the project. These are critical steps in shifting this project forwards, so it is excellent to see it happening. When the announcement was first made, I have to say I was a little bit disappointed – in that I thought such work had been underway for the past year – but I guess things move pretty slowly in the world of public transport projects. So what had actually been happening in the past year was preparation for the announcement of this study. Some further details:
Investigations are underway to identify a preferred route for Auckland’s proposed CBD loop underground rail link from Britomart to Mt Eden rail stations.
The study, jointly funded by KiwiRail and ARTA, will also consider the likely costs and economic justification for the proposed tunnel and possible stations along the way, and begin the process of protecting the route for future construction.
KiwiRail and ARTA have commissioned the APB&B group of consultants, comprising AECOM, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Beca and Hassell, to undertake the study, which is expected to be completed in December 2010.
It will be interesting to see whether the study sticks to the previously prefered alignment, or whether that changes. It seems to be the case that most work so far has gone into determining the exact alignment between Britomart and a Midtown station, while what remains is the rest of the loop – between the Midtown station and Mt Eden. A map is included, which seems to indicate an unlikeliness that things will change much from previous plans:
What will also be an interesting outcome of the study is the work that goes into forming the economic justification of the project. ARTA’s Auckland Transport Plan seemed to indicate that these benefits could be very significant, by stating the following:
Overall, this project will increase the accessibility of the CBD, New Zealand’s largest concentration of economic activity, to more than half a million people within 30 minutes travel time by rail, which is completely free of road congestion. This will release the economic potential of Auckland’s CBD and growth centres, and lead to economic benefits estimated at $2.4 billion.
Not bad for a $1.5 billion project, especially once we add in other benefits like reduced CO2 emissions, safety benefits and so forth.
As rumoured last week, the government has indeed been exploring options to cut back Auckland’s electrification project – so that it can keep within the very tight budget set for the project. Full details of the proposed changes are included in a report here.
The report begins by saying the following:
Since the development of the Auckland Rail Development Plan, and subsequent investment decisions taken by the Crown and the region, a number of factors have contributed to the situation where available funding is insufficient to complete the project to a level expected by key stakeholders.
Factors include higher than forecast patronage forecasts, new service patterns, revised budgets, and more information about the adequacy of current network improvements.
The Working Group explored a number of options to deliver the electrification of Auckland‟s rail network within a fiscal envelope of $1.6 billion. This assumes existing funding of $1.1 billion to support network improvements remains extant and funding of $500 million for the purchase of electric rolling stock is available.
The Working Group has identified a plausible option if (i) stakeholders are willing to accept a higher degree of operational risk pre-2018, and (ii) a second tranche of Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) is procured post 2018 to replace aging diesel rolling stock, and ideally, to provide operational flexibility and address seating/standing ratios. The Working Group believes, subject to confirmation by operational modelling, this can be delivered within the $500 million funding envelope, and will provide sufficient capacity to meet the Auckland Regional Transport Authority‟s (ARTA‟s) revised future patronage growth forecasts at 10-minute peak frequencies to at least 2018 if not beyond. The cost of the option is $493 million including acceptable contingencies.
So what are the details of these “cutbacks”? Well apparently a number of options have been looked at, but only one could fit within the $500 million strict budget, and at the same time deliver on the key requirements (10 minute frequencies at peak time, and electrification of the core network plus the Manukau Branch). This option is detailed below:
The procurement of a minimum of 75 twenty-four metre EMUs in the first tranche
The operation of 14 electric locomotives (plus required spares) to haul existing SA/SD carriage sets, most likely by upgrading KiwiRail‟s existing fleet of 19 EF locomotives.
Upgrading the Onehunga line and operate a diesel shuttle from Onehunga to either Newmarket Station, or to the junction on the main trunk line near Penrose (as opposed to an electric through service to Britomart Station).
Refurbishment of the existing Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) beyond their current “end-of-life” (2013/14) to enable them to run shuttle services from the non-electrified sections into the electrified sections of the Southern, Western and Onehunga lines until 2018.
A second tranche will be required to be in service after 2018 to replace expired DMUs on the shuttle services.
This compares with the original ARTA EOI requirement for 140 twenty-metre EMUs. The Working Group was able to consider a smaller number of EMUs by increasing the length of the carriages to 24-metres2, accepting a higher number of passengers will stand, and operating the existing DMUs for longer than planned. ARTA‟s original proposal would have provided sufficient rolling stock to meet demand and cover shuttle services until at least 2023.
Hmmmmm…… is it quite a cutback isn’t it? And in the same week we see the government stumping up $100 million to investigate a road that will never stack up.
A comparison of ARTA’s original plan, and what seems likely now, is detailed in the table below:
They would be:
- To remove the complex funding arrangements for different types of transport projects, where you have perverse situations like NZTA promoting a Northern Busway extension to Orewa that would be completely pointless because they have the funds but can’t direct them to more necessary projects like Auckland’s CBD Rail Tunnel. What we need is one pot of transport funding – that comes from a variety of sources such as petrol taxes, RUCs, local government contributions and crown grants – that all transport projects can be funded from. This would also allow us to compare projects like the Waterview Connection with the CBD Rail Tunnel, to work out which is the best use of that $1.4 billion of funding.
- Fix up the way transport projects are analysed or “appraised”. Currently, we have a farcical situation where something like the Waterview Connection can be allocated $2.8 billion of “time-savings benefits”, that are criticised enormously internationally for their neglect of induced demand, the way they place a set value on all trips – even off-peak ones, and the fact that if it was so valuable to give everyone more free-time, the government should buy us all a dishwasher. I suggest something like the New Approach to Appraisal that the UK now uses to appraise transport projects – which focuses on how a project has economic, safety, environmental, accessibility and integration benefits. By focusing more on “how a project would improve accessibility” as a replacement for the crude system of time-savings benefits, we would put public transport projects on more of a level-pegging with roading projects.
I thought about including the removal of minimum parking requirements as a third thing I would like to change, but that’s more of a land-use planning issue than a transport policy issue.
A few days back I wrote a scathing blog post on minimum parking requirements, and how they are a huge hidden subsidy for private vehicles. Not only that, but MPRs actually completely destroy the urban fabric of our town centres.
Let’s take a look at Manukau City Centre as an example. This area has grown from what were simply fields in the 1960s into the biggest hub for all of south Auckland today. If you look at its aerial photograph, it certainly does seem as though a lot of the area is simply carparking though – due to minimum parking requirements: However, what becomes really scary is if we start colour coding things – red for buildings, green for parks and open spaces, and grey for roads and carparking: To hazard a guess, I would say perhaps 70% of Manukau City’s land is dedicated to roads or carparks. That’s pretty disgraceful, and means that the whole place feels completely soulless and characterless. It’s also pretty damn pedestrian unfriendly. Surely our town centres don’t have to be like this? Surely we can do better.
If we look at Botany Town Centre, a more recent development (almost completely within the last decade) we see the same kind of pattern: More places to come in the future! Albany and Westgate seem like particularly shocking examples.
It’s a real struggle to get funding for public transport projects – particularly for rail projects it seems. There are a couple of classic examples of exactly how difficult it is in the Auckland Region. The first example is the CBD Rail Tunnel, where planning progress on this important project is slowly starting to grind into action – although funding for it is still about as far from confirmed as possible. So exactly how difficult has it been to find funding for the CBD Rail Tunnel? Well let’s just say here’s a 1929 plan for where one of the stations was to be located, a 1956 map of the route and a 1976 design of a rail system for Auckland that was never built. So basically, this is the 80th anniversary of the project being proposed, and we’re still no closer to finding funding for it.
The second example is the Avondale-Southdown railway line, which has actually been designated since the late 1940s – but without any progress on the line having occurred. While in my opinion this line isn’t anywhere near as important as the CBD Rail Tunnel, it is another example of the decades and decades many of our rail projects have been on the books.
Which, I admit, does make it rather frustrating when a previously relatively unheard of roading project, the extension of the Northern Motorway from Puhoi to Wellsford, finds itself potentially being allocated $2 billion of funding for future construction, and definitely getting $100 million of funding for design, investigation and property purchase over the next couple of years. $2 billion is a lot of money for any transport project, and you could probably almost double Auckland’s rail system for that kind of amount. So surely there’s some good thinking behind the necessity of this project? Well, from what I can understand – that’s hardly the case here.
While some investigation into bypassing the rather nasty hills between Orewa and Warkworth was supposedly undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s, there was certainly no mention of extending the Northern Motorway beyond where the Orewa-Puhoi motorway ends. That is, until that motorway was opened at the start of this year. Now when the motorway was first opened, NZTA made the decision to not apply the toll for the first few days of its operation – so people could go check it out and so that the tolling system didn’t get a baptism of fire on a very very busy long weekend. The result of that decision was an enormous traffic jam, as every second person in Auckland thought they’d take advantage of the toll-free period and go check it out. There are a couple of very interesting paragraphs in the newspaper article about that opening day, that seem to have had a lot of influence over the decision to focus on extending the Northern Motorway.
A common verdict among sight-seers teeming around Puhoi’s hotel and general store after their ordeal was of a well-designed road let down at the northern end by the staged merger of two motorway lanes and the coastal highway into the single-lane “goat-track” to Warkworth and beyond. That is something Transport Minister Steve Joyce says his Government wants to remedy as soon as possible, although it is not yet in a position to say when.
“I understand their annoyance because I think that was a flaw many of us were aware of in the way the road was set up,” he said last night.
“Although it is an improvement, the reality is that until the road is four lanes through to Warkworth, there are still going to be problems northbound.”
Mr Joyce was applauded during an opening ceremony on the new road on Saturday – for which he was 10 minutes late after becoming stuck in traffic south of its Orewa starting point – for saying the Government was committed to extending a four-lane highway “progressively” as far as Wellsford.
That is 36km north of where the new road finishes just short of Puhoi.
Although the Transport Agency began planning for such an extension during Labour’s term in office, he told the Herald that preparations had until now been “in the never-never and we are determined to bring that forward”.
I suspect there was a reason the preparations were in the never-never, and that relates to the fact that the proposal would be absurdly expensive (I think $2 billion is incredibly optimistic for 36km of motorway through rugged terrain – it could be triple that) and the benefits would be fairly minor – in that the road only becomes clogged at holiday times.
Subsequent to that event, the Puhoi to Wellsford Road was included as a road of National significance, even though its costs and benefits are yet to be analysed. Once the route finally is subject to a proper analysis (I wonder if that will be before or after we spend $100 million on its design and property purchase) it will be interesting to see whether it can beat Wellington’s Transmission Gully Motorway as the transport project with the lowest cost-benefit ratio yet.
Well I’ve done a bit more fisking of the figures in terms of focusing on what the National Land Transport Programme – announced today – has done to the amount of funding available from NZTA for public transport infrastructure projects in Auckland over the next three years. I’m focusing on public transport infrastructure because that’s all the new stuff that we can hope for: like new ferry terminals, railway stations, bus lanes and so on. It excludes rail electrification – which is now funded completely separate of the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF).
Back in July, ARTA released their “Regional Land Transport Programme” detailing the projects they wished to undertake over the next three years – which would generally require funding from NZTA. In terms of public transport infrastructure, they came up with the following summary:
** Note: While projects such as electrifi cation of the rail network and the purchase of electric trains will be funded from sources other than the Regional Land Transport Programme, they are key components of the Auckland transport system.
Basically, ARTA’s three years public transport plan required $235.9 million from NZTA funding. So how much did they get – well as I detailed in my previous post: $172.1 million. That’s a cut of $63 million.
Meanwhile, $1.508 billion will be spent on state highways alone in the next three years in Auckland – up from the $1.462 billion that ARTA’s plan had anticipated. So yeah, the government’s still stealing money from public transport to build more motorways.
The 2009-2012 National Land Transport Programme – which details all the projects that will receive funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) – has been released today. It’s quite a stylishly put together document, and includes an Auckland section – to make life easy for people like me looking to see if anything unexpected has emerged. The answer to that question is no, as far as I can see there’s nothing emerging which I haven’t heard about before – particularly when it comes to public transport. This is probably because there’s very little in the document relating to public transport. The “highlights” of the three year programme for Auckland are outlined below:
There are a number of maps within the first few pages of the Auckland NLTP document, showing the projects that are expected to begin construction or design within the next few years. I am still to work out the logic behind why some projects end up on one of the maps and others end up on a different one, but anyway below we have the map which tends to show the public transport projects that are going to take place:
Of most interest to me is the inclusion of “Constellation to Albany bus priority lanes”. I’m not quite sure whether that means a full busway between Constellation Drive and Albany, but I do hope so. That would be a a useful project on the North Shore, ad the busway has proven to be a huge success.
If things don’t look too imbalanced towards roading projects quite yet, that’s simply because we haven’t looked at the split of where the money is going to be spent quite yet. Once we do, we see the effect of the government’s road fetishism truly starting to emerge:
Now I realise that rail improvements have been excluded from this (which is stupid by the way, but never mind that for now) but there’s still an unbelievable roads-bias in spending over the next three years. Furthermore, with every iteration of every plan public transport continues to get shafted even more. I’ll discuss that in a minute, but for now let’s look at the above diagram in graph form:
If we look at improvements to infrastructure, we can find out how the investment in new roading infrastructure compares to the investments in new public transport infrastructure. For roads – if we include state highways and local roads we get a total of $1,691.2 million being spent over the next three years. Compared to a mere $172.1 million on public transport. That’s almost $10 on new roads for every dollar that goes into new public transport! Now I realise that figure is probably a tad more extreme than the reality of what we’d see, as we can effectively double the public transport improvements total once regional contributions are included. However, that still only leaves $344 million available over the next three years for public transport improvements (excluding rail).
If we look at previous plans, we can see that slowly but surely public transport funding is being whittled away. The Auckland Transport Plan (published only a month ago) anticipated spending $510.8 million on public transport infrastructure over the next three years – of which half could come from NLTP funds. That would be around $255 million – whereas we can see above only $172 million has been allocated. That’s a $70 million difference, what goes?
Looking at the projects that will actually receive funding over the next three years, it’s a mixed bunch:
It’s certainly good to hear that investigation is proceeding on the CBD Rail Tunnel. Don’t worry about further rail projects not being listed here, as I said earlier rail is now separate from the NLTP. However, what is odd is this obsession with extending the Northern Busway to Orewa. Why the heck is that a priority? There are not many buses that currently operate between Orewa and Albany, the motorway is not currently congested except on extremely rare occasions – so why the heck would you embark on such a completely and utterly pointless project?
I suspect the reason why this utterly unnecessary project is being promoted is simply because it’s the only public transport project NZTA can sink their teeth into without having to rely upon major contributions from local councils – as it’s effectively a state highway upgrade (or at least that’s how the Northern Busway was funded). This shows once again the stupidity of us not being able to compare all projects against all other projects – surely rail to the airport would be a higher priority than such an unnecessary busway. If NZTA really want to build more busways, it would make infinitely more sense to build a Northwest Busway, as that’s an area of Auckland which currently does run a lot of buses and does experience congestion. The benefits of a Northwest Busway would obviously be far more significant than extending the Northern Busway to Orewa, it’s such a no-brainer I must say I sometimes worry about what’s in the water over at the NZTA offices.
Anyway, overall the NLTP is a predictable roadsfest – although in some ways it is even worse than I had predicted. It appears as though Steven Joyce and NZTA are determined to kill public transport in Auckland, even if it is death by a thousand small cuts. Losing $70 million in public transport funding when compared to a plan only released last month is pretty damn depressing.
Update: Oddly, the press release associated with the NLTP says that public transport investment is up by 21%. I guess that includes public transport services (subsidies) and is across the whole country. This figure is misleading when you look at the Auckland context, as the 2008/2009 NLTP figure for public transport infrastructure in Auckland indicated that a continuation of current funding levels would result in $432 million being spent on public transport infrastructure from the NLTP in the 2009-2012 period, while today’s annoucement only sees $172 million being spent on public transport infrastructure. That’s a $260 million cut in funding.
Hopefully one of the most useful aspects of this blog for readers is that I can do all the tricky stuff – digging through incomprehensible transport committee agendas, scouring ARTA monthly business reports and keeping watch on all new transport announcements – and then break it all down into somewhat readable chunks for your average person to make sense from all this mess. Of course I throw in a fair number of opinions on what’s happening in the realms of Auckland’s public transport developments – but so much is wrong with the current situation that it’s very difficult to not do so.
Anyway, in my digging around I have come across an interesting academic journal article on the history of transport planning in Auckland, by Paul Mees and Jago Dodson. Mees is an Australian academic who has taken a particular interest in transport planning in Auckland, and is probably most memorable in how he describes Auckland’s public transport system as perhaps the worst in the developed world, and the rail system as certainly the worst in a developed world city of its size. Once you start comparing Auckland on the international stage, it’s actually pretty hard to argue with him – and the journal article lays out a pretty compelling analysis of how we ended up in this mess. It also looks at how we haven’t learned lessons from the mistakes we made in the past, and this was even before Steven Joyce and his roads-fetishism started dragging us even further in the wrong direction!
The article describes Auckland:
New Zealand’s largest city is also one of the world’s most car-dependent; conversely, public transport usage rates are among the lowest in the world. The irony of this situation, in a country that markets its ‘green’ image to tourists as ‘100 per cent pure New Zealand’, is not lost on the region’s 1.3 million residents, who for over a decade have expressed strong dissatisfaction with traffic congestion and the absence of a viable public transport alternative.
Indeed, our per-capita use of public transport is amongst the lowest in the world, as shown in the image below. And there’s no inherent reason why this should be the case. While people often point to lower population densities in Auckland, our densities are twice that of Perth and Brisbane, and yet their public transport use is much higher than Auckland’s.
The obvious question to ask is “why so low?” What makes public transport in Auckland so particularly unattractive to its residents? The Perth and Brisbane examples seem to indicate that it isn’t density, the dispersed employment might well be a strong factor – but then employment is dispersed in many other cities around the world without them having such extremely low levels of use. What is it about Auckland that has led to us being right at the bottom of the pile? The article suggests that the answer to this question lies in the direction of transport policy over the past 50-60 years – which is one of the most extremely car-focused transportation policies of any city in the world, and continues to be (even more so recently). This is outlined below:
We contend… that these explanations have masked a more important factor, which is that Auckland’s transport policy-makers themselves have pursued one of the most extreme automobile-oriented transport policies in the world, beginning in the 1950s, but continuing to the present day.
Since the late 1990s, elected officials in Auckland have attempted to re-balance transport policies, and the ensuing policy documents have promised a greater role for public transport. This new rhetoric is largely a response to strong public support for a new transport policy direction. But the substantive policies pursued have remained dominated by motorways despite the changed rhetoric. We argue that the attempts to reverse car dependence in Auckland have failed because the region’s transport planners continue to employ policies and processes that promote road capacity expansion over investment in other modes. This bias, which appears to be only partly deliberate, is a result of a strong pro-automobile mind-set collectively held over decades by Auckland’s transport planners, and of similar national mind-sets that are expressed through New Zealand’s institutional framework for transport planning and funding. We further argue that the technical assessment procedures followed by Auckland’s transport officials have served to disguise these biases.
This line of thinking is very similar to the criticisms that I’ve levelled at many of Auckland’s transport planning documents – the rhetoric is there supporting public transport and all, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of funding we’re still throwing the vast majority of our money at roading projects.
Moving along to looking at how Auckland went from having one of the highest levels of public transport use in the world during the early 1950s, to our current situation at the bottom of the list, a quite fascinating blow by blow history of how public transport has been shafted over the years emerges:
…in 1950, a comprehensive plan was prepared to electrify and upgrade the Auckland rail system, following on from a similar project carried out in Wellington from 1937 to 1955 (Harris, 2005). The rail scheme was prepared by British consultants Halcrow & Partners at the request of Auckland’s regional planning authority, and included a tunnel to extend the rail system through the central business district from the main terminal station, which was inconveniently located, plus a restructuring of bus routes to provide feeders to the rail system.
In 1955, the rail plan was abandoned by the regional body, then known as the Auckland Regional Planning Authority (ARPA), which successfully requested the national government to spend the funds instead on a motorway network. This critical turning-point in transport policy has been examined by a number of authors (Bush, 1971; Gunder, 2002; Mees & Dodson, 2002; Harris, 2005), who have pointed to a range of factors, including the popularity of American ideas, the influence of road engineers and pro-motorway academics (notably Professor K.B. Cumberland, head of geography at the University of Auckland from 1946 to 1980) and the national government’s road agency.
These changes to the focus on the transport system, made in the 1950s, have had an enormously significant long-lasting effect on Auckland. Auckland’s motorway system started being constructed in the mid-1950s, which is particularly early for Australasian cities – as many Australian cities didn’t get stuck into their motorway systems until the 1960s and 1970s. The fast pace of Auckland’s growth throughout the 1950s and early 1960s meant that a revision of the 1955 plan took place in 1963, by an American firm: De Leuw Cather & Co. The plan recommended expansions to both the motorway system and the rail network – of course we know which half of that plan went ahead:
While De Leuw Cather (1965) recommended additional motorways, they also revived the rail proposals rejected by the 1955 master plan – even American consultants were less dismissive of public transport than Auckland’s transport officials (Mees & Dodson, 2002). The rapid transit proposal was pursued in a celebrated campaign by Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson, who served as Auckland’s mayor for all but three of the years from 1959 to 1980. But ‘Robbie’s rapid rail’ scheme was refused funding by the national government, following the release in 1976 of a review of the De Leuw Cather reports by the Auckland Regional Authority (ARA), which had replaced the ARPA. The 1976 report (ARA, 1976), prepared by a technical advisory committee of similar composition to that responsible for the 1955 master plan, supported all the motorways proposed by De Leuw Cather, but opposed the rail upgrade. By the early 1980s, ARC officials were seriously proposing closing Auckland’s rail system altogether, but were defeated by public opposition (ARA, 1983; Mees & Dodson, 2002).
Thankfully, we have emerged from the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s (I think public transport patronage bottomed out in the early 1990s). However, in a way the more things change the more things stay the same. Throughout the last 15-20 years there have been a number of supposedly pro public transport strategies and plans that have emerged, but yet – as I said above – when it comes to the crunch, funding, roading projects continue to always win out. An example of this (wow this all sounds so familiar) emerges when we look at the work that went into the 1998 Regional Land Transport Strategy:
The RLTS consultations revealed strong public support for improvements to the region’s public transport. But the technical modelling and contents of the eventual plan reflected the strong post-1950s road bias by effectively reproducing the incomplete 1965 and 1976 motorway schemes as the main projects to be achieved (Mees & Dodson, 2002: 295). The transport planners were aware of the communicative dimensions of the policy development process as the following example demonstrates. The 1998 draft of the RLTS had stated that ‘analysis has shown that heavy investment in passenger transport is not likely to increase the overall proportion of people using passenger transport because of the dispersed nature of trips in . . . Auckland. . . . Most . . . investment will be in roading’ (ARC, 1998: 29, 8).The road bias of the draft strategy was strongly criticized by community groups. So the planners modified their rhetoric for the final plan: ‘The most significant change proposed by this strategy is an increase in passenger transport investment’ (ARC, 1999: 16). But the road and public transport projects in the final report were basically the same as those in the draft – only the rhetoric had changed (Mees & Dodson, 2002).
And we see the same process for the 2005 Regional Land Transport Strategy:
The unwavering technical rationality that favours motorways and the seemingly predetermined nature of Auckland’s transport planning processes is emphasized by the fact that the ARC staff did undertake quite detailed evaluations of specific road and public transport proposals to cost the various options and their likely effects. These options were tested internally through a series of internal ARC technical reports that were referenced only as footnotes in the RLTS drafts and were accessible only by specific request to the ARC. The mundane ‘technical’ ascription acted to deflect the significance of their content as the actual basis for many of the decisions made in the 2005 RLTS.
All six of the options involved spending more money on roads than on public transport: even the ‘high public transport’ options (5 and 6) involved spending twice as much on roads as on transit. Only a further ‘extreme public transport option’, which was developed and tested privately, involved spending comparable amounts on roads and public transport (ARC, 2005c: 4, table 4; 6, figure 4) but this was never released to the public. The idea of spending more on public transport than roads – a stance which is bipartisan policy in cities such as Perth, Vancouver and Portland – was so radical that it could not be evaluated even as an unpublished ‘extreme’ scenario!
If you can get your head around the academic-speak, the whole journal article actually does make for fascinating – if incredibly depressing – reading. It does seem quite bizarre that for all the public support that public transport has received over the years, and for all the fancy rhetoric that surrounds the need to focus on public transport investment, that we have failed so utterly comprehensibly over the past 50 years in creating a balanced transport network, which it seems the people have asked for time and time again. While things have definitely improved over the past few years, and will hopefully continue to improve in the future, so many of the issues that still come up – like the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to transport funding – are still the same as they were decades ago. In the meanwhile, the rest of the world is leaving us behind.
It’s quite bizarre finding myself agreeing with Steven Joyce, and disagreeing with Mike Lee, on a transport matter – but hey, I guess one can always be surprised. Yesterday, the government announced that the transport arm of the future Auckland Super-City will be established along similar lines to ARTA, and will be called the “Auckland Transport Agency”, or ATA for short I suppose. Effectively, the new agency will be ARTA plus the transport departments of each council lumped together into one. It won’t be simply a department of the new Auckland Council though, but rather something of a “council controlled organisation” which runs semi-independently from the council itself – but at the same time being required to give effect to the strategies of the council – and obviously being reliant on the council for funding.
The Herald summarises its role:
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the Auckland Transport Agency (ATA) would take over the transport roles of the eight councils in Auckland and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority under the Auckland Regional Council…
… The ATA will be a significant division of the new Auckland Council, which will appoint its directors, who will include two city councillors.
Mr Joyce said the agency was “a really significant part” of the Super City Auckland Council.
“If we can get this relationship right between the council and the agency … Auckland will achieve a lot, a lot more than it is now.”
The ATA would control about $1 billion of spending, Mr Joyce said.
The Government and local authorities now spend about $1.5 billion on Auckland transport.
There was also an interesting piece on National Radio this morning on the matter (audio available here and here). I’m going to leave aside discussion that’s related to electrification for now (although it’s understandable that Mike Lee is rather fixated on the matter at the moment) and, quite amazingly, pretty much agree with everything Steven Joyce had to say (his interview is the second link above). The ATA will clearly provide far better integration in terms of transport planning and funding in Auckland than what we manage at the moment, clearly we do need better integration between transport planning and land-use planning (although he’s completely wrong to say that isn’t happening at the moment) and clearly some “grunt work” needs to be done to justify large future projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel. Yes, oh my gosh he even actually mentions that critical project! I was worried he’d never heard of it.
However, I do have one big critique of the ATA as it’s currently set up – and that is that is does not go far enough. State highways and railways will still have their planning and funding completely separate from the ATA, which means that we’re still going to end up in the stupid situation of having different funding mechanisms for different transport projects. It’s still going to be far easier for state highway projects to get funding than local transport projects, any funding for rail is still going to compete against tax cuts and the health budget, and we’re still not going to have the opportunity to actually compare projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel against projects like the Waterview Connection, and actually make a decision as to which is the best choice for that $1.5 billion. The answer might well be the Waterview Connection, but what if it’s not?
In my opinion, the ATA should have joint responsibility for state highways with NZTA, and should have joint responsibility for the rail network, with KiwiRail/Ontrack. NZTA and Ontrack would still do all their planning work, in conjunction with the ATA, to work out what projects are most needed throughout the Auckland region, but when it came to what projects got funded, that would be the decision of the ATA – who could weigh up the cost and benefits of each project and decide what should get the money. Their decisions would be based around what projects best give effect to plans and strategies that already exist, like the Auckland Transport Plan and the Auckland Regional Land Transport Strategy. This would ensure those plans and strategies actually finally meant something, rather than just becoming door-stops for central government politicians who instead direct money to their own pet projects.
Well someone in parliament has finally got around to asking the government about the delays in the announcement of funding for Auckland’s electric trains, thank you Keith Locke. Today’s parliamentary questions on the issue provide a bit more information, but certainly aren’t particularly comforting that we’re not going to end up with the half-baked system I was worried about in my post yesterday. In any case, here’s the transcript:
KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Is he confident that at least part of Auckland’s electric rail system will be rolling in time to help move the 75,000 international visitors and countless Kiwi fans expected for the 2011 Rugby World Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : No, and it was never going to be the case. The Auckland metro rail electrification project has always been, and remains, due for completion in 2013.
Keith Locke: As Auckland’s regional fuel tax was cancelled in March, how will the purchase of the electric railcars be funded; and if the funding decision has not yet been made, when will it be made?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The funding decision for the half-billion dollar electric trains has not yet been made because agency officials are working on the scope of the project and on the funding for it. When that has been completed to the satisfaction of me and the agency concerned, the decision will be made.
Nikki Kaye: What work is under way to improve Auckland’s railway network in time for the Rugby World Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has made a commitment to enhance significantly the public transport infrastructure around Eden Park, particularly for rail travel, in time for the Rugby World Cup. That work includes redevelopment of the Kingsland Railway Station and Morningside Railway Station. In fact, the Morningside station is now up and running; I as Minister opened it on 7 August. Other projects include track crossovers at the Kingsland station to enable trains to run to and from the central business district from both of Kingsland’s platforms, a major new signalling system between the Britomart and Kingsland stations, and improvements at the Newmarket junction. All of that work is part of the substantial sum of $1.6 billion that the Government has committed to investing in the Auckland rail network.
Keith Locke: Can the Minister guarantee that the 140 electric railcars, which are needed, will be purchased as originally planned?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I cannot. Once we put the agencies together in a room—which is something that should have happened a long time ago—we discovered a number of potential overruns with the project, totalling up to around $200 million. These include the lack of any significant contingency planning at all for the project, potentially between $50 million and $150 million of additional base infrastructure requirements, and potentially up to $30 million of platform extensions. We have therefore decided, in working with the agencies, that we need to make sure that the scope of the project is properly done so that we can ensure 10-minute frequencies across the network once the project is complete.
Hon Darren Hughes: What leadership is the Minister taking to remove any of the so-called stumbling blocks that he has outlined today that are preventing the purchase of 140 new electric railcars for Auckland, something has already been delayed while he has been the Minister, creating the distinct impression that this Government is not committed to public transport, at all?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am encouraging the officials to use their calculators properly and carefully, which is something that did not appear to have happened under the previous Government.
Keith Locke: Can the Minister guarantee that ONTRACK’s electrification plan “extending from Papakura in the south to Swanson in the west, and including the Onehunga branch line and the future Manukau link” will still proceed; if not, which parts of the network will not proceed?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The half a billion dollars that was allocated under the previous Government for the electrification of those lines remains in place, and provided that it can be done within that sum of money, it will, of course, proceed to the full extent.
Keith Locke: Will it not be embarrassing if international visitors to the 2011 Rugby World Cup see that we have been fluffing around with the electrification of Auckland’s rail system, particularly when it is very obvious that we need it to get people around Auckland, and to counter the effect of higher oil prices?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If that is the member’s view, then probably he should have worked with the previous Government, which the Greens were involved with, to ensure that the planning occurred to enable it to be done by 2011, but it was scheduled for 2013, and it is on schedule to be done by then.
My analysis of this shows some good aspects – that $1 billion will certainly be spent on electrifying Auckland’s rail network, and some bad aspects – notably that if there are any increases in costs (which it seems like there are going to be) no more money will be provided, but instead the project will be cut back. I wonder whether such a strict budget constraint will be applied to the $1.4 billion Waterview Connection? Would the government just not finish the last few hundred metres of that motorway if they exceeded the $1.4 billion price cap? If not, why the double-standard?
Some further information on time-frames does seem to be emerging though:
Keith Locke – Written Question.
When does the Minister expect the final tender to be announced for the Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) needed for the electrification of Auckland’s rail system given that the Auckland Regional Transport Authority was originally planning to put this tender out to short-listed tenderers by the end of May, 2009?
Steven Joyce – Answer
The New Zealand Railways Corporation and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority have agreed to extend the validity of the EMU expression of interest process and have jointly informed all respondees. While there are a number of issues that still need to be worked through, a decision to reengage with the market will be made in the next several weeks.