Two types of urban development

A week ago I took a look at some of the issues with our planning system here in Auckland, and how some of the basic rules around residential development seem to have consequences that don’t exactly seem to fit with our over-arching goals like promoting intensification and trying to provide some affordable housing. In actual fact, many District Plan rules seem to promote exactly the opposite: forcing massive houses to be developed because that’s simply the best way for developers to make money. Because they can only build a single unit on their sites, they make that housing unit huge because that’s where the profit lies.

What’s quite interesting is to have a look at different eras of urban development in Auckland, and to prove a bit of a point I’m going to take a couple of extremes: one of the very oldest residential parts of the city and one of the very newest. First, for the oldest we have Renall Street in Freemans Bay, part of which from the street looks like this:

 Renall Street was developed in the late 1860s, as artisan housing and is an incredibly rare survivor of its type. Its characteristics are described in a ‘character statement‘ from the Auckland City District Plan:

The street was set out in 1865 with a reserve width of only half a chain (10m). The typical narrow lots of 7-8 perches (180-200m²) have survived to this day. The houses sit tightly together with minimal side yards, so that the houses are orientated entirely to the front and rear. The lots are shallow, and the houses sit well forward with little or no front yard. Planting is small scale and delicate. Only a narrow footpath separates the properties from the carriageway, a characteristic of artisan housing of the period. The ambience, at both the front and rear of the houses, is of very compact, close-spaced, tight density. 

Unsurprisingly, even though this is one of the most characterful streets of Auckland, building anything close to this type of development these days would just about break every planning rule imaginable. From above, you can see how high density the street is – at least compared to most parts of Auckland:

 Yet what’s interesting to note is because the houses are so close to each other, so close to the street and of a fairly modest size, they actually end up having surprisingly decent areas of private outdoor open space in their backyards. Let’s take a look at a part of the street to work out its area:

 So we have five houses in a little over 1,000 square metres – an average lot size of around 200 square metres. By contrast, generally the smallest lots these days are about twice that size and even then they feel very cramped – largely because of the size of the house put on there. Now let’s look at the outdoor open space that each of these places has:

 All up these places have nearly 500 square metres of usable backyard – around 100 square metres each or half the lot size. What makes this space particularly useful is that it’s all in one area, rather than split amongst a tiny front yard, pointless sideyards and then a backyard that’s pretty small too. Because the houses are so close together, and so close to the street, the private open space is actually useful and serves a purpose of being private open space.

So even though we have some pretty high densities here – and we’re still talking about detached houses rather than terraced housing which would achieve such density and open space outcomes to an even greater degree – this type of urban development is still providing people with a pretty good back yard. Not massive, but usable and with a good shape, rather than split up all over the place.

Now let’s turn to one of Auckland’s newest development areas – around Dannemora, near Botany Town Centre. Here’s what this area looks like from above: The aerial photo above is obviously “zoomed out” quite a bit more than what we had for Renall Street. At the same level of zoom you can see that we actually have much lower densities than was the same in Renall Street – for example the highlighted property is just under 450 square metres and it’s one of the smaller ones in the area: Now obviously the houses in Dannemora are bigger than those in Renall Street (though probably not as valuable, interestingly enough) as Auckland has a curious pattern of falling household sizes but rising house sizes. But when we look at the “usable area of private outdoor open space” we actually see that Dannemora’s lots are struggling to provide what we found in Renall Street – even though they’re far bigger:

 Some of the lots do a bit better than this (for example the one immediately to the right has a backyard that might be around 100 square metres), but overall the amount of backyard open space in these areas is surprisingly low, given that these houses are often built in 500-600 square metre sections. Looking at the broad area around this lot, I’m struggling to find too many backyards that would match the 100 square metre average we found in Renall Street, even though our average lot size for these 15 properties is over 500 square metres: two and a half times greater than in Renall Street: So where on earth does all the space go? Well, one thing I found very interesting was to measure what could be considered the “excess carriageway width” around Ardee Close, plus the front yards of all the properties on this particular street: I must say I was pretty surprised to find this had an area as large as 5,063 square metres. Now obviously we are always going to need a street through here to provide accessibility. But let’s say for argument’s sake that what we provide is actually just something similar to Renall Street: a ten metre wide road reserve, including footpath width:

 In this situation the road area would be just a fraction of the area previously dedicated to the roadspace and to the front yards. The 4,000 square metres that we’ve saved by narrowing down the street and building right up to it, would provide us with 20 additional houses at Renall Street densities. Each potentially with a private backyard as big (if not bigger) that what Dannemora gets. If each house could be built to two or three levels, depending on owner preference, it might also be possible to provide a “modern-sized” dwelling  too (complete with pointlessly empty rooms I suppose).

Now I’m not suggesting that we would want a Dannemora style of urban development at one unit per 200 square metre densities, but it’s really interesting to see what impact all these building setbacks plus a fairly wide road reserve has on the efficiency of the land-use. It’s also interesting to see how few of these houses in Dannemora have backyards as big as those in Renall Street – even though their properties are up to three time the size.

The new bus timetables

Some of the timetables for the routes of the Central Flagship Project bus changes have been uploaded to the MAXX website – they take effect from August 21. We have:

The 020 and 005 timetables.

The 030 and 005 timetables.

The 010 and 011 timetables. 

The timetable for the Outer Link route, the City Link the the changed route of the existing Link (which will be known as the Inner Link) haven’t yet been uploaded, so they’re something to look forward to seeing with some interest. I do hope that we get a proper timetable for the Outer Link, as its 15 minute frequencies are a bit beyond the “turn up and go” frequencies of the existing Link Bus (which has a pretty weird timetable).

Looking first at the 020 route – a route that I still have a number of concerns about – we see some good things, such as alignment between the inter-peak weekday times and those on Saturdays. We also see some nice simplicity to the timing of the services – with equal gaps most of the time. However, I must say I’m a tad worried that we might see some capacity issues on this route at peak times. For buses arriving in the city between 8am and 9am, there are going to be seven services:

 This compares with the current situation where there are seven or eight (depending on whether you want to be flexible about three minutes or not) peak time services arriving in town between 8am and 9am along Richmond Road alone, plus a further four 034/035 buses plus a further four 015 services. While the new 030 route will take some of the demand along Williamson Avenue, it only runs once every half an hour – even at peak times. I’m not sure how busy these services get, but there is a pretty big reduction in peak time capacity for much of this route – so it will be interesting to see how it copes.

The other thing that’s a bit disappointing about the timetable for the 020 is its slowness. One of the main reasons for the changes to Western Bays services was to speed things up by shifting them off Queen Street an onto Albert Street. Yet trips from Westmere and Richmond Road seem to now take around the same length of time to get to Britomart as they will under the new timetable. Hence the need for my proposed 020X route I think.

The other timetables seem fairly unsurprising – with the new 010 route (extended to Wynyard Quarter) operating throughout the day rather than just at peak times, as it does now. It would be nice if this bus ran at weekends too – so that it was easy for people to get to the various activities being constructed down at the Wynyard Quarter when they have the opportunity to do so – at the weekend. Frequencies for the 030 are pretty pathetic, but will be supplemented by the Outer Link and the 005 (which I think I will keep using most of the time).

I suppose the two things I will really be interested in, come implementation of these bus changes, is whether the 020 can cope with its passenger loadings at peak times and whether the Outer Link can stick to its timetable without having enormously long “holds”.

10 million rail trips

A pretty important day in the history of Auckland’s rail system today, with the magical figure of 10 million rail trips over the past 12 months having been surpassed. There was even a celebration down at Britomart:

Rail patronage in Auckland has reached a record high with ten million passenger journeys within a twelve month period achieved today.

The ten millionth journey on rail is being marked at Britomart this morning with Mayor Len Brown greeting commuters and inviting them to share slices of a large celebratory cake in the shape of a train.

Auckland Transport’s Chief Executive, David Warburton says, “This is a significant milestone in our public transport journey. Four times the number of passengers are using rail now than eight years ago when Britomart was opened. In 2003, there were 2.5 million trips on rail compared with the ten million we have just reached.

“There are a number of reasons for this. They include more services, customer service improvements, an improved network and better facilities at our train stations. It is also generally cheaper to travel on rail than to run a car and pay for parking. Train travel also provides the opportunity to use travel time effectively.”

Dr. Warburton says, “Growth in the number of services on rail has raced to keep up with ever increasing commuter demand. In 2003,784 train services ran each week, in 2011, this number has increased to 1,950 services. There were 18 train sets with 38 carriages, now there are 38 train sets and 147 carriages.

“We have upgraded, redeveloped or added brand new stations to the majority of the network. These include Newmarket, New Lynn, Avondale, Grafton, Panmure, Penrose, Te Papapa and Onehunga.

“There have also been a number of network upgrades completed with our partner KiwiRail. These include the completion of the double tracking on Auckland’s western rail line and the redevelopment of two new rail lines, Onehunga which opened in 2010 and Manukau which will be completed early next year.

“Electrification and resignalling of the network is well underway, with the first electric train due in service in 2013 after years of our operator Veolia Transport doing a great job maintaining service performance with aged rolling stock,” Dr. Warburton says.

Auckland’s Mayor, Len Brown says: “I’m committed to making Auckland the most liveable city in the world, and central to this is an effective, integrated transport system which gives Aucklanders options for moving around the region. Our rail network is going from strength to strength, and our rapidly increase patronage figures just prove to me that if you build it, people will use it.

“The great cities of the world are focusing on mass transit, particularly rail, and the upgrades we are making to Auckland’s network will transform this region as people and commercial freight moves around more easily.”

Veolia Transport Managing Director Graham Sibery says: “Auckland rail has experienced strong, consistent average annual growth of around 21 per cent since 2004, which is excellent by international standards. Working together, we provide a great service for Aucklanders, who are increasingly adopting rail as their preferred mode of travel.”

The next milestone will be a 12 month rolling total of 70 million trips across all public transport, a figure not surpassed since the 1950s. Depending on the patronage boost that the Rugby World Cup provides, it could be some time within the next six months I think.

Congratulations anyway to Auckland Transport, Veolia, Auckland Council and all other parties involved in this result. I think particular credit is deserved by Christine Fletcher (who made Britomart happen) and Mike Lee (who made pretty much every other rail improvement of the past 6-7 year happen).

Replay: Ticketing

In the early days of this blog I generally got about as many visitors in a month as I now do in a day. But there were some interesting posts written, many of which are still as relevant now as they were then. This one is from November 2008, about how we might structure our ticketing/fare system once integrated ticketing has been fully implemented.

Auckland’s public transport ticketing system probably annoys me more than most other things in life. In fact, there’s little good to be said about it at all. Let’s run through the problems:

  • It’s slow. A lot of interaction with the bus driver or train clippie is necessary. This doesn’t hold up the operation of the train as much as it does for a bus, but can make it difficult for the clippies to collect each and every ticket on a busy train ride.
  • It’s confusing. For example, a trip from the CBD to Glen Innes is 2 stages on the train, 3 stages on some bus routes and 4 stages on other bus routes. This is crazy. There are also just too many ticket-types: cash, multi-journey, stored value, monthly pass etc.
  • It’s outdated. On the train the main ticketing system still involves someone wandering around the train clipping tickets, it still involves little paper tickets that a guy has to take off his collection, clip with his clipper and then hand to you – oh and that’s in addition to having to stash away the money you give him and also for him to give you change. Same for Birkenhead Transport, who still clip your 10-ride cardboard tickets.
  • It’s incompatible. This is my big annoyance, and I will write more on it below.

So yes, there isn’t really much good to say about our ticketing system at all. While the slowness, confusion and outdatedness of the ticketing system are somewhat bearable most of the time, the lack of integration is what totally kills our public transport system. Train tickets aren’t valid on the bus, some bus companies tickets aren’t valid with others, nor with ferry tickets and so on. Some bus companies have unlimited travel tickets, some don’t – it’s enough to make you tear your hair out. For years our public transport agencies have gone on and on about “working towards integrated ticketing”, but apart from a horrifically overpriced Discovery Pass, there’s absolutely nothing to show for this “working towards”.

I propose a solution, which is a whole new ticketing system for the Auckland Region. It is composed of six zones, which I will show the boundaries for on maps of Auckland’s four main areas (North, West, Central and South) in a minute. There is probably a 7th zone for all other areas not covered by the original six zones, but anyway that’s not a major as it would only cover areas such as Pukekohe and Helensville which generally require a special fare in any case for the trains and buses that serve them. The idea behind this new system is that it’s completely based on the simple notion of how many zones will one be travelling in. Although it’s CBD focused, that doesn’t at all mean that zone 1 is the zone around the CBD and central area, and that each zone further out is zone 2, 3, 4 and so on. I envisage the zones as not being hierarchical at all. So, a travellers works our how many zones they want their public transport ticket to take them through, and then they buy the appropriate ticket. Tickets can be for two hours (single-trip with transfers), one day, one week or one month of travel.

By giving people more unlimited travel options with their passes, hopefully a greater proportion of users would choose to buy weekly or monthly passes. I consider this to be an important part of increasing the use of public transport in evenings and at weekends, generally on services that aren’t particularly busy at the moment. The current monthly pass system is only really useful if you travel 3 stages ten times a week, or close to that.

So my new ticketing options would be as follows:

  1. 2 hour pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $1.60 to $7.50, the current prices for a 1 stage ride and a 6 stage ride.
  2. Day pass across 1-6 zones. Fare would vary from $5 within just one zone for the day, and maybe $12 for unlimited daily travel anywhere on the network. Importantly, one would be able to buy a day-pass for travel within two or three zones, depending on necessity, allowing better value to be had (as at the moment there are relatively few day-pass options).
  3. Weekly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for one week within the specified number of zones. The pricing would probably give a 15% discount on 10 two-hour passes for that number of zones (eg. $14 approx for a 1 zone weekly pass). I would probably cap the cost of a weekly pass at around $40, a quarter the price of the current all zones monthly pass, so that people are no worse off under the proposed system than they are under the existing system.
  4. Monthly pass across 1-6 zones. These give unlimited travel for a whole month within the specified number of zones. The price might be a slightly discount on the equivalent number of weekly passes to encourage people to use a monthly pass. Price would be capped at around the current price of an all-zones pass ($160).

I envisage using a smart-card system to allow this ticketing to be introduced. A stored-value pay-as-you-go system would also be included, generally giving 10% off the price of a 2 hour pass for irregular users. Potentially there could also be a similar system to what London’s Oyster Card uses, whereby they get charged at pay-as-you-go rates until they reach the amount of a day-pass, and then each subsequent trip is free. That system ensures that Oyster Card users are always getting the best value, and is a great idea. Cards could also be topped up online, avoiding the horrific queues that many university bus users face, and the annoyance of having to find a ticket agency that many other users face (plus avoid bus drivers having to sell the passes too).

If this all sounds a bit confusing, it starts to make sense once we have a few maps up. Here’s a map of Auckland City, where I would have three zones.

rail-zone-mapscopy

The current Auckland City area is split into three zones, with each of them kind of radiating out from the CBD. As explained earlier, anyone travelling within this area would purchase a 2 hour, day, week or monthly pass relating to the number of zones they want to travel across. In my case, I live within the Green Zone, work in the Blue zone and often travel into the Red Zone. If all my trips originated from home then I’d probably be OK with a two zone pass, as I’d never be catching a trip that took me across three zones. However, as it happens I do often catch buses from work into town, so at times a three zone trip would be necessary. Pay-as-you-go would possibly work best for me as my trips vary in length and are a bit all over the place. It would mean that a trip to Parnell or Ponsonby would be greatly simplified, as the Link bus would become a free-transfer under the “2 hour trip” window. A ticket would be printed off that would show the zone I entered and the number of zones that my pass covers – so either a ticket inspector or a suspicious bus driver could tell if I had over-travelled.

Below are my zone boundaries for North Shore City, Waitakere City and Manukau/Papakura. I imagine that the Whangaparaoa Peninsula would be in Zone 6, like Papakura is.

North Shore City:

zones-northshorecopy

Waitakere City:

zones-westcopy

Manukau/Papakura:

zones-southcopy

Hobsonville motorway opening next week

The next section of the Western Ring Route to be completed – a section known as the “Hobsonville Deviation” – is due to be opened to traffic the weekend after next, after an open day on August 6th. The NZ Herald describes the project a bit:

Combined with the 5.5km motorway section from Greenhithe to Albany, which opened in 2007, it will provide a seamless link between West Auckland and North Shore.

The Westgate interchange also marks the start of a 3km extension of the Northwestern Motorway.

The article also outlines what I think will be the biggest real benefit of the project – getting a huge amount of traffic off Hobsonville Road: freeing it up for safety improvements and to become much more of a ‘normal’ arterial route, rather than the weird mix of arterial road and strategic connector it is now.

Traffic on the road – ranked one of the nation’s most dangerous with many intersections – is forecast to shrink from 40,000 vehicles a day to just 6550 once the main 6km section of motorway opens between Westgate and the Upper Harbour Bridge at Greenhithe.

40,000 vehicles a day is absolutely insanely busy for what’s just a two-lane road. It’s no wonder the road is so dangerous – I don’t even want to think about how hard it must be to cross as a pedestrian at the moment. Here are a couple of photos from the NZTA project website of what parts of the new motorway looks like: This view looks past the end of the existing northwest motorway, to the motorway-to-motorway interchange with SH18. The photo below shows most of the new motorway’s route, viewed from probably just above the Upper Harbour Bridge looking west: What’s quite interesting to read in the Herald article is how NZTA are lowering a few expectations of the new motorway’s ability to completely fix congestion.

Senior project manager Rachel Kirk yesterday said the main new link would not provide a cure-all for congestion woes.

There was likely to be some morning queuing to reach the Northwestern Motorway from Hobsonville and similar congestion in the opposite direction in the afternoon peak.

But Ms Kirk said the agency was hoping for travel time savings of up to six minutes in each “tidal” peak direction, compared with the existing crawl along Hobsonville Rd for long-suffering commuters.

It seems like they have learned from the Manukau Connection debacle.

In any case, this is a motorway project that I’m generally supportive of. Furthermore, by my calculations it’s the second-t0-last piece of Auckland’s motorway network to be completed. Just Waterview Connection to go and the network will be completely finished.

Right?

The ultimate outcome of ignoring pedestrians

This is a pretty shocking video showing how pedestrians are treated along a major highway in auto-focused Atlanta. What is very interesting to note is how the USA is starting to see a shift in poverty from the inner city to the outer-suburbs – reversing the trend that occurred through most of the 20th century when the rich migrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor downtown:

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

A few streets in Auckland are not too dissimilar to this.

Auckland’s low PT use is not a “natural” outcome

At the talk I gave on public transport in Auckland on Tuesday night, I took a look back at Auckland’s transport history – in particular how in the mid 20th century we went from having some of the highest levels of PT use in the world to having some of the lowest. Perhaps most interestingly, this was not the result of any natural process, but rather occurred because of deliberate policy decisions.

Immediately after the Second World War, the Ministry of Works produced a reasonably balanced transport vision for Auckland – a mixture of new motorways around the edge of the city and railway lines to serve the centre. This is shown in the map below: red lines indicating motorways and green lines indicating proposed railway lines (including the Morningside Deviation, a precursor to the City Rail Link, and the Avondale-Southdown Line):

Reasonable chunks of the motorways section of this plan were built, though obviously not all of them. Interestingly the idea of a Harbour Bridge was not on the radar at the time, as it was thought (quite sensibly) that motorways should go around the city, not through it. None of the rail projects were ever built, and by the 1960s our transport plans had changed to being very much more “single minded” with their focus on building motorways:

 The most important step in this change was actually the transport plan that came before the De Leuw Cather report – the 1955 Master Transportation Plan for Auckland (which I must remember to get out of the library some time). An academic article by Paul Mees and Jago Dodson provides a good description of the effect of that transport plan:

You can see the patronage plummet in the graph below:

A really detailed “blow by blow” account of what led to the 1955 Master Transportation Plan, put together by Chris Harris, can be read here. What really stands out to me, reading through the details of what was happening at the time, and some of the details of the plan, was that the decision to shift Auckland’s transport focus was very much not done through strong public support of such a change (after all, Aucklanders were huge PT users at the time) but rather because a fairly small number of people thought this was the way of the future, that Auckland was too “low density” for public transport (once again based on dodgy calculations) and as part of the deal which led to the construction of the Harbour Bridge.

A critical part of the process is outlined below (from Chris Harris’s article):

The Master Transportation Plan was produced in 1955 and printed for large-scale public distribution in 1956. The plan recommended that a dramatic acceleration of motorway construction at the expense of rail. The Plan’s rationale was that low density of population, and the possibility of using the motorways for buses (ARPA, 1956, p. 26, pp. 42-3, p. 48), made rail both infeasible and unnecessary. However, motorway bus stations were uncosted and were never built, and Auckland City excluded inbound buses from its former tramway mall Queen Street until 1967, even though the last tram ran in 1956 (Bush, 1971, pp. 371-3).

The Master Transportation Plan tacitly replaced an earlier, multimodal Outline Development Plan for Auckland (AMPO, 1951) produced by the same technical committee only four years before, when it was still assumed that Auckland would develop along the same lines as Wellington. The 1951 Plan used a ‘density diagram’ approach (Mees and Dodson, 2002) to estimate Auckland’s built up area at 30,000 acres (120 square kilometres); the Master Transportation Plan divided Auckland’s population by the entire planning area of 113,000 acres (450 square kilometres) to arrive at a much lower density of population, which formed a significant rationale for the Master Transportation Plan’s argument that Auckland should follow American motorway practice (AMPO, 1951, pp. 20, 34; ARPA, 1956, pp. 18, 31, 77). This alteration has remained obscure, and the replacement tacit, because the Master Transportation Plan did not refer to the earlier plan in text or index. Nor did the Master Transportation Plan discuss the growth in patronage on Wellington’s railway system, from suburbs of similar density to Auckland’s.

What is really interesting looking back at Auckland’s transport history, and what these article reinforce,  is something I touched on in this earlier post – the huge difference between transport decisions that Aucklanders seem to want, compared to what we end up getting. This it touched on in the Mees & Dodson article: We see this issue again in the 1970s, when Dove-Myer Robinson proposed a rapid-rail scheme. Even though the system never happened, Robinson goes down as one of Auckland’s best known local politicians – he has a statue in Aotea Square. While some of the recognition is for getting raw sewerage out of the Waitemata Harbour, “Robby” is often best known for his fight to get Auckland a world-class rail system.

Overall, it’s hard to know whether to be depressed or enthused by Auckland’s transport history. On the plus side, it seems that there’s a good case for arguing that Aucklanders have generally always wanted a bigger focus on improving our public transport system – and it’s surely only a matter of time before politicians wake up to realise that (at central government level, I think they’re well and truly awake to it in local government). On the down-side, it is obvious that Auckland could have, and should have, ended up with a far more balanced transport system throughout the latter part of the 20th century – if it wasn’t for “technical” decisions made by a few people, based on information that was pretty dicey. It doesn’t say much for democracy in Auckland over the last 60 years.

An inevitable photo…

Quite a few people I have met up with in person recently have asked how things are going with the little girl we had a few weeks back. Well here she is in a pretty inevitable hat – thanks to Auntie Bernice who did an excellent shop at the London Transport museum when she was there a few weeks ago: While she was five weeks early, and we needed to stay in the hospital for the first couple of weeks, little Adele Ophelia Clare is now doing great. If only she wasn’t always so awake at 11pm each night!

GPS 2012: just plain dumb

Well I have had the chance to read through the final version of the 2012 Government Policy Statement for land transport funding and two conclusions immediately leap into my head:

  1. It’s remarkably similar to the draft version. All that “consultation” seems to have been just for show.
  2. It’s just plain dumb. Dumb to the extent that even the Road Transport Forum aren’t happy with many parts of it (on surprisingly legitimate grounds).

If we look first at the issue of whether much changed between the draft version of the GPS and the final, this is what the Q&A has to say:

A key concern raised by some stakeholders, was that the proposed funding ranges for the maintenance and renewals of roads would be insufficient to maintain the roading networks at current levels.

In response to this feedback, the Minister increased the upper funding ranges for local road maintenance by $40 million and local road renewals by $10 million both from 2012/13. The Minister also raised the upper funding range for State highway maintenance by $25 million from 2014/15.

At the same time, to encourage efficiencies in roading maintenance, the Minister took up the suggestion from the roading industry to establish a road maintenance task force. The role of the task force will be to identify opportunities for efficiencies in maintenance and renewals, including the adoption of innovative products and methods of procurement, and to encourage their uptake through the country. The task force will be made up of individuals from industry, local government and the NZ Transport Agency.

Some stakeholders also emphasised the need for a longer-term direction to give greater planning certainty to the transport sector. To address this concern, the Minister will be releasing for stakeholders a document that summarises the government’s overallpolicy direction for transport. It is intended that this document will be released in August 2011, It will include a full summary of the key policy decisions made since the government has been in office.

While the changes are a small step in the right direction, as this post goes on it will be obvious that they really don’t address the massive issues relating to maintenance and renewals.

Like every GPS, there’s a lot of “fluff talk” up front about how the government wants transport investment to boost economic growth and how (apparently) important the state highway network is to this – and how important the various Roads of National Significance are to these goals. But what really matters are the proposed funding allocations – because that’s the real impact of the GPS: it sets the maximum and minimum amounts that NZTA can spend its money on over the next six years (and it’s interesting to see that this GPS has a six year outlook, the previous one was just for three years). The important table is included below: Because everything’s a “funding range” it can be challenging to analyse the split – so to make that easier I have assumed that the midpoint of each funding range is what ends up being spent. This is obviously not what’s actually going to happen, but it’s as good a guess as anything. This is the result:

 Put the above table into a graph (without the sub-totals of course) and you can really see how dominant the “building new state highways” funding allocation is: The fact that the new state highways allocation increases significantly throughout the period of the GPS puts huge pressure on everything else – meaning that many other funding areas have to be frozen or even decreased.

This leads to the first really dumb thing in the GPS – even if we just look at road funding there is a huge squeeze on the maintenance and renewal of roads throughout the country: both state highways and local roads. This means that while we’re going to be hugely expanding our road asset – through the giant investment in building motorways – we may not actually have enough money left over to look after what we’ve got. This is the classic outcome of political interference in transport funding: as politicians much prefer to cut ribbons on new projects than be concerned with the day-to-day maintenance of the existing network. The graph below looks at the funding allocations for just the roading part of the GPS:

The USA has gone down the path of focusing too much on building new transport infrastructure and not enough on looking after what they’ve already got – and it’s a pretty ugly place to be. Skimping on maintenance might save you money in the short-term, but it’s going to hurt in the longer term: like not painting your house and then wondering why all the weatherboards are rotting.

The next place where the GPS is just plain dumb is in how it approaches public transport funding. At first glance, it seems as though the one good thing in the GPS is an increase in funding for PT services – and that is true, at first glance. However, pretty much all this “extra” money will be eaten up in a financial “merry go round” because KiwiRail are going to start charging higher track access fees for rail services in Auckland and Wellington, and Auckland is going to need to pay for its electric trains after all – with NZTA assistance. In fact, the assistance given to funding rail services in the GPS will actually decrease proportionally – as the government wants a funding assistance rate of only 50% rather than the current 60%. What all this means is that a heck of a lot more rates dollars will need to go into supporting the rail network in both Auckland and Wellington – despite the apparent increase in services funding. I’ve talked to a couple of people at Auckland Transport who actually expect to be cutting bus services over the next few years as a result of the GPS, not increasing them as might seem obvious at first glance. A graph of PT funding in the GPS is included below:

 If we set aside the PT services funding, because it’s really little more than a distraction designed to make the GPS seem more PT friendly than it actually is, we see the real impact of the GPS is on public transport infrastructure – which only gets $272 million spent on it over the next six years. It’s worthwhile to point out that, for some completely bizarre reason, rail funding is not included within the PT infrastructure net – so things are not necessarily as bad as they may first seem on this count. But PT infrastructure still funds some pretty important stuff. Here’s a selection of projects that this PT infrastructure fund helped make happen over the past few years:

 As you can see, a lot of these projects are pretty small but important aspects of improving our PT network. Things like integrated ticketing, ferry terminal upgrades, station improvements, design budgets for larger projects, real-time information signs and the like. Looking ahead, the PT elements of projects like the upgrade of Dominion Road, or AMETI, may have been funded out of the PT infrastructure budget – if it had not been slashed.

What all the projects above generally have in common is a contribution to making public transport more efficient, effective and attractive to users. You know, so that it doesn’t have to be so reliant upon massive subsidies forever. And this just highlights the second area where the GPS is just plain dumb: cutting back on PT infrastructure investment will mean a less effective system in the future that’s more reliant on long-term subsidies. So once again, for a little bit of short-term savings (really it’s chicken-feed compared to the amount being spent on new state highways) the GPS is setting up public transport to be less cost-effective in the future.

The third area of stupidity relates to the two sector classes that experience some of the harshest cutbacks: transport planning and maintenance of the funding allocation system. They’re the little things at the very bottom of the GPS funding tables that are easy to miss – but they are quite important to ensure cost-effectiveness throughout the transport funding system. A contributor on the Campaign for Better Transport forum made an excellent point about the cutbacks:

I find this funny however

The cost of both funding increases would be partly met by “reducing the funding available for some activities classes, such as, transport planning and management of the funding allocation system”.

“These reductions are important to encouraging greater value-for-money,” the Ministry of Transport said on its website.

So it seems by doing less planning and not managing the funding allocation system we get better “value-for-money”. Historic evidence however would suggest the opposite.

Indeed.

All up, as I said in my submission on the draft GPS there is a huge credibility gap between the high level objectives of the document – using transport investment in a cost-effective way to boost economic growth, and what the funding allocations actually are. But the stupidity of the GPS goes beyond this credibility gap: by freezing funding for maintaining our roads, by slashing funding for PT infrastructure improvements and planning/management, we’re actually likely to see the complete opposite of what the government supposedly wants from its transport investment. So really, it’s just an exceedingly dumb policy document – no matter how you look at it. (Even the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development seems to agree).

Busting an annoying transport myth

One thing that perpetually annoys me is when Steven Joyce rolls out the “we’re spending $1.6 billion on rail in Auckland so please stop complaining about all the money we’re spending on roads.” We see this line being trotted in in some of the Questions and Answers section to the Government Policy Statement:

It is also important to note that the majority of central government funding for public transport infrastructure is provided outside of the National Land Transport Fund and so not included in the GPS. Most of this funding is for metro rail. To date more than $2 billion in Crown appropriations has been agreed, of which $1.6 billion is for Auckland and $485 million for Wellington. 

It is true that $1.6 billion is being (and has been) spent on upgrading Auckland’s rail network over the past few years (and over the next few years). The money is comprised of:

  • $600 million for Project DART
  • $500 million for the infrastructure side of rail electrification
  • $500 million for new electric trains

So in total that is $1.6 billion. But there are two important questions to follow this up with: how much of that is being funded from central government and how much is being funded by this central government.

Looking first at Project DART, the rail project in Auckland that included double-tracking the Western Line, building Newmarket, New Lynn, Onehunga and Manukau stations – and other upgrades to the network. This $600 million project was actually funded in the 2006 budget – according to the Project DART website:

The 2006 Budget included funding of up to $600 million to fund these improvements and speed development of the Auckland rail network.

The project is the most significant redevelopment of the rail network in New Zealand since the 1980s.

So this passes the threshold for being funded by Central Government, but doesn’t pass the threshold of having been funded by this government.

Turning next to the infrastructure side of electrification – which includes stringing up the wires, raising a few bridges, putting up poles, building electrical sub-stations and so forth. According to the electrification webpage, funding for this was set aside in the 2007 budget:

In the 2007 Budget the Government announced its support for the electrification of Auckland’s rail network, and gave ONTRACK the funds to build the necessary infrastructure…

…Planning and concept development started immediately and physical work began in 2008.

We expect it will take about five years to electrify the Auckland network, and the Government has indicated that it wants the project completed by 2013.

So this is basically in the same situation as Project DART: yes, funded by Central Government outside the NLTF, but once again not funded by this government.

Finally, if we turn to funding for Auckland’s electric trains, it doesn’t even pass the very first base of being “outside the NLTF”. The very reason public transport services funding has actually increases in the Government Policy Statement is because this money will go into repaying the loan for the electric trains. Loaning $500 million to KiwiRail to pay for these trains, which Auckland Council and NZTA will need to repay, is quite different to actually giving the $500 million for the trains. So the trains aren’t being paid for outside the NLTF, they aren’t being paid for by Central Government – and obviously not by this  government.

So really, I’m struggling to find a single cent that this government has set aside for passenger rail in Auckland.