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The Auckland Transport Alignment Project agreed

The Government and the Auckland Council have signed a Terms of Reference on a project to come up with an agreed long term transport plan for the region. It’s been given the imaginative name of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and will be worked on by officials from the Council, Auckland Transport, the NZTA, Treasury and the State Services Commission. There’s no firm time-frame for this to be completed with the Minister and Mayor just saying the work is expected to take about a year.

Here are the press releases from both Simon Bridges and Len Brown below with perhaps the most interesting quote being from Len calling out the time wasting that has gone on for so long with Auckland

“The signing marks a new dawn in our relationship with the government ending decades of disagreement and time wasting,”

The council and the government have been talking about getting alignment for some time and the cynical side of me suspects there’s some quite different motivations at play. Len wants an agreement however the government will be acutely aware that a year from now we’ll be right in the middle of a council election cycle. Transport is always much more of a local government issue and as such has played a massive part in Auckland since amalgamation in 2010 with it being recognised as one of the key reasons Len became Mayor. The threat of an imminent agreed strategy will probably be enough to take transport off the agenda – or at least reduce it significantly and allow the focus to go on issues such as rates. Any agreement itself would also likely hamstring any future council who may want to advocate for more visionary outcomes.

As with anything, when it comes to this alignment project the devil will be in the details. Helpfully the Terms of Reference have been published so we can at least see what has been agreed so far. There are some good things in the ToR but also a few things that concern me.

On the good side the project isn’t just about confirming either the government or council’s objectives – both of which we’ve criticised in the past. The ToR states project needs to assess alternative packages of transport interventions and recommend the preferred indicative package(s). The scope goes further saying that consideration needs to include issues such as changing travel demand. Hopefully that means those working on the project will not just look at growth but also changes in behaviour – like we’re seeing with many younger people deciding not to even get their drivers licences. One aspect that I think is missing is the

7 Project scope

7.1 The project will test options, seek alignment on, and make recommendations in relation to a strategic approach to the development of Auckland’s transport system over three ten-year bands from 2018.

7.2 The project will include consideration of:

i. likely long term changes in demand for travel

ii. all land transport interventions, including roads, rail, public transport, personal mobility services, walking, cycling, technology, network optimisation and demand management (including pricing for demand management purposes)

iii. alternative combinations of these interventions and their broad timing and scale

iv. costs and benefits

v. the nature, scale and timing of any funding gap for the recommended strategic approach and its alternatives.

I think that one possible package that they should test is this

CFN 2030 + Light Metro

One aspect that I think is missing is the scope is the consideration of the potential to shape demand. Travel demand is often seen as a fixed outcome i.e. we’ve got XX widgets to move and how can we do that. Shaping demand is effectively coming at the problem from the opposite angle, for example perhaps the best long term outcome from an operational perspective is to have a public transport and/or cycle mode-share to 15, 20%, 25%. 30% or even higher across the region. What projects would be needed to achieve that outcome – I gather it would be quite a different list to one that just responded to predicted demand.

The part of the ToR that concerns me the most are the objectives that have been listed. While access is mentioned in point 1, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on reducing traffic congestion rather than focusing on improving accessibility and efficiency of the transport system. For example it seems to suggest that public transport investment is only useful if it addresses congestion.

5 Objectives for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project

5.1 The Parties broadly agree that the focus of the project is to test whether better returns from transport investment can be achieved in the medium and long-term, particularly in relation to the following objectives:

i. to support economic growth and increased productivity by ensuring access to employment/labour improves [relative to current levels] as Auckland’s population grows

ii. to improve congestion results [relative to predicted results], in particular travel time and reliability, in the peak period and to ensure congestion does not become widespread during working hours

iii. to improve public transport’s mode share [relative to predicted results], where it will address congestion

iv. to ensure any increases in the financial costs of using the transport system deliver net benefits to users of the system.

Those issues aside, overall it seems that the agreement at least is pretty good and should hopefully enable both parties to finally agree on something to do with transport in Auckland.

One positive outcome not listed above that I’m hoping for is that it might finally get the government and some of the Wellington based bureaucrats to understand that perhaps they don’t know everything. For a long time Auckland has suffered from being treated like some small rural council that doesn’t know what it’s talking about compared to the government’s “experts”. There are a lot of people within those AC/AT who know what they’re doing – not just on issues of transport – and hopefully this alignment project will show them that.

Lastly the Ministry of Transport are hiring for a Project Director and Project Coordinator for the alignment project.

23 comments to The Auckland Transport Alignment Project agreed

  • Stu Donovan

    Matt have you considered applying for the MoT vacancies?!? I’m only half-joking.

  • Andrew R

    Public transport only seen as a congestion reduction mechanism? That seems like a very narrow objective.

    One potential objectives that is missing are a transport network that reduces carbon emissions. This plan is for 3 x 10 year periods from 2018, ie out to 2048. Just two years before the 2050 target of a 50% carbon emission reduction target.

    Also not clear to me what feedback loops that are between transport and urban form.

    • stevenz

      Congestion reduction is the best political selling point for public transport. It seems to make logical sense, and everyone hates congestion, so let’s give it a try if it means driving to work is 20 minutes faster. Regardless of how other people rationalise it, if it gets it done it doesn’t matter how. Any port in a storm.

  • Ricardo

    I already think they have their first problem. For the Director role: “The successful appointee will hold a relevant university degree or equivalent, preferably a postgraduate qualification”. This knocks out a large number of very good and real world experienced people and leaves it to the theorists. Some of the best directors, program managers and successful leaders out there never had degrees. Will be interesting, but not expecting miracles. Plus they must work with existing personnel, and teams which is often a problem. A new leader should be able to build or bring in a new team of people who have the nous and can get things done. The Council has exhibited time and time again that changing the leader and leaving the existing obstructions just leads to frustration and failed projects. I have seen this happen first hand and have refused roles that I was passionate about because they would not allow me to bring in a trusted team to get things moving. The result – time on the project continued dragging and budgets overran, and still no outcomes. Something as big as this needs a top notch commercially proven leader with world wide experience (not just theory), and a clean sweep team.

    • Stu Donovan

      I’m not a recruitment expert, but I think you’ve misunderstood the nature of the role. My understanding is that the project is looking to reconcile existing (but differing) points of view between local/central government agencies. By this I mean there is a need to gain agreement on what transport projects happen and by when, and they are to be funded.

      This project is happening not because everyone’s dithering about where to put the bulldozers. Each side knows where they want the dozers, and they happen to be in different positions. The MoT wants to build roads, because that’s what their political masters want, whereas AC/AT want to invest in alternatives, because that’s what Aucklanders say they want.

      That’s the nub of the problem.

      I don’t think someone with commercial experience is needed to reconcile these issues. I think you need someone who is smart and who works well with other people. Which is kind of what the job description says, and why I recommended Matt applies ;).

      • +1.

        We have five organisations called The Government, NZTA, MOT, AT and Auckland Council.

        Seemingly unable to agree on a strategy, we are creating a Sixth Organisation, calling it a project and hiring a bunch of translators.

        I apologise if any organisations or projects have been omitted. It is very hard to keep track.

    • Brendan

      How about public transport as a way to allow land to be use more efficiently? It will be much easier to fit in an extra million people if there weren’t so many car parks.

  • Mr Plod

    Matt, section 8.1 ii of the TOR seems to leave room to consider demand shaping as an ‘intervention’. Although I doubt that was their intention.
    ii. initial advice reporting on the testing and evaluation of the broad intervention packages, seeking feedback to inform the next deliverable
    I also think the ‘out of scope’ list is too short and should call out that things like ‘carbon emission reduction’ are out of scope if that’s the intention. Otherwise, people can rightly push for it to be in scope under ‘technology’ say, as in the technology required to reduce carbon emissions.

  • The ‘Objectives’ list reflects a view that misunderstands traffic congestion and city success. All great and successful cities experience traffic congestion. In fact they exhibit congestion of all kinds; crowded pavements, overflowing Transit Stations, full bike racks, busy shops, demand for dwellings, airports and sea ports full of activity. Only failing cities are decongested; Detroit does not have a congestion problem. What thriving cities are is congestion, the question is is it productive congestion?

    To focus solely on reducing traffic congestion, especially if using the bogus metric generated by companies such as TomTom that simply measures the difference in driving times between 3am and the peak of the peaks, is not to best serve the first point best:

    i. to support economic growth and increased productivity by ensuring access to employment/labour improves [relative to current levels] as Auckland’s population grows

    Better economic performance requires spatially as well as temporally efficient access for people and freight, it does not have to be delivered by individuals each in a car. In fact, in a city of any scale, it simply cannot be done with everyone each in their own car; it’s just geometrically impossible. One way to measure the likely success of a city is to count how many people can access the city by private vehicle at the peaks. Less is very much more by this measure: The Sydney centre city has a private car mode share of 14% in the AM peak, the streets are congested, so what? Very few are affected by this, and those that are have chosen to be, buses have dedicated routes and deliveries are mostly time shifted. 11k people drive over the Harbour Bridge into Sydney between 8-9am. Over 30k arrive by train and bus on the same structure at the same time. Meantime 84k arrive on the rest of the rail network, through the Central Station, and the underground city lines.

    The quality [spatial and temporal efficiency] of the access is what matters above all else, not the speed of vehicle flow. Vehicle flow is a contributing factor to access quality but if this is all that is focused on the resultant city will have an extremely inefficient overly dispersed form unable to capture agglomeration economies; it will be un-city like, and struggle to generate economic growth of any strength.

  • George D

    There’s potential here, but it does depend on AT having a good vision for the present and future.

    Disappointing then that Len Brown’s release identifies the East-West Truck Motorway as a top priority agreed with government.

    • Grant

      Yes, hope this will be a good thing, but can imagine in reality a huge compromise between a big car/truck roading aspect & PT/rail freight/active modes of transport without a change of thinking by some in the top & at all levels of this…..hmmmm maybe there is hope with public support for PT etc greater than we think it actually is.

  • Greg N

    Its a delaying tactic by the Government, basically a variant on the old tactic of “organise a Ministerial enquiry when things get too politically hot” – to deflect the attention away from the issues at hand by saying its “under review” and leave it at that.

    In just over 1 years time, as has been pointed out, its local body election time, I am sure the current Government will delay its accord until after the election ends.

    Then it will either suddenly conclude a Business as Usual type accord if its right leaning council/mayor or a “kick for touch” (delay doing anything) accord if not.

    For CRL funding, its needed now to let it progress – as Bill Ralston says, borrow the bridging finance and get started the cost of NOT doing it is far higher than the cost of doing it.
    Of course, the Government (like ACC) won’t come to the party on any costs incurred without its prior approval, so doing that risks the government refusing to stump up.

    I’ll also say this – for those who can vote in the upcoming AECT elections, consider voting for whatever party that will consider using the AECT “dividend” to help pay for the big ticket items Auckland needs now – like CRL and more EMUs

  • David B.

    That AECT dividend is truly appalling – it’s just so typical that Auckland isthmus customers should get an annual dividend payment but not North Shore customers.

    • Sailor Boy

      From what I recall the North SHore took a big one off payment, the isthmus opted for an ongoing dividend

      • Greg N

        Isthmus folks opted for nothing – they had absolutely no say in what happened. National Party cronies did the saying for them.

        North Shore-ites all got lump sums or shares which they invariably sold off.

    • Stu Donovan

      It’s just so typical that people who live on the North Shore should expect both a lump sum pay-out on the value of their shares as well as an annual dividend on everyone else’s.

    • Greg N

      That dividend is an historic situation, and is payable to only those who live in the former AEPB “area”.

      AEPB customers never got a chance to vote on a thing, the old Auckland Electric Power Board was put into a trust (AECT) by cronies appointed by a previous National Government back in ’93 without any input from its customers. Other Power Boards like many in Wellington were privatised and all those customers handed shares – some sold these for a few pieces of silver, some held on, eventually they all ended up being owned off shore. Some of these former power companies, lines operations are now owned by Vector.

      The AECT trust deed says the ownership of the old AEPB – now split into Mercury (power retailer) and Vector (lines company) by another Act of National Government cronyism (for which AECT kept Vector and sold off Mercury to Mighty River Power/MRP (the SOE) is kept in trust for the “Auckland Council” owners then being Manukau, Auckland and Papakura councils get their hands on the AECT for 80 years (2073).

      Now these former AEPB area councils are all replaced by Auckland Council, its Auckland Council that will get hands on the AECT – sometime in 2073.

      The Trust can vote to disestablish itself anytime before 2073 by simple majority vote, but since the gravy train is too lucrative, they’ll never do that.

      And those same National Party cronies (AECT trustees appointed by the National Government) also narrowly voted to sell off 25% of their only asset they hadn’t sold (Vector) in a sharemarket float, keeping the other 75.something % in AECT hands.

      It is this 75% shareholding of Vector that gives AECT its money that it hands out as “dividends” each year to all Vector lines customers in the former AEPB area.

      So, to call Isthmus folks somehow “selfish” for receiving a dividend for something they had absolutely NO say in and for which they still have no real say – except to elect the AECT trustees every 3 years, like this year is pretty poor.

      Regardless, the future Auckland Council will get its hands on the AECT eventually, when it does that Vector dividend stream will then become available to be used for the benefit of all Aucklanders. Which when you look at it, is really pretty generous of former AEPB customers to help the rest of Auckland – even though they all got shares in their own power companies and sold them off years ago (or kept them and banked the dividends from them) for years.

      All I’m suggesting, is that if the AECT got a majority of like minded thinkers this time round, they could either change the dividend policy to for instance, be used to pay the interest on borrowing for building the likes of the CRL or for buying more EMUs – something for which they have some $100m a year of income to direct that way if they please.
      That way, AECT can become a good corporate citizen helping all Aucklander – even those on the Shore or out West.

      • Greg there are a couple of key things you missed out and it is actually the isthmus that should be bloody thanking the Shore and out West.

        What you missed is that Yes, networks on Shore and West were sold – to a company called United Networks who also owned the Wellington Network. In the mid 2000’s Vector purchased United Networks with the money raised from that partial sale and then sold off the Wellington business leaving them with just the Auckland assets. This means that with the exception of Counties, Vector controls all of Auckland.

        What that all means is Vector make a lot of profit off their West and Shore assets, profit which then gets passed to the AECT to distribute to the isthmus and south residents. Until the AECT is gone there’s a serious imbalance in things across Auckland.

        p.s. there’s a lot of other issues I have with the dividend. For example it’s based on who was listed as the owner of the power account at a certain time in mid August. You could have lived in a house for 20 years and if you move out a day before the set date you get nothing while a person who’s never lived in the AECT area could move in for one day and get the dividend.

        • Greg N

          Really Matt?.

          All those “Isthmus” residents and those out west and north who are now Vector lines customers we all given shares or cash in their local power companies back in the 90s, they could have retained it and/or invested it wisely (as they were told to do) and also could have bought Vector shares any time they wanted after Vector listed, either through ending up with lines company shares eventually bought by Vector and/or by outright sharemarket purchase – at time of Vector float ($2.35 issue price if I recall), or anytime since – so they to could also be partaking in the equivalent of the AECT dividend, if they bought 2,400 or so Vector shares.
          The only ones who didn’t were those in the old AEPB area, who had that option removed off the table completely, and were forced to accept the AECT dividend as the only option.

          After all, the AECT dividend is simply 75% of all Vector dividends less the AECT’s running expenses (which are not insubstantial either) and less some small contribution to undergrounding 12km of overhead lines a year in the old AEPB area, divided over the number of power users/Vector lines customers in the old AEPB area. Its currently around $335 a household a year, and as AECT announced Friday, due to Vector increasing its annual dividend, every AECT dividend recipient will get $10 more.

          Yes, Vector is getting this dividend from lines charges it levies for most of Auckland, Wellington and Northland, so in effect, everyone in the Vector power or Gas areas is helping to fund these AECT dividends.
          Has been like that for quite some time now. But lots of utility businesses work like that – Chorus for one.

          But this fact is why I think its time that AECT step up to the plate here and really and practically contribute to helping all of the people who live in Auckland (who help Vector earn that dividend via line charges) not just those who live in the old AEPB area now, with a cash handout at some arbitrary date each year. (I know there was talk of some kind of pro-rata system for spreading the dividend based on %age of the year each power user at the address was there, but it hasn’t happened, again thats something a modern IT system can do in flash which is a no-brainer).

          Yes I know that AECT will produce evidence showing that most of its recipients say they “rely” on this annual dividend – but just imagine if instead of the AECT annual dividend, it went to fund capital spending to directly improve PT for them and everyone else in Auckland, they’d easily get more than the $355 worth of benefits from having improved PT options, more reliable PT, or in some case, PT options at all – even if they never use it.

          After all the best return on any investment is the return on the investments you never have to make because they’re simply not needed (like avoiding building more expensive motorways or expensive motorway widening or road tunnels under the harbour).

          How much more fuel taxes and levies will people have to pay to unjam their roads in the coming decades – way more than the annual $335 handout from AECT I’d bet, so any perception of “gain” from the AECT dividend is either actually, or soon to be, largely illusory.

          Financial Disclaimer: I don’t personally receive the AECT dividend as my name is not on the power bill, our household does however receive one.
          I never see that money, it goes into the general slush fund of the recipient. I’d prefer the recipient spent the dividend on buying more investments or putting it into Kiwisaver.

  • Matthew W

    “to ensure any increases in the financial costs of using the transport system deliver net benefits to users of the system”

    I expect market clearing road pricing will achieve this, I look forward to the announcement.

    I wonder how this plays out regarding negative net benefit transport projects. These projects increase the financial costs to users (in the form of petrol tax/ruc) without delivering positive net benefits to users. And, indeed, this seems to imply wider economic benefits are not to be included in the calculation, making it even harder to get positive net benefits.

    So… No more negative net benefit transport projects?

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