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What we can learn from LA

Len Brown has said that this year we’re going to be seeing the council start a conversation about how to raise money to cover the estimated $12-15 billion funding shortfall that has resulted from their wish list of projects that will still most transport metrics get worse. While I feel there is a strong desire amongst Aucklanders to see us getting on with improving transport I do think the council will be hard pressed to sell extra taxes for a programme of works that doesn’t really solve the problems that exist.

Over the last few days we’ve run a couple of guest posts on the revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles. You can read the two posts Part 1 here and Part 2 hereWhat I want to do with this post is look at what we can learn from LA.

I think the most amazing and most relevant thing about the LA experience is this part from Darren’s guest post

Los Angeles is by no means sitting on its laurels. At the height of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2008, 67% of Los Angeles County voters voted to tax themselves more by increasing the county sales tax by 0.5% for the next 40 years. 65% of this is dedicated to bus and rail capital projects and operations; 20% to roading and 15% to local projects (which can be public transport, roading, walking & cycling). This is allowing the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to get a whole new raft of rail projects off the ground much earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

That in the middle of a recession people voted to increase tax is extraordinary, further I understand that more than 50% of all voters in every district within LA County area voted yes on it so it wasn’t just popular in the areas that stood the most to gain from investment (it actually needed 66.7% to pass so just squeaked over the line). In 2012 elections a further vote was held to extend the funding measure by an additional 30 years taking it out to 2069. That would have enabled additional lending against the future revenue and allowed even more projects to be fast tracked. That fell just short with 66.1% voting in favour, again with it needing to reach 66.7% to pass.

In both Measure R and Measure J it appears that one of the key elements in the debate was that authorities made clear just how the money being raised was going to be spent. This goes deeper the 65% PT, 20% roading and 15% local projects as mentioned in the post yesterday by going into specific projects that would be built with the extra funding. For example this is an interactive map of all of the projects that will be built with Measure R funding.

LA Measure R Map

In Auckland it would be nice if the council could be more open about what is actually planned to be spent which is ~70% on roads. The reason that this is important is that so far when the debate about extra funding comes up it is almost always blamed on the big PT projects on the list like the City Rail Link and not the roading list almost three times larger.

Tied to this is another important aspect that the council/AT will need to get right and that is a map to communicate the vision. The one above is good from an individual project level but as I pointed out the other day it can be hard to see what the longer term plans are or how the individual rapid transit services would operate. For that a network map showing the overarching vision - like the one shown yesterday - is extremely useful as it allows for the existing network to still be seen.

LA Metro future

For Auckland an official map like the CFN for the PT side of things would be incredibly useful in getting the general public to understand what’s planned.

The other big thing I think we could learn from LA is the relative importance they are placing on getting large parts of the network built. They have taken the Measure R funding and used it to come up with an initiative they call 30/10 which basically means taking 30 years of transit projects and building them over a 10 year period meaning the benefits of the projects can start to be seen faster. Again this is something similar to what we’ve done with the CFN – although not quite as quick as 10 years.

There’s probably quite a bit more we can learn from the experience LA has had but these were just a couple of the quick ones that I thought about.

CFN 2030A

14 comments to What we can learn from LA

  • nonsense

    Roger Blakeley at Auckland Conversations yesterday said there will be congestion charge. that’s it.
    btw that 65-20-15% sounds like a dream

  • John Polkinghorne

    Great post Matt, and this point is so important: “In Auckland it would be nice if the council could be more open about what is actually planned to be spent which is ~70% on roads. The reason that this is important is that so far when the debate about extra funding comes up it is almost always blamed on the big PT projects on the list like the City Rail Link and not the roading list almost three times larger.”
    Thanks also to Darren Davis for those very informative guest posts in the last couple of days!

  • Fred

    Didn’t the first ITP include a costed project list? It was $600m on Albany Highway, $2.6b on AMETI (plus another billion on east west link), at least a billion on upgrading Great South Road, $5.5b on the Additional Harbour Crossing and a wide variety of other overpriced or dumbass projects.

    • No not the official version. When the it officially came out there were not costs included just indicators based on wide price ranges. I managed to get the prices off a document handed out at a board meeting I attended.

  • JohnP

    I sincerely hope there will be a congestion charge. That would correct the basic unfairness of peak hour bus passengers being charged the full economic cost of their trip including a return on capital to the bus company while car drivers receive the main opportunity cost of their trip, the cost of the road space they occupy, as a subsidy from the community by way of a public good. The problem we always have is each time people raise the issue of road pricing the road building lobby jumps in as fast as a robber’s dog trying to claim the prize. They argue the money raised should go to them to build more roads when it would probably be better spent on PT which would give consumers a choice and probably have a lower marginal cost per trip. We still allocate road space the way the Soviet Union allocated bread, by underpricing it and letting those at the front of the queue pay too little while those at the rear miss out.

    • Greg N

      We also let those at the front of the “bread queue” buy as much as they can – even if they don’t actually need it.

    • Fred

      Isn’t the key point that congestion charging should be done for its traffic management benefits rather than for revenue raising. Therefore you lower some other tax currently used to fund transport.

  • Bryce P

    The tax structure in LA is very different to Auckland. Other than that I agree, We still don’t actually need a congestion charge if we stop spending do damn much on roads. However, if we’re that addicted to driving at peak times then congestion charging must become part of the package.

    • JohnP

      If you don’t price road use then you end up using the congestion itself as an economic instrument except you charge the highest value trips the highest penalty and the low value trips almost no penalty. That makes it both inefficient and unfair. Imagine you are a working solo mother who has to drop kids at daycare then get to work. You have bought in a cheaper area which is further from work because that is what you can afford. You are stuck with driving because getting a bus to daycare, then another bus to work then two bus trips home isn’t practical. Also if they ring and tell you to come and get a sick kid then you don’t really want to be stuck with PT. You would probably be willing to pay a toll to have a shorter travel time and more importantly a reliable trip time so you can plan to get to work on time. By comparision you might be a young guy with no kids who is almost indifferent to mode choice but figure if it is free you may as well get up a bit earlier and occupy some road space (denying it to others). Tolls correct that if they are set correctly.

  • Greg N

    We know that while we can’t do a 30/10 like LA is doing, a 70/30 rule applies to Aucklands project wish list.

    By that I mean we need to focus on those projects that together unlock 70%+ of the benefits with only about 30% of the money being spent at least initially, leaving the really big ticket items that soak up the majority of the money for when they are shown to be really needed.

    This means big ticket items like Tunnel under the harbour, and eye-wateringly expensive (and perennial) motorway upgrades and RoNS with low BCRs take a trip to the back-burner, while the stuff thats in the CFN is brought front and centre and started sooner to unlock the potential.

    The CFN map as shown above is for 2030 which is only 16 years away, in some ways thats really close, and in other ways its a long way off.
    Its a long way off in that we have time to make it happen and a long way off, that if you are sick and tired of the congestion now, imagine another 16 more years of disruption to end up making the congestion worse than it is now. Doesn’t seem like anything worth doing does it?

    So where and how to start? Lets look back first.

    16 years ago by comparison was 1998, some people may remember 1998 like it was yesterday, for a lot of the Gen Zero folks, I suspect it may be a long time indeed back to a time when they were teenagers or younger.
    And for some looking forward 16 more years in the future is yet another “life time” away for many of the people who will be living in Auckland in 2030.

    1998, like 2014 had a “tired” National Government in power, with the same old same old policies everywhere, was in the firm grip of the big end of town (Telecom, Freight and transport companies, Big Business in general, Fed Farmers). Small Government was in, privatisation was the answer to everything and the market was always right.

    If you went back to 1998 and imagined what Auckland would look like in 2014, and you had the ability to control what got built and when over that time, do you think you’d have allowed all/some.none of the projects that have occurred in the last 16 years to go ahead? And which ones would you have avoided, prioritised higher or lower and would the resulting outcomes be better all round as a result or just a bigger ?

    16 years ago an “Auckland Council”, Britomart, double decker buses in Auckland, any form of bus priority, a resurgence of rail use, a fully electrified network and oil prices being $100 USD per barrel, house prices going through the roof and desirable apartments and inner city living in general would have seemed impossible to “ever happen here”.

    Yet, here we are all those things have (or are about to) come to pass.

    Now also look at the downside as well.
    Over that time we have seen yet ever more cars on the same roads, even more expensive motorway upgrades being touted again and again as the answer to everything, lack of integrated land use planning by the various “cities” in Auckland causing more and more sprawl to their ‘burbs, and put more and more people in transport and time poverty as a result of being forced to live far away from their work and spend long hours each day commuting back and forth. Roads getting worse and worse each year, heavier and heavier trucks being allowed, causing exponential road damage by each one, and RUC charges seem to be stuck in some kind of black hole not really covering the costs. And as soon as the latest motorway lane or by-pass opens its clogged in 5 minutes.

    Do we really want a repeat of these events over the last 16 years for the next 16?

    We need to break the chain and actually rejig the plans.

    LA (both the City/Corporation and the people who live there) obviously decided enough was enough, hence they voted for taxes to pay for targeted projects – but without the targeting the proposals would not have.proceeded without a doubt.

    I think we need to do the same – raise revenue (congestion charge is being touted now I see – but we must be able to do a bit better than copying the London model),

    But whatever we do, we need to do it so that people can see where the money raised goes and they must be kept updated as the money comes in and the projects they are sponsoring are proceeding, so that people see the benefits of the pain they are feeling.

    While you’re at it AT, how about stepping up the enforcement of Bus Lanes, and then redirecting the Bus Lane fines to a special PT related improvement fund.
    Then those who at least want to drive in them illegally – know that their fines are being used to improve the situation for the longer term, rather than adding another cost to everyone and going into the general Council operations fund, which might (if you’re lucky) reduce your rates by 0.000001 cents for each rate payer – for each dollar of fines you pay.

    • On the congestion charges I think the Stockholm model would be the one for Auckland. That is more designed to even out the flow and only applies from 6.30am to 5.59pm. After that it is free.

      Also I understand there are some routes into the city that arent tolled but presumably are far less convenient and will also be congested. Maybe in Auckland we only toll the motorway offramps and a few major arterials (e.g. Tamaki Drive)?

      The money raised is used for transport projects. I am not sure if that means all kinds or only road.

  • MikeM

    I lived in Denver for a while in the ’90s and noticed their that big ticket local body spend was put to the electorate with targeted sales tax’s being asked for. It was legislated (as far as I could tell) that the 1.5% (or what ever) sales tax added in certain counties for the big ticket project would be removed as soon as the project was paid off. I think in NZ we fear that once a tax is added with good intentions, it is never removed.

  • stingray

    In a study carried out by SGS in 2007, it was found that Auckland residents paid less in local rates than several other cities being compared to (Melbourne, Wellington, Sydney, Brisbane, Vancouver) when using rates per capita as a proportion of income.
    We have to understand we pay low rates, yet every election is fought on keeping rates low.

    Personally, I would vote for the party that increased rates if I could be fairly certain the increase would be spent on Auckland.

    the bizarre thing is how much we are all prepared to pay on interest rates on property, but not on rates. The average household may be spending as much as $25,000 per year on interest, which disappears out of Auckland (largely profit to Australian banks), yet a few hundred dollars more on local rates would all get spent on Auckland in some form (just putting aside Council inefficiency etc).

    However, given our expensive living costs (transport, housing, food) If we were to increase rates across the board now, it would be political suicide. But what if the rates increase only applied the next time a property were to transfer ownership? That way, when someone buys a new house, they know they have to factor in an increase in council rates in their budget, which may just mean they pay lower for the house (no disbenefit in that).

    Pay more rates and pay less home loan interest? I know what would be better for the city!

  • Malcolm M

    There are readers of the Auckland Transport blog in LA, and a comment is referred to on the LA Metro’s website. Good on you for attracting an international readership !

    http://thesource.metro.net/2014/01/29/transportation-headlines-wednesday-january-29/

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