I sometimes wonder how our transport system, and city in general, became the mess that it is today. Were we really not able to see what would happen with our ‘roads-only’ focus? Why is it only now that we are implementing the kind of PT system that other cities have had for decades?
My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago and my family and I have been busy cleaning out her house. That is no easy task as she was the kind of person who kept almost everything (there were some rooms we couldn’t even enter to begin with), but that means that occasionally you stumble across some interesting items. As it happens a few of these items relate to topics we talk about on the blog. The one I will talk about today, and that helps to answer some of the questions above is a magazine-type publication that was released in December 1976 by the Auckland Regional Authority, the predecessor to the now former Auckland Regional Council. A four-page spread is dedicated to what is called “Blueprint for Transport” that talks about the outcome of the “Comprehensive Transportation Study Review” (CTS Review):
The private car has assumed the role of villain and the costs of catering for it and for urban transport in general are becoming higher than we can afford. Pressure on public funds is reducing money available for transport investment, as the slow rate of central motorway construction has highlighted. Fuel costs have risen steeply and future liquid fuel supplies and costs are uncertain.
How should we make the best use of our transport resources? What is the destiny of the car? Can the car use be made less wasteful? How should public transport be developed? How should we manage the whole complex question of urban transport?
These are difficult questions. In Auckland they have been fed into the Comprehensive Transportation Study Review – a long title fully merited by the ground it covers. From it has come a report which sets out a series of options for making better use of the transport investment which has already been made and for assigning priorities to further investment.
The report has been prepared by Auckland Regional Authority staff under the guidance of a technical advisory committee set up by the ARA in consultation with the National Roads Board, which has subsidised the study. Represented on the committee are the ARA, Ministry of Works, Ministry of Transport and Auckland territorial local authorities.
The first thing that strikes me about the article is the recognition that building more and more roads, in particular motorways, is extremely expensive. In relation to some of the previous motorway-focused plans of the 50’s and 60’s it says:
The CTS Review’s origins go back to the 1940’s, when the Auckland Regional Planning Authority, forerunner of the ARA, first looked at a comprehensive transport plan for the metropolitan area and developed a basic motorway system which was confirmed and extended by the 1955 Master Transport Plan. In 1963 the Regional Planning Authority commissioned the Comprehensive Transportation Study to further assess future needs.
Those earlier studies and the various rapid transit reports tendered to promote transport systems requiring high public investment, much of it in motorway and roading works, and there has just not been sufficient finance available to produce the necessary works at the required rate. Even less money is likely to be available in the future.
For this reason the CTS Reviews’s recommendations suggest that expensive capital works be put off for as long as possible and that low cost alterations be put into effect first – in other words a staged process coordinating many small improvements and relatively few large ones.
The emphasis here is on better use of existing roadway space, bus fleets and cars to keep transport investment within the limits of the funds likely to be available in the next 10 years. Actions which can be taken include traffic management to improve the operating efficiency of existing roads, encouragement of higher car occupancy, more suburban trains and different kinds of bus services.
These are the same recommendations we hear today. Even more frustrating is that some of the suggested solutions are the same as what we are only now getting around to doing:
Some of the public transport options tested by the CTS review include a change in emphasis from an almost exclusively radial bus system oriented to the central business district to one providing a high level of service along all corridors of demand, express buses running on exclusive rights of way to give faster travel than cars and the establishment of transport centres in areas which generate a lot of trips to provide terminals for express services and focal points for expanded local and cross-town services.
Nevertheless it is obvious that the private car will continue for some time yet to carry the majority of people. This raises the paradox that a substantial proportion of public funds will go to easing the way of the private sector, while at the same time there is public reluctance to spend more on public transport.
However increased investment in public transport does carry benefits for the private sector, which will have less to call on its collective pocket to pay for the major roading works which are essential a requirement of private transport.
Perhaps some of you readers can help to shed light on why, even back then, we were able to recognise the need for improvements like overhauling our bus system, but never did it. One feeling I do get from the article is that, while the solutions were known at the time, the implementation was put into the too hard basket.
An interesting aspect of the study is that, for the first time, the impact of land use on transport requirements was taken into account. They recognised that land use and transport are intrinsically linked, however this appears to be where the majority of incorrect assumptions have occurred. The outcome was that controls should be put in place to actively decentralise employment and other activities from the central city and isthmus, to the growing suburbs in the North, West and South, thinking that it would reduce the need for people to travel:
Decentralisation of jobs and other trip attractions will restrain travel growth in the major radial corridors and the report sees this as the only way in Auckland of minimising investment in the transport system, cutting users’ costs, achieving the lowest social and environmental costs and bringing maximum benefits to the whole community.
The preferred land use strategy from a transport viewpoint would therefore promote a high level of job self-sufficiency in outer sectors, limit employment on the isthmus and develop outer sectors in a way which will promote more use of non-radial transport corridors.
“Transport prefers dispersal of jobs to avoid expenses like the central motorway system and Harbour Bridge,” said Mr Pringle. “If employment in Auckland continues to remain very centralised , we have to find perhaps $70 million for a new harbour bridge. The public sector would also have to find money to upgrade sewage and water supplies to the isthmus.
Perhaps even more than the impact of the motorways, the active decentralisation of jobs and other activities away from the central city has arguably caused more harm to the region and its economy than any other single policy. It also shows that decentralisation of employment didn’t happen naturally, but was forced on Auckland.
The last part that I will touch on is a recognition of the political and planning problems that still plague Auckland today:
New powers for regional planning authorities under the proposed review would help overcome the present fragmentation of transport planning, which Mt Pringle believes is worse in Auckland than anywhere else in New Zealand.
For instance: While the cost of providing more peak hour public transport would be high, it could be well justified on cost as an alternative to a second harbour bridge or to major road upgrading. Putting more buses across the present harbour bridge at peak hours would raise the cost of public transport but nowhere near the level of $70 million or so for a new harbour bridge.
A total urban transport budget for Auckland would be the most effective way of ensuring that factors such as these are balanced in setting priorities for spending on transport.
A look at the present system shows some of the difficulties of transport planning. A large number of interests are involved in transport – local authorities and private enterprise in parking buildings, local authorities and government departments in traffic control, the Ministry of Works and Development and the ARA in motorway planning and construction, local authorities in general roading works and the National Roads Board and District Roads Council in the allocation of funds to road construction.
There is no continuity of traffic control along major routes because of individual local body control and there is no provision of, for example, exclusive bus lanes to keep public transport moving quickly in and out of the central business district.
The report emphasises the need for management of transport in Auckland
Thankfully the creation of Auckland Transport has helped in reducing the number of voices in the transport discussion, however I feel that we still need to go further. I very much agree with the need for Auckland’s transport system to be driven by one voice and think that AT should be given a single budget for Auckland to both control and maintain even the state highways within the region.
All up it was an interesting, if not sometimes frustrating read. If only we could go back in time and tell them how wrong the idea of decentralisation was.
You can read the full article here.