The Business Report from Auckland Transport’s April Board Meeting contains quite a lot of interesting information – in terms of hinting at a number of upcoming PT improvements, highlighting some real funding squeezes thanks to NZTA funding being largely dedicated to motorway building and providing some updates on infrastructure projects. This blog even gets a mention at one point.
For this post, I’m going to focus on the upcoming improvements to public transport services that are noted in the Business Report and this attachment to it. Many of the recent, and upcoming, service improvements relate to what was announced a few weeks back. Short-term service improvements that have either been implemented in the last month or two, or will be implemented very soon, are summarised below: One thing that’s slightly frustrating is to see many of these capacity boosts only happening after the busiest month of the year – March. Patronage trends show that year after year, March is by far the busiest month for public transport patronage, so a few of the proposed improvements do seem a bit “after the horse has bolted”. Perhaps Auckland Transport might try to time their capacity increases next year so they come just before the March demand spike.
Some of the proposed rail improvements over the next year or so are interesting: Once we have ten minute peak frequencies on the Western Line early next year not only will we not have any additional rolling stock until late 2013/early 2014, Britomart’s capacity will also be completely maxed out – so the electric trains can only really replace existing train paths into Britomart, rather than add extra train capacity. We’ll need the CBD Tunnel for that.
The suggestions of fare differentiation for peak and off-peak travel, or service patterns that avoid Britomart (although I can’t see where the rolling stock is to run such services) seem like sensible and necessary options to handle continued patronage growth in the future. I caught a Western Line train into the city this morning and it seemed close to 40% of passengers disembarked at Grafton and Newmarket stations – so west to south trains could be helpful in providing supplementary capacity for those trips.
Finally, the report provides an update on how the integrated ticketing project is progressing: This month’s business report seems a whole heap more detailed and interesting than what we saw in previous months. That’s a good sign as it means we have a better understanding about what Auckland Transport is up to.
On 8 May HOP cards with a Snapper logo will replace Go Rider cards on North Star buses. The rollout will continue in the following weeks on Go West and Waka Pacific buses then Metrolink and LINK buses. HOP cards will be available from retail outlets from next Monday, 2 May.
GoWest and Waka Pacific will switch over on May 22, MetroLink and Link buses will then switch over on June 5.
It seems that Auckland Transport have learned a bit from the confusion that surrounded the launch of HOP, as CEO David Warburton goes into quite a bit of detail to explain exactly what roles Snapper, Thales, NZTA and Auckland Transport play in the project:
Dr Warburton says, “This first phase of Auckland’s smartcard gives cardholders the convenience of using the same card for everyday purchases with Snapper. NZ Bus has chosen to use Snapper’s equipment to join the HOP scheme, which will be adapted at the end of the year to interoperate with the Thales system when the next phase of the rollout with rail, some ferry and bus, comes into play.
“Thales is Auckland Transport’s long term provider for Auckland’s smartcard system, chosen out of a strong list of contenders. Thales is supplying design, technology and a system that allows for interoperability. Thales has been involved in ticketing programs for over 40 years with electronic ticketing solutions in operation in more than 100 cities around the world including involvement with Hong Kong’s highly successful Octopus card.
“It is the co-operation between Thales, Auckland Transport and Snapper which will enable Snapper’s equipment, NZ Bus, other transport operators and third parties to connect to Auckland Transport’s central system which is provided by Thales. We are also very appreciative of the ongoing support from the New Zealand Transport Agency”.
I’ve underlined four key words in the above quote, which indicate that the Snapper machines will ‘switch’ at some point towards the end of the year from connecting with the Snapper system to connecting with the Thales system. There’s still no final word on whether we’ll need to change cards, I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that front.
Dr Warburton also provides some clarity on the ‘rollout process’ for the card over the next year and a half:
Dr. Warburton says, “Following the roll out of HOP on all NZ Bus services, the next phase of the rollout, Phase Two, will be near the end of the year using the Thales system. This phase will include the addition of rail and the Devonport ferry service. The third and final phase will roll out in 2012 which will see all rail, ferry services and bus services integrated onto a single card”.
One interesting thing that will need to be considered over the next few weeks is what happens on routes that are run my multiple operators. The vast majority of 004/005 buses are operated by Metrolink, but a small number (mainly interpeak, but also the 5.05pm bus) are operated by Northstar. I have also seen Northstar buses in the past on Sandringham Road routes. Whilst I already have a HOP card (and I should probably get around to topping it up) I suspect that most bus riders don’t yet have the card – there could be havoc when the first 5.05pm 005 North star bus turns up the week after next – with nobody being able to get on with their regular Go Rider pass.
All up, it’s good to see something finally happening with the HOP rollout, and it’s good to see someone from Auckland Transport finally speak with some clarity about how the whole Snapper/Thales thing will work out. As I noted above (and have noted in previous blog posts) I still have concerns about having to ‘swap out’ cards every time the system changes, but hopefully Auckland Transport and their partners will find a solution over the next few months that makes such a swap-out unnecessary.
Perhaps prompted by the various items on Radio NZ this morning, the Ministry of Transport has finally got around to publishing a discussion document for the next Government Policy State for transport funding. You can read the document here and you can also make submissions on it between now and May 27th by emailing: GPS@transport.govt.nz.
As I suspected this morning, the 2012 GPS is proposed to very much continue the “1960s thinking” basis of the current policy statement. The bulk of NZTA funding is to be spent on building new state highways (particularly new roads of national significance) even though traffic on them is steady or falling, while funding for just about every other transport activity class (except, interestingly enough, public transport subsidies) is going to be squeezed enormously.
The discussion document outlines the three main focus areas for the 2012 GPS:
Personally I can’t quite see how spending up large on projects with very low cost-benefit ratios and falling demand, plus taking money away from the road safety budget is likely to achieve these three main goals – but I guess it’s interesting to at least know what they are.
The engagement document talks quite a bit about the RoNS – and confirms the potential addition of the further RoNS that I discussed a few days back, including the bizarre Cambridge to Taupo route:
If 6800 vehicles a day along SH1 for much of the section between Cambridge and Taupo represent “high volume”, then the bar is set pretty low. Remember that the one lane Kopu Bridge carried nearly 10,000 vehicles a day back in 2009 – why wasn’t its replacement bridge a four-lane superhighway? (not that I’m saying it should be)
Most of the wording in the document is just fluffy words that generally appear to me as completely contradictory. What really matters are the funding bands that the GPS sets out – with the 2012 version highlighting the maximum and minimum expected spend on each particular funding class for 2012-2015. It also hints at the potential funding bands for years beyond 2015, right through to the 2021/2022 financial year.
But to start with the next three years, the funding bands are shown in the table below:The funding ranges are apparently put in place to give NZTA some ‘wriggle-room’ about what they choose to invest in, but what’s particularly important to look at is the upper limit of the funding range – as it’s my understanding NZTA find it very difficult to fund anything beyond that limit. However, there’s obviously not enough funding in the total ‘pool’ to fund everything at the upper limit, so inevitably some things will miss out and be funded much lower. It’s not hard to guess that state highway funding is unlikely to be the thing that misses out.
A few things stand out for me – firstly the reduced funding for pretty much all the “small things” that NZTA does, like research, transport planning, manging the funding allocation (which I think generally means NZTA staff numbers) and road safety. A lot of things also have their funding pretty much held level – which obviously means a cut in real terms. Those are major expenditure points like local roads and state highways maintenance. One truly bizarre thing about the priorities of this GPS is that we’re throwing money at building new state highways while at the same time being less able to look after the ones we already have.
In terms of public transport, the GPS is a strange mix of OK news and terrible news. On the positive side, a significant increase in funding for public transport services (translation: subsidies) is proposed. This is good as it will ensure Auckland’s rail network can be properly funded, and it should also allow a bit of breathing space to increase service provision levels in response to rising public transport patronage. But on the downside is the absolute gutting of the public transport infrastructure fund – which helps pay for things like railway station upgrades, bus priority projects, ferry terminal upgrades and the like. The gutting of the PT infrastructure fund comes through particularly clearly if we start to look a bit more long-term at the government’s proposed funding bands: To make a little bit more sense out of all these numbers, I have put together a couple of tables in Microsoft Excel, which look at which activity classes dominate the funding, and whether that changes over time throughout the course of the GPS. I’ve used the midpoint between the top and bottom end of the funding range to give a single number for what I think might be the “most likely” level of funding for that activity in a particular year. To simplify it a bit, I also created sub-totals of the various types of spending: state highways, local roads, public transport, road policing and “other”. It’s probably worth noting that the “grand total” available to spend in year in the table above is simply found by adding up the totals of all the mid-points (rather than the actual total of available funding, which as shown in the above tables is somewhat higher).
This shows some relatively interesting results. We can see that while spending on state highways as a whole remains relatively constant in the mid-50% of the total fund, the proportion of that spend one new state highways goes up a lot, while the proportion that’s spent on renewals and maintenance declines. Local roads remains around 20% of the fund throughout the whole period – although considering around 50% of vehicle kilometres travelled in the country are on local roads (the other 50% being on state highways) it’s probably fair to say that local roads in general are under-funded.
It is the public transport funding that probably confuses me most though – with the big increase in funding for PT services but the slashing of funding for infrastructure improvements. Considering that most PT infrastructure improvements (like bus priority measures, ticketing system improvements, ferry terminal upgrades etc.) will improve the efficiency of public transport as well as boosting patronage, some investment in PT infrastructure is likely to mean a lower reliance on subsidies further down the track. It would seem that the government’s deliberate public transport strategy is to withhold funding that would allow the system to be upgraded, while accepting the result of withholding infrastructure funding is the need to boost money spend on subsidies significantly over the next decade.
If we look at the changes to funding allocations over the 10 year period covered by the GPS, some of the changes proposed in this document start to appear a bit clearer (once again these take the midpoints):
The table above really highlights what I’m talking about in terms of public transport funding. Funds available for subsidies almost doubles over the 10 year period, while funding for infrastructure improvements is cut by three quarters. That just seems plain dumb – setting yourself up to have poor infrastructure in the future that will force you to pay out really high levels of subsidy.
In actual fact, there’s a lot in the GPS that’s actually just plain dumb. Like spending up large on building new state highways, but neglecting the ones you already have by cutting funding for renewal and maintenance. Like strongly limiting local road funding even though that’s where most of the traffic growth on the road network is. Like promoting further Roads of National Significance in absolutely stupid places, when you can’t even afford to fund your existing pet projects without stuffing up all other parts of the transport budget. Like cutting money for road safety when supposedly it’s a major focus on the policy statement. Like dramatically cutting public transport infrastructure funding so the PT networks can’t improve, but accepting that will lead to way higher subsidies in the future so making plenty of cash available for them.
I suppose to summarise, the GPS could be worse as there is some good news for public transport in the funding boost for services. However, I just can’t get my head around how utterly dumb much of the document is and how utterly contradictory the goals of the GPS are with what’s actually being promoted to achieve those goals. Surely it’s not hard to realise that, if one is trying to boost economic growth and improve road safety, it’s pretty dumb to spend more on the parts of your road network people are using less, cut money from funding parts of the network that are being used more, drastically cut funding from public transport infrastructure improvements while patronage in the country’s largest city is booming, and decrease funding for road safety initiatives.
I’m still to find a copy of it anywhere on the internet, but it seems that Radio NZ have seen the draft version of the 2012 Government Policy Statement for transport spending. Their description of it is unsurprising, but also depressing:
The Government intends to increase spending on new state highways but cut or effectively freeze funding in all but one other area of transport spending.
That’s according to the draft version of the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding 2012, in which the Transport Minister proposes higher limits for spending on new state highways – $1.3 billion by the 2014-15 financial year and $1.7 billion by 2021.
Funding would be cut in four areas, including road user safety, while funding for public transport infrastructure, road policing and local roads would be kept at current levels.
The draft document also tags four highways as possible future roads of national significance.
They are Hamilton to Tauranga, Cambridge to Taupo, further development of the Hawke’s Bay expressway and improvements north and south of Christchurch on State Highway 1.
It looks like all of our worst fears. Goodness knows how a motorway between Cambridge and Taupo (a road that carries around 50% fewer vehicles than the single lane Kopu Bridge) can be a more important project than most of Auckland’s big future rail projects. We might finally see a transport project with a cost-benefit ratio beginning with 0.0 (can they go negative?)
Labour transport spokesman Shane Jones says some good things in response to the draft GPS:
The Labour Party says the Government’s transport plans are a mess and it should go back to the drawing-board.
The party’s transport spokesperson, Shane Jones, says Transport Minister Steven Joyce should change his name to the tarmac king.
“Those particular roads will prove to be illusory,” Mr Jones says, “just as the Puhoi extension is illusory, and I doubt you’ll find that there’s enough to fund those pet projects that he and his National Party colleagues have in mind.”
Mr Jones says more money should be spent on public transport.
I’ve always thought transport seemed a more obvious area to critique government policy, because all these big roads of national significance just don’t seem to accord with the general stated desire to be careful with spending. Here’s the short interview with Shane Jones from this morning.
While all this isn’t a surprise, it does reflect a transport policy that seems out of touch with reality. Over the last three to four years there simply hasn’t been growth in state highway traffic use – while at the same time public transport patronage has increase massively. That’s most clearly illustrated in the graphs below, which look at how things have changed from 2007 to 2010:
The graph above looks at how things have progressively changed over the past three years on a month by month basis, looking at percentage change in PT patronage and state highway traffic compared to the same month the year before. The graph below compares the patronage and state highway traffic for each month in 2007 against each month in 2010. I’m still trying to work out the logic of increasingly focusing spending on state highways when their use is declining, while capping funding for public transport even though its use is skyrocketing. I must say I’m really struggling to find any logic.
But before we get into the details of what that document contains, it’s worth taking a look at some further things Mr Yule says:
Mr Yule says the GPS 2012 released yesterday proposes to direct most funding to the state highway network and roads of national significance, to the detriment of local roads.
“Once again local roads, and therefore many smaller communities, lose out to roads of national significance. But this doesn’t have to be the case.”
Mr Yule is urging the Government to prioritise road funding with the big picture in mind. He would like to see a more equitable spend which takes into account the areas from where money is generated.
“If money is coming from local roads it should go back into local roads. We need to look at our roading network as a whole. At the moment there is a focus on state highways and roads of national significance. They may well be a vital part of the network but we also need to take into account the contribution local roads make to the New Zealand economy,” he said.
From reading through the various documents prepared by the MoT that will inform that next GPS one thing comes through extremely loud and clear – that the RoNS projects are placing an enormous financial strain on the transport fund, making it very difficult to find adequate funding for other things it’s meant to help pay for – like the contribution to local roads (which are paid for roughly 50/50 between NZTA and the local council). This is outlined below: It’s a pity that a part of the paragraphs outlined above has been excluded (to enable free and frank advice, as always), but one can logically ascertain what it’s likely to be saying – that taking money away from local roads to help fund state highway improvements seems to be simply transfering the congestion and safety problems from the state highways onto the local roads. This is pretty obvious in Auckland, where projects such as the widening of the northwest motorway are going to do nothing to solve the real bottlenecks on the roads feeding into the motorway: like Te Atatu Road and Lincoln Road. In fact, evening peak congestion on those roads is likely to increase as the widened motorway simply funnels more and more cars onto an already congested and overloaded arterial road.
One thing in the above section that did capture my interesting quite a lot was the assertion that traffic growth on local roads has increased more than on state highways in recent years. That’s illustrated very clearly in the graphs below: It would be interesting to see the 2010 traffic flows, let alone those so far in 2011 (NZTA monthly data provides more up to date information region by region, but only for state highway volumes).
When the data is broken down even further, it seems that local urban roads are where the highest levels of traffic increase are to be found – and particularly in the Auckland area: The next graph shows how much Auckland’s local road traffic dominates the VKT across all local roads in the country – I guess because in the smaller centres it’s difficult to drive too far without eventually ending up on a state highway: One interesting thing the document also looks at are measures of congestion – in Auckland it seems that morning congestion has worsened while evening congestion has alleviated somewhat over the past few years: The footnote (5) is relevant because it says that this is only congestion on the state highway network. Overall, one might conclude that our state highway policy of the past few years has been an utter disaster in Auckland. It goes something like this:
We have spent vastly more on building new state highways: up from around $200 million a year in 2005 to around $500 million a year in 2010.
Despite the huge amount of extra money spent, and little new traffic, congestion on the motorways has only become worse (see graph above).
Moving along, the remainder of the document really focuses on the risks outlined earlier in this post of having a transport policy that focuses so much on building new motorways. A significantly greater chunk of the local road spend over the past few years has been dedicated to maintenance an renewal, rather than new projects – probably because there simply isn’t much money available to build new local roading projects. The MoT seems extremely concerned about the impact of these trends on the achievement of general transport goals – such as reducing (rather than shifting) congestion and improving (rather than shifting) road safety.
Personally I question the need for many local roading projects quite often – such as Penlink – and it would seem that the current Auckland Council may have a desire to spend less on new local roads in order to free up money for public transport improvements (at least that’s what their rhetoric seems to say, the Annual Plan reality looks quite different). But good arterial roads, with bus lanes, cycle lanes, safety improvements and whatever else is needed, really are the essential link-points in a city like Auckland. The motorway network is just about complete here, what we need is a well functioning arterial road system to support the state highway network (plus obviously a far better public transport network); rather than a growing mismatch between a hugely over-spec state highway system and a vastly underfunded local road network.
But yet again the Minister seems to see things differently, and would rather focus on building motorways between Cambridge and Taupo.
There was a rather weird initiative yesterday morning as I wandered from my bus to work around the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Street – a mariachi band playing in time with pedestrians crossing the road and encouraging people to “check before they step”. It took a visit to Auckland Transport’s website to make sense out of it:
In line with a statistical change in the age of pedestrians being injured, Auckland Transport launched its new ‘Check Before You Step’ pedestrian safety campaign in Aotea Square targeting both pedestrians and drivers…
…At the campaign’s launch a mariachi band played as pedestrians cross the road in Queen Street, Auckland. They played when the lights turned green and stopped when they turned red. The band was a fun interactive way for Auckland Transport to reach its key audience. The campaign uses a cascade of media messages to raise awareness among pedestrians to cross safely and for motorists to slow down. Bus backs and bus shelters around key town centres and pedestrian routes will be used.
Campaigns to improve road safety are certainly excellent – and initiatives to get drivers to slow down is probably the absolute best way to improve road safety, particularly in busy pedestrian areas like downtown Auckland, but there’s a certain undercurrent to much of the thinking about this campaign that frustrates me a bit. Perhaps it’s best illustrated by this quote from Auckland Transport’s Community Transport Manager Matthew Rednall:
“Every day there are pedestrians not checking that the light is green before stepping out into oncoming traffic, and there are pedestrians rushing to get across before the light goes red…
…“Distractions such as listening to music through earphones, talking on mobile phones and jay-walking are also becoming factors in crashes,” said Mr Rednall.
By the sound of all this, you would think there are tonnes of pedestrians wandering out on roads just trying to get themselves killed. I think that’s fairly unlikely myself – and although pedestrians do need to take care when crossing the road, surely a greater onus needs to go onto drivers to make damn sure they’re not going to kill anyone when they’re driving around.
As an interesting aside, I wonder whether one of the most dangerous things for pedestrians in the city centre are the crossing sounds at traffic lights. Just the other day I was waiting, somewhat distracted in my thoughts, at the corner of Victoria and Albert Streets by the bungy machine and the crossing sound went off for the other phase – it was only after about three steps out onto the road did I realise it was for the other phase, and I quickly hurried back. I’m not quite sure how to resolve that particular issue, but I do wonder whether it factors in any vehicle/pedestrian accidents. Certainly I’ve seen over and over again people stepping out when they hear the noise, before quickly realising that it wasn’t actually for them.
Perhaps what annoys me about this “blame the pedestrian” syndrome, is how different things seemed in the North America during my trip there last year. One of the most striking memories I have is how friendly drivers in North American cities (particularly in New York City) are towards pedestrians. Here’s what I wrote back in September last year while visiting:
One thing that I have found interesting in New York is the interaction between pedestrians and motorists. Due to the NYC grid, there are thousands upon thousands of intersections with traffic-lights on Manhattan Island. That means a lot of roads to cross, a lot of lights to wait for. However, usually you don’t have to end up waiting – you just walk as there aren’t particularly many cars except on the main north-south avenues.
Even when there are cars coming through on a green light, they seem to always slow down and give way to pedestrians who are halfway across the road jay-walking. Perhaps it’s the massive number of pedestrians that makes this work, perhaps NYC drivers are just more concerned about pedestrian safety than in Auckland, or perhaps it’s something else altogether. I like the “greying” of the boundaries between pedestrians and vehicles that we see in NYC – a friendliness to pedestrians that I actually didn’t expect to see at all.
Although Manhattan is a really really busy place, both in terms of pedestrians and vehicles, it felt a really safe place to cross the road. Even if you stuffed something up, by forgetting which way traffic was turning or for a second thinking one was back in New Zealand and the cars went the other way, nothing ever seemed particularly dangerous because the drivers are careful.
In places like Auckland’s city centre, or on non-arterial local roads, I wonder whether we need to think a bit more radically about our efforts to improve pedestrian safety. Is there really a reason for any streets in the city centre to have a speed limit of higher than 30 kilometres an hour? Is there really a reason for the speed limits on non-arterial local roads to be any higher than 40 kph? Should pedestrians have a greater level of legal protection in these areas? Maybe one of the reasons pedestrians cross on red lights is because their phasing takes forever – why don’t we do something about that issue?
Those are some interesting questions to ponder, and I think changes like these would be far more effective than blaming pedestrians for getting themselves killed.
Auckland Transport has finally got around to publishing their public transport report for March 2011, and the patronage results confirm a post of mine last week – they are spectacular. Here’s a summary: If we break down the summary to look at the numbers – there are some really healthy trends. Patronage on the Onehunga Line is really high (around 2,500 trips a day compared to the estimated 500), the Western Line had a massive 30% growth in patronage and general bus patronage was up by nearly 5%. It’s interesting to see that out of the 500,000 trip increase in patronage over March 2010, 200,000 of those (40% ) were on the rail network. Looking at the increases in patronage on the Western Line I wonder whether it might be necessary to get those 10 minute peak frequencies as soon as possible.
You can see the big spike in patronage last month in the graph below – what I look forward to is seeing whether months like May and August can also get close to 7 million overall and 1 million on the rail network. October might be a big month later this year – with the Rugby World Cup bringing a lot more people to Auckland than normal: Looking at the rail patronage statistics, I find the graph below quite helpful. One extraordinary thing that it highlights is that not only is rail patronage increasing, but that it’s also increasing at an increasing rate. We could well see 2010/2011 rail patronage being around 20% higher than the year before if the current trends continue – quite an achievement when you’re going off a higher base than ever before. Turning to the Northern Express, patronage increased by 10.7% on March 2010 – a slower rate of increase than in recent years. One suspects that this is largely due to capacity issues – both at the park and ride stations and also on the buses themselves. The recently announced service improvements will hopefully allow the NEX to break through the magic 2 million trips mark for the 12 month rolling total: Looking at general bus patronage, which is a very important component because it’s the largest, the report usefully breaks down into sectors where patronage is and is not growing: The figures are still somewhat skewed by the October 2009 bus lockout, with massive increases around October and November 2010 compared to the year before. If we compare the sectors, yet again the main growth is is the north and south – reflecting a general trend towards longer PT trips (perhaps those trips are the ones that higher petrol prices really hurt?) and a response to where service improvements have been made in the last few years.
Even ferry patronage, which for so long has barely increased at all – went up by a substantial 10.2% in March.As a final point of comparison – the graph below from NZTA shows the March 2011 state highway traffic volumes and how they compare to March 2010: It looks pretty obvious where the government should cut the $60 million in lost fuel tax revenue from – the “build more state highways” budget.
An interesting announcement today by transport minister Steven Joyce – that the proposed 1.5c a litre fuel tax increase that was to take effect in July will now be cancelled – or more realistically delayed until next year and the year after (with bigger increases likely to be necessary to make up the difference):
Transport Minister Stephen Joyce announced this afternoon the 1.5 cent per litre increase due to come into effect on July 1 had been deferred.
He said the move made sense amid the ongoing impact of the global recession and the Christchurch earthquakes.
“The government’s $11 billion roading programme will not be significantly affected over the ten year plan for the programme. In fact, ongoing investment in transport infrastructure and services, which is a key economic driver, has never been higher.”
From a political perspective the announcement is pretty unsurprising. With petrol prices at record highs and people struggling with higher living costs in general, it would have been a particularly unpopular increase. Of course, one more ‘burp’ in the Middle East and chances are we’ll be experiencing much higher increases anyway.
The article continues:
Government officials are working on the next Government Policy Statement for Land Transport Funding (GPS), which will set out the Government’s transport priorities and how they will be funded.
The 2012/13 – 2021/22 GPS will include support necessary to repair Canterbury’s transport infrastructure.
Mr Joyce said it will also provide certainty for the rest of the country on the government’s commitments to supporting transport projects and economic growth.
Ah yes well we’ve been looking at the next GPS quite a lot lately and one of the loudest messages that seems to have been coming through the documentation so far is the enormous squeeze on the funding of most transport sectors that has resulted from Joyce’s pet Roads of National Significance projects. I think it’s fairly unlikely that today’s announcement will assist in resolving this funding squeeze – which will result in the loss of about $60-75 million of revenue (according to this interview).
An interesting question to ponder is where will the savings be found to meet the $60 million loss in revenue. Will it comes out of funding for new state highway projects – or will it comes out of funding other modes, like local roads and public transport subsidies?
The agenda for Auckland Transport’s board meeting tomorrow has been posted online (both the boring open agenda and the rather more interesting confidential agenda). In the closed agenda, along with various items that seem relatively normal, will be special consideration of the following: One imagines that the EMU Procurement item is responding to KiwiRail’s short-listing down to two of the preferred suppliers that was announced a few days back. Perhaps Auckland Transport is being asked to make some decisions on exactly what they want. It’s the Central City Rail Link (is that the new official name for the project?) item that interests me most though – as this comes not too long before the Cabinet is going to be considering the CBD Tunnel Business Case Review project that has been going on for the past few months.
It’s hard to know exactly what will come out of the business case review. Compared to the Puhoi-Wellsford business case I thought that the CBD tunnel case was extremely comprehensive. I liked the way that it went beyond the traditional analysis of wider economic benefits to look at the impact on productivity that concentrating employment in the CBD (something the project is critical for allowing to happen) would have. However, it also had some weaknesses – with obvious questions like “how many cars will it take off the roads” not being answered in an easily accessible way. I think it also focuses too much on what the benefits to the CBD are – and ignores benefits to other parts of Auckland that will arise from us being able to operate trains at frequencies of more than one every ten minutes. The table below shows what a massive difference the CBD Tunnel will make to total rail patronage in Auckland in 2041 – 22.2 million without the tunnel, 47.6 million with it: Another issue I took with the business case is probably not its own fault (in that it was written last year before the Super City came into being), but that it ignores to some extent the impact on the city centre that things like the International City Centre Master Plan might have. That Master Plan envisages creating a city centre that is far more people-oriented and far less vehicle-oriented – a potential fundamental conflict with even the current number of cars and buses that stream in and out of downtown every day. Yet the business case modelling suggests that even with the tunnel, the city centre will have to deal with bus passengers increasing from 23,000 to 42,000 in 2041, and vehicle numbers increasing from 34,500 to 39,600 by 2041. This is shown in the table below: As most people would clearly recognise, the number of vehicles entering the city at peak times probably doesn’t have much capacity to grow – plus with measures proposed in the Master Plan (like two-waying Hobson and Nelson streets, potentially pedestrianising Queen and Quay streets plus implementing many more bus lanes to stop the city being so clogged up with buses) it seems highly likely that general vehicle capacity will decrease. So that calls into question some of the modelling outcomes of the business case in my mind at least – meaning that the benefits of the project may have been under-estimated.
However, my understanding is that the central government agencies involved in the review are likely to take quite a different approach – as papers released under the OIA suggested. The Ministry of Transport had the following to say about the business case: Looking further into MoT’s criticism of the business case, and in particular their criticism of the expected rail patronage (referred to above) pretty much boils down to flooding the city centre with cars. MoT’s revised modelling suggests that up to 56,000 vehicles would enter the city during peak time in 2041, even with the project. Something tells me they need to get a new modelling system if it produces such insanely counter-intuitive results.
I suppose, to cut to the chase, unless something dramatic has happened over the last few months to result in government officials and Auckland Transport officials reconciling their massive differences on the merit of this project – it seems somewhat unlikely we’ll have a definitive answer on whether it makes sense or not. I suspect that a lot of further work needs to be done to better understand wider economic benefits – and although this work has begun in terms of the various RoNS projects – the way the CBD Tunnel business case came up with its staggering large “urban regeneration benefits” didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps it is the same measurement that was used in the UK’s assessment of CrossRail’s “move to more productive jobs” benefits, but I just don’t know. The logic behind the benefits makes sense – as is outlined above – it’s just working out exactly how to quantify those benefits which might need some further analysis. I’m sure we could always ask the UK government how they do it.
However, considering the financial impact of the Christchurch earthquake and the government’s general distaste for anything rail, one could argue that the business case review is pretty irrelevant anyway – even with the most fantastic cost-benefit ratio in the entire world I think it’s doubtful the government would simply go “yeah sure, here’s a billion dollars, go off and build it”. They only do that for uneconomic roading projects.
So I think what we can really hope for, once the business case review is completed, is what I talked about in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake and its impacts on project priorities: that Auckland Council simply gets on with designating the route, undertaking the detailed design and sorting out all the necessary consents to actually build the project. As shown in the diagram below, if we want to have the project completed by 2021 (which is the date used by the Regional Land Transport Strategy and the business case) then we don’t actually need to start building until 2015 – we have a good 3-4 years of work that needs to be done before the point where we get the diggers out:
Because of this, there’s no real need to start spending “big bucks” until later this decade – once again something spelled out quite clearly in the business case:
Auckland Council could quite easily cover the costs of the project by itself up until 2016ish – I would think. So there’s no desperately pressing need to get the government ‘on-side’ to help with funding – at least not for now. One might imagine that by the middle of this decade, particularly if petrol prices continue to increase and rail patronage continues to grow (with integrated ticketing and electrification coming online that seems inevitable), a sensible government could take quite a different perspective on the need for the project. Perhaps the Ministry of Transport might have even updated their modelling software to something that’s not stuck in the 1960s too!
The one big potential ‘spanner in the works’ is that the only agency legally able to designate railway lines is KiwiRail. And KiwiRail’s Minister is Steven Joyce – who has to give the ‘go-ahead’ for them to be able to designate the route, even if Auckland Council is the one who’s actually paying for the process 100%. Now one wouldn’t think that Joyce would ban KiwiRail from doing such a thing, when it comes at absolutely no cost to the government – but you never know.