Transport infrastructure is just one of small group of vital core systems that the entire edifice of the city depends upon. This group; the water, wastewater, electricity, telecommunications, and transport structures of a city are critical to its wellbeing and success. These allow all the other social systems of a city; commerce, education, health, social and living processes to function at all. Such is the success of the city model that we have become able to expect these services to be operating all the time and without interruption more or less invisibly: To always be able to drink the water, to have electricity at the flick of a switch, to be able to physically access all of the city efficiently.
Cities are so dependent on these networks that they may even face existential crisis if one or more of them fail for any length of time. But of course they all require expensive physical infrastructure and ongoing organisation to maintain them. And because of the enormous economies of scale in the whole city solving these practical problems together some sort of central planning structure and mechanism for funding their construction and operation is also need. There are always debates around the need or otherwise for investment in these systems. In particular there always seem to be those who never want to invest in anything at all, or at least resist changing the current way of doing things.
“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” — Sir Arthur C. Clark
For a city of its size and wealth Auckland has a relatively poor record in a number these areas recently. It seems we are in the habit of skimping on vital spending in some areas, building a bare minimum and just hoping for the best. We got badly found out with our electricity supply systems in 1998 with a major outage caused by the failure of equipment for which we had no backup or alternative route.
And until recently almost every summer we ran into water supply problems as we gambled with the weather to cooperate with the growing demands of an expanding city. But not this year, despite a record lack of rain and a record population. And there’s a good reason why as outlined in this article from Fairfax:
The Waikato pipeline has saved Auckland from a full-blown water shortage, mayor Len Brown says.
The pipeline, developed in the mid-1990s, now provides 20 per cent of the city’s water supply.
“The lakes are presently sitting at 70 per cent. That’s really only because we’re able to tap into the Waikato supply,” Mr Brown says.
“We’ve had basically drought conditions for the last six weeks.”
A $48 million upgrade completed last year increased the amount of water the pipeline is able to be supply from 75 million litres to 125 million litres .
“Aucklanders’ reliance on other supplies is being hugely tested.
“But those people in urban Auckland wouldn’t know that at all. It’s an endless beautiful summer and they’re lapping it up.”
Mr Brown describes the pipeline as a “massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission.
A further pipeline upgrade would be possible in the future as demand increases with population growth.
Sixty per cent of Auckland’s water comes from dams in the Hunua Ranges, 17 per cent from dams in the Waitakere Ranges, 20 per cent from the pipeline and 3 per cent from a freshwater spring in Onehunga.
So Auckland is only able to still function because of this ‘“massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission’. And it is expandable for future ‘demand increases with population growth.’
It is worth noting that the pipeline achieves this by only supplying 20% of our water needs. So it has been able to stabilise our existing water demand by meeting one fifth of the need. It has smoothed the peaks in the demand across the year.
But of course like all really successful infrastructure investments we tend to forget about it now it is working smoothly and just expect it to be there doing its job. What a great luxury. It’s only when things break down or show that they are becoming inadequate that we start to get really interested in them. In Auckland now there is really only one of these vital functions that is attracting that much interest: our transport systems. That the city comes to a total halt when there are problems on the motorway network shows that we are overly reliant on this one system, as we were when we only had local dams suppling our water.
It is not hard to see a metaphor here. It is very odd that some still claim that the best way to improve the quality of our transport systems in Auckland is to keep putting more eggs into one basket: To keep building more motorways. Yet as we had the wisdom to diversify our water supply it is clearly time to do the same in the transport sector. To be successful this diversification does not at all mean abandoning or downgrading our current assets, it is just a question of adding the option of a much more viable alternative to compliment them. And in the City Rail Link and associated work on the rail and bus networks we have a project that is analogous to the Waikato pipeline: it is the project to keep our current dominant asset running better.
And this is a matter of some urgency because of the time it will take construct this new high capacity ‘pipeline’ it is unwise to delay unless we are prepared to put up with increasingly frequent gridlock events. Not that any alternative to driving will ‘solve’ congestion or prevent accidents or all delays but a really high quality complimentary network will certainly provide that critical core percentage of movement that will remain untroubled by events elsewhere. And the CRL is the very core of the new bus/rail RTN backbone of that complimentary system.
But this is a new idea for Auckland [see Arthur C Clark above], and most people here have become used to the idea that you have to drive to get anywhere, so can it work, will people use it?
Well at every turn this century as we have improved the RTN network; Rail and the Northern Busway, these investments have been met with higher than projected patronage. And as the CRL and associated works will allow a frequency, capacity, and convenience that will make the entire network so much more attractive for so many people on so many occasions there is no reason to believe that this trend won’t just continue but accelerate. To contend otherwise cannot be supported by evidence. Or at least I have never seen any argument more advanced than simply the stating of an opinion as to why we shouldn’t confidently expect rapid growth in ridership after these investments.
We can also reasonably also look to the single most relevant example for a guide. Below is the Perth patronage data. Perth began a series of improvements to its rail network when its system was carrying around the same number as ours is now. The improvements are remarkably similar, electrification, an underground inner city connecting line, bus integration. Perth has a similar culture and population to Auckland, it is in fact a more spread out city, with fewer geographic constraints and a higher average income than Auckland. These facts make it an almost ideal, if conservative, model for Auckland’s plans.
Electrification with its every 10 minutes turn-up-and-go frequencies will certainly address our current capacity problems. But then once you add the more attractive and reliable trains, extension of services through the day and into weekends, coordination with the new bus network through fare integration as well as station and stop linking, it will also clearly grow demand beyond the constraints of the network. And, it is important to note, all of that at a considerably lower cost per service and per user.
So it is clear that well before the end of this decade the all-terminating-at-Britomart system is going to be groaning at the seams and a sorry waste of the potential carrying capacity of the wider network. While the coming improvements will wring more use out of what is the biggest waste of existing capacity in Auckland it will still be only lifting a fraction of the load it could be. What it could be with the CRL.
Auckland needs that new pipe!
Something to reflect on.
[thanks to Veronica]