Len Brown was on Radio Live with Wallace Chapman yesterday in a fairly lengthy interview which covered a whole range of issues. If you want to listen to it you can here and it started just after midday. What I want to focus on is one particular is the section where he talked about transport and the Congestion Free Network as there are a number of parts to it that need to be addressed. I’ve cut that part of the interview out and it’s below:
There is a seemingly simple question that needs to be answered in the debate on the future of transport in Auckland. Is spending $60 billion after having implemented a raft of new taxes and things still getting worse than they are now a good investment?
To me the answer is a resounding no. Yet that’s the situation we’re faced with if we continue down the road we’re currently on – which is to build heaps more roads.
Len claims that the council spent two years debating the issues and that has determined what is in the transport plan but the reality is there was very little debate about the merits of most projects. What’s more there was certainly no analysis done to determine if the projects on the list would actually help make things better.
At the start of the Auckland Plan process the council came out with a wish list of transport projects that seemed in include every project from around the region ever considered, many of which were nothing more than an idea. That wish list carried through to the final plan with some priorities being added to the projects but from memory not one was cut. One of the changes brought about by that prioritisation saw the East-West link catapulted to the top of the list despite not even really being on the plans a year before. I suspect the explanation for this sudden change in importance is the project was being pushed strongly by the business groups and Len did a deal with them to increase its priority in return for support on the City Rail Link. It has been suggested that the business groups were instrumental in changing the governments mind on the CRL last year.
Coming back to the Auckland Plan, how would Aucklanders have responded if they knew the projects on the list would cost $60 billion and make things worse? Would they have demanded something better or some different thinking? To me Len saying the council spent 2 years debating the issue is dishonest because the public simply weren’t given the right facts to be able to have a proper debate.
I also suspect that part of the reason there wasn’t a proper debate is simply down to how PT was discussed and the maps presented. The map below is meant to highlight individual projects that are in the plan but to me it does nothing to really show people a vision for what the transport system could be, especially in the case of PT. Sure most the projects that make up the CFN are on the map but everything appears to be a jumble with no real thought to how it would all work together.
As Wallace points out the current plan will add huge amounts of debt to pay for everything and one thing not often discussed is that it is the younger generations that will still be paying for it in 30 years-time. In my opinion we certainly don’t want to be paying extra rates and taxes for unnecessary transport projects that don’t solve the issues.
Its many of these issues combined that compelled us to come up with the congestion free network. I’ve long thought that if something like the CFN had been included in the Auckland Plan debate it would likely had a very different result. Bear in mind that the Auckland Plan is meant to be the 30 year vision, not the implementation plan so compare the map above to the one below tell me which one you think provides more vision.
About halfway through the audio clip suggests that we we don’t want spending on roads. That is simply not true and in many cases we fully support roading improvements but often we disagree on the specific solution. For example we completely agree that improvements are needed in the East-West Link corridor, what we disagree on is there needed to be a full on motorway solution potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact we even want to see a much greater emphasis on projects that look to connect up our street network and provide new connections. Unfortunately as these are usually only small projects they often slip through the cracks and never get done.
Perhaps the thing that frustrated me the most about Len’s comments was just after the section above where he suggests there won’t be much change in travel patterns regardless of what we do with public transport, walking and cycling. To me this statement suggests that perhaps Len has lost his vision for the city, it’s him saying we can’t make that much of a difference so why really try. What he fails to realise is that people respond to what you build and are focused on improving. What you do build is just as important as what you don’t build. Further the models that predict how we will travel in the future are based around us constructing all of the roading projects currently on list creating a loop i.e. majority of people drive so more money spent on roads then which encourage more driving .
There is some good news though. Auckland Transport are currently working on the next version of the ITP which should hopefully look more critically at which projects actually help and which ones hinder us. It’s quite possible we will end up seeing some changes to the project list as a result. We’ve also seen in the last few days the announcement that the East-West Link will no longer be a motorway. If AT end up going with one of the scaled down versions it has probably saved hundreds of millions of dollars meaning a little less future debt to pay. Now we just need to do that to a heap more roads (and some PT projects too).