Faster boarding: the great opportunity

Next time you catch the bus, especially a bus like the Link which stops frequently, have a think about the amount of time the bus spends between stops and the amount of time the bus spends halted, waiting for passengers to hop on and off. Actually measuring the percentage of a trip spent still is something I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages, but I am pretty sure it would be significant.

Let’s say each passenger takes about five seconds to load, and that’s assuming they don’t dig around in their bags for change or hand the driver a $20 note – even for 12 people that would be a minute in total spent waiting at the stop. A full bus load of people could take more than five minutes to load – once again assuming that everyone actually loads quite quickly. There are a number of reasons why loading is so slow:

  1. A relatively high proportion of people pay with cash. A contributing factor to this is that using your “pass” is generally only 10% cheaper, plus with a number of different operators around Auckland and the passes only being valid on some of the buses, probably results in more people using cash than need be.
  2. Even those who do pay with their bus passes require interaction with the driver. For my stored value card the driver needs to wait a second or two for it to load up on his screen, and then press three different buttons before the ticket is issued. Multiply that level of interaction up by a large number of passengers and you have the source of a great number of delays.
  3. Because everyone needs the driver to issue them with a ticket, if someone does take ages, through loading up their stored value passes (like I often do $40 at a time), digging through their bag to find the last 10 cents to make up their fare, giving the driver a $20 note and therefore forcing him or her to dig through their change or even asking for directions – everyone else is held up.
  4. Yet again due to the need to interact with the driver, everyone needs to load through the front door – which is a bottleneck in itself and slows down loadings.

Long loading times mean that, unless you have a bus lane or some other form of priority measures, it is literally impossible for travelling on the bus to be anywhere near as fast as driving the same distance. The bus will still get caught in traffic, and if it spends half its time stopped – while passengers are loading – then catching the bus will take twice as long as driving (plus time spent waiting for the bus in the first place of course). Add all this up and it’s reasonably easy to see why most people shun using Auckland’s bus system – it’s just so damn slow most of the time.

Furthermore, and in some ways this is even worse than the slowness caused by loading times, when passengers take forever to load this horribly impacts on the reliability of the service. If your bus is late, chances are either it got stuck in traffic or unusually high demand meant that loading times were slow. This problem is compounded because late buses are usually incredibly busy, as they collect both passengers waiting for that bus and the next – and the slow loading times compounds the problem making the service later and later. This inevitably means that the bus behind starts catching it (as the first bus has taken all the passengers so the second one can zip along without having to stop) – with the result being the dreaded “bunching” of buses.

While this all sounds like bad news, in actual fact it’s extremely good news for one simple reason – all these problem are exceedingly simple to fix: just speed up boarding times. In comparison to building busways or even putting in bus lanes (where it’s not cost, but politics which tend to be the biggest hurdle) speeding up boarding times should be enormously simple and easy to implement. And think of the benefits – all trips being up to 20% quicker, reliability improved dramatically and frequencies able to be higher while using the same resources because speeds are faster (it takes 6 buses to keep a 10 minute frequency along a route that take 60 minute, if they can do the route in 40 minutes then those 6 buses can now deliver 7 minute frequencies).

So how could we go about making boarding times faster? Well perhaps the biggest step is underway already in terms of implementing integrated smart-card ticketing. The new tickets will not require interaction with the driver, so you’ll be able to board even while someone is stuffing around digging out the last 10 cents for their fare. Furthermore, smart-card boarding is incredibly fast. So a lot of improvements are already in the works – and I don’t think it has quite been appreciated the level of difference this will make for those catching the bus.

However, being the hopeful person that I am – I actually think there are a few further steps that we should take to make boardings even faster, particularly at points where a lot of people get on the bus (such as the CBD stops for Northern Express and Dominion Road services). Recently I took this photo of the queue of people waiting to catch the Northern Express outside Britomart:

In these locations I think we need to allow travellers to board through both front and rear doors, and also potentially ‘pre-pay’ their tickets before shifting into a fenced off area – which they could then just pile onto the bus from once it arrived. It seems reasonable to think that such a system could load 60 people onto a bus in around half a minute – massively faster than the current system.

Something like the diagram I’ve drawn below could do the trick:

This is a bit of a “bells and whistles” example, and it could be much simpler with just some ticket ‘posts’ for you to swipe over (fare evasion would be tracked by people on board reading whether you had swiped your card).

Thinking about the impact of such a system a bit more, it could do wonders in reducing bus congestion around points such as Britomart and the busy bus stop for Dominion Road services. I have often seen Northern Express buses blocking up Customs Street waiting for a place to move into – because there bus stop is full of Northern Express buses that are slowly loading up. Eliminating this mess would hugely improve the efficiency of our bus system and also probably eliminate quite a bit of general congestion too.

Let’s hope we start to see some of these sorts of improvements, so we can squeeze the most out of our bus system, so that we can make catching the bus significantly faster and so that we can make buses more reliable. It’s relatively cheap and easy to achieve pretty massive benefits.

Public Transport & the CBD

Auckland City Council has produced a very interesting policy document on improving transport in the CBD. The whole document is here, with a council agenda item that provides a summary able to be read here. The document as a whole is well worth a read, and outlines a pretty exciting and refreshing approach to transport in Auckland’s CBD.

One of the most useful things highlighted in the report are current transport trends – in particular the growing number of people catching public transport into the CBD and the reducing numbers of people driving to the CBD each day to work: So officially now of those working in the CBD more catch public transport than drive to work every day. This is a useful statistic to mention next time someone tries to disparage public transport: imagine twice the number of traffic lanes into the CBD, imagine twice as much of the city dedicated to carparking – that’s what would happen without public transport. We pretty much wouldn’t have a CBD for all the roads and parking buildings.

Looking at future trends, it becomes pretty obvious that there’s going to be huge pressure on trying to get more people into the CBD via public transport – as remember we have little, if any, way to increase roading capacity into the CBD: With around 33,000 public transport trips into the CBD at peak times at the moment, and almost all additional trips by 2031 and 2051 into the CBD also being by public transport, that suggests we’re going to need to at least double the PT capacity over the next 20 years. The argument for the CBD rail tunnel becomes pretty clear.

The study is certainly worth reading through. I’m pretty impressed by the vision – we just need to make sure it happens.

Dominion Road: council’s meeting on Thursday

Auckland City Council’s Transport Committee is having what should end up being a pretty fiery meeting this coming Thursday at 9.30am. The big topic of debate will be the proposed amendments to Dominion Road that have caused such consternation with various parties over the past few months: annoying local business through proposing to remove on-street parking and annoying public transport users by proposing to ruin the highly successful bus lanes.

The meeting should be quite interesting as there’s a large number of presentations by members of the public, as well as some seriously panicked responses from the various councillors who previously voted for the idea back in June. Transport Committee Chairman Ken Baguley proposes some interesting amendments to the proposal that his committee came up with at June’s meeting:

Fellow councillor Mark Donnelly, who’s not on the transport committee, has also prepared a ‘notice of motion‘ on the issue.

Looking at Cr Baguley’s proposals, it seems as though they involve the following:

  • The T2/bus lane debate will go to further consultation. Goodness knows why this is really necessary as I’m yet to actually find anyone arguing in favour of changing the bus lane into a T2 lane. Hopefully ARTA tell Auckland City Council in no uncertain terms how utterly stupid the T2 idea would be, and we can put that whole issue to rest and actually focus on the main issue at hand: how to improve public transport along the road in a way that works for both travellers and the local community.
  • Applying the bus/T2 lane for three hours a day each way (up from 2 hours a day each way) rather than the 24 hour lanes originally proposed. In a way this is a shame, as having 24 hour bus lanes along Dominion Road would have been fantastic for public transport. However, as I noted in a recent post I can recognise the concerns of the locals – and with the whole debate so clouded by the fear of a four-lane highway (thanks to the T2 lanes) this is probably a fairly decent outcome. Having the lanes operate four hours a day each way could be even better though.
  • Continuing the T2/bus lanes through intersections. This is a really big gain, particularly if the lanes stay as bus lanes. Many of the current delays are focused around the main intersections, so fully extending the lanes through intersections should help eliminate the problem. It might make left-turns at main intersections a little dicey though.
  • Reversing previous proposal to ban a number of right-turns. This is probably a debate between safety and access – and I’m not sure whether the Council has done the research to make the correct call on this balance yet.
  • Not progressing the cycle lanes for now. This is probably the biggest loss compared to what was originally proposed, and highlights the difficulties of trying to please everyone I suppose. Perhaps the council could look at providing cycle lanes between the footpath and the parked cars – as I think this is done overseas in a number of cities.

As long as on Thursday the council completely removes any further mention of T2 lanes from this whole proposal, while also extending the bus lanes’ hours of operation to around four hours each way, then I think this could be an acceptable short-to-medium term outcome. If we do go with this option then I don’t see why the road will need widening at all, which means that we can save the money proposed to be spent on this project and – at some point in the future – put it towards creating a high-quality long-term solution.

Free trains this weekend

It sounds like NZTA, ARTA and other parties have finally woken up to the fact that simply saying “don’t travel this weekend” is not a particularly acceptable response to the closure of the Newmarket Viaduct’s southbound lanes for 36 hours on Saturday and Sunday – and have instead finally put some thought into encouraging people to travel via other means. After an excellent suggestion from ARC Chairman Mike Lee (perhaps inspired by this blog post) to make trains free during the time the viaduct is closed – that is what will happen this weekend.

Here’s ARTA’s media release:

ARTA offers free train services to assist Newmarket Viaduct closure

The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) said today it had reviewed options, with the help of its operator Veolia Transport, to assist Aucklanders travelling around the region during the Newmarket Viaduct closure on 4/5 September. In addition to more services and longer trains, free train travel would also be made available during the 36 hour shut down period.

ARTA’s General Manager, Customer Services, Mark Lambert said, “Aucklanders are concerned about getting around the city during this time. Offering free train travel is a small way we can assist.

“We do need to stress that capacity on trains will be limited and that commuters need to consider carefully whether their travel is essential.

“While bus services have the potential to be caught up in road congestion meaning we are unable to guarantee service levels, trains run on an uncongested network.

“In order to help keep Auckland moving for this major piece of transport infrastructure to be completed, ARTA will offer free train services between 5pm on Saturday 4 September and all day Sunday 5 September”.

Auckland Regional Council Chairman, Mike Lee who suggested the free-train idea to ARTA said, “NZTA have warned Aucklanders to stay off the roads as the Viaduct shutdown will have a widespread impact across the whole road network – including bus services. But it won’t affect the rail network. Therefore we are encouraging Aucklanders to consider the alternative of using free trains to get around during the shutdown.”

NZTA’s State Highway’s Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker has welcomed ARTA’s initiative and says, “This is really great collaboration to help keep a city like Auckland on the move during a very difficult weekend.

“We know there will be severe congestion on the roads and ARTA’s offer of free train travel will help encourage people to leave their cars at home and use alternative transport options to get around”, he said.

Mr Lambert said, “ARTA is aware that train services do not extend to all areas of the region, but this offer may go a small way to providing some help to enable Aucklanders to get around the city.

“On Sunday afternoon, fans will also be travelling to and from the Rugby ITM Cup at Eden Park.

“Commuters should check the MAXX website for details of the free train services which will be made available”.

Mr Lambert said, “The cost of providing the service during this time will come from within existing budgets”.

I just hope we put on enough trains to cope with the demand. I also hope that NZTA are the ones predominantly paying for this, as they’ve created the need.

Newmarket viaduct replacement: worth the $215m?

In the hectic preparations for my upcoming holiday (leaving this Friday) I managed to miss both yesterday’s walk along the newly completed Manukau Connection and today’s walk across the new section of the Newmarket Viaduct. In general I’m supportive of the Manukau Connection project, as hopefully it will remove a lot of traffic from Manukau City Centre – enabling roads like Wiri Station Road to be humanised, narrowed and (over time) the whole area to become something more than a giant carpark (full of moving and non-moving vehicles).

However, when it comes to the Newmarket Viaduct replacement, I can’t help but wonder why on earth we’re spending $215 million to get one more southbound lane. That’s a huge amount of money for just one additional lane. Now I realise that another reason the viaduct replacement project is going ahead is because the current viaduct doesn’t meet modern standards for being earthquake proof (apparently it can handle a 1 in 500 year earthquake while the standard is 1 in 5000 years or something like that) – but really, $215 million being spent to meet a standard and to add one lane southbound? This excellent photo comes from the Auckland Motorways blog.

After all the chaos of next weekend, when the southbound lanes will be closed for around 36 hours, the giant blue machine in the photo above will shift to the left, effectively on top of where the existing vehicles are (the motorway itself will shift to the right where the machine currently is). It should be quite interesting watching the engineers remove half of the existing viaduct over the next few months and then build the rest of the new one.

But yeah, $215 million for one more lane – crikey that’s a lot of money. Just further reinforces my thinking that we certainly are spending enough money on transport projects in Auckland – the problem is that I’m not so convinced we’re picking the right projects to spend that money on.

Auckland demands rail improvements

A fascinating article in the NZ Herald today, based on a survey that asked people what are the most important issues that will determine how you vote in the upcoming “Super City” elections. Here’s an extract:

Auckland is waiting. On the gridlocked roads, on the railway platforms, at the bus stops, the residents of the new Supercity are waiting.

Aucklanders say transport is their single biggest election issue – and most are waiting to see what solutions the candidates can offer before they decide how to cast their vote.

This is no real surprise. It’s widespread knowledge that transport is considered to be Auckland’s biggest problem. But what’s particularly interesting are some further details about what people think needs to be done to improve the transport situation:

Manukau mayor Len Brown and Auckland mayor John Banks both promise to focus on a rail link to the airport, a CBD rail loop and another harbour crossing to take rail to Albany.

They also promise to improve ferry connections and wharves.

Transport is the single most important issue for 27 per cent of survey respondents. And 44 per cent of voters say improving the train services should be the top priority for the new council.

Crowded motorways, inadequate bus routes and not enough ferry services were big areas of complaint.

One respondent said: “The traffic system … needs to be integrated. I think a Supercity will ensure this happens.”

Another said: “The traffic ruins my day, I would like to be able to take public transport but it would take me three buses.”

Transport problems are even more important to voters than keeping rates down, the deciding issue for 26 per cent of respondents.

I’ve highlighted in bold what I think is the most amazing result of the survey. That is, almost half of respondents felt that improving train services should be the number one priority for the new council. Even though the actual number of people using the train system in Auckland to get to and from work is relatively low (around 35,000 a weekday I think), there’s a general recognition that everyone benefits from a better rail system. People driving benefit as the roads are less clogged and the city as a whole benefits through the wider economic benefits to areas like the CBD that rail brings.

This is a quite staggering result actually. I have obviously always hoped that a significant number of fellow Aucklanders agree that improving public transport in Auckland is one of the most essential things needed to improve the city. This survey confirms my hopes and reinforces what I think is a growing understanding that Auckland’s days of motorway building are drawing to a close and our transport future lies in developing a world-class public transport system.

Hopefully central government might also start to understand that Aucklanders really do want an improved rail system.

Puhoi & the holiday highway

There’s an interesting article in today’s NZ Herald about local opposition in Puhoi to losing access to SH1 if/when the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” is constructed. Here’s an extract:

The little town of Puhoi first learned of what residents consider its death sentence two months ago.

“No off-ramp for Puhoi”, read the innocuous headline on a brief story buried in this newspaper.

No bad thing, you might suspect for the settlement nestled beside the muddy tidal river that curls lazily through the village, 45km north of Auckland and a minute off the highway. Why should the historic settlement be so agitated about connecting to a shiny $1.65 billion new motorway pushing past the end of the road?

“Because we’ll die otherwise,” comes the response from store owner Nick Lodewyks.

“If we don’t have an off-ramp, I’m going.”

Without a connection to the motorway, people driving south to Auckland will be required to follow the old State Highway 1 route through Waiwera and built-up Orewa, adding 16km and a fair bit of time to their journey.

Setting aside for a minute the main question over whether we should be building this extremely expensive motorway, when I first learned that NZTA’s preferred option was to have interchanges at Warkworth and Wellsford, I thought that was probably a good idea. My thoughts were that putting an interchange at Puhoi would simply encourage development around that area – which would contradict our urban growth strategies. Furthermore, Puhoi residents wouldn’t be any worse off in terms of their accessibility than they were back before January 2009 when the Orewa-Puhoi extension opened.

However, thinking about things in a little bit more detail, if the holiday highway is built without an interchange for Puhoi, for someone visiting the town and its surrounding area you would need to take a vastly different and longer route than the new main road. For the first time, Puhoi wouldn’t be easily accessible from the main road – and I suspect as a result the economic impact on the shops within the small village would be devastating.

Eventually the article gets on to talking about the justification for the road as a whole:

One position the NZTA will not budge on is the need for the road, which critics label the “holiday highway” because it could ease gridlock during long weekends.

Estimates as high as $2 billion make a pricey strip of bitumen, and the ARC transport committee doesn’t believe it’s worth the investment.

The Campaign for Better Transport has concluded that almost half the benefits such as journey time savings could be achieved for 20 per cent of the Government’s budget. The lobby group argues that by spending $160 million to $320 million on bypasses and upgrades, the country’s 10th deadliest road – it claimed 41 lives in the past decade – would be a lot safer and faster to drive.

But Mr Parker says the project is proceeding: “The motorway is funded as one of the roads of national significance within the state highway programme. We are pushing ahead on that basis.”

Good to see the hard work of the Campaign for Better Transport getting a mention. A bit of a pity that the Herald didn’t include mention of the 50 people who will die along the road over the next 12 years while the holiday highway is built – but I guess one can’t hope for everything. What’s also interesting is the exact wording used by Mr Tommy Parker of NZTA – that they’re pushing ahead because it’s a “road of national significance”, not because he thinks it’s a good idea, or that it’s necessary or that it’s cost-effective. I really do wonder what NZTA think of the holiday highway. Surely they have enough smart people working there to realise what a complete waste of money it will be?

Getting back to the Puhoi access issue, I think that ultimately the whole debate is pointless – because what we should be doing is not building the motorway in the first place: but instead focusing on safety improvements and a Warkworth bypass. That alternative would obviously retain access to Puhoi.

Finding a solution for Dominion Road

There’s some good news and some not-so-good news in a NZ Herald article on the Dominion Road bus/T2 debacle that I have written a number of blog posts about in the last few months.

It seems as though the proposed changes to the road – including the removal of on-street parking, the creation of lengthy cycle lanes down both sides of the road and the bus versus T2 issue has created a lot of controversy and anger in the area. The article outlines this:

Auckland City leaders, including Mayor John Banks, are backing away from radical changes to Dominion Rd which have had the local community in an uproar.

Mr Banks has confirmed that he will today accept a Save Dominion Rd petition – which organisers say has been signed by more than 5000 people – and that he intends supporting the petitioners.

The petition calls for the city council to abandon plans to remove all street parking along 4.5km of Dominion Rd outside peak hours. Neither do the petitioners want the road widened for cycle-only lanes, nor the introduction of restrictions against right turns.

The changes have been listed in an $83 million package of proposals on which the council has received 1250 submissions in a consultation round due to close on Sunday.

While I don’t agree with many of the things the petitioners are asking for, I think it’s positive to see so many people getting involved in the issue. It would have been interesting to see if the opposition had been quite so overwhelming if the council had stuck with the initial idea of making the lanes for buses only, rather than T2 lanes. The idea of a four-lane highway with no on-street parking to slow vehicles down is pretty scary and I’m not surprised the community has risen up against that.

The article continues, with the organiser of the petition confirming that the biggest fear is that Dominion Road would be turned into a soulless highway:

Petition organiser Penny Hickey said yesterday that the community would be happy with some simple changes, such as a possible minor extension of hours for existing bus lanes, and running these through intersections where general traffic is allowed to occupy two lanes each way.

But she said local residents and business owners had been horrified by a council proposal to turn them into 24-hour lanes, and to open them to any vehicle with two or more occupants, while banning all parking.

“This road has been blighted for 20 years by designation and held back from investment,” said Ms Hickey, a resident of a side street off Dominion Rd who teaches English to migrants.

I think that Ms Hickey’s suggestion of extending (perhaps to 7-11am and 3-7pm?) the hours of bus lane operation would be a useful first step – encouraging more people to use the excellent bus service that is provided along Dominion Road. Extending bus lanes through intersections is also a great idea, as it is intersections where buses often experience the most significant delays.

But I also think it’s worth recognising that these measures are a bit of a “stop-gap” and delay – rather than resolve – finding a longer term public transport solution for Dominion Road. Personally, I think that solution should be the placement of a modern light-rail tram line down the middle of the street – providing a significant boost in capacity and also benefitting the local businesses and residents in the same ways that light-rail systems around the world have proven to be fantastic tools in encouraging intensification, redevelopment and greater economic activity along their routes. I think it must be recognised that removing street parking from Dominion Road will always be difficult – and rightly so in many respects as local shops depend on it (or at the very least think they depend on it). In order for the parking removal to be accepted I think there will need to be something pretty significant given in return that will help these people out.

Something like this should do the trick.

CBD Rail Tunnel: crunch time

Preliminary findings of the business case for the CBD Rail Tunnel should be released within the next month. Of course we all have our fingers crossed that the number-crunching confirms most people’s strong belief that the project is cost-effective and well worth the rather significant $1.5 billion pricetag. I think another critical thing to keep an eye on is how the business case for the CBD Rail Tunnel stacks up against the extremely poor business case for the Puhoi-Wellsford road. After all, both are transport projects that are likely to cost around $1.5 billion – so it would make sense to measure them up against one another to see which offers the best “return” on that investment of $1.5 billion.

It is interesting to note in recent weeks the Transport Minister has been a bit more positive in his soundings on the CBD Rail Tunnel – noting that out of all rail projects it was certainly likely to be the next off the block and may well be cost-effective (unlike others such as a North Shore Line – I agree with him on that point). Perhaps he has been informed a bit earlier than the rest of us that the project does stack up well?

Putting wishful thinking aside for the moment, what happens between the time the business case is released and the end of this year is critical in keeping the ball rolling on advancing the project. We must remember that there are a lot more steps in the process towards actually making the project happen – including the extremely important step of actually securing and protecting the route. Ensuring that all the work currently going into the project doesn’t end up as a giant door-stop, but instead advances onto the next phase of route protection is exceedingly important – as not only does it ensure the tunnel can’t be stuffed up by other projects, but it also continues to build momentum for the project.

Wellington’s bureaucrats are well aware of the process too, as a paper prepared by Treasury on the project shows. In response to a request by Steven Joyce to tell him more about “where it’s up to and where it’s going” (he didn’t already know?) the paper provides a very useful insight into the kind of advice that Joyce is getting on this project. Of particular note was how the paper (which was written in March this year) points towards “six months time” being a crunch point for determining the future of the project. It’s disappointing, but hardly surprising, that the paper is somewhat negative on the required timing of the project (I wonder what Treasury would say about Puhoi-Wellsford?) However, that’s not really the key point here. The key point is that there’s a huge decision to be made in the next few months – whether to lodge the notice of requirement to protect the tunnel’s route. That’s the second big hurdle for the project to get over (the first being getting the current study underway). As the paper notes, once there’s a commitment to lodging the notice of requirement to protect the route then serious money starts needing to be spent on the project – making a commitment that it’s only a matter of when, not if, the project gets constructed.

Of course the absolutely massive unresolved issue is “who will pay for the project?” One and a half billion dollars is a lot of money (assuming that’s roughly what it’s likely to cost) and unlike state highways, rail projects don’t have a dedicated funding source. It’s on this matter that I think the Treasury paper provides particularly interesting advice: This highlights what I think the biggest barrier to constructing the CBD Rail Tunnel is – and that is the fact that NZTA money cannot be spent on the project. Whatever the rationale behind Cabinet Minute (09) 8/11-14 was, the decision made to effectively ban NZTA funds from being spent on this project is devastating for the likelihood of it happening any time soon. This is for one basic reason: NZTA have money, nobody else really does. It’s very interesting indeed to see that Treasury is basically recommending that this decision be reversed, so that NZTA can use its money to pay for at least part of the project.

And it makes good sense too for NZTA to help fund the project, because road-users (who fund NZTA) will be amongst the biggest beneficiaries of the CBD Rail Tunnel – as it will enable the rail system to take huge numbers of people off the roads at peak times in particular. And, as the table below shows, each extra rail trip generates a huge amount of benefit for road-users: For all those championing the CBD rail tunnel, what we really need to focus on is changing Cabinet Minute (09) 8/11-14 and allowing rail capital projects to once again tap into the NZTA funding pool. That will enable the money freed up by a more cost-effective Puhoi-Wellsford project to be used on this project.

Ultimately, I think that’s the only likely way the project will happen any time soon. We build the $160 million “Operation Lifesaver” upgrade to Puhoi-Wellsford and therefore save around $1.4 billion compared to the cost of a full motorway upgrade, and we put that money into the CBD tunnel – supplementing it with a decent contribution from the Auckland Council. The outcome is that we save around 50 lives on state highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford and we direct our money more cost-effectively. I wonder whether that will happen though.

The need for cost-effectiveness in infrastructure investment

Finance Minister (and Infrastructure Minister) Bill English yesterday gave quite an interesting speech to representative of Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ). The topic of the speech related to the need for tax-payers and rate-payers to get the best return possible on infrastructure investment. He also stresses the need for central and local government to co-operate when it comes to prioritising infrastructure investment.

Here’s what he says about the need for cost-effectiveness:

“This Government has increased infrastructure investment – we currently spend about $6 billion a year on the purchase and maintenance of our critical infrastructure and hold about $110 billion in physical assets,” Mr English says.

“However at a time when our finances are constrained, it is vital we get the most out of this investment. That means projects must be properly selected and must provide a justifiable return on taxpayers’ funds.

“The Government is determined to improve the management of its assets – both the current stock and how decisions are made about future investment.

Note the bit underlined. I do wonder whether this requirement applies to extremely expensive motorway projects like the Puhoi-Wellsford Road (which has more cost-effective alternatives) or just to transport and/or other infrastructural projects that Mr English or his colleague Steven Joyce aren’t so keen on.

It’s also interesting to note what he says about the need for co-operation between central and local government:

“A vital step in achieving smarter infrastructure investment in the future will be greater central and local government collaboration. This is one of the areas that will be developed further in the next National Infrastructure Plan.

“Greater collaboration and co-ordination will help ensure the right projects are built when they are needed and that taxpayers and ratepayers get the best possible return on limited funds. I welcome the mayors’ and LGNZ’s constructive approach to this issue,” Mr English says.

I fully agree, but is this basically another way of saying “you local governments need to agree with us!” or is it a genuine “we need to both agree on what’s most needed and what will provide the best return on investment”?

I guess we have to wait and see.