Tomorrow the 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy will be released for consultation. This is a key strategy that will guide Auckland’s transport development over the next thirty years, so I am very glad to see that it is a well balanced document, providing around $21.5 billion for public transport improvements and operating costs over the next thirty years, compared to $24 billion for road improvements and maintenance. While I am clearly a public transport advocate, I do recognise that investment in roading is also very important (after all, buses run along roads too!) Therefore, it is good to see a transport strategy that is, at last, well balanced in terms of its funding priorities.
Christine Rose, the chairperson of the hardworking Regional Transport Committee – who have spent much of the last year working on this strategy – has written the strategy’s forward, which is worthy of inclusion here:
The opening of Britomart in 2003 marked a turning point in the revival of public transport in Auckland. It set a new standard in quality public transport infrastructure which was followed by the opening of the North Shore Busway in 2008 and rail station refurbishment across the network.
The 2005 Regional Land Transport Strategy supported this vision of a modernized public transport system, led by investment in trains, buses and ferries. Significant progress has been made in the past five years to deliver an integrated, safe, affordable, responsive and sustainable land transport system that supports Auckland’s role in the national economy and aspiring to international best practice.
This 2010 strategy sets the direction for the region’s transport system for the next 30 years. It builds on the momentum already generated and continues to support renewed investment in public transport. Massive patronage growth vindicates the region’s investment in public transport, and leads to economic development, increased productivity, jobs created and urban form improvements. Constructing an underground rail link through the CBD will mean more than 200,000 people living and working within 30 minutes travel of the CBD. It will transform Britomart from a terminal into a through station, with benefits for the whole region, enabling a higher frequency of trains, faster journeys from the west, and a rail link to the airport.
There will inevitably be scepticism over perceptions that this is a ‘green’ transport strategy because it places increasing importance on developing public transport and anticipating and responding to sustainability challenges such as ‘peak oil’ and climate change, despite the Government’s priority of developing national roads. Roads have their place in any transport system as do trains, ferries and buses particularly in urban areas. A balanced investment is needed to ensure Auckland and Aucklanders are able to achieve their full economic and social potential with minimised environmental costs.
A balanced investment includes effective integration of transport, with the development of a more compact and high quality urban form, supporting people to move away from dependence on cars and reducing the impact the transport network has on the environment. Transport produces 18 per cent of national carbon dioxide emissions, of which Auckland contributes 85 per cent.
By 2051, around 2.3 million people will be living in the region, almost double the present population. Given that transport issues already impact on the movement and health of Auckland’s 1.3 million people it is imperative that this strategy not only identify what is needed to enable our land transport system to cope with this growth but also to endure, and support the changing economic environment for the greater good.
Road and public transport users benefit from bus, rail, ferry and walking and cycling improvements. The region’s roads become less congested, particularly important for moving freight. With the urban motorway system almost complete we can now focus on improving the operation of arterial roads, literally the arteries of local and international trade.
I thank all those involved in creating this strategy. Dedication, vision and the willingness to respond to what Auckland needs are defining qualities. The Regional Transport Committee continues to welcome comments and feedback from the public and stakeholders on the direction and priorities contained in this strategy, before it is formally published in April 2010.
In terms of the funding split, there’s an interesting graph on page 49 of the document that shows how the RLTS anticipates the region’s transport money will be divided over the next thirty years. It is comforting to see that, unlike most other transport documents, in the later years we are seeing a tailing off of spending on new motorways and a focus on building and operating an effective public transport network: In terms of public transport infrastructure investment – which my eyes always seem to focus on – the big spend items during the first 10 years (2010-2020) include completing electrification and building the CBD Rail Tunnel. I am exceptionally happy that someone has finally put a timeframe on the construction of the CBD Rail Tunnel – although of course it will need central government support before it can get the necessary funding. During the 2020-2030 period there’s not so much spending on public transport infrastructure – perhaps the proposed busways take precedent during that time – while in the last period we see the construction of the airport rail line, the Avondale-Southdown line and anything else that hasn’t already been done.
While nothing particularly new is proposed here, for the first time there is a real commitment to actually completing many of the projects that have been floating around for decades. By 2040 all the red dashed lines should actually be completed:It is of great credit to this strategy that there are only two real issues I have with it. The first is that I am still of the opinion that the Manukau-Botany-Panmure RTN line should be built as rail, rather than as a busway. This is because there are not existing bus links between Panmure and the CBD, whereas there is an existing railway line. For this RTN to work as a busway we would either need to build a busway between Panmure and the CBD – which would be enormously expensive and difficult – or force everyone to transfer onto a train at Panmure station. The second thing that I think should be changed is designating a future RTN line along the Northwest motorway, which would form a future Northwest Busway. As I have detailed previously, it would be pretty easy to construct a busway along SH16 – and I think it would be pretty successful too (as it serves a different part of west Auckland than the train line).
Perhaps the big issue that remains is how this will all be funded. The total cost over 30 years to implement this strategy is estimated to be around $40-45 billion. This sounds like an awfully large amount, but works out as “only” around $1.5 billion a year – fairly similar to what is spent on transport per year at the moment. So the total funding level may be relatively manageable, which leaves the main issue being how the available funding is divided. The current system of funding state highways 100% from petrol taxes, local roads 50% and rail from other sources altogether is unlikely to be suitable to implement this strategy – which brings us back to the necessity for one pool of transport funds with all projects having equal access to it.
All in all, it’s definitely a good strategy. I just want it to actually happen – and to ensure it does we will need to change the way the system works.