Where to now for transport in Auckland?

In some respects Saturday night’s election result changes nothing from a transport perspective. It seems as though the government that will be formed over the next three years will be remarkably similar to that we’ve had for the past three years and there’s certainly no indication of a change in direction for transport policy from what we’ve had over the past six years. However, this has some important implications:

  • It’s almost certain that Puhoi-Warkworth will be built, with construction likely to start before the 2017 election and the project built/funded as a PPP.
  • There will continue to be a lot of discussion around the timing of City Rail Link and whether the Council or Government budges from their preferred start date.
  • Progress on any alternative funding mechanisms to close the so called “funding gap” for transport seems pretty unlikely. This is despite the fact some government departments have also being doing their own investigations on alternative funding sources due to lower than expected revenues into the National Land Transport Fund.
  • There is likely to be more money for cycling projects thanks to the $100 million for urban cycleways around the country over four years

Cam discussed Puhoi-Warkworth in his post yesterday, so in this post I’m going to focus on the CRL and alternative funding, particularly what the election results means for these two key (although not necessarily connected) issues.

Starting with the CRL, a start on the project as a whole anytime in the next three years now seems fairly unlikely. This means hopes of completing the project by 2021 are probably slim unless the Council can talk government into a very big change of position. The Council is keen to progress talks with government about the timing and funding of CRL, but it seems likely that these talks will focus on funding of the section underneath the downtown shopping centre:

Although the council wants to start CRL by 2016, the previous Government indicated no funding before 2020 unless certain rail patronage and employment targets were met. But [Penny] Hulse remains confident of middle ground.

“We’ve been working well with the Government over the last three years and we don’t expect that to change. The start time and funding are things we need to talk to the Government about,” she said.

This section is particularly important as it is key to delivering not just the redevelopment of the downtown shopping centre site but also a whole raft of projects that are part of the Downtown Framework including making things better for buses on Customs St.

I’m still confident the rail patronage targets set by the government – that patronage will track towards hitting 20 million journeys per year by 2020 – will be met or even exceeded, plus of course there’s still another election in 2017 between now and the government’s current preferred start date. But it seems prudent, for now at least, for the Council to just get on with building the section under the downtown shopping mall – like I said in this previous post. Once CRL is started, it will be much easier to “complete” and the section underneath the downtown shopping centre will make constructing the rest of the project much easier – especially if they can get the bit under Customs Street built as part of this first stage:

So I don’t really think Saturday’s election results change things much for the CRL. I would imagine that the main focus to negotiations over CRL between government and the Council is likely to be around whether the government stumps up with half the cost of the first stage of the project or whether they force Council to fund the whole thing – like has happened so far. I think it would be quite a good look for the government to provide CRL with some financial support for the first stage, to show that it’s serious about believing in the CRL project and to show that it values redevelopment of the city centre.

In relation to alternative transport funding, this might be a bigger hurdle to resolve as the government has been pretty clear on its position previously – no congestion charging and no additional tolls on existing motorways. To some extent this may not be an issue, as I highlighted a few weeks back the “baseline transport programme” (what can be afforded without additional funding with 2.5-3.5% rates increases over the next decade) doesn’t actually look too bad, at least in terms of what big projects are in (CRL, AMETI, new bus network stuff etc.) and out (Penlink). The devil may come in the details of what projects can be afforded when and how much additional walking and cycling funding is available, but at least for now it doesn’t seem like the end of the world if there’s no progress on alternative funding schemes in the next three years. Unless you’re a Penlink supporter, of course!

In saying that it also seems government agencies are becoming increasingly interesting in the issue of alternative funding as a way to provide certainty to the revenues flowing into the National Land Transport Fund (the account that collects all of the transport taxes). It may be a few years away yet but I get the feeling the noise surrounding alternative funding sources is just going to get louder and louder so we’re likely on a course to needing a nationwide discussion about them. When this happens the work put in by the council on the matter is likely to come in quite handy.

The last main issue relates to cycling improvements. From a transport point of view this was one of the highlights of election campaign as every major party (and most of the minor ones) all agreed on the need to spend considerably more on walking and cycling than currently happens. For their part National promised to spend $100 million over four years on urban cycleways. Based on Auckland’s share of the urban population that could see it receiving over $40 million over the four years which would represent an approximate doubling in spending. In saying that a lot will hinge on just how much the council agree to in the Long Term Plan. With the government now seemingly on board with cycling there is a risk the council will try to use the enlarged cycling pot as a chance to cut back on some of the council’s spend. Instead the opposite needs to happen and they need to at least double funding to go on top of whatever the government plan to provide.

So overall, aside from the fact we’re near certain to waste three-quarters of the billion dollars plus whatever the PPP costs on Puhoi to Warkworth, I don’t think the election results is too much of an issue for advancing key transport issues in the next few years. It does mean the slower delivery of CRL, but that’s not unexpected and may help ensure key bus infrastructure for the new network can be completed in time. There’s a certain irony that the government’s dislike for alternative transport funding options probably means a delay to Penlink, a project I understand the local National MP has pushed strongly for, but that project’s a waste of money anyway.

Lastly it was disappointing that despite many requests the first time we got to meet transport minister Gerry Brownlee was at the election debate night. I will also be keeping an eye out to see if we get a new transport minister and whoever it is, I hope they become open to meeting with us this term.

Election results, my first thoughts and so on

So, the 2014 election results are in, with an emphatic win for National. Six years into his Prime Ministership, and having just been re-elected for a third term, John Key has achieved what very few NZ politicians have done before him; he remains trusted, respected, admired and even liked by a large proportion of the public.

Transport

As regular readers of the blog will have gathered, we consider National’s policies on transport, urban issues and climate change to be outdated and misguided. From that perspective, their election win is unfortunate, but transport doesn’t seem to get a lot of discussion at (central government) election time; urban issues and climate change are even more minor.

And, to be fair, when you look at the government financial accounts you realise that transport is actually a pretty small part of what the government does:

Transport and communications spending

Of a budget of around $90 billion, the central government spends around $9-$10 billion a year on “transport and communications”. However, there’s only around $2.8 billion that comes through the National Land Transport Fund each year, and that’s essentially the transport part of the budget. Of that $2.8 billion, half of it gets passed through to councils for them to spend (although central government still gets to have quite a say in how the councils spend it, via the Government Policy Statement).

So, transport is not a big component of the government budget. It’s quite understandable that people aren’t going to cast their vote based on it. And while the Roads of National Significance program is a deeply flawed one, and many of the roads themselves are very inefficient, there’s some comfort in knowing that this wasted spending is just a small part of a large economy.

…That’s not the last word, I do have more to say on this below…

Urban issues

This is a broad topic and I won’t try to address it here, but long story short, I don’t see much to inspire me in either Labour’s or National’s urban policies. I think there are people at the top of both parties who have a good understanding of urban issues, but this gets swamped by populist policies which are not well thought out. Urban issues are mainly a job for local government, but the central government still has a big role to play. I’m confident that both major parties are likely to eventually figure this stuff out.

Climate change

I’ve previously made my views clear on National’s climate change policy, and I hope they come around to acknowledging this issue as a serious one. However, climate change barely registered on the agenda this election. I can’t even remember it being mentioned in the Green Party’s collateral that ended up in my letterbox, and I barely saw it anywhere else either. I’m sure these issues will return to the public consciousness at some point; I’m just disappointed at all the opportunities we’re missing, the low hanging fruit, and the likelihood that there will be much higher costs if we wait. In the meantime, NZ’s emissions continue to increase, and there’s absolutely no leadership being taken on making any serious reductions to those emissions. This issue is strongly linked to transport, and those are where many of the reductions will need to be made. We need to take steps to decarbonise our transport system, starting right away. National have not shown any interest in doing so, and are actually doing their best to head in the opposite direction.

Summing up

We strive to be non-political, or non-partisan, or both – I’m not even sure what wording we’re going for, but hopefully you get the idea – but transport is a political issue in NZ, so inevitably we do end up taking stances on issues which are deemed to be political. I’m optimistic about some of this stuff, though. I think we are working towards a point where there is broad recognition that we can’t go on doing things the way we always have, spending all our transport money on roads and cars and having no thought to anything else. Labour and the Greens (and even New Zealand First) are well ahead of National on this, but I expect even National to figure it out in the next few years. There will be more of a common direction set, and the Roads of National Significance binge will be the last one. A few billion dollars will be wasted, and that’s sad, but as I said above, it’s a small part of a large economy.

Likewise, I’m optimistic on our cities, with the possible exception of Christchurch. I’m pretty sure that people will figure this stuff out in the next few years. In the meantime, some decisions are being made which we’ll look back on as bad ideas, and that will cost the country, but it’s surmountable and it’s not the end of the world. I’m less optimistic about climate change; the fact that it barely rates as an issue worries me. The fact that we’re not taking steps now to future proof our transport systems and cities worries me. The first step is to get climate change back on the agenda. It hasn’t gone away because we’ve stopped talking about it; it’s kept happening, and the need to take action is growing ever more pressing.

I think this blog has an important role to play in all of these issues. I want us to educate the public, critique the silly decisions that are made on these topics, push for better solutions, and work towards a broader consensus across the country as to how they should be handled. We should do that through reaching the public, councils, and the government. And we should strive to get more agreement on these issues, so they can be depoliticised and people can get back to voting on the real issues like class sizes and whether we’re providing enough funding for cosmetic surgery and which leader has better hair and who said or did something inappropriate and that kind of thing.

Transport Election Policy Roundup

In politics, transport sits in a weird space. It’s a key topic in local body elections – which is understandable as people’s interactions the transport system are experienced at a local level – however it’s at a national level where most of the key decisions around funding and overall transport policy are made. Yet despite this transport remains a second or even third tier issue at a national level. Instead the focus tends to be on the Economy, Health, Education and Welfare. In many ways this is odd as transport policy is perhaps the one intervention that can have hugely positive or negative impacts all of those and other issues. This is one of the reasons why I think transport policy should have much more attention and importance placed on it.

With that in mind and with the election just a few days away I thought it was about time to do a wrap up of the transport policies of the parties that might get over the 5% threshold to enter parliament.

National

National will:

  • Keep building the Roads of National Significance to address capacity constraints on our roading network and encourage economic growth.
  • Kick-start the Accelerated Regional Roading Package with a $212 million investment in a suite of important regional roading projects.
  • Accelerate important State Highway projects in Auckland to reduce congestion, capitalise on the Western Wing Route, and improve connections to the airport.
  • Start the Urban Cycleways Programme to make it easier and safer for people to cycle to and from work.

For the most part National’s transport policy seems to follow the theme of not rocking the boat. It’s about them keeping on doing what they have been doing with a particular focus on the completion of the RoNS. This is not surprising as many of the RoNS projects are currently under construction and the reality is they would need to be finished regardless of who’s in power and they were hardly going to stray far from the draft Government Policy Statement released in June. Of the RoNS there are a couple of projects that would get underway during the next government if National are still in charge and they are:

  • Puhoi to Warkworth
  • The Huntly and Hamilton bypasses and the Longswamp section
  • Sections of the Wellington projects
  • Sections of the Christchurch motorways.

In addition to the RoNS the government announced at the budget it would spend $212 million on a series of regional roads around the country. It turns out some of the projects aren’t that bad and probably would have been funded sooner if the government hadn’t sucked up as much funding as possible for the RoNS programme.

The most surprising announcement from National was a few weeks ago where they promised to invest $100 million into urban cycling facilities over four years. This would be a welcome boost to a meagre cycling budget and it’s great to see National finally recognising the need for urban cycling infrastructure.

Lastly when it comes public transport there is simply nothing really being promoted in the their policies other than the claims about how much they’ve spent on PT – all of which was initiated under the previous government. This contributes to the fact that over the last six years the government haven’t funded, let alone announced a single new PT project (funding the CRL in 2020 doesn’t count in my books).

Labour

Labour will:

  • Build a 21st century transport system that provides choice and is cost effective
  • Rebalance the transport budget away from the current government’s exclusive focus on motorway projects towards a more rational investment in the most efficient and sustainable combination of transport modes. For freight this means investing in roads, rail, our ports, and coastal shipping. In our cities it means a greater emphasis on public transport, and walking and cycling
  • Invest in the Congestion Free Network for Auckland
  • Reduce congestion in Auckland by building the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council
  • Eliminate an unnecessary hassle by removing the annual registration charge for light trailers and caravans
  • Reduce congestion and make the roads safer by requiring trucks to not drive in the fast lane on three and four lane motorways
  • Reduce costs for motorhome and campervan owners by reversing changes made by the current government that have doubled their Road User Charges

While National may be trying not to rock the boat too much Labour seems prepared to do it, but if it doesn’t upset some people.

Their transport policy is much more PT friendly, even talking about improved PT as giving people a choice in how they get around. Fantastically they have even agreed to support the Congestion Free Network which is great to see. In addition to Auckland they say they will invest heavily in PT for Wellington and start rail services in Christchurch starting with services to the north of the city.

When it comes to active modes Labour seem to be the most vague, they talk about how National’s cycling plan is too little too late and that they will invest more but are oddly quite about just what they would do or how much it would cost.

It’s when it comes to roads that the party seem to be the most in conflict with themselves. They support Operation Lifesaver which would scale back the Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS but have also given their support to other low value projects on the RoNS list like Transmission Gully – instead fighting the PPP building it. The big challenge for Labour will be to see if the projects mentioned can be stopped because them being able to do so will be essential to freeing up funding for the other projects on their list to do.

In addition to above, Labour are also promising a raft of smaller changes like with things like banning trucks from using the fast lane and reducing costs for caravans.

Overall Labour’s transport policy has some really good stuff in it but also seems to be a bit of a compromise which perhaps stems trying to placate their regional based MPs/candidates trying to win local elections.

Greens

A bus or train every few minutes. By investing in an integrated network of trains and buses with dedicated rights of way, we can make it easy to get around our largest cities without a car.

Unlocking Auckland to become a vibrant city where public transport is fast, clean and affordable, and where cycling for adults and kids is safe. We will implement the Congestion Free Network including underwriting $1.3 billion in funding for the Auckland City Rail Link to start immediately, and extending rail to the Airport and the North Shore within 15 years.

Safe walking and cycling. The Green Party will invest at least $100 million a year in new, safe, separated walking and cycling infrastructure in New Zealand’s small towns and big cities.

Resilient regions. Our switch in spending away from a few motorways in urban areas will result in increased transport funding so regions can contest for projects that will best serve their transport needs. We will also reverse the neglect of our rail network, and invest significantly in the transport backbone of New Zealand.

Affordable fares. The Student Green Card will give free off-peak travel to all tertiary students and apprentices. We will investigate options to lower fares for everyone, and implement smart, integrated options for monthly and annual passes.

As expected the Greens are primarily pushing PT and active modes of transport strongly. One thing I particularly like about the overall policy is that they have gone to the extent of creating a mock version of the Government Policy Statement to show that they have thought through the issues of funding. Like Labour the challenge for the Greens is that a lot of the transport budget is likely to be tied up in the RoNS that are already under way for some time yet which will impact on how much they can do.

Fantastically they too have adopted the CFN as part of their core transport plan (to be fair they announced their support for it first) and have even gone to the extent of creating their own stylised version of it.

Auckland-Reconnected - Greens CFN 1

They have also backed the Fast Forward plan for Wellington which would see a light rail network built around the city. I’m yet to be convinced this is necessarily the most practical solution for Wellington but I certainly agree a comprehensive plan is needed. In Christchurch the party have stopped short of suggesting the solution but say they would work with the region to come up with a rapid transit solution for the city. They say there will also be money for an interim commuter rail service to be set up until the future of rapid transit is decided. All of this would be assisted by the creation of a single transport agency for the city similar to Auckland Transport. I think this is a good idea and perhaps one they should have suggested for Wellington too.

For all cities use of PT is expected to be helped by way of a Student Green Card which gives free off peak travel for students. Again like the Wellington plan the policy isn’t terrible but I do think the money could perhaps be used for other things better such as lowering the cost of PT for a wider section of society.

For all cities walking and cycling feature strongly too with the Greens promising to spend $100 million a year on cycling around the country which is a significant amount more than National plan to spend. I can’t speak as well for other cities but in my view we will need as much as we can get if we want to create a decent, connected and safe cycling network so the amount proposed be a welcome change.

NZ First

The NZ First transport policy contains a number of quite positive as well as some bold moves. There’s a lot of talk about creating a more balanced policy including much more investment in PT and rail in particular. In some cases this appears to be focused on rail for freight purposes however they have also said that if they were the government they would contribute 75% of the money needed for the City Rail Link (Greens have said 60% while Labour and National are offering 50% – with the later not till 2020). One thing they say is they want all new urban road projects assessed to see if a PT option could partly or wholly achieve a better outcome. For that to happen it’s likely the transport modelling and assessment criteria would need to be updated – and that’s not a bad thing at all.

In terms of bold moves I think that the fact they even mention the idea of introducing road pricing is a positive move as it’s a discussion I think we as a country need to have fairly soon.

Conservatives 

The Conservatives don’t seem to even have a transport policy and the only mention of transport is in a question to Colin Craig. The answer might be funny if it weren’t for the fact the party might end up making it to parliament. Craig says:

In respect of rail, In Auckland light overhead rail is an affordable and realistic public transport solution. It is unlikely population numbers in other centres would support a big investment in public transport.

I can only assume he’s referring to a PRT pod type system, like he did when he stood for Mayor in 2010. He further comments:

The provincial and national rail network is economic in some cases but not all. We are a very big but sparsely populated country and it is not economic to have a full rail and full road network competing for the movement of a limited number of goods. National has elected to invest into roads rather than rail and in some areas this is the best option.

Road building is way behind the population growth mainly as regional fuel taxes ended up being taken into the consolidated fund and “lost” not put back into roading. Regional fuel taxes should in future be in a separate account that is used only for transport to stop that happening again. Road improvements shouldn’t be just about the big roads as there are many smaller improvements that would be very helpful.

If he gets in to parliament someone will need to tell him that fuel taxes were hypothecated by the previous government.

There are of course a couple of other minor parties that could squeak in based on winning an electorate but I’m going to ignore them for this post as it’s long enough already.

Caption Competition: Gerry and Julie

On Friday Night Prime TV’s Prime Time with Shaun Plunket hosted a debate on transport with Gerry Brownlee, Julie Anne Genter, Cameron Pitches and Ken Shirley (CEO of the Road Transport Forum). You can watch the discussion here.

Prime time with Shaun Plunket Transport Debate

There wasn’t anything new that came up from the discussion however perhaps my favourite part of the whole thing was before the cameras started rolling. The picture below emerged on twitter from before the debate showing Julie Anne and Gerry in a discussion. I find this picture fantastic in so many ways and it has one of my favourites of the election (so far). So lets have some fun with a caption competition.

Gerry and Julie

Comments to be funny and not abusive

Urban Change: Evolution or Revolution?

“Change is the law of life and those who only look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”

-JFK

Life is nothing but change, and cities being concentrations of human life manifest this fact in their physical fabric: They are constantly changing, always incrementally, sometimes abruptly. Positively and negatively. Investment versus entropy. Governments, local and central, are charged with understanding the forces at work behind this law of life and responding wisely with our taxes to attempt to maximise the potential positive outcomes within this reality for all citizens.

DRESDEN 1945

Dresden 1945: Catastrophic change

There is plenty of evidence that suggests there is a need for substantial change in transport infrastructure investment now in Auckland. This evidence is broad based and essentially adds up to the fact that the conditions that set the policy of the last 60 years no longer hold:

  • It is clear that demand growth is shifting away from driving towards the Transit and Active modes
  • It is clear that spatial arrangements are shifting including a substantial revaluing of the centre
  • It is clear that demographics of the city are changing to smaller households and denser communities
  • It is clear that the city’s growth path is continuing; Auckland now is already city sized and getting bigger
  • It is clear that environmental and geographical constrains are tightening; resource constraints in Transport sector ever more pressing
  • It is clear that the urban motorway programme of the previous era is nearing completion; we are in a new phase
  • It is clear that newer generations just don’t share the older ones’ ideas of what is important in urban form and how to move

It is in this context that we have developed our Congestion Free Network summarised here.

However while there is clear evidence that we live in a period of discontinuity from the previous era this does not mean that what was built up during this era should be abandoned or not maintained. Quite the contrary in fact. One of the primary aims of shifting our capital investments away from the urban highway network is to build up the complementary networks to such an effective and attractive level that will keep the highways functioning well and with more efficiency. And in this our programme is not only low risk and high value but also very different from the late 20th Century revolution that it builds on. If there is one lesson to learn from the last great shift in transport investment in Auckland it is to be sure to keep what you already have and build on it; not to disregard the last system in order to focus totally on the next one.

Let’s have a look back.

The decision last century to invest in a system of urban highways for Auckland became over time a total commitment. We not only invested nearly every penny of new investment into this system starving any alternatives we also actually removed existing alternatives.

Here is a view of the leafy and desirable old suburbs of the Auckland Isthmus:

Old 'tram built' suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

Old ‘tram built’ suburbs of Auckland, from Mt Eden

And here is a map of the system that made this urban form:

Auckland Isthmus tramlines

After the second world war Auckland faced the three interrelated problems. It was growing, there had been little investment in infrastructure for decades, and it lacked financial resources. To that can be added that capital investment was dependent on a suspicious government that faced, as ever, competing demands. One critical area that this came to a head was our electric tram system. While by any measure it was a huge success, carrying huge numbers of people and at around a net operating profit, it was in desperate need of catch up investment both in the machines themselves and extension to new areas.

In the context of the times the car offered a way out of this problem. There were very few of them in the 1950s, and while their uptake was expected to grow this was also expected to remain manageable. It was argued that buses could replace the trams with the advantage of operating without fixed routes and be more easily extended to new areas and at lower capital cost to public finances. All true. But really this was a way to give Auckland’s relatively narrow roads over completely to private vehicles, as no priority was allowed for the tram-replacing buses. Contrast with Melbourne: where they not only kept the more appealing trams but took advantage of wide boulevards allowing separation of trams and traffic on many routes, plus tram priority systems at intersections where they are mixed.

Relying on the car could be rationalised as cheaper too, simply because the machine and fuel costs were privatised, and that petrol taxes were to be the source of road funding. Lost in the reasoning was the fact total reliance on driving is the most expensive way of ordering a city’s movement. So while the car/road system had a good funding mechanism [fuel excise] this does not mean it is the best system economically, and this is still true today . It would require ever more enormous sums and in fact add to the ratepayer burden and not relieve it as road taxes have never covered all road costs. Let alone other burdens of this system like parking and the loss of rateable land etc.

And motorways are subject to the laws of inverse success over time: they are best when they’re new, they never get better as they attract more users. Below, rural Penrose with new motorway 1963- nice flow.

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Road traffic, new Southern Motorway, Penrose, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd :Photographs. Ref: WA-59290-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23080156

Part of the world view of Modernism was a faith in the completely fresh start: The Brave New World. This is evident in art movements, new philosophies, individual building projects, but also at the urban planning level. That there was a huge desire for new beginings is not surprising after the experience of the first half of the century with two extremely destructive world wars and a devastating Depression. Auckland, although it didn’t come out of the war with whole areas of the city wiped clear by bombing it did have plenty of proximate bare land, and in the city itself the buildings and structures of the colonial era were now ageing and dated compared to what seemed possible in the new American-style future. It was ripe for this ideology of ‘rip it up and start again’.

We took our lead from the zeitgeist, and the zeitgeist was all California [well, the Autobahn, actually, but no one was admitting that].

Furthermore the beginning of this new project coincided with a rise in prosperity, price controls being lifted from private car sales, and the price of crude oil fell every year from 1947-1970 in real terms. Driving boomed in New Zealand as it did all across the western world and use of the new bus network declined proportionately. And then fell into a downward cycle of falling investment, declining quality of service, and uptake. The buses were never as accepted as much as the trams and nor could they ever command the control of the road as well either.

So when in 1976 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon exploited the divisions in the many local authorities in Auckland to kill Auckland Mayor Robinson’s ‘Robbie’s Rapid Rail’ Auckland was committed, by central government, to a bold ‘double-down’ on an urban motorway centred road only transport network.

What had began as a just part of the city’s movement systems as advised by North American consultants in the 1960s became an extreme and monotonal driving-only all-in bet. Bold, ambitious, and in terms of the communities and places in its path; pitiless. All directed by central government, with local concerns overruled.

CMJ

Whole areas of the city have never recovered from the burden of hosting this land hungry and severing system; in the most affected areas land value still remain low and land use poor. They have been sacrificed for the convenience of those from other, further out parts of the new city. Around 50 000 people were relocated and 15 000 buildings removed. This was a revolution, with winners and losers.

Newton then and now

Meanwhile investment in complementary systems froze. The bus network was stuck in aspic; even though it began carrying ever more people from the mid 1990s as the city grew and began to exhibit the kind of urban realities that make driving less optimal for more and more citizens. Each time the rail network won hard fought and tiny investments; second hand trains from Perth, Britomart Station, ridership leapt in response. But still no meaningful investment in extending these parts of systems into an actual Rapid Transit Network has been able to be wrestled from successive governments this century. Although important steps towards such a system were undertaken first by the last Labour led government by funding Project Dart, a long overdue upgrade of the rail network, and the construction of the Northern Busway, and the current National led government by enabling electrification to follow through a mixture of grants and loans to Auckland Transport. And, critically, AT and AC’s multi year overhaul of the bus system and introduction of the integrated ticketing.

Yet the future still looks no different, in fact central government’s programme is one of an aggressive return to the ‘revolution’ of the late 20th Century with no new Public Transit infrastructure funding at all, just enough to contribute to operate what’s already there: [chart of spending categories for the whole country 2015-2025]

2015 GPS - Spending graph

Proposed transport spending distribution in millions.

Yet despite the huge sums spent on more lane space the growth in driving has stalled, in contrast to uptake in the underfunded Transit mode: [VKT: Vehicle Kilometres Travelled].

VKT vs PT Trips per Captia 4

 

So it is very hard to understand this policy in terms of evidence, is its based on a nostalgia for the driving boom years of last century?, or perhaps it is simply an inability of our institutions to understand change and adapt to it?, or worse are the huge sums of public money in this sector subject to capture and control by special interests?: Big Trucking, Civil Construction, Consultants and Financiers, and Land Development Interests?

It is time to build balance into our city’s movement options and to do this we need a change in where spending is directed. And properly understood this is not another revolution but rather a return to moderation and balance and away from the current orthodoxy which is lopsided in the extreme. The current policy of investing so disproportionately in the driving mode is a revolutionary policy, but not seen as such because it has become an orthodoxy. We shouldn’t be surprised with its extremity as it is a 20th Century programme, from that age of extremes and extreme ideologies. Which while at times exhilarating, it also meant much was lost, like Auckland’s tram network.

Our position is that this kind of lurch is not what Auckland needs now but instead we should build on what we have by adding to the underdeveloped Active and Transit modes while maintaining and more efficiently utilising the mature driving resource.

Green GPS Funding graph

Above is a comparison of the proposed Green Party and National Party transport policies [for the whole country]. Note that the major difference is about what to build next, and that both plan to maintain current assets. We can change from extremity to balance without losing what we have. And it is long overdue:

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

by Architect, Cartoonist, and National Treasure: Malcolm Walker

Mayor’s Long Term Plan proposal released

This morning the mayor released his proposal for the Long Term Plan, which outlines the 10 year budget for the city. This is the first stage in a 9 month process.

Long-term Plan timeline

  • August 2014 – Mayor’s LTP proposal
  • December 2014 – Auckland Council adopts draft LTP
  • January and February 2015 – Public consultation on the draft LTP
  • April 2015 – Public hearings
  • June 2015 – Local boards adopt local board agreements and governing body adopts final LTP.

The proposal is available on the council website here. The proposal does not have a huge amount of detail, and more based around funding outlines with some major projects mentioned. Today I will just do a quick outline of the document, and we will follow up with more analysis tomorrow.

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Rates increases are 2.5% for the first two years, and 3.5% after that.
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Here is what the document has to say about transport. Note that capital expenditure of $469 million, compared with $826 million in the 2014/15 Annual Plan. However this is going to be cut back by $150 million as we noted yesterday. This seems to be a mixed bag. Great to see City Rail Link still included. On the positive side good to see Penlink, other arterial roads and most of the oversized Park and Ride strategy cut back. However difficult to see how Lincoln Road is such a priority for upgrading, it is hardly lacking traffic lanes at the moment! Disappointing to see the North-Western busway pushed back even outside the 10 year timeframe. I’m sure this can be staged appropriately so we can see some good progress over the next few years.

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Transport represents the most significant proportion of our total budget – almost a third of our operating costs and over 40% of our capital budgets. The funding envelope in the baseline budget is a significant reduction in the capital programme in the current LTP and has an even more significant shortfall on the aspirations reflected in the Auckland Plan.

This baseline proposal includes major projects such as:

  • The City Rail Link
  • North Western Growth Area projects
  • Warkworth SH1 intersection improvements
  • The East – West connections
  • Lincoln, Te Atatu and Dominion Rd upgrades.

The full detail of the list will be the subject of discussion between Auckland Transport and ourselves over the next couple of months as part of fleshing out the draft LTP for consultation. The basis of that discussion will be the criteria by which we rank projects and getting a shared level of comfort with that process. Naturally I would want to see our strategic shifts towards public transport active modes strongly reflected in those criteria. However, the basic transport option is not what I believe Auckland wants or needs. It is an investment programme that will not solve our existing transport problems and in fact will see them get worse. Under current funding arrangements what we can afford involves foregoing a significant amount of transport investment that Aucklanders have told us they wanted through the Auckland Plan. We wouldn’t be able to deliver a range of projects including:

  • A majority of local and arterial roading projects across the region
  • Almost all of the park and ride projects currently programmed
  • The North-Western busway
  • Strategic projects such as Penlink and rail electrification to Pukekohe. I beleive Aucklanders want all of these projects and have an expectation that the entire transport programme contained in the Auckland Plan be delivered in the 30 year timeframe.

 

The plan also outlines a number of projects that will proceed as are needed to support growth including Special Housing Areas. That is something we have noted previously so is good to see this mentioned. Seems to be a little bit of a grab bag of projects though. Will need more than the Te Atatu busway station to support growth in the North-West, and not sure Drury station is a priority amid other capital cuts as will only be served hourly when Papakura station is so close and will have 10 to 15 minute frequencies.

Some examples of these projects are:

  • Watercare’s central interceptor project
  • Grade separation at Avondale
  • Tamaki Drive shared walking and cycling path
  • Work with mana whenua on redevelopment of Ruapotaka marae
  • Otahuhu aquatic centre and library
  • Improved public transport between Mangere/Otahuhu/Sylvia park
  • New Takanini library
  • Grade separation at Walters Road, Takanini
  • Te Atatu bus interchange
  • Westgate stormwater ponds
  • Lake Road, Takapuna streetscape
  • Train stations at Drury and Paerata
  • Manukau transport interchange
  • Ormiston library and community centre. 

Grade separation at Walters Road has been the hold up for Addision/Glenora station so hopefully that should allow that station there to proceed.

Overall I think need to wait for more detail to see effect of transport projects, and it will be interesting to see if Auckland Transport prioritises public transport within this reduced spend or keeps building lots of lower value roading projects.

Election Transport Debate

Last night was the Transport Election Debate and so this is a recap of what happened. Unfortunately it wasn’t filmed so we can’t put up a video for you all to watch. If I miss anything important please add it in the comments.

I want to say thank you to the candidates that turned up. There was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First, Julie Anne Genter from the Greens, Phil Twyford from Labour, David Seymour from ACT, Damian Light from United Future and surprisingly as a late addition current Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee.

All up there were probably about 150 people that filled the room to hear the candidates speak. This photo was taken before the start and we ended up needing to get more chairs out.

Transport Debate audience

The evening started with Patrick giving an overview and recap of the Congestion Free Network. After that it was the candidates’ turn to have 8 minutes each to talk about their parties’ transport policy. The order of speakers was drawn at random.

First up was Denis O’Rourke from NZ First and he was perhaps one of the surprises on the night. The party’s transport policy is fairly good but to me it’s one thing to have a good policy, it’s another to actually understand it and know the reasons why it’s needed and Denis did well on that part. He spoke about the need for a more balanced transport system and the benefits it can provide to mobility, the economy and the environment. He talked about the need to address how we fund transport over the long term and said the party would support a long term shift away from Fuel Excise Duty and Road User Charges towards implementing road pricing on motorways and major arterials. He said that NZ First support the CRL starting immediately and would contribute 70% as they see the project as a vital investment for New Zealand. He also talked about their policy of having Railways of National Importance which did go against some of his earlier comments about not picking winners. Overall it was a fairly good speech.

Following Denis was Phil Tywford from Labour. Much of what Phil talked about was related to the announcement on the weekend that they would support the CFN. We were hoping Phil might start a bidding war on how much to contribute towards the CFN however unfortunately he ruled that out. He also commented about how the major upgrades to the rail network (DART and Electrification) were both budgeted for and signed off under the previous government so Gerry can’t use the claim that the government have funded $1.7b for rail in Auckland (to which Gerry said he would say it anyway). The other important thing Phil talked about was the need to both develop and enhance our rapid transit networks to cope with the sprawl that is expected to happen. He cited the massive developments planned for the Northwest as needing a Northwest Busway while in the South rail electrification and new stations would be needed. Related to that he talked about the need for more intensification/development around stations. Lastly on the CRL he said if Labour won, he would be down in the CBD the day next day with his shovel ready to start digging.

It was now David Seymour from the ACT party who was getting a turn to speak. The focus of his talk was about road pricing and how we need to use it to get more out of our existing road network. He referred to the Remuera Rd Bus Transit Lane as effectively being tolled but then said he wants the cost lowered so that more people can use the lane (which would hold up buses). He said he thinks vehicle trends will go back to pre-2013 levels of unlimited growth across the network. He said he’s “a fan of market driven technological solutions “all of which involve rubber tyres”. He also said he thought a focus on PT would harm housing affordability and home ownership as in his view we all need to be sprawling out.

Following David was Damian Light from United Future who said he was working in the transport industry. He said he thought we should build rail the airport before the CRL as that is something that would be used by travellers while also saying the CRL wasn’t a priority as he “lives on the Shore and so it’s no use to him”. Basically the impression I got was a whole lot uninformed of backyard BBQ type rants that had no basis in reality.

Gerry Brownlee finally got to have his say. He talked for some time about how the government could easily have cancelled electrification but didn’t as some sort of achievement, about how he thinks the government have been generous with their CRL targets and how he thinks the government are doing the right thing with transport investment. He said he thought Auckland Transport had been doing an excellent job and wants to replicate the concept to other regions throughout the country. I was hoping he might drop some hints to an earlier start for the CRL but unfortunately he didn’t. However, about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing, he said it was his view that there would be three tubes and that rail would be included as part of that. Later on he was asked what new initiatives the government have undertaken for PT since they’ve been in office and the answer was the PT Operation Model. He also said he was not pessimistic on climate change and that he thinks we’re on the verge of some massive changes in travel to which he highlighted having been in a driverless car.

Last to speak was Julie Anne Genter and as I expected she was solid, explaining why we need to change our investments to get better, more resilient and more economically successful cities. She also spoke a lot about the CFN and providing choices to people

Overall it was a good night and lots of people came which was great to see as it shows just how much interest there is in how we develop our city for the future.

Transport Debate Gerry Brownlee and CFN

Gerry Brownlee and the Congestion Free Network

 Update: Alex Burgess captured some of the comments on video

Send a message to Len Brown about Auckland’s Long Term Plan

This Thursday the mayor is releasing his first proposal for Auckland’s Long Term Plan, the 10 year budget for the city. Last week I blogged about the budgetary pressures the council is facing, and the risk of large cuts in public transport investment. However there is still potential for Auckland to progress the Congestion Free Network and important cycling investments in a rates constrained environment if we prioritise those projects and push back some of the very expensive roading projects with limited benefits like Penlink.

Generation Zero are running a mini campaign this week to encourage people send Len Brown a message that the budget needs to invest in public transport and cycling. Their email ask is at down below, and you can send an email to Len Brown using a simple online tool here: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan

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Hey, all the work we’ve done together to push for separated bike lanes, the Congestion Free Network, and the frequent bus network all hinges on one big decision this Thursday.

Mayor Len Brown is right this moment making up his mind about what projects get prioritised in Auckland’s 10 year budget known as the Long Term Plan.

Tell him now to: make the CRL the number one priority; prioritise the city wide rapid transport network; triple the cycling budget; and not proceed with expensive projects with little regional benefit.

There’s real pressure on the Mayor to hold rate increases in his budget to between 2.5% to 3.5%. Transport infrastructure represents nearly 50% of the budget so this funding is the most at risk. This means as a city we need to make some serious decisions about what we prioritise to fund over the next 10 years.

The choice has been made simple for him by his advisors. He’s been advised that he can not deliver all the projects in the Auckland Plan, therefore he needs to find a middle ground.1

That middle ground is the Congestion Free Network.

The Mayor therefore needs to do four things with the Long Term Plan:

  • Make funding for the City Rail Link his number one priority.
  • Prioritise the construction of the city wide rapid transport network including new busways and rail links as seen in the Congestion Free Network.
  • Ensure there is a tripling in the funding for cycling to $30 million a year so Auckland Transport can complete the City Cycling Network.
  • Make sure only road projects with large regional benefits proceed by excluding expensive projects such as Penlink and Mill Road.

Click here to send a message to Mayor Len Brown right now urging him to follow our four recommendations.

The long term effects of a lack of investment would lead to ever increasing congestion and ineffective public transport, exacerbating the many problems our city already faces with transport.

Truly transforming our public transport network over the next 10 years means moving forward with the City Rail Link, North Western, Upper Harbour and South-Eastern Busways and Rail to Roskill, as proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

On the other hand low value roading projects like Penlink2 have nothing to do with an outstanding public transport network.

Excluding these low value roading projects and prioritising an outstanding public transport network would help us get the right outcomes.

The choice is simple. The Council has already put in writing that their objectives over the next 10 years are to move to outstanding public transport within one network, and to radically improve the quality of urban living.

If Auckland wants to truly transform itself into a liveable low-carbon city it needs to prioritise high value projects that deliver on the Council’s own objectives.

Send a message now to tell the council to deliver on it’s own objectives: generationzero.org.nz/long_term_plan

The future of our city is in our hands.

 

Recapping the Congestion Free Network

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a lot of renewed interest in the Congestion Free Network, as first the Greens and then Labour picked it up as the core of their Auckland transport policy.  Given the growing support for the CFN, it’s useful for us to highlight in a bit more detail what it is, where it came from, why we think it will transform Auckland, and how we can pay for it. There’s a lot more detail on the CFN within its specific page and on the dedicated CFN website.

What is the Congestion Free Network?

The Congestion Free Network is a future system of bus rapid transit, railway lines and light-rail which come together to form the “top layer” of the public transport network – true rapid transit that is fast, frequent, reliable and most importantly free from congestion. Over the next 16 years we think that the Congestion Free Network can be rolled out across Auckland, providing people with an alternative to driving that’s faster, more reliable and more pleasant.

As Patrick outlined in his post which launched the CFN over a year ago, the key point is in the name – this is a network to get Aucklanders out of congestion, to avoid it, to opt out.

The other important point is that these routes represent the highest quality Public Transit corridors – “Class A routes”, as described here in this hierarchy of transit Right of Ways. They include a variety of modes: Train, Bus, Ferry, and maybe even Light Rail, chosen for each corridor on a case by case basis. The key point is that by growing this network Aucklanders will have the option to move across the whole city at speed, completely avoiding road traffic. By connecting the existing rail and busway to new high quality bus and rail routes, the usefulness of our current small and disjointed Rapid Transit Network can become a real option for millions of new trips each year. At the same time, we will take pressure off Auckland’s increasingly crowded roads by offering such an effective alternative to always driving, as well as providing a way around this problem.

The Congestion Free Network is both a solution to our overcrowded roads and a way of being able choose to avoid them altogether, for many more people, at many more times, and for many more journeys.

The CFN can be built in stages over the next 16 years, firstly starting with the City Rail Link and busway in the northwest and southeast, before extending rail to the Airport and then to the North Shore, light rail on the isthmus and other bus rapid transit improvements to fill in the gaps.

cfn-implementationThe CFN is supported by the vastly larger network of frequent public transport routes proposed as part of the “New Network” by Auckland Transport, as well as by enhanced walking and cycling facilities which boost access to the CFN by making it easy and safe to walk and cycle to your nearest rapid transit stop.

Where did the Congestion Free Network come from?

The Congestion Free Network came about for a number of reasons, including that we were frustrated with how politicians ramped up the costs of PT projects to make them seem unaffordable (e.g. in the 2010 mayoral election). We were frustrated with the project-centric focus of our transport plans, something which might be helpful for officials working out what they have to do but which doesn’t show the public any real vision. However by far the biggest source of our frustration was the Integrated Transport Programme (ITP), released by Auckland Transport last year and which modelled the transport investment the council included in the 30 year Auckland Plan. The ITP includes around $68 billion of transport expenditure in Auckland over the next 30 years, but quite incredibly – even with such a massive amount of money being spent – Auckland’s transport situation is predicted to still get a lot worse, with many of the Auckland Plan’s transport targets not being met.

Congestion is predicted to get worse:

Greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to go up, rather than down:

Modal shift is nowhere near what the Auckland Plan requires:

When we looked at the ITP in detail, we found the prime reason for such terrible results was the programme’s huge focus on expensive roading projects – over $22 billion worth of them over the next 30 years, compared to barely $8.5 billion on public transport!

With road pricing unlikely to be palatable to the general public in the near-term future, we figured that we would tackle both the inept performance and the huge price-tag of the ITP by coming up with something that stripped out the rubbish projects, still kept the ones that made sense, optimised the proposed public transport network and put a 2030 timeframe on completing the rapid transit network, rather than the 2040 end year proposed in the Auckland Plan. That became the Congestion Free Network.

How will the Congestion Free Network transform Auckland?

Auckland is a great city, but it could be the best city in the world if it improved in a few key areas – transport is undoubtedly one of those areas. Aucklanders know this, with transport being recognised as the city’s biggest issue, while we also agree that improving public transport is the best way to do something about our transport problems.

The problem with public transport in Auckland has always been that it’s just too slow, too infrequent, too unreliable and therefore just not attractive enough to get enough people out of their cars. Where high quality public transport infrastructure has been provided, Aucklanders have flocked to it in droves – the hugely popular Northern Busway and the quadrupling of rail patronage since 2003 are testament to this. Yet there is still so much potential for growth – as shown in other cities that have invested in rapid transit over the past 20-30 years:

The CFN supports the urban form outlined in the Auckland Plan by connecting all the major  centres by rapid transit – combined with the frequent PT network that sits underneath the CFN, these major centres will become highly attractive and accessible locations, supporting them to flourish and Auckland to benefit from the success of these major employment areas.  It provides true resilience to future oil shocks and has the potential to fundamentally lower the level of pollution that comes from all those cars stuck in traffic.

But perhaps most of all, the CFN simply provides Aucklanders with the choice to ‘opt out’ of the daily grind of congestion. It provides a way of travelling around the city that is reliable and doesn’t completely lock up at the first sign of rain or if there’s a slight incident on the motorway at peak times.

How can we pay for the Congestion Free Network?

A lot of our work on the CFN over the past year has been in relation to its financials – so that we have confidence it is affordable, value for money and achievable. One of our main justifications for developing the CFN was the extremely high cost of the ITP so we were keen to achieve all the following goals:

  • Time and sequence CFN implementation in a way that balances affordability and speedy progress
  • Ensure every additional dollar spent on CFN was saved from other projects in the programme
  • Ensure value for money non-CFN projects could still be funded
  • Come up with a programme that was significantly cheaper than the ITP and goes a long way to resolving the “funding gap” for transport

In this recent post we explained how we would fund the CFN – exactly which projects would happen and when, where savings would be made to reinvest in the CFN and how the overall balance of the transport programme would look. Interestingly the overall programme we suggest is actually far more balanced between road and public transport than the ITP was:

The financial details of the CFN can be analysed further in these spreadsheets.

Conclusion:

The overall message we would like people to understand about the CFN is that it’s easier than they might think. Let’s put it this way: for significantly less investment than the current transport plans, we can implement the whole Congestion Free Network over the next 16 years. A vastly superior system for a much cheaper price – we think it’s a no-brainer and we’re not surprised it’s becoming increasingly adopted.

Labour announces transport policy

The Labour party released its transport policy yesterday and it’s one that has some really good aspects to it but that also leaves a lot of questions. Here are what they say are the key points.

Labour will:

  • Build a 21st century transport system that provides choice and is cost effective
  • Rebalance the transport budget away from the current government’s exclusive focus on motorway projects towards a more rational investment in the most efficient and sustainable combination of transport modes. For freight this means investing in roads, rail, our ports, and coastal shipping. In our cities it means a greater emphasis on public transport, and walking and cycling
  • Invest in the Congestion Free Network for Auckland
  • Reduce congestion in Auckland by building the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council
  • Eliminate an unnecessary hassle by removing the annual registration charge for light trailers and caravans
  • Reduce congestion and make the roads safer by requiring trucks to not drive in the fast lane on three and four lane motorways
  • Reduce costs for motorhome and campervan owners by reversing changes made by the current government that have doubled their Road User Charges

The last three points were announced back in April and frankly they seem like tinkering around the edges to keep a few people happy. Today’s announcements were obviously more substantive.

For Auckland they say Labour will:

  • Build the City Rail Link immediately, funding it 50:50 with Auckland Council. We won’t wait until 2020 and hold back Auckland’s growth and prosperity for another five years.
  • Negotiate with Auckland Council a 30 year transport plan for Auckland, including funding, with our starting point being the Congestion Free Network. As well as the City Rail Link, this includes giving priority status to rapid transit busways in the North West and South East, electrification of the rail to Pukekohe, rail to the airport, and ensuring the next harbour crossing includes rail to the North Shore.
  • Integrate transport infrastructure with residential and urban development

For me it’s fantastic to see that Labour are backing the Congestion Free Network. We put a lot of time and effort into creating it and so it’s great that we now have two parties that have adopted it as part of their official strategy. Of course we’d love it if National also adopted the CFN but we’re I’m not holding my breath on that one.

CFN 2030 South-Grafton

What’s not clear as part of this policy is just how much Labour would contribute towards the CFN. The Greens have said they would fund everything bar the CRL at 50% with the council needing to pick up the tab for the rest (CRL is at 60%). Labour on the other hand has said they would fund the CRL at 50% but not how much they would provide for the other projects that make up the CFN. As I mentioned with the Greens policy, why pick such an arbitrary amount of funding as 50%. The rapid transit investments are really more akin to state highways which enjoy 100% funding from the government and so I think there’s at least an argument to be had over what’s the right level of funding.

I also like that they have singled out the need to integrate transport infrastructure to with land use planning, something the government doesn’t seem to worry about when making their decisions.

The CFN isn’t the only plan adopted by Labour with them also agreeing to Operation Lifesaver as part of their official policy. It’s included of the State Highways section under which they say they’ll review all of the other RoNS projects too.

Labour will

  • Prioritise highway investments that stack up economically and environmentally.
  • Review RoNS projects that are under construction, and look to modify negative impacts. Where construction is not underway, we will consider affordable, safe and environmentally friendly alternatives.
  • Require heavy trucks to not use the fast lane in multi-lane roads.

However it’s here where I have the first major concerns. They single out each of the remaining RoNS and what they would to do and that includes leaving some of the worst performing ones on the books, projects like Transmission gully which I can only assume is for political reasons.

When it comes to walking and cycling they say they will improve it by significantly increasing the budget. They don’t specify just how much they would spend other than to say that it’s higher than the $100 million National have proposed. They also say they’ll say they’ll require all future roading projects make provisions for a cycling.

Scattered throughout the policy document are a number of other interesting and potentially important changes. These include:

  • Giving local communities more of a say on how the money is spent in their areas.
  • Re-opening the Napier to Gisborne rail line.
  • Looking into building a rail line to Marsden Point to allow imports/exports to use rail to get their goods to the wharf.

Overall the policies seems fairly solid however in my opinion there are some significant issues to be addressed. The biggest of these is that there are elements of Labour having just added to what’s already happening in a bid to keep everyone happy rather than making some tough calls and cutting the projects that have poor business cases. The outcome of this likely to be an over-commitment of our transport funds unless or they will need to scale back what they promise. That is made harder to see as the costings for what is proposed is completely missing from the policy document.

One last point, to both the Greens and Labour. One of the key drivers behind the CFN was to create a vision that people could quickly and easily understand and that’s why we went with the network map. It’s a core part of the CFN message so how about putting the map/s on your websites or in your policy documents themselves. Also I would expect a lot of people don’t know what the CFN actually is, how about a link to www.congestionfree.co.nz