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.