We were quite excited last week to see the Congestion Free Network essentially adopted by the Green Party as part of their Auckland transport policy for the upcoming election. The CFN was created with the express purpose of outlining a vision for Auckland’s transport future that was truly transformational, yet also more affordable than the oversize and ineffective Integrated Transport Programme prepared by Auckland Transport. We don’t think the CFN is aligned with any particular political ideology – after all we still include billions of roading improvements. Add to that one of the prime reasons for creating the CFN was because we thought the ITP was fiscally irresponsible by proposing to spend a huge amount of money and still let things get worse. Therefore we hope that, over time, it will be adopted and further developed by more and more political parties.
The non-ideological nature of the CFN was picked up by commentator Bob Dey on Monday, where he talked at length about the Green Party’s transport announcement and responses to it:
The alliance of alternative thinkers which has begun to lead debate on how people travel – the Congestion Free Network, a collaboration between the TransportBlog, Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport – hasn’t just made an ideological proposal. They’ve said the country should apply the best means to the task, and that adding superhighways to fix congestion isn’t it.
They’ve said improving many other road connections would help, but the primary gains would come from increasing the off-road network. That includes providing off-road corridors for buses, and expanding the rail network in Auckland.
The minister’s response was that 97% of all passenger travel in the country is by road – and therefore road is best, not that that proportion might be better reduced.
Mr Brownlee said major roadworks around Auckland had reduced congestion, and completion of the western ring route would reduce it even more. Recent works, such as taking traffic off the Victoria Park viaduct by building the northbound tunnel, have given temporary respite, but congestion quickly resumed growing.
The Auckland peak traffic periods are longer than they’ve ever been because workers know they can’t make the job without leaving home in the dark, and the return is just as slow because all along the way there are exit bottlenecks.
What the transport network needs is considered – and transparent – evaluation, not ideological slagging.
As for ideology, you would have to wonder why travel needs to be ideologically based at all, but it is. Using the private car to drive to work equates to personal freedom. Providing mass transport that is comfortable & provides amenity (such as WiFi) could be even more personally uplifting, especially if it gets you to your destination more quickly & less harassed.
As we have said on numerous previous occasions, it is frustrating how politicised the transport debate can be at times and how good ideas can often be dismissed for spurious ideological reasons. This is one reason why we have gone out of our way to ensure the CFN focuses on delivering the right solutions in a value for money way. That is why so much of the plan is actually busway improvements and extensions, that’s why we’ve retained significant funding for roading projects we think are actually necessary, and that’s why we’ve highlighted the key role of the CFN in taking people out of congestion so they’re able to experience fast and reliable travel times.
Another key element of making CFN happen relates to its financials and how they show what appears at first glance to be a pretty unaffordable and expensive programme is actually much less expensive than our current transport plan. For those who want to scrutinise the financial details of the CFN, we welcome the analysis and today we make available the excel worksheets used to calculate the cost of the CFN and the remaining other major projects we think are worth funding between now and 2030. This information goes right down to our best guess about how much might need to be spent on each project in each particular year:
The overall level of investment in major transport projects over each of the next 16 years is also an important consideration here, especially in relation to making sure the CFN is affordable. We’ve worked hard in the timing and sequencing of different projects to keep the annual total expenditure to not much more than one billion in any particular year:
Of course we still need to fund smaller things like walking and cycling projects as well as operating costs and renewals, but given there’s around $3.5 billion a year available from the National Land Transport Fund, plus significant extra funding from Auckland Council to complete this network, we don’t think a total annual cost for new transport infrastructure of around this level is unrealistic. Furthermore, it’s significantly less than the Integrated Transport Programme would require.
Our spreadsheets also make a detailed comparison between the CFN and the ITP. Firstly, we cut around $12 billion away from unnecessary road spending proposed in the ITP over the next 16 years:
What’s interesting in the above are the roading projects that you’re still getting. The Western Ring Route is still completed, Mill Road is still built (though to a lower standard than the proposed semi-motorway), you still even get Penlink, although not until the mid 2020s and only as a two lane road. Most of the reductions come from fixing cost errors, removing a stupidly high proposed level of spend in greenfield areas, getting rid of the idiotic Additional Harbour Crossing Project and down-scaling a number of projects to a more reasonable level of cost.
When it comes to public transport, perhaps the surprising thing is that we’re only proposing to spend around $2.9 billion more on public transport over the next 16 years than what’s in the ITP – and all of that extra (plus a bit) relates to providing rail to the North Shore, something which could probably be delayed until after 2030 if there was a squeeze on funding:
Overall, the contrast between the cost of the CFN and the ITP are pretty significant – as is the difference in the balance of funding between the two:
So not only is the CFN a more balanced programme than the ITP, it’s actually around $10 billion cheaper and sequenced in such a way as to ensure it’s affordable in the long run over the next 16 years.
We hope to see the CFN become a key topic of conversation in this year’s election because transport is such a big issue for Auckland and because we are confident that the CFN represents an affordable, realistic vision for Auckland’s transport future.