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Pressure Increases on Government Transport Policies

In an opinion piece in this morning’s Herald Michael Barnett of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce expresses his most unequivocal support for the City Rail Link [CRL] yet. It seems that the Centre City Future Access Study [CCFAS] has given Barnett and the Chamber’s members the final nudge needed to not only see the need for this project but also confidently call for it against the government’s expressed position:

“I represent a group of business leaders who strongly support the principle of the city rail link and accelerating other long-agreed key transport projects. If it is going to require new faces at the table with central Government to explain their urgency to helping drive Auckland’s economic growth agenda, then we would welcome a meeting with Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee to find a solution.”

And

“…the view within business is that it needs to happen sooner rather than later. It therefore doesn’t help that a central government agency becomes a roadblock to its progress.”

It really shows that it is only this government that sees improving Transit in Auckland through a party political lens. Perhaps such strong support for the CRL from a group that can generally be expected to agree with National Party policy and that they express their frustration with what they see as its political ‘blockage’ should lead to a rethink in Wellington.

“By putting political parameters around our decision-making, all we end up achieving is to deny ourselves the chance of making progress to confirm a solution and accelerate action.”

“The recent transport report showing Auckland faces a looming congestion crisis in the city centre if we don’t invest in improving rail and bus systems once again reinforced what has been abundantly clear for a number of years. We need more people out of cars and into public transport. In order to do that, we need a good and efficient network.”

It is great to see such an influential group calling for the CRL expressly in order to support the economic performance of the city because this government’s policy has always seemed one that at very best shows little understanding of the economics of cities. Largely conceiving them as nothing other than obstacles to the movement of bulky goods from the countryside rather than as centres of economic value and wealth creation in themselves.

“Removing roadblocks to allow for decisive action on Auckland’s critically important economic growth agenda is emerging as the top issue facing the city in early 2013.”

The rest of the article shows an interesting softening in attitude to the Green Party too by this business group so perhaps in their frustration they are casting around for other parties they feel they may be able to work with…?

Preceding Barnett’s column was a media release by another business group the Employers and Manufacturers Association: Auckland’s Central Rail Loop Must be Fast Tracked. Again the support for the project is because of its economic impact.

“Without far more investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure there’s no way we can lift exports from 30 to 40 per cent of GDP by 2025.

“Auckland’s GDP is growing at 2.4 per cent a year currently, but long before 2025 the people we need to house and transport to and from work for our export campaign will be stuck in the traffic far from where their jobs are.

“But more than this, the CRL is itself an engine of growth for the coherent development of the city.

Again emphasising a very large gulf between what business people in Auckland believe is needed to support a successful economy and our government’s view.

From another perspective yesterday’s Herald on Sunday ran this piece from opinion writer Kerre Woodham: Nats Run out of Petrol. While she falls short of connecting the dots between the aggressive pace and high cost of the RoNS programme and the recently announced petrol tax increases she does point to an increasing level of frustration among ordinary New Zealanders with the policies of the Key Government, suggesting that this tax rise might just be a bit of a last straw for a number of people.

I thought John Key said that by cutting income tax rates we would be able to stimulate the economy. Guess that didn’t work. I thought Key said that he would be able to stem the flow of New Zealanders to Australia by building a competitive economy and offering after-tax earnings on a par with those across the ditch. Well, that hasn’t worked, either.

I guess the problem is that having so politicised transport investment it may be all but impossible for Brownlee and Joyce to change their position on the CRL now. Especially after Brownlee’s petulant reaction to the CCFAS as surely this was the best opportunity to shift position with grace; the report was made in response to their request and involved central government agencies and ministries. They could have, with some justification, claimed ownership of this process that led to such a clear outline of the need for the CRL if they had only responded with objectivity and openmindedness.

But then there’s the real problem: The RoNS, and in particular the pace of the programme, as it is sucking every penny out of a declining fund. The Road User Forum’s quiescence over the rise in RUC and FEDs shows how completely on board this assertive lobby group are with the government’s policy of total investment in State Highways. I doubt there is any room for the government to waiver in their promises to big trucking by moving even 10% of the funding to the CRL and away from the trucking subsidy. And that’s all we are talking about too, around 10% of the recently announced RoNS programme.

Lastly we come to Brian Rudman’s somewhat grumpy little complaint about terminology also in today’s Herald. The L in CRL does stand for Link and not Loop but Rudman, perhaps in a fit of silly season column filling, goes to some length to explain his insistence on inaccuracy . Even going as far as appealing to the ‘L’ system in Chicago as precedence. Sorry to be a pedant Brian, but it isn’t know as The Loop, that is the name of the central city area contained within the loop of the tracks; the system itself is called the ‘L’ [for Elevated]. But I think we can all agree with Rudman when he says this:

If I thought changing the name would persuade the naysayers to change their minds, I’d happily abandon the offending word. But it wouldn’t, and anyway, gaining popular support is not the issue. A poll last month says 64 per cent of Aucklanders support the loop/link. It’s the Prime Minister and his Transport Minister who need convincing, and somehow I don’t think it’s the name that’s holding them back.

So in summary; 2013 looks like a very interesting year, the logic behind the CRL is just going to keep building yet the government seems to be painting itself into more and more of a corner on transport policy. Are they capable of a u-turn?, have they left themselves enough space to do so even if they see the need? Or will this and their determination to cling to other increasingly unpopular policies just lead to a fractious and even more polarised year?

Lastly I’m a little appalled at putting up a post with no pictures so here’s a little festive number; some drinking but no driving was involved in its creation-promise….

BRITOMART CHRISTMAS

BRITOMART CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas from the ATB editorial team, thank you for all your comments and contributions in 2012 [which has been a huge year for readership] and remember to avoid driving north on SH1 on the 27 December or you will be both in for a hot and dull time in your car and be adding to the Herald’s annual front page Holiday Highway pump piece. And we look forward to *seeing* you all again next year. Onward.

21 comments to Pressure Increases on Government Transport Policies

  • JeffT

    Yes the numbers and groups in favour do grow. Hopefully the National Cabinet will have a rethink over the holiday period and come out with an positive action plan for the central rail link in the new year.

    I would hope National would not want one of their legacies over the last century to be an inability to act on Auckland’s public transport needs.

    Merry Christmas to you Patrick and the ATB team.

  • Mr Plod

    Patrick, great post. JeffT, I think the National Cabinet are beyond rethinking the CRL. There is about as much chance of Key, Brownlee & Joyce changing their minds on this as the NRA voting for gun control despite the evidence in both cases being overwhelming. Although I’m someone who drives in excess of 50,000km per year and a long time National support these boys are definitely alienating me on the CRL & RONs. So let’s get behind Barnett, Rudman & EMA and keep up the pressure. Hopefully the emperor’s nudity will be exposed for what it is.

  • Increasing FED really has the potential to increase opposition as people see the effects of higher taxes.

  • Christopher T

    I rather suspect that the key (unintentional pun, sorry) to understanding Barnett’s opinion piece lies in his loading of objections to the CRL to ‘a central government agency’ rather than to the provincial troglodytism of a couple of government ministers. By apportioning the blame to advice received he makes it possible for the National party administration to make an about face on the issue. Great post and an appropriate finale to one of the most intelligent and informed blogs in the country. Many thanks and congratulations to you all; and, of course, enjoy the festive season in all its many foci!

  • Stu Donovan

    not your best photo! ;)

    As for National, I think they’ll come around to support the CRL. Not only because I probably have an “optimism bias” in favour of this particular project, but also because if they don’t come around then National risk losing Auckland (and thus the next election).

    But maybe that reflects another of my “optimism biases” …

  • Peter M

    Well the big issue of 2013 will surely be the next Auckland Council elections. Will Len Brown be re-elected as mayor? Who will challenge him? How will the Council’s composition change?

    I tend to think with the EMA and Michael Barnett writing articles and doing media releases so strongly in favour of the CRL it’ll be a struggle for a mayoral candidate to oppose the project.

    • Brewer, Wood, and Quax must have been spitting out their cornflakes this morning; both the Chamber and dear old granny Herald goin’ rogue on them. Playing the game of opposing everything Brown does and hanging on Key’s coattails may not be worth too much next year especially if this government continues to frustrate Auckland. They may need to develop a smarter position. Of course as Auckland grows it should be able to command quite a cross party block in parliament of the kind we have yet to see in NZ.

      Are we perhaps seeing the beginning of a divide between country and city business interests?

  • Anthony

    National has a reshuffle coming. What’s the chances of transport being handed to somebody else? Brownlee should focus more on Christchurch, or maybe speaker or something more suited to his abilities.

    • MFD

      “or something more suited to his abilities”
      How about woodwork?…or maybe repo man.

    • Greg N

      “National has a reshuffle coming”

      Sure does, but I fear it may not be the panacea/Christmas Miracle we are all seeking.

      As I see it there are three outcomes from a shuffle- the best, the worst, and somewhere in between.

      Lets list them shall we:

      1. The worst – Status Quo, Gerry in charge, but possibly even more loaded with other portfolios from other ministers unable to handle their “workload”, so as a result transport becomes even more steady as she goes until post 2014 General election, which means RoNS galore and not much else, no CRL progress, no cups of tea or tete a tetes (and limited detente too) between Wellington and the Auckland mayor or council.

      2. The best outcome – brand new minister with a good grasp of the Auckland situation and the “real politic” of the Auckland electorate, who actively backs the CRL publicly and in cabinet and pushes it forward while diverting RoNS funding to fund the governments CRL portion, without any more buggering around with more reports (like “CCFAS Part II” – tagline “this time its serious”). And also lobbies for extra trains to be included and pushes the Thales/AT Hop national standard with as the choice for tolled roads, starting with The current Holiday Highway, before the end of 2013.

      3. The middle(or more like muddle) outcome – brand new minister, who draws the short straw as no one else wants transport, is maybe even outside cabinet – who then takes 6-9 months to get into the job fully – possibly as this is their first Ministerial portfolio – or more likely – not their first, but now with another portfolio to juggle as well, then buggers around calling for more reports and endless consultation, stalling for time until post Auckland Council elections, hoping for a better outcome with the new Auckland Council. then post that electino there is a mad scramble and “change of heart” on the CRL to try and recoup their dropping like a brick poll ratings in the lead up to the 2014 General Election.

      So, which outcome do you want to lobby for? (no contest really I expect), but more importantly actually expect to get?

      Anyone thinking, like me, thats it Hekia Parata for Transport minister in the New Year “dishonours” list (oops reshuffle)?

      • Who is this magic new National MP with a grasp of the economics of cities?

        Nikki Kaye on the surface ought to be our best hope; is the AK Central member, used to work for Transport for London [!]. But what is her track record?: Luke warm and vague in her support of CRL, in fact muddies what support she does voice by urging vague alternatives like trams to Ponsonby, promotes taxis in buslanes, and cycling as a recreation in the countryside but not as urban transport. Where does she stand in her own party anyway? Even if she got the portfolio, and it looks like far too big a jump from the backbench straight to Transport, would she have any authority? Certainly not to divert funding from a RoNS to the CRL.

        Or, more likely some provincial striver with a lifetime of experience of driving the extended cab ute from the farm and back, there to simply do what Gerry does, hold the line on the RoNS and fob everyone else off.

        Anyway, without delaying some aspect of the RoNS programme substantially there is nowhere else for the funding to come from, They have banned any new funding source and are totally unbending on their only plan; the Pyrrhic Victory of a paper surplus some day which will absorb whatever they can get from the upcoming firesale of the family silver….

        So is anyone really expecting a climbdown on the CRL? Are they that creative? Have they left themselves any room to move? Could the fact that they basically have no popular policies and increasingly little left to lose provoke them into bold actions? Interesting couple of years…..

        • GC

          Actually, if Nikki Kaye gets Transport Minister in the reshuffle it might be part of a cunning plan.
          If Kaye either gets priorities changed to secure some Central Government funding, OR allows Auckland Council to implement their own funding ideas (regional petrol tax, congestion charges, etc) she might be able to take that to Auckland Central for her re-election bid.. and say that SHE changed the policy. :)

      • Whoever is given transport will be forced by cabinet to hold the line, they will not allow anything to jeopardise the RoNS. I also think there is something bigger at play here, agreeing with the CRL means the council are right and while it might not seem like it, it will mark a significant shift in the balance of power between central and local government. AT and the council will use the same tools developed for the CCFAS on projects like rail to the airport and if the recommendation is the rail option then it becomes much harder for the government to ignore. Basically it could very quickly lead to the very powerful beast that people outside of Auckland worried about with the forming of the super city

  • Anthony

    Solutions, not roadblocks. I like this.

  • Jon R in Switzerland

    Now in many instances I do not agree with Michael Barnett. However, this time he hit the nail on the head – well and truly.

    As I sit here residing in Switzerland, I watch many rail and tramline networks being built across the nation. In Germany and France I watch new lines being built. Then I read this website, NZ news websites and the CBT Forum to watch the National Party led Government closing railway lines, such as Gisborne to Napier and Kiwirail´s downgrading of line speeds. Clearly the NZ Government is extremely wrong on its´ transport policy. So far since National came to Govt it has had two incompetent transport ministers. Both loud mouthed and bolshy – and that has hidden their complete incompetance in the transport sector.

    Going into 2013 should be interesting. The Nats will feel the pressure to act on the City Rail Link. The Nats and Kiwirail will be embarrased about their poor judgement on the closure of the Gisborne to Napier line when the report is made public in Jan 2013. The local body elections will give high time for more focus on regional transport issues. And finally, after a two year break, I will be returning to NZ to live once again. Politics looks quite interesting for a career, especially if I get to go head to head with the current Government.

    Thanks to the TransportBlog Ed team for all the hard work this past year, and thanks to the Campaign For Better Transport for funding this site.

    • A little correction Jon, the CBT doesn’t fund this site, it merely acts as the bank account. The site was previously paid for by Josh and when we moved to new servers due to the demand we were getting, we paid for it with the money raised directly from the movie night that Kent organised for us. While the CBT collected the money, it is accounted for separately.

      • Glen

        From an avid reader and occasionally poster, a huge thanks to the blog team for a great 2012, and roll on an even better 2013!
        And speaking of movie nights, when’s the next one…?

  • Bryce P

    Great the Micheal Barnett wants to support the CRL but it will come with a catch:
    http://m.nzherald.co.nz/local-government/news/article.cfm?c_id=250&objectid=10817696
    The other thing is that, if the Nats decide to fund the CRL to some extent, the attitude may attitude may be “you’ve got your loop now let us carry on with our roads”. This gives them bragging rights but the only way we are going to see any big changes to transport in NZ is with a Lab / Green govt.

    • Look at the date on that. It’s six months ago. The latest from Barnett looks pretty clearly like a call for the CRL to be the highest transport priority, given that it doesn’t mention “the middle rung” even once. It’s possible to achieve the function of the middle rung without doing the grand project, and the Chamber of Commerce probably recognises this (they’re not in the throes of the roading lobby, they just want business to work well), but the CCFAS has made it abundantly clear that it’s the CRL or nothing if we don’t want to have the CBD (and, by extension, the surrounding motorways) grinding to a halt.

      • Bryce P

        It will come with catch of we support the CRL but the East West link ($2b) and another harbour a crossing with traffic lanes have to happen as well. Say goodbye to airport rail and AMETI busway to Botany for a long time. I’d put a beer on it :-D

        • KLK

          Nah – electrification and integrated ticketing are going to put such a strain on PT that we will see a sea change in thinking on transport spending. Provided the CRL can get over the line soon, and with the AMETI busway in full swing, I think the airport line will be the next major transport project in Auckland, well ahead of a second harbor crossing.

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