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Time for the Canary Test?

Brian Rudman asks if it’s time for the Canary test.

A sitdown on crowded, polluted Customs St will show minister why Auckland needs money for rail link urgently.

The ping-pong marathon between Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Mayor Len Brown over the start date for the $2.86 billion City Rail Link staggers on. This week the mayor unveiled a commissioned PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report claiming the rail patronage and downtown employment targets set by the Government for the project were unrealistic.

It said the 20-million trip trigger point would be achievable only after full introduction of the new electric train service in 2016.

Last year, the Government said the project could start earlier than its preferred 2020 date only if patronage was on track to 20 million trips a year well before then and city centre employment was up by 25 per cent.

Mr Brown says the tunnel has to be started by 2016 to prevent crippling peak hour road congestion by 2020. And PwC says the 25 per cent employment increase is unachievable because of falling office vacancy rates and a shortage of new office space in the pipeline.

Mr Brownlee remains unmoved by the PwC arguments. So what now?

Perhaps it’s time for Mr Brown to challenge the minister to the canary test. Challenge him to sit in one of the downtown Customs St bus stops at peak hour and breathe deeply of the noxious fumes.

Rudman goes on to talk about noise emissions from buses in the city centre. I don’t think it would just have to be at a bus stop. Sitting in Britomart would be good for breathing in fumes – although only for another 15 months or so. However one thing that perhaps Rudman perhaps isn’t aware of is that even with the CRL, the number of buses is set to increase in the city centre, it’s just that they will be from areas that aren’t served by the rail network running at higher frequencies than they do now. That means it’s going to be equally important to look at how we can improve the standards of buses.

What should be alarming Aucklanders is that the longer the CRL is delayed, the more buses and cars will try to cram into this de facto, roadside main downtown bus interchange. Not only will the noise and air pollution increase in Customs St, but it will spread out along the adjacent streets as the bus depot slowly expands. Lower Queen St, Albert St, Commerce St … the pollution will quickly spread.

Add the fumes from the expanding fleet of private cars squeezing into this increasingly congested bottleneck and the strip between the “world’s greatest harbour” and the centre of “the world’s most liveable city” will become, at peak hours, a fetid no-go zone.

While vehicle numbers have increased in the region/country, they have actually dropped coming into the city centre over the last decade or so and AT’s modelling is suggesting that the drop will continue over time as better PT is provided and the city is made more friendly for people.

modalshift-2001-2012

Arrivals in the CBD from the annual screenline survey

Back to the canary test, if he came sat in Britomart he could also see the thousands upon thousands of passengers who already stream off train services in the mornings. Pictures like the one below are now a common sight at Britomart.

And if Brownlee could be persuaded to come and see Auckland’s rail network in action in a bid to get a project over the line he wouldn’t have been the first to do so. Back in 2006 when double tracking of the western line was getting underway the initial plan for New Lynn was for the tracks to remain on the surface. Michael Cullen was dragged down to New Lynn by former Waitakere City mayor Bob Harvey to witness the impact that even a small number of trains caused to the local roading network. He eventually agreed to the tracks and station being put into a trench and although it was more a roading project than a PT one we still got a great integrated rail and station as a result.

Unfortunately the chances of getting Brownlee to witness our PT network in action are very small. He’s shown no interest in it so far and generally seems to avoid Auckland as much as he can. I know the Campaign for Better Transport have tried to have a meeting with him and he always says he is too busy – even Steven Joyce was at least prepared to meet advocacy groups. Interestingly enough Green MP Julie Anne Genter asked Brownlee about being in Britomart at peak times last week in a select committee.

She also tweeted a few other comments from it that were interesting.

I think one of the fundamental problems we have with the discussion on PT is that in general politicians (from all parties) have a lack of understanding about the impact it has and the potential it provides. Unfortunately that’s not an easy problem to solve.

33 comments to Time for the Canary Test?

  • Andrew R

    Answer: get rid of National. Only thing is the way Labour is behaving that might not happen.

  • This Rail link is needed to improve Aucklands overcrowded transport system. The present National Government is currently playing “Petty Politics” with this issue, they don’t want to support a council which is lead by a “Labour” based Mayor – they want to support a “National” based Mayor and would have agreed to an earlier start date if there was such a “National” mayor in place -
    It is high time that the National government did what was best for Auckland and its Commuting Public

    • Naturesong

      I disagree, I can’t see Banks having supported the CRL. And Brewer doesn’t.

      Ahd a person from the National Team (because it’s really about whose team is in power, not what policies are best), it’s likely that there would be a push for more roads, and to pay the Councils share, flogging off watercare, POAL et al.

      • Actually Banks has supported the CRL while he’s been back in Parliament when he obviously hasn’t had too. Not enough to get him to turn around the governments position on it but he was saying it’s needed even when the govt was still saying they weren’t even sure it’s needed.

        • Naturesong

          Yup, I see he was employing the rhetoric.

          On winning Epsom during the last election as reported in the herald: “Mr Banks, who served two terms as Mayor of Auckland City, said he would focus on Auckland infrastructure, including the $2.4 billion inner-city rail link.”

          Uh, so yeah.
          It’s been three years. Can anyone point me in the direction of any press release or article that has John being a steadfast advocate of Auckland infrastructure, especially rail?

  • Essentially there is a misunderstanding of Auckland’s needs by this government. And that then becomes a misunderstanding of the opportunities for the whole country in having our one city of regional scale functioning as well as possible. In general they are so focussed on the extraction side of the economy that they seem to discount the value of the urban one, or at least mischaracterise it as only needing the same kit: big wide roads for trucks.

    It is unfortunate that the Minister our biggest city has to deal with on Transport issues is also in charge of our second city in the middle of a huge and very specific crisis that can’t help but colour his idea of what a city is or can be. On the intimately related issue of landuse and housing we have another South Islander whose other responsibility is the Environment yet is determined to spread Auckland out over the surrounding countryside. Auckland’s scale, growth, demographics, and geography require specific answers not just country town ones but bigger.

    The current sustained growth in Auckland is a once in a generation opportunity to get our gateway city match fit for the demands of this century for the good of the whole nation. Not getting to grips with these issues because they ‘don’t live here’ is a sadly inadequate response from government Ministers. And one that freights a great deal of distain .

    • tuktuk

      Yes a massive disconnect by the government is evident in regard to how to grow Auckland to be a premier Pacific rim city. This requires a city of scale, stability and fundamental natural attributes to compete against other cities as a business development hub. Only Auckland can take on that role and needs the CRL in place to help it get there. To develop beyond a dangerous reliance from selling a bulk primary goods to just one market, the call to continually encourage high value-added industry is as high as it ever was.

      The current government’s obsession with building grossly uneconomic roads so that: (a) bigger trucks can compete better with rail in carting primary goods to export, and (b) the construction sector can build motorway-bound, second rate homes and ticky tacky big-box retail ain’t the way forward guys.

      • In short Auckland requires ‘city-shaped’ thinking. And there need be no problem in this leading to different kinds of policies and projects than either other cities in the country or the rural economy. Horses for courses.

        Spot the outlier, in scale and growth:

        • mfwic

          If you extend the lines back in history you see that Auckland was only slightly larger than the other cities prior to WWII. http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities/Geographic-areas/commuting-patterns-in-nz-1996-2006/commuting-patterns-in-auckland.aspx in Figure 1 shows the longer trend. (be careful of the x axis in Fig 1 as it is not constant periods but the differences between the cities is demonstrated.). Maybe part of the reason for the rapid increase in Auckland population was the fact that sprawl and cars allowed for growth at a lower cost than the other cities could match at the time. Without the motorways in Auckland how much smaller would the population be now? And where would most of us gone instead of coming here, Tauranga or Christchurch?

          • So motorways are that powerful? It isn’t that Auckland has so many other obvious advantages as a city location? And how do you then explain the growth and success of Vancouver that didn’t build any urban motorways in the same period and has grown faster and is richer? The recent past was not inevitable and it is completely likely that the city maybe more successful now if it had chosen a different path, fewer motorways and a system like Robbie’s Rail for instance, less sprawl. Of course this can never be known now- no rewind button on life. So what’s more important is to recognise from this that we still have choices now and it absolutely is not written that we have to continue on the path decided for us by our government masters in the previous century.

            Whatever we built my main complaint is that it has been all-in one system, all our eggs in the one basket [until recently]. This makes the city both monotonous and vulnerable to dependency on one technology and one fuel. Time to add balance to our city’s infrastructure; for both quality, variety, and resilience. Motorways are perfectly useful but a city with only motorways makes for one with a dreary form, only one expensive movement option, and, of course, a culture of congestion. Surely it is time to complement this huge single system with the missing modes instead of doubling down on ever more. We already have enough motorway lanes for twice the population, we just need some critical gaps in the other systems to enable the coming growth to accommodated really well.

          • mfwic

            Well I would have thought Vancouver was easy to explain. The southernmost deep water port on mainland Canada’s west coast. The people and businesses that located there didn’t have any other options. As you know when there is only one choice the provider can offer anything they want and people can’t do anything about it. And yes of course motorways are that powerful, look at the impact the harbour bridge and northern motorway had. Good quality affordable housing for a whole generation who were lucky enough to get in quick. You either get a compact city or an affordable one.

          • Yes Vancouver is like Auckland it’s a desirable place to be. So those silly silly Vancouvians could have an even richer place by carving up their most densely populated city centre with m’ways like we did; is that really your view? And now they are only saved from penury from the lack of competition? Whereas if we hadn’t hacked through the inner suburbs with the CMJ Tauranga would now be our biggest city and Auckland a backwater? Funny.

            ‘You either get a compact city or an affordable one.’ The only possible way this statement can be even half right is by totally ignoring transport cost. Cheap houses are available right now on the fringes of Auckland and they’re cheap because, largely, they’re unwanted. And part of the reason for that is that people aren’t stupid and calculate their travel costs and their mortgage or rent together.

            Anyway, if affordability is your thing then the best way to get an affordable city is to choose a failing one: Detroit fits your ideal perfectly being both dispersed and highly affordable. I recommend Gisborne for something nice and cheap closer to home.

            Dispersal is a scale issue. The bigger the city the greater the costs of dispersal. When Auckland was had few hundred thousand it was easy to had more homes with a few motorways and a guttered centre. This pattern won’t work at the scale the city is at now. Basically, driving is great; until everyone is doing it. There are now too many everyones so it’s time to stop trying to force us all into cars. Enough already. Balance time. Where just buying congestion now.

          • mfwic

            Do you seriously think the only over-priced properties are in the inner areas? FFS a bare section for one house has just sold for $900,000 in my road 23km from the CBD. I never said Vancouvians would be richer but they might have had a more affordable city for people to live in and more people might have gone there to live. A compact city is a giant gated community except rather than a wall they use planning rules. They are great places to live (for wealthy white folk). But they are not affordable and that excludes a hell of a lot of people. The compact city model seems to require somewhere else for large numbers of excluded people to live. As for suggesting Detroit as the model for affordability well that just demonstrates to me how far from reason you are straying. Lets plan cities your way and everyone who misses out can go to Gisborne or Detroit!

          • Right you’re starting to show glimpses of getting it. Yes if Vancouver had ruined its centre with motorways like we did [and they were planned] they may well have lower demand for dwellings there. Lower demand = more affordable. As Detroit shows.

          • mfwic

            I think I am getting it now. It just makes me sad that if we go your way poor people should go somewhere else so hipsters can play at being urban and we can pretend a city is liveable because those who can afford it like it that way.

        • Brendon

          Patrick I don’t know where this anti South Island thing comes from. But I believe your charts are inaccurate. Christchurch is bigger than CCC. Greater Christchurch has a population of about 450,000 and is growing just as fast in percentage terms as Auckland. So Auckland will always be the biggest city while Christchurch will clearly be the second. The gap will widen in absolute terms, but don’t characterise Christchurch as stagnant. Christchurch is more like Auckland in 1950, with regard to urban and transport challenges. It will not get explosive growth from the waves of baby boom, urbanisation of Maori followed by the Pacific Islands. But it has taken its share of recent international migration and Greater Christchurch is likely to grow at a steady rate.

          On the Brownlee issue. We want to get rid of him as Earthquake Minister as much as you want get him as Transport Minister.

          Really the solution for Christchurch and Auckland is we get to keep more of our own taxes and make our own decisions, then we don’t have to go begging to Wellington.

          • I’m not anti South Island, I love the place, but I am anti provincial minded ministers, and we currently have plenty of them coming up to Auckland and shouting at us to build a crappier city.

            If you’ve got a better data and a better chart, please build it and post it.

            There is no chance that this government will allow more local democracy; if you’re in Christchurch you must know that better than anyone. It’s a tragedy what has been done to our second city in the name of reconstruction.

            Will CHCH vote for Brownlee’s Party this year?

          • Brendon Harre

            Christchurch usually votes left. It made a mistake last election due to the timing being immediately post earthquakes. IMHO Christchurch will not make that mistake again.

            I am not so good at charts but check out CCC plus Waimakariri and Selwyn populations as an indication of Greater Christchurch’s population. Places like Lincoln, Templeton, Rolleston, West Melton, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Woodend and Pegasus should really be considered -Greater Christchurch. They are by the planners -being managed by the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy.

            You are right this government will never allowing genuine local democracy and historically Labour has being more of a centraliser than a de-centraliser. But someone has to promote the most sensible long term solution to sorting out our cities.

          • John Polkinghorne

            Brendon, Greater Christchurch is growing much more slowly than Auckland. Between 2006 and 2013, it grew by 2.6% in total, compared with Auckland at 8.5% – more than triple the growth. That’s obviously skewed by the earthquakes, but I think it’s highly unlikely that Greater Christchurch’s growth rate will catch up to Auckland’s at any point in the future either.

  • Jon Reeves

    So looking forward to September 20!

  • Konrad Kurta

    I still find it awkward that the Transport Minister appears to have never walked, biked, or used any other form of transport other than a private car to get from place to place. It’s almost like having Don Brash as Maori Affairs minister. Gerry clearly doesn’t embody the values of the portfolio he’s meant to represent.

  • Jacob Winn

    It’s beyond belief that in a democracy, millions of people are held to ransom by less than a hand full of people. Gerry Brownlee firmly believes that he knows better than 1.42 million Aucklanders, and to add insult to injury, he doesn’t even live there. Get that obtuse and obese ass-hat on a bike and GET AUCKLAND MOVING!

    • Glen

      Jacob, if you believe that that strongly, I suggest you talk to as many people you know and mobilise them to vote for whichever party opposing National you think has the transport strategy to get Auckland moving. The choice should be clear.

  • Most politicians are not persuaded by facts but rather by their perceptions of public perceptions of the facts. Rodney Tolley of Staffordshire University (lecturer in sustainable transport for three decades) tells an interesting tale about perceptions. Some of his students conducted a simple two stage experiment. First they asked a sample of the public and a sample of politicians exactly the same question: “what proportion of transport spending should go into public transport?”. Both groups supported a substantial majority being spent on PT: – the public about 65% on average and the politicians about 75% (perhaps the politicians were better informed as they had access to more information and regular presentations on the matter). Before they knew the outcome of the first question, politicians were asked a second question: “what proportion of transport spending do you believe that the public supports investing in public transport?”. Despite their own strong personal support for PT spending, the politicians grossly underestimated public support at less than 50% – consistent with the transport budgets they kept approving.

    Both of our major parties have established focus groups to investigate public attitudes and changing attitudes on a raft of topics, including transport. Rather than trying to persuade an obstinate (obdurate) chump like Gerry Brownlee directly (I do not think that is possible) we should continue with the long game of improving public perception of the real issues, and the best solutions. It is these perceptions that filter into the focus groups.

    Although it has taken a while, over the last 20-odd years there has been a noticeable shift in public perceptions. From conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and from letters to the editor and even the odd Herald editorial it is obvious that many and arguably most Aucklanders do now “get it” – there is a healthy level of support for more and better PT. How else are we to understand the Government’s apparent U-Turn on CRL last year, albeit they have given only the perception of support while continuing to lock up the majority of funding into RONS, etc.

    I agree that regime change is probably the only practical way forward. Rather than demonising one minister (under cabinet collective responsibility Gerry is only carrying out a group policy), the most useful approach is to try making PT funding a real election issue, at least in Auckland. Not just the government share of CRL (which most parties now support), but finding a practical funding mechanism to pay for the Council share – for over six years the current government has ruled out every realistic measure to raise funds – first they cancelled a regional petrol tax which was all set to go and since then they have dismissed every alternative out of hand.

  • Warren S

    Graeme – your point regarding 50% government share for the City Rail Link is well made. The government has been has been too slow in coming on board so it is time we shifted the goalposts. We now want the government to pay 100% and promptly. And it wouldn’t be too hard for them to revise expenditure priorities………………..!

    • Yes it is worth noting that the CRL although more comparable to a State Highway than a local road won’t be 100% funded from the NLTF. And, as Auckland makes up at least a third of the contributions to the ‘government’s’ 50% Aucklanders will in fact be funding around 66% of it, compared to only 34% of State Highways in the region. Auckland’s motorways are more of a burden on the rest of the country that the CRL.

  • James

    How about a Crossrail style land tax to pay for part of the CRL? After all those who benefit are basically going to reap an unearned windfall from the taxpayer at large.

    • The whole region will benefit, and therefore the whole nation. But probably the best way for the cost of construction to recovered directly from the uplift in land value around stations is simply for the Council to retain and develop the sites purchased for the construction through its property arm.

  • Ari

    I find it funny that the Auckland Council is is planning to take some lanes off Quay St to plant some trees and to make it “nice” for tourists. But they are planning for Customs St to be exactly the same. Where are all the buses and general going to go? The tourists will enjoy Quay St, until they reach Customs St, where they will choke to death on the fumes.

    It should be noted that Auckland street noise levels tend to be higher because we have lots of canopy/veranda/awning type structures that throw the sound back to the road. In places like NY, snowfall and other things makes those canopy’s impractical.

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