There was a great article yesterday by Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald – and not just because it seems that he’s a fan of the Congestion Free Network. He starts off by arguing that the year of work and the $1 million+ spent on the Auckland transport funding Consensus Building Group has actually achieved relatively little:
What an egregious waste of $1 million of ratepayers’ money that was. Set up a “consensus building group” to develop a formula for squeezing an extra $12 billion of transport funding out of Aucklanders, which the Government had already signalled it would reject.
The cash would have been better spent on a giant fireworks display. At least we’d have got a bang or two for our bucks.
In October last year before the CBG first met, the Government made its opposition clear. The Ministry of Transport and the Transport Agency fell into step and refused to partake. How can you pretend to have a consensus when the people with the ultimate power of veto boycott the process?
Not only does the CBG report propose devices such as regional fuel taxes and “road pricing” tolls that the Government opposes, but it also proposes rates increases, which the mayor is against. It also demands that any agreement reached would have to bind future governments and councils for the next 30 years. This has echoes of the much-criticised backroom deal the Key Government has just come to with SkyCity over pokie machines and the international convention centre.
Personally I think that it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. It got a lot of important different groups around a table to discuss transport issues in Auckland and I’m sure that influenced associations like the Chamber of Commerce and the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development to place pressure on the government to change its opinion of the City Rail Link. That alone was worth the exercise in some respects. Furthermore, it also probably led to one of the more intelligent discussions about road pricing and its benefits that’s been had in Auckland – with the majority of people providing feedback supporting some sort of road pricing scheme ahead of increased fuel taxes and rates.
Yet, of course, the elephant in the room issue was that members of the Consensus Building Group weren’t able to question the merits and make-up of the transport package that they set out to fund.
Instead of agonising over how Auckland is going to fund the $59 billion integrated transport programme of the 30-year Auckland Plan, we should be readdressing the efficacy of the programme itself, asking the key question, will it ensure Auckland’s traffic is flowing smoothly in 2041?
The CBG failed to confront this, saying it was not part of its remit, but did admit in the opening paragraphs of the final report, released on Monday, that “even with a significant increase in investment, the forecast performance of key parts of the transport system will be worse from 2031 than it is today”.
A confession that even if their proposals for extracting an extra $12 billion out of Aucklanders are accepted, things will be worse than now. Its draft report, released in late March, was even more candid, admitting that “even with the fully funded programme, road congestion levels will deteriorate with volume/capacity ratios exceeding 100 per cent on most of our arterial road network by 2041 and emission levels exceeding current levels”.
In other words, it’s a plan that if successfully completed is doomed to fail.
In a nutshell, the argument seems to be that if we spend $12 billion more on transport over the next 30 years compared to what we can afford, things will still be much worse than today – but not quite as bad as if we didn’t spend that money.
If we look at AM peak congestion levels, the ITP seems like it’s trying to argue that we should spend $12 billion to reduce the percentage of excessive congested travel from 30% to about 27%. That’s four billion dollars for each percentage point of lower congestion!
As we have discussed many times in the last few weeks, it is this crazy situation that led us to create the Congestion Free Network. The ITP clearly tells us that we can’t build our way out of congestion – so the answer is to ensure that people have a choice of avoiding congested travel.
After describing the Congestion Free Network concept in excellent detail, Rudman concludes by noting the following:
It’s the sort of radical thinking that Mayor Len Brown and his transport planners should be engaged in. Producing a plan that isn’t programmed to fail.
We’re ready to help!