The Holiday Highway’s health and education benefits?

Some more debate over the merits of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” in parliament today, this time with Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges answering questions from the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter:


You can read the transcript of the exchange here.

It’s refreshing to see someone actually try to answer the questions, rather than just throw abuse around, like Brownlee often does. It was also interesting to see that the government is really relying on “non-economic benefits” to justify the road, or as Simon Bridges stated:

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I have already intimated we are progressing, I think, reasonably well on this road of national significance, and the member, I think, mentions the benefits. Of course, there are economic benefits, but there are also much wider benefits in terms of connecting communities to communities, and with education, health, and so on. I think the people of the north deserve and want this road of national significance.

I really do wonder whether building a new road to save 10 minutes off the trip between Warkworth and Auckland (the section north of Warkworth is less certain in terms of whether it goes ahead) at the cost of $1.7 billion is the best way to connect communities in Northland and to improve health and education in the north. Or perhaps could spending a fraction of the amount of actual health and education programmes and improving Northland’s roads better achieve these benefits?

Disconnection by Design: The Christchurch Plan

 “What is the City but the people”  Shakespeare, Coriolanus

Out of the tragedy of the earthquakes there are opportunities to improve what was, in truth, a struggling CBD in Christchurch. In one critical area it is not clear that this is being taken. Perhaps amidst the ruin and suffering there has been an understandable tendency to gloss over the city’s preexisting problems, a natural urge to idealise what has been lost. But as a reasonably regular visitor there before the quakes it was very clear to me that this was a city with a very big problem, a big and increasingly damaging hole in the heart of it; an emptying centre. The city was becoming a classic ‘Doughnut City’, our very own little Detroit: all sub and a declining urbs. A centre that was largely being treated as little more than an impediment to quick driving between identical big box retail malls in the suburbs that encircle it.

It is also likely that this problem will return unless it is addressed directly in any reconstruction. And as there is a clear desire to rebuild a centre to the city it is important that everything is done to make it succeed and prosper. How then to address this? Why has this been such a problem in Christchurch?

It’s pretty easy to see that spread is a risk for a city without the natural containment of say Wellington with its steep hills and roiling seas on all sides to help keep it compact, or the squeeze of our harbours in Auckland. Which means that even more attention needs to be given to keeping dispersal to a level that doesn’t damage the viability of the city.  After a national transport policy over the last half century or so that consciously or not promoted spread [and continues today] and local additions like the place-ruining one way system through the old and charming centre and you get a city under threat of losing its locus.

But perhaps the biggest disaster to strike Christchurch last century, and one narrowly avoided in Auckland, was the removal of the University out to a greenfields site at Ilam. Tertiary education provides a vitality and a sheer number of economically engaged people year after year that no casino, convention centre, or sports ground ever will. Those amenities, while sometimes productive, are about occasional visitors and when poorly designed, especially when they are supplied with oceans of carparking, often do irreparable damage to a city centre. This model actively encourages the suburban or out of town visitor to enjoy the main act and then quickly retreat back to their source rather than engage more deeply with the host place.

While it isn’t practical to move the whole university back to the centre I certainly expected new plans for Christchurch to take the opportunity to tie the University back to the CBD with a new and direct transit link. The core of a new system of movement designed to liberate the condensed city centre from auto-dependency while adding the necessary human vitality. Not only to relieve the city of the burdens and costs of having to accommodate large numbers of cars that will be the result if driving remains the primary system of movement, but also so that it can truly meet the stated aims of the people as expressed here [page 21 of the plan], and claimed to be ‘reflected in the plan’:

From the community’s responses, five key changes formed the basis of the draft Central City Plan:

1. Green city
2. Stronger built identity
3. Compact CBD
4. Live, work, play, learn and visit
5. Accessible city

These changes are reflected in this Recovery Plan.

A key to making these five aims real would be to make damn sure that the first lines drawn on any page are direct and effective transit links between key sources of vitality and the centre that they are trying to revive. And then of course to continue to design the arrangement of new generators of activity around direct and appealing means of interconnection. That successful land use and good transport links go together is pretty elemental planning.

And with the devastation of the quakes there is the best opportunity the city will ever have to identify and protect efficient and integrated new transport routes for the rest of its future. Buses will clearly be the best immediate mode to use this new system as they can quickly and cheaply be reintroduced and levels of service ramped up as the rebuild continues. But to not plan for the possibility of upgrading to more appealing and permanent electric systems on key routes such as out to the university and the coast would be singularly short sighted. But the key is the network, the system, not the mode; and in the plan released yesterday there is no sign of any thought about the role that transport plays in in both forming place and the success or otherwise of it. Identifying and branding a direct university and city connector and making sure that its fast and frequent, and even free for student pass holders, should be there for starters. And it, like all transit routes should not terminate away from the new city’s attractions.

Here’s the plan. It looks like half a plan; no integration between land use and transit. A total reliance on the previous systems of movement that have so contributed to the city’s hollowing out. So the new building forms may well be 21st century but the city pattern will be from the 1950s. Even the destructive one way system may be back:

CHCH Central Recovery Plan

The one piece of transport infrastructure is a bus interchange station, with no indication of routing or integration with any other new amenity. Except it is, I note, handy to the courts. After a page on cycling separation including this sole mention of the university:

Christchurch City Council has expressed a desire to develop a cycle route between the University of Canterbury and central Christchurch. It would stretch across Hagley Park and Deans Avenue, west to the university campus.

There is this page on the Bus Interchange followed by a page on Car Parking which unfortunately looks like the real key to the authors’ thinking about transport; they want lots of convenient yet discrete parking and buses whose movements are kept to a minimum [!?]:

CHCH Bus Interchange

 

Of course all that convenient but expensively hidden parking will mean a great deal of driving, and therefore wide multilane roads, not narrower human scaled streets. This is addressed nowhere in the 120 pages. Is this want the people of Christchurch said they wanted? Where is the planning for light rail that was often mentioned? Surely here is a chance to spend on a new dynamic and inspiring piece of infrastructure instead of losing that money to vast quantities of carparking structures? While there is hope for a vastly improved commitment to new cycling infrastructure; surely a no-brainer for such a flat city, this is a plan to rebuild exactly what was a big contributor to Christchurch’s pre-quake problem, the opportunity offered by the devastation is being missed, this is auto-dependency by design; green building set in an anti-green city. A very big shame and a very big risk to the vitality and therefore the success of the new Christchurch.

Council investigation into fuel tax

There was quite a bit of discussion about two weeks ago when discussion of alternative funding options was raised again by the council. They had identified a number of options to investigate further, despite Gerry Brownlee shooting them down straight away. Well it seems that the council must have been working on some of the options already (or have worked really really fast) as a report to the transport committee tomorrow looks at some of the issues with a regional fuel tax a bit closer. It is important to note that the report doesn’t actually consider the actual implementation of a fuel tax or just how much it would collect.

This report provides the results of an investigation into regional fuel tax and supports a regional fuel tax remaining a potentially effective mechanism for funding transport in Auckland.

The Ministry of Transport has identified two key concerns with a regional fuel tax as the basis for a proposed amendment to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to remove regional fuel taxes:

1. The potential for spreading a regional fuel tax to other regions or areas; and
2. The costs to administer the tax and for purchasers (such as farmers and forestry businesses) to apply for refunds where the fuel is not used on roads.

Ascari and BERL Economics carried out an investigation into these concerns and based on their analysis made the following findings:

  • The imposition of a regional fuel tax now would be much less likely to result in price spreading to other regions.
  • There are ways to address spreading such as penalties and a targeted monitoring programme.
  • Avoidance of a regional fuel tax by consumers is likely to be a minor issue.
  • Administration of a regional fuel tax at the wholesale level would be straightforward.
  • If a regional fuel tax is imposed at the retail level, the administration costs are likely to be significantly lower than previously identified.
  • The costs to commercial operators seeking a refund are estimated to be between $25 and $50 per firm and could be minimised further.
  • The the spatial form and vehicle travel patterns in Auckland are both well matched to the requirements of an effective regional fuel tax.

The findings are proposed to be used as part of the investigation into alternative transport funding mechanisms and in feedback to the Government regarding the proposed amendment to the Land Transport Management Act 2003.

There is quite a bit of information contained within the report and I haven’t had a chance to go though it all but it does seem that at least the key concerns raised by the MOT have been addressed. Just how much money such a tax would raise is obviously quite a different matter and I suspect we will see further investigation of this and the other options identified in the year to come. Whether the government will actually accept what is contained within these reports is a different matter.

Interestingly the report says that fuel use, both petrol and diesel, peaked in 2007 at 1.6 billion litres but that it has fallen to about 1.53 billion litres. This is similar to what we have seen happen with traffic levels. The graph that accompanies it indicates that petrol makes up somewhere between 1 and 1.1 billion litres of this so at 1b litres, a 5c per litre petrol tax would raise about $50m per year.

Note: The fuel tax referred to is a local authority tax levied on wholesalers

Improving buses in Mangere

A bit of a Mangere day today. A story in the Aucklander last week discussed how poorly the area is served by public transport, particularly to one of the biggest local employment areas, the airport.

Sixteen bus services pass through Mangere Bridge every day yet none travels directly to the area’s biggest employer, Auckland Airport.

Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board is drawing Auckland Transport’s attention to the anomaly, along with other bus-related issues.

The board’s transport spokesperson, Lydia Sosene, explains that the two airports in the area employ about 12,000 people yet only 30 per cent of those workers live locally. She’d like to see numbers increase but says convoluted bus routes are hampering progress.

“There’s opportunities to up-skill and get jobs at the airport with programmes like Youth Connections, but public transport is the missing piece of the puzzle.”

The journey from Mangere Bridge to the airport, just 8km away, involves taking at least two different buses. It’s just as difficult to make the trip from Otahuhu.

“It’s ludicrous you can catch a single service to the airport from Botany but not from here. There is no direct connection from Otahuhu to the airport for residents, travellers,or people doing business.”

She says the area’s residents were especially reliant on public transport given their lower socio-economic makeup.

“We are a community with big challenges. Public transport has not served us well, yet it plays a key role.”

I don’t think anyone will argue that PT in the area is bad, just have a look at this map of the existing bus network.

With so many similar but different routes it sure is confusing and its not hard to see where the local boards complaints are coming from. What is interesting is the local board had recently written to to transport committee chairman Mike Lee about their concerns and a week before this article was printed they had a reply. That reply included an indication as to what the new bus network would be and is the first time we have seen it in detail as previously we had only seen the likely network for the isthmus and west.

The first map shows the frequent network that will have buses running at a minimum of one every 15 minutes for the vast majority of the day.

While the second image shows the secondary layer that will run at frequencies of at least once every 30 minutes. The rail network is in red, the frequent network is blue, while the secondary network is green)

It definitely seems like it is much easier to understand along with being much more frequent. There would of course be additional routes that operate at peak times and should really help to improve both connectivity and patronage. I realise there is a bit of a process to go though yet including a consultation period but really just wish we could start getting some of these new bus routes implemented.

What to do with the Old Mangere Bridge?

NZTA and the Council have decided the Old Mangere Bridge needs to be replaced and there is public consultation on the options now open for feedback. More detail here:

Project purpose

Recent reports indicate that the bridge has a five to ten year lifespan so it’s important the bridge is replaced as soon as possible. The bridge is also very costly to maintain so replacement sooner rather than later is going to be the most cost effective, long-term solution.
Benefits

The bridge forms a vital part of the Regional Cycling Network and we are committed to retaining the current walking and cycling connection that the bridge provides. We are also committed to retaining the bridge’s current access for fishing.

Features

In collaboration with key stakeholders, including community representatives, some broad design elements have been set to help guide the consultation process:

The new bridge will:

  • be approximately six metres wide to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and fishing activity
  • have safe entry and exit points for cyclists and other users
  • include sufficient lighting
  • have clear sight lines so people can easily see what is around and in front of them as they cross the bridge
  • be in the same general location as the current bridge
  • be at a safe distance from the Port of Onehunga
  • retain the old bridge’s navigational aids for boats
  • allow for boat access underneath it.

The old bridge is actually fairly well used by pedestrians, cyclists and for those fishing (although I don’t know how keen I’d be to eat something caught in that part of the Manukau Harbour!) It’s a shame that the structure itself will need replacing as we lose much of its heritage, but I guess pieces of infrastructure like that do eventually wear out.

Send in your feedback so NZTA can better understand  how the community currently uses the Old Mangere Bridge, and how the community would like to use the replacement bridge in the future. There are also open days on August 11 and 12.

The 2008 Puhoi-Wellsford Study

The TVNZ website is reporting that a 2008 study into the Puhoi-Wellsford project, before it became a “Road of National Significance”, highlighted that it was an expensive and rather unnecessary project – at least in the immediate future. Here’s a snippet of the story:

Four years ago a roading consultancy group now working on the upgrade wrote: “The scope for substantial economic growth…is limited.”…

…A report obtained by ONE News shows the roading consultancy firm now planning the upgrade originally thought it would have little economic benefit.

In 2008 Sinclair Knight Merz wrote that the project would “have costs exceeding benefits”, adding “the scope for substantial economic growth…is limited in the region.

The report in question can be read in its entirety here, and was the subject of a post on this blog back in July 2010 (I really love the blog search function!). 

The analysis showing that the road’s potential to generate wider economic benefits is very limited is perhaps the most damning element of the report, as the project’s ‘economic regeneration’ impact is often cited as being its saving grace.

The fact that SKM came back a year later to say that the project was now well worth doing within 10 years, contrary to their earlier advice, is quite interesting and potentially relevant to Stu’s recent post about the role of transport consultancies.

Auckland’s hindsight heroes: Christine Fletcher

In my last post I discussed a few things that I love about Auckland so as to shed some more light on our “shared but unstated values.”

One of the key values underpinning this blog, I think, goes something along the lines of ‘Auckland is a fantastic city but it could be so much better if it got its transport, land use, and urban design sorted.’ My last post catalysed an outpouring of comments on the many reasons people loved Auckland and we also gained a degree of consensus around the ways in which Auckland could do better; transport was unsurprisingly high on the list.

Also buried in among the many comments, however, was a few hints as to why readers of the Auckland Transport Blog sometimes disagree with each other.  The most significant divergence seemed to reflect differences in our underlying political values, i.e. whether you fall on the right or the left of the political spectrum. This is in my experience rather common: A lot of people believe that support for public transport naturally comes from the left side of the political spectrum, whereas support for private transport is the domain of the right.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this issue right now, but I will say that I find this view infuriatingly simplistic. To provide a recent example of how such a view does not really play out in reality, we find the Labour Party pledging support for Transmission Gully while opposing Puhoi-Wellsford. For Labour it seems that wasteful transport spending is OK so long as it’s in Wellington. Well my precious social democratic petals, you can’t have your cake and eat it too: You either oppose wasteful transport spending or you do not.

One can find similar, more positive, examples of the complex interface between transport and politics at the local government level. Which brings me nicely to the primary objective of this post: I want to highlight what I think is the outstanding contribution made by Christine Fletcher – a former Member of Parliament for the National Party and now leader of the Citizens and Ratepayers Association – to Auckland’s public transport renaissance in particular and its urban renaissance in general. For those who don’t know much about Christine (who seems to be called “Chris” by her friends), here’s a photo of her enjoying a laugh at the “Fast track the City Rail Link” meeting that was organised by the Green Party in 2010, with Alec Swney in the background (photo credit).

While I have never met Christine, I personally feel a huge debt of gratitude to her for efforts to make Auckland a better place and here’s why …

In 1990 Christine was elected to represent the Eden electorate as part of Jim Bolger’s National Government. Re-elected twice in 1993 and 1996, Christine subsequently resigned from parliament over her opposition to the forced sales of public assets that had been held under the Auckland Regional Services Trust.

In 1998 Christine was subsequently elected Mayor of Auckland, where she took over from Les Mills. Under Les Mills’ leadership Auckland City’s proposal for Britomart had morphed into an enormous development consisting of an underground train/bus station and numerous sky-scrapers. The latter were supported by 5 levels of above ground car-parking and necessitated the demolition of many heritage buildings. All of this destruction would be wrought, I believe, at quite a high financial cost to rate-payers and had aroused not inconsiderable opposition from a variety of quarters, many of whom doubted the value of investing in rail full-stop.

Upon being elected, Christine worked to scale Britomart back to it’s core components (underground train station supported by surface bus stops) while engaging a private corporation to coordinate the revitalisation, rather than destruction, of heritage buildings. I understand this corporation subsequently split into two warring factions, but nonetheless by the time Christine (tragically) lost the Mayoralty to John Banks in 2001, the construction of Britomart was well under-way.

That’s not to suggest that Britomart is perfect, but by gosh at least Christine got it built – and in the process contributed to a downtown renaissance that continues to this day.

Losing the Mayoralty to John Banks was not the end of Christine’s contribution to Auckland; she then set about opposing Banks’ proposal to construct an Eastern Motorway across Hobson Bay, which I’m fairly happy to say did not proceed. Christine now sits on the Auckland Council, where she has expressed ongoing support for the City Rail Link.

We need to celebrate people like Christine for their efforts to lift transport debates above the parochial political fray; she seems to understand that the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a well-functioning public transport system are quite independent of political preferences, but are instead linked to understanding what it is that makes cities “tick”. My only (very weak) criticism of Christine would be that sometimes she has not been a particularly outspoken advocate for improving Auckland’s buses, but I guess you have to leave something for future generations to do ;).

So thanks Christine; consider yourself the first recipient of Auckland Transport Blog’s “hindsight hero” award. I look forward to more people on both the left and right side of the political spectrum following your lead on transport issues.

A more detailed view of the CRL alignment

Auckland Transport have published a new map of the CRL alignment showing just where the tunnels and stations will be going. What is interesting is just how far apart the the tunnels are at the K Rd and Newton stations.

And here is a bit of a closer look at the area around the stations.

 And a close up look at the the eastern link

Fare Collection needs to improve

Auckland Transport and Veolia, we need to have a little chat about a really important part of public transport, collecting fares. Unlike roads which a lot of people seem to think are free, on public transport people expect to have to pay a fare. I’m sure I don’t need to mention that collection of fares is of course really important as the more money collected means the less services need to be subsidised. The problem though is on the rail network there appear to be a huge amounts of fares that are going uncollected, this is for a number of reasons which I will explain below:

The Book Reader
There are a number of well known tricks that people will use to evade paying a fare, the most common of these is pretending to have already hopped on the train earlier in often involves things like staring out a window or reading book. The biggest culprits seem to be high school kids and I was having a conversation with a fellow passenger just the other day who remarked she had seen one group of kids cheering that they were up to 7 days without having had to present a ticket. Of course it isn’t just school kids and I have seen people of all ages do this.

The ExpiredPass Holder
Another common trick is to present expired monthly passes and this works because the on board staff often don’t check the exact details on each pass. I actually did a test of this about a month ago, I my monthly pass had just expired and I still had it in my wallet with my new one (that was valid). What I did was just present my old pass just to see how long it would take to be picked up however after a week I gave up.

The Short Changer
Another really common method to avoid fares has been to simply not pay for the full journey. On the Western line at least, staff are generally pretty good at questioning people if they try to pay for a fare that won’t reach Britomart but on the way home this isn’t so easy to police. Just the other day I saw a lady in her late 50′s/early 60′s do just this by paying for a two stage ticket but riding for four stages.

Another trick for this group is to combine a monthly pass with a ten trip ticket. In these cases the person will get on at a station that is four stages from Britomart and present a single trip ticket at the same time as a monthly pass which is designed to get them between New Lynn and Britomart. Now of course this is a valid thing to do however I am almost certain that these people don’t present their single stage ticket on the way home

The Sardine
This last group aren’t actually deliberately fare evading but still are not paying. This is because our peak trains are full and there are simply too many people for staff to get through the carriages and collect tickets. In the past this would have resulted from isolated incidents like service failures but it is now happening on a daily basis. Out west trains are often full by New Lynn which means a lot of people are getting free trips.

All of these reasons (plus probably a few others) behind my view that fare collection on trains has not been as good as it should. I also wonder if this is partly behind the slump in patronage which is based partly on the number of ticket sales. Either way Auckland Transport and Veolia need to do something about this as for one I get really annoyed at having to pay for my journey while hundreds of others get free journeys. I have heard suggestions that Veolia may look to moving onboard staff to the platforms to either collect tickets or ensure people buy paper ones from the new machines but there doesn’t seem to be any solid information as to when that will happen.

Now of course Integrated ticketing is coming at some point in the future and will address some of the issues raised above but not all of them. It will also create a few new challenges that will need to be addressed but what is clear to me is that we can’t carry on as they have been.

Completely unplanned, it seems this issue was raised in the herald today:

A lobby group is urging Auckland Transport to consider a partial rollout of its Hop card by November 30, if only to stem lost revenue from fare evaders on trains

The government’s bizarre response to the Auckland Plan

Central government has put together an official response to the Council’s Auckland Plan. While in many areas there’s support and agreement, one obvious place where the two views don’t match up is in relation to transport. Discussion around the government’s position on the Council’s transport plans for the next 30 years is quite extensive, but a little bit hard to comprehend. Firstly, this section of the transport response can’t even quite get right the proportions between intensification and expansion the Auckland Plan signals:I had thought the final position of the Auckland Plan on this matter was to provide for either a 70/30 or 60/40 split, with the goal being to achieve the 70/30. Reading back up the govt response a bit actually confirms this matter, so I assume the mistake in this section is just another example of the Ministry of Transport being useless
Moving along, it become obvious pretty quickly that the government response is pretty much based on the results of various transport modelling exercises undertaken, which suggest that despite us building a huge amount of additional transport infrastructure over the next 30 years, congestion is still going to get worse. We’ve questioned previously the accuracy of this modelling, with the Council also highlighting that it might be worried about some of these future projections, but despite this it seems for now, the modelling is gospel:  I’ve yet to see a city build its way out of congestion, so in a way perhaps these numbers aren’t particularly surprising. Remember that the final version of the Auckland Plan proposes to spend around 57% of transport dollars on roads over the next 30 years compared to 40% on public transport. Perhaps a split giving more to public transport might lead to a better outcome. But for some reason I don’t think this is what central government’s response is hinting at.

Adding to this, the response then takes a particularly strange step in criticising the Council’s efforts to raise additional money to try and construct the big projects to at least ease the extent to which congestion worsens over the next 30 years:The focus on ensuring value for money is achieved from the transport package before embarking upon looking for additional funding sources is sensible, but once again I would suggest that central government should be careful not to be throwing stones while living in the glass house of the RoNS programme. Plus a couple of the projects which are likely to provide least value for money are also roading projects: namely an additional harbour crossing (a BCR of around 0.3 last time we looked) and the “East West Link”, a $1.5 billion solution to a $100 million problem. Yet I once again somehow doubt this is exactly what the government’s thinking while writing this feedback.

I suspect this argument isn’t going to go away any time soon. But it’d be good if central government would tell the world what it thinks the transport solutions for Auckland might be – a Dominion Road motorway perhaps? All their criticism without any useful suggestions, plus criticising the spending of extra money while at the same time presumably criticising the lack of spending and its resulting congestion, when put together it just quite bizarre.