The intensity of the Unitary Plan ended up distracting us a bit from the discussion around alternative transport funding, although perhaps that was intended. Submissions on the funding options close today so this is a quick recap and explanation of my submission. Submitting is very easy, just go to the Keep Auckland Moving site and scroll to the bottom of the page. If you want you can just change the appropriate check boxes, fill in your details and submit.
First a quick recap. When the government merged the various councils to create the now Auckland Council, they required that a 30 year spatial plan be developed that would guide the city. Effectively it is the vision for the city and it became known as The Auckland Plan - this was then used to guide detailed rule book that is the Unitary Plan. However transport seems to be one area that politicians can’t help but get distracted by and the Auckland Plan deviated away from just providing the high level strategy, goals and objectives to listing specific projects. Seemingly too scared to anger anyone, it seemed like every single project ever thought of was added in to one massive wish list with just some horse trading to decide which projects should have the highest priority.
The problem though is that this wish list wasn’t cheap and estimates suggest that after taking into the expected funding available from existing options, there would be a $10-15 billion shortfall that would somehow need to be addressed. Raising that kind of money isn’t going to be easy so Mayor Len Brown set up a consensus building group (CBG). The CBG was made up of members from a wide variety of organisations including Cam from the CBT and the intention was for them to come to an agreement as to how we could raise the revenue needed. Despite the rhetoric from certain politicians, this wish list wasn’t a massive spend up on rail or PT but around 60-70% of the funding was actually going to roading projects.
At the same time, and in conjunction with the work going on with the CBG, Auckland Transport created the first iteration of the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP). One of the key things the ITP did was to effectively take the massive transport wish list from the Auckland plan and put it through some modelling analysis to see the impact the projects would have. Unsurprisingly the results weren’t pretty and the results showed that even if we spent the extra $10-15 billion above what we already were planning congestion would continue to get worse.
Unfortunately the CBG, they weren’t allowed to re-litigate what projects were on the list and so had to look at funding sources in isolation to seeing whether projects on the list would actually make things better or worse. Had that been able to occur, it is likely that many of the projects on the wish lists would have dropped off or been put off significantly. The CBG started the process with a list of potential options which were:
- general rates
- targeted rates
- development contributions
- tax increment financing
- regional fuel tax and road user charge/diesel levy
- tolling new roads
- road pricing on existing roads (i.e. some form of network charging or congestion charging)
- additional car parking charges
- visitor taxes
- airport departure tax
From there they whittled it down before announcing two options to meet the funding shortfall. It is also noted that the road pricing in option 2 is likely to have a much greater de-congestion benefits than option 1 as it would more effectively manage travel demand.
But, there is a lot more to this than just how we pay for these projects. As we have shown recently, there are some significant shifts occurring in our society at the moment. Per capita vehicle ownership, kilometres driven and even the number of people getting driver licences are all in decline. Further these trends are likely to only get stronger if we implement the measures above in a bid to raise money. The very process of raising enough money to cover the transport wish list, especially with the road pricing option, is likely to remove much of the demand and therefore the justification for many of the roading projects. This brings up the question of whether we should just go ahead and implement these measures anyway, even if just in a cost neutral way.
We have also seen recently that the way we measure congestion hasn’t been ideal. We have traditionally compared traffic speeds on a road with what is possible in a free flow scenario however we should really be comparing traffic speeds with the speed at which a piece of road is at its most efficient and moving the most vehicles. This is a significant shift in thinking and has some potentially massive impacts as most projects are justified based on time savings. Projects like the CRL which add significant capacity perform much better that a project which shaves just a few seconds off a drivers time but that doesn’t actually make a road more efficient.
With this in mind, here is a summary of the feedback I am providing.
- Of the two options presented I support option 2.
- We should consider implementing road pricing in a cost neutral way in advance of the need for additional funding mechanisms so we can more accurately measure the impact it has on the transport network.
- Before any additional funding scheme is implemented, all projects need to to be put through a robust process to properly determine their economic impact along with the impact they will have on the entire transport network, not just on the specific area they are located in. The projects then need to prioritised according to which ones have the most positive impact.
- Additional funding should only be obtained for projects that will make a positive impact to the transport system and the exact impacts need to be made clear to the general public.
- Assessing projects based on the how fast they can move a single occupant vehicle is not a good measure of success, we should instead be taking into consideration projects that add the most capacity to the network.
As mentioned earlier, the consultation period closes today so if you are interested in how we fund our future transport needs then please make sure you make your voice heard.