Opening up NLTF to all modes

The Green Party released a new freight policy yesterday. They’re looking at ways to invest to increase safety and reduce carbon emissions:

The Safer, Cleaner Freight policy sets a target for moving half of freight on rail and by sea within 10 years of the next election. It allows the transport budget to be used to fund rail projects, and commits to the electrification of rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

“National’s single-minded focus on a few expensive highways is downright irresponsible, and will ultimately force more and more trucks onto New Zealand roads,” said Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

“National spends five times more on a few low-value motorways than it does on the entire rail network. National’s pet projects will actually increase congestion and the number of trucks on New Zealand roads, meaning within a decade Kiwis will have to share the roads with an additional 1.7 million truck trips every year.

“New Zealanders are sick and tired of more and more trucks congesting their towns and cities and bearing down behind them on the road. Every year, an average of 55 people are killed in crashes involving trucks, and over 850 are seriously injured.

“Rail is our second corridor. A single train can remove 70 heavy trucks from the road. By investing in rail and shipping we will not only make roads safer, but the air cleaner, and create a safer climate for future generations.

“We will invest $860 million to electrify rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga – New Zealand’s busiest freight corridors. This will help to move freight safely off the road, and create a zero emissions freight service in ‘the Golden Triangle’.

“Instead of demanding that rail return a profit, which has set rail up to fail, we’ll fund it from the transport budget in the same way roads are, providing the investment needed to move freight in the most effective and clean way.

“Moving freight by rail and ship is not only safer and cheaper, but better for the environment. Shifting half of New Zealand’s freight by rail and ship is the equivalent of replacing over 1.6 million petrol and diesel cars with electric vehicles.

Possibly the most interesting part of this is the proposal to open up the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) to allow it to fund all modes. We’ve just seen an example of the problems with mono-modal transport funding, with NZTA charging on with planning a third road-only Waitemata harbour crossing rather than considering all the alternative ways to get people across the harbour.

Allowing rail infrastructure to be funded by directly out of the NLTF is an idea that we’ve long augured for. The NLTF is used to help fund public transport services and some infrastructure on the basis that those services help alleviate some pressure from roads and therefore drivers. Why should the same principle not apply to other areas of the transport space and while the Greens’ proposal focuses on freight, but surely it would also make sense for NZTA to adopt an all-modes approach for urban passenger transport as well.

Their proposal to electrify the “Golden Triangle” rail line sounds pretty expensive and there is no way Kiwirail in it’s current state could even consider it – although I suspect the economics of it would be challenging under any funding regime. However, this route is the busiest freight corridor in the country, so if there’s a case to do it anywhere then it’s here.

By way of illustration, the Ministry of Transport’s 2014 National Freight Demand Study found that the rail moved a total of 4.7 million tonnes of freight between the Auckland, Waikato, and Bay of Plenty regions in 2012 (see Table 4.4). That’s around 29% of the total inter-regional freight movements of 16.4 million tonnes (Table 4.7). The image shows rail freight movements by volume and comes of an interactive visualisation by Aaron Schiff who used the data from the National Freight Demand Study.

Rail Freight in NZ

In the short term, the best way to get the most out of the upper north island rail network might be to build more passing loops to increase rail freight capacity. For example, the rail line from Hamilton to Tauranga is largely single track with a few passing loops, which limits it to only four trains an hour (two each way). The last passing loops added just a few years ago as part of a $13 million package of works and doubled capacity on the line between Hamilton and Tauranga, compared to many transport investments that is very cost effective.

Inside Auckland, building a third main line for the Southern Line is pretty crucial as there are already conflicts between passenger and freight services that will get worse after CRL. We understand the cost of doing so is fairly cheap compared to most transport investments we hear about but the project has been languishing as Auckland Transport and Kiwirail can’t agree on who should fund it.

While these are fairly specific examples, on the whole it seems like would be easier to make beneficial (and relatively cheap) investments like these if rail could compete for funding out of the NLTF just like other transport projects.

Additional Harbour Crossing ill-considered and over-rushed.

We are increasingly concerned that Auckland is in the middle of very poor process where by far the nation’s biggest ever infrastructure project is being forced along and at ill-considered speed without anything like the level of public participation nor detailed analysis that it should have.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

NZTA are relying on a 2008 study into possible future harbour crossings to just get on with designing and designating a road only crossing. This study started with the assumption that any additional crossing would be a road lane crossing. No kind of comparative analysis of all options like the Centre City Future Access Study that was done to be certain that the City Rail Link is the right mode and route for that need has ever been undertaken.

Looking at the current options across the harbour it is clear that the highest capacity urban transport mode is what’s missing. There are 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, and some passenger ferries, but no dedicated Rapid Transit route. We hold that it is absolutely necessary to do a proper comparative analysis between modes for the next harbour crossing before any designation or final design work is undertaken, and have been consistent in requesting it. We are not claiming to know what the outcome would be but that it is frankly irresponsible to proceed any further without such a study.

Particularly as a great deal has changed since 2007 when that report was commissioned. Aucklanders have proven that they are just like city dwellers everywhere else in the world and are very keen to use good quality Transit systems when they get the chance. Since the upgrade and electrification of the existing rail network we have been piling onto our new trains at a rate well in advance of expectations. The Northern Busway too has excelled expectations even though it has to share lanes with general traffic on the bridge and therefore is not as Rapid as a dedicated route would be. These two top tier systems are attracting riders at a rate of 20%+ year on year, and while there is relief ahead for the rail network with at last the CRL underway, there is no plan to deal with an ever rising flood of buses into the city centre with this hugely expensive project.

The line that ‘Aucklanders just love their cars’ as an excuse to not provide quality alternatives to driving has been forever proven to be the nonsense it always was. Aucklanders are the same as everyone else; we love what ever works well for our needs. So when we get options like the example below from Panmure for reliable fast travel we take it.

Pete Clarke Panmure

Furthermore it is well understood that it is the quality of the alternatives that govern the speed and reliability of the surface routes. So that in this example the car and bus speeds and reliability would be much worse without the separate Rapid Transit alternative. The same will be the case for across the harbour; a great alternative means freer roads, another driving route means more cars everywhere; more congestion See here for a discussion on this:

There’s good science to back up the commonsense view. It goes like this: public transport operates to a fixed speed, a timetable. Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.

Additionally the commitment to this road only crossing is made before the completion of the Western Ring Route, the current multi-billion dollar bypass for cross harbour traffic. It is also being made without any kind of business case. Existing estimates are up to $6Billion dollars for a return of 30-40 cents on the dollar. This desperately needs proper and thoughtful analysis, without the ridiculous haste from politicians.

All over the world cities are kept moving by building high capacity spatially efficient Transit systems. Auckland is simply at the point where it can no longer delay adding this essentially weapon to its arsenal of movement options. From statements by NZTA they agree that a Rail crossing is required but they insist, without any analysis or study, that this must come after another road crossing.

Three road crossings, and no more spatially and energetically efficient option? We would like to see analysis of what reversing this timing could achieve. What if the next crossing is high capacity electric rail? Especially driverless low operating cost rail.

  • What are the outcomes for traffic congestion across the wider city?
  • For land use?
  • For the local environment?
  • For Carbon Emissions?

We know that the people constantly say they want extension of quality Public Transport:

AA LTP Survey - PT v Roads

Survey of Automobile Association members

The public deserve to have a say in what is being done in their name and with their money. There are so many questions. NZTA know that this project will flood the city centre with cars and that there is simply nowhere for them to go. They also quietly discuss levels of tolling on both the new crossing and the old bridge. This massive project will not only soak up huge sums of investment funding closing off opportunity to make other decisions across the city and nation, but also induce more traffic everywhere on Auckland’s roads. It is also the reverse of future proofing as it commits us all to more driving:

AWHC - Induced Demand

The road only crossing is a huge Traffic Inducement scheme, as NZTA explain in this slide.

To claim all environmental and traffic congestion concerns can be waved away because of future technology is very weak. That argument suggests that the time to build this kind of infrastructure is when we all do have electric cars, not on the prospect of their arrival some time in the future. And if driverless cars are to be that revolutionary then perhaps all this expensive additional road space will not be required? Meantime there is current electric and driverless technology that can be invested in right now.

In Vancouver the SkyTrain mass transit system shifts 117m people per year, at frequencies often down to a train every 2 minutes, running from 5am to 1:30am daily and all at an operating surplus. Driverless, Electric Light Metro. North Shore people have already shown they are not too posh to bus, they certainly won’t be reluctant to use a quicker, quieter, cleaner, more direct, 21st century movement system like this.

skytrain-millennium-line-wide

 

Removing the RUB won’t necessarily work as planned

Yesterday Phil Twyford announced that it would be Labour’s policy to abolish Auckland’s Rural Urban Boundary (RUB), as part of a policy to improve housing affordability.

Labour wants the Government to abolish Auckland’s city limits to get people out of cars, caravans, garages and tents.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the urban growth boundary had to go because it has fuelled the housing crisis and people would not be forced into bad circumstances if the Government acted.

“The Government should rule out any possibility of an urban growth boundary in Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan if it is serious about fixing the housing crisis,” Twyford said.

“Over 25 years the urban growth boundary hasn’t prevented sprawl, but it has helped drive land and housing costs through the roof. It has contributed to a housing crisis that has allowed speculators to feast off the misery of Generation Rent, and forced thousands of families to live in garages and campgrounds,” Twyford said.

“Labour’s plan will free up the restrictive land use rules that stop the city growing up and out. It will stop land prices skyrocketing, and put the kibosh on landbankers and speculators.”

There’s no doubt Auckland has a housing crisis at the moment, with house prices increasingly dramatically over the past five years. Rents rose more slowly but the impacts for some families are still alarming. There’s also no doubt that planning restrictions have played their part in creating this crisis – by making it too difficult to build the required number of houses that Auckland has needed.

Addressing regional scale issues like housing and transport was one of the key reasons Auckland Council was amalgamated in the first place and why one of its first tasks was to rewrite the city’s planning rulebook through the Unitary Plan.

But will abolishing the Rural Urban Boundary help? To answer that question it’s important to understand what the boundary is, and what it isn’t. As its name suggests, the RUB is the boundary between land where urbanisation is anticipated and provided for over the next 30 years and land which is intended to remain rural over that time. If you take a look at the map below, it is the black dashed line that separates the yellow-coloured “future urban” zoned land from the brown rural zones:

rub

It’s also important to recognise that the RUB doesn’t exist yet as it’s part of the Unitary Plan being decided by the Independent Hearings Panel. It’s quite a different tool to the old metropolitan urban limit (MUL) that was typically set up against the edge of the existing urban area and made any urban expansion a significant challenge.

The RUB, by contrast, isn’t designed as a permanent boundary. It provides for a substantial amount of greenfield growth – enough to meet 40% of Auckland’s growth over the next 30 years.  The scale of the areas in yellow is highlighted in an Auckland Transport video that looks at the future transport requirements to enable their urbanisation:

The main argument against the RUB is that it creates a scarcity of land where urbanisation is possible, which drives up the price of that land. Over time the high price of land translates into higher house prices and reduced affordability. Fair enough. But what can we actually do about that?

As Auckland Transport’s consultation video above shows, the RUB isn’t simply a line on a map: it’s a plan to provide publicly-funded infrastructure to new urban areas. If you wanted to expand the yellow future urban zoned areas on the map, you’d also have to find the money for additional infrastructure.

In other words, greenfield land is in scarce supply because it’s currently farmland that requires roads, pipes, train stations, parks, schools, hospitals and a myriad of other infrastructure investment to take place before development can actually happen. Making a dent in the housing shortfall by enabling more urban expansion to occur is therefore entirely about speeding up infrastructure, rather than whether or not there is a line on a map.

As we’ve talked about before, the costs of supplying bulk infrastructure to greenfield areas are large. It is time-consuming to investigate, design, consent and build these projects. There’s no quick and cheap way to make a whole heap more greenfield land “development ready”.

In fact, removing the RUB could easily disrupt existing infrastructure plans and slow down overall development. If you take a look at the work that’s been done on transport for future urban growth, the networks are optimised around the location of the RUB. Scattering small developments around the region could force AT and NZTA to react to piecemeal development rather than taking a more strategic approach to infrastructure development.

I suspect that the first thing to get cut due to funding pressure would be the city’s rapid transit plans, which have already been delayed long enough. This would have the perverse effect of putting a damper on the 60-70% of development that’s intended to occur within the existing urban area.

TFUG - Draft Preferred Plan - Northwest

In short, abolishing the RUB isn’t a straightforward proposition. It’s not actually obvious that you could abolish it, as infrastructure plans would simply turn into a de facto RUB.

Ironically, Twyford acknowledges as much in his press release, where he says:

There is a smarter way to manage growth on the city fringes by properly integrating land use with transport and infrastructure planning. There should be more intensive spatial planning of Auckland’s growth areas in the north, north-west and south. Land of special value can be set aside, like the northern coastal strip or Pukekohe’s horticulture soils. Corridors should be acquired and future networks mapped for transport and other infrastructure

Let’s unpack this. First, he says that he’d like to see “intensive spatial planning of Auckland’s growth areas” with “future networks mapped for transport and other infrastructure”. That sounds a lot like the process that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are currently undergoing for the yellow-coloured future urban land.

Second, he says that “land of special value can be set aside, like the northern coastal strip or Pukekohe’s horticulture soils”. That sounds a lot like some sort of boundary between urban land and non-urban land, which is exactly what the RUB is intended to be. Basically, if you read beyond the headline soundbite, Twyford’s policy starts to sound a lot like Auckland Council’s current policy, just under a different name.

That shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the current government has been looking at this issue for half a decade now, and they’re pretty critical of restrictions on land supply. If it was a simple matter to abolish the RUB, they probably would have done it by now.

So what could we do differently?

There aren’t necessarily any “magic bullet” solutions to land supply. Greenfield land needs infrastructure to be useful, and infrastructure is expensive and slow to build. Shifting some of those costs onto developers, either through development contributions, targeted rates, or design rules that reduce the need for hard infrastructure (e.g. stormwater pipes) can allow more of it to happen. But the problem is that the developers push back, which limits the gains that can be had in this area.

Consequently, other policies are also needed to enable housing supply. That means relaxing or removing restrictions on building height and density within the urban area. While Tywford and Labour have also said they support this approach, they devoted only a single sentence to it:

Freeing up growth on the fringes needs to go hand in hand with allowing more density – so people can build flats and apartments in parts of the city where people want to live, particularly around town centres and transport routes.

That’s a great aspiration, but to be useful it needs to be backed up by specific policies to limit the use of height limits and other density-killing rules like minimum parking requirements. For example, would Labour lift building height limits throughout the urban area? If so, how high?

Lifting building height limits and density controls would have some immediate benefits for housing supply. For one thing, the transport networks and water pipes have mostly already been built, meaning that there’s no lag time waiting for the infrastructure providers. For another, it would make the housing market a hell of a lot more competitive by opening up lots of new development opportunities in the places that people most want to be.

This would also have the benefit of allowing people to avoid the high transport costs associated with sprawling development patterns. Even given Auckland’s dispersed employment patterns, the further out from the centre people live, the further they need to travel to work. This map from a Ministry of Transport analysis of the 2013 census data which shows how far people travel to get to work based on where they live:

This trend is repeated around the world, with more spread out cities requiring a greater amount of travel and, consequently, a higher proportion of income being spent on transport. In some cases this can end up outweighing any savings in housing costs. If we’re going to lift restrictions on housing construction, it makes sense to prioritise lifting the ones that also pose a barrier to efficient travel patterns.

Locked Out

6:45pm tonight at the AMI Netball Centre Northcote there is a housing affordability debate with some interesting speakers, head along:

Locked-Out-twitter-image

 

Housing Issues Hotting Up

Housing issues in Auckland have become a fairly constant news piece in recent years and the affordability issue has become louder and louder. And it’s not just people wanting to buy a house either but also for renters as rental prices rise too, something that is particularly tough for those on low incomes.

We know that one of the key tools to helping unlock development in Auckland is of course the Unitary Plan – depending on what final form it takes. It reached a new milestone last Friday as the Independent Hearings Panel held its final hearing on it. The amount of work the panel has undertaken has been significant. There were 9443 submissions and 3951 further submissions. The hearings began in September 2014 and there have been 242 days of hearings and there were more than 10,000 pieces of evidence.

Between now and July they’ll be working on their final recommendations to the plan which will be voted on by the council. With elections coming up it’s anyone’s guess as to which way councillors will vote. One thing that does seem clear though is that pressure is increasing on them from the government, in particular Housing Minister Nick Smith.

On the weekend he told by both TVNZ’s Q&A and Newshub’s The Nation that he will be imminently releasing a National Policy Statement (NPS) under the RMA which will put pressure on the growing councils like Auckland to open up land.

“Next month I will be producing a national policy directive under the [Resource Management Act] that will put far tougher requirements on growing councils to ensure they are freeing up long-term the land that is required so that we don’t get into the sort of juggernaut that has been at the core of the unaffordable housing problems in Auckland.”

At first blush that sounds similar to the “throw open the gates” type statements he made when he was made housing minister however since that time he seems to have moderated some of his comments and gained a better understanding of some of the finer issues such as density restrictions that prevent intensification. As such I am hopeful that the NPS he’s developing will also address these constraints too.

I also hope the government consider the impacts on infrastructure as part of any policy. Just throwing open the land might sound like the immediate solution but that land also needs infrastructure to support it and that isn’t cheap. The Council, Auckland Transport and NZTA have been working on the Transport for Future Urban Growth which is planning for about 110,000 dwellings on greenfield land and just the major infrastructure is likely to cost around $8 billion.

Yesterday Smith also became a bit more personal calling Councillor Mike Lee a NIMBY, a hypocrite and part of the problem for opposing intensification in Herne Bay.

“Mike Lee is guilty of Nimbyism,” said Dr Smith.

The Government has designated the site of the old Gables pub a “special housing area”. That allows for fast-tracked development, with between four to seven of the apartments “affordable housing”. It’s about getting more housing into inner-Auckland’s “urban intensification”.

But neighbours don’t like it, and, local councillor Mr Lee is on their side. Mr Lee wrote earlier this year, saying the development was “overriding the civil rights of neighbouring property owners”.

Dr Smith responded, saying he found Mr Lee’s position “ironic”, “odd” and “part of the problem”.

“We cannot have that sort of Nimbyism. That’s at the core of where Auckland has gone wrong. That’s why I’ve politely written back to Mr Lee and said ‘actually, you are being a hypocrite’.”

Nick Smith on Housing

Unfortunately, in many ways Nick Smith is right, over the last few years Mike Lee has fairly consistently voted against rules that would enable more housing, especially in the in inner suburbs.

John Key is also threatening the council and at his weekly press conference yesterday said:

The Prime Minister also warned that the Government would not be able to “sit back” if Auckland councillors did not deliver enough houses in the city.

Asked to elaborate, Mr Key said ministers would make announcements in this area soon.

Could the government ultimately force the Unitary Plan through if the councillors don’t approve it or worse could they install commissioners?

While I don’t agree with everything they’ve said, one positive is that the government have made some better noises around some housing issues. In saying that they also remain very quick to blame the council for the current issues when they need to take a share of the blame too. The reality is the Unitary Plan process is one the government created and more so, some of the ideas like an NPS could have been pushed years ago. Other tools that they’ve implemented such as the Special Housing Areas have resulted in at least some developers using it as a tool for to increase the value of their land-banking.

The bad news is that even if the government and council’s all do their bits well, our housing issues are something that could take decades to resolve. We’ll now have to await with interest to see what comes out of the budget and out of the NPS the government are preparing.

Subsidies for Electric Vehicles – How do you like them lemons?

*** Note: This post has been updated to correct errors in the initial version. Correcting these errors has not, however, affected the conclusions ***

Imagine, for a moment, that I was trying to sell you a bag of organic lemons. Now imagine that my bag of organic lemons costs 25 times the normal price. They’re very good ***organic*** lemons, I would say, while flashing a Simon Bridges smile. Well-fertilized by a lovely labradoodle called Lexie, I might add.

When confronted with such a scenario, I imagine (hope) that most of you would tell me to stick my organic lemons somewhere nice and dark. Like Norway.

P1000993

View of Bergen, Norway

How is this relevant to EVs? Well, the Government has just announced policies to subsidize uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). The Government is subsidizing EVS so as to reduce carbon emissions. A noble objective, you might think. Except for one small problem: My analysis suggests the Government’s is paying 25 times more to reduce emissions via EVs than what it’d cost to reduce emissions via other channels. Put another way, if we took the money being used for EV subsidies and instead used it to offset carbon emissions elsewhere in the economy, then we’d be able to buy 25 times more for our money.

Doesn’t sound like a very good deal does it? Let me first present some numbers to support this conclusion.

First, let’s consider the benefits side of the EV subsidy equation. Information available on the MoT website suggests (from my reading) that the main objective of the Government’s EV subsidies is to reduce emissions from transport. To achieve this outcome, the Government is proposing a suite of measures (subsidies) that are designed to increase the number of EVs on New Zealand roads from approximately 5,000 now to 64,000 in 2021. Of course, under a counter-factual (do-nothing) scenario the number of EVs on NZ roads would also be expected to increase, simply because EV technology is improving over time. For the sake of this analysis let’s say that under the counter-factual scenario (i.e. in the absence of the Government’s subsidies for EVs) we’d see an additional 10,000 EVs on NZ roads. From this we can deduce the Government’s subsidies cause a ***net*** increase of 50,000 EVs.

Second, on the cost side of the equation we find that two of the nine policies are costed at $42 million per annum in 2021. However, we’d expect the cost of the subsidies to start off low and ramp up progressively over the five year period, as more people buy EVs. Let’s assume the subsidies amount to an average of $20 million p.a. over 5 years, or $100 million in total. Let’s also keep things simple and use undiscounted monetary values. To sum up, the Government’s subsidies for EVs amount to spending approximately $100 million over 5 years, which is expected to result in an additional 50,000 EVs on NZ roads. This subsidy can be broken down further: $100 million divided by 50,000 EVs equates to $2,000 per EV, which over five years amounts to $400 per EV per annum. If we further assume an individual EV will be driven an average of 12,000km p.a., then we find the subsidies amount to approximately $0.03 per kilometre travelled.

So what do New Zealand taxpayers get for this investment? Or more specifically, how much of a reduction in CO2 emissions do we get from this investment? The Government’s analysis suggests that EVs will save 0.15 kg CO2 per kilometre traveled compared to a normal car. At 12,000 km p.a. this equates to 1.8 tonnes of CO2 saved per vehicle per annum. If we then apply the current carbon price of NZD $10 per tonne, then we find the Government’s EVs subsidies cost approximately 25 times more per year than the market value of the carbon emissions that they save.

I want to pause for a second to let this sink in: The Government’s EV subsidies cost 25 times more than what it would cost to reduce emissions in other ways. Oh. Dear.

Some of you may argue that a carbon price of NZD $10 per tonne of Co2 is too low – and I’d most definitely agree. Recent research suggests a carbon price closer to $200 per tone would be more accurate. However, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the current carbon price is the direct consequence of deliberate policy decisions implemented by this Government over the last 8 years. Specifically, the Government has chosen to give out large volumes of free carbon credits, which have suppressed the price of carbon. Hence, I’d argue that the current carbon price at least reflect the Government’s views on how much New Zealanders should be paying to reduce carbon emissions.

Other people who are reading this may be thinking that I simply can’t be right. That somewhere I’ve missed out some zeros, or got a decimal point out of place. Perhaps I’ve been doubling-down on a few too many space-cakes here in Amsterdam, and/or skipped a few too many economics classes.

To try and get an independent perspective on my calculations I undertook some further research into the impact of EV subsidies in other countries. In doing so I stumbled across a very interesting paper titled The Norwegian support and subsidy policy of electric cars. Should it be adopted by other countries?, which was published in 2014 in Environmental Science and Policy.

This paper evaluates Norway’s subsidies for EVs and concludes (pg. 167; emphasis added):

Our main conclusion is that the Norwegian EV subsidy policy should be ended as soon as possible, and that this policy certainly should not be implemented by other countries. The solution to the GHG problem of the transportation sector in the next few decades in a world in which the GDP and population growth are the main drivers of the road traffic volume (Bosetti and Longden, 2013) is not to offer subsidies making it cheaper to buy and run EVs, or other alternatives, but to introduce more taxes and restrictions on car use. There are simply too many social costs associated with car transportation (Sterner, 2007). The subsidization idea, which informs so much of environmental policy today, not least within Europe, is ineffective, has several unintended consequences and will in many cases be counterproductive (Helm, 2012). The Norwegian policy for the support of EVs is an example of this.
Reading further, one finds that the authors have reached this conclusion based on an analysis of emissions savings from Norway’s EV subsidies. And guess what? They find the cost of the subsidies was approximately 2,700 times higher than the equivalent cost of offsetting the same amount of carbon (pg. 167; emphasis added):

Under certain reasonable assumptions, we then find that the EV subsidy package that the single EV owner gains amounts to about 13,500 USD/tCO2. As pointed out, this is about 2700 times higher than the current CO2 emission price. Therefore, under similar assumptions, subsidizing 20,000 EVs adds up to the value of more than 50 million permits, or about the present yearly GHG emission in Norway. Rather than supporting EV owners, the Norwegian Government could have bought emission rights in the same amount in the quota market and kept these rights unused, meaning that the quota supply would actually have shrunk. This would have driven the quota price up and possibly contributed to a technology push along different lines. At the same time, this measure would have made Norway ‘carbon neutral’.

Also contained in the paper is some interesting information on who seems to benefit from EV subsidies (pg. 167; emphasis added), with the authors commenting as follows:
It is widely believed that this EV policy will result in less energy consumption based on fossil fuels and a reduction in the local emission and noise problems. However, our discussion and analysis show that unfortunately the issue is not that simple. One of the most worrying aspects of the current EV policy incentives in Norway is that they motivate high-income families to buy a second car. At the moment, two-car households make up a minority. However, if two cars per household become more common, they will pose an environmental challenge across several dimensions and will doubtless mean that the EV policy as a GHG emission reduction instrument is totally missing its point.

“Totally missing its point” is not something you read in academic papers everyday. It’s worth mentioning that political parties in Norway recently reached consensus on rolling back EV subsidies, by removing EVs’ ability to use bus lanes and lifting their exemptions from tolls.

If you’re looking for a sound-bite from this post then this is it: The Government is proposing to spend $100 million to subsidize wealthy households to buy electric cars in order to achieve a relatively paltry reduction in emissions.

At this point I should point out that the Government is not alone in proposing that the New Zealand taxpayers subsidize EVs. The Green Party, for example, has also proposed removing FBT from EVs. While I haven’t evaluated their policy in any detail, on the basis of the numbers I’m seeing here I’d be ***extremely*** skeptical about the effectiveness of such a policy, especially when considered from an environmental and social justice perspective.

To finish, I want to make two moderating comments in relation to my criticisms of EV subsidies.

The first caveat is that I think EV technology is really cool and has a lot of potential to make our lives better. However, observing something is a “cool technology” is not sufficient reason to implement subsidies. Call me square if you will, but I personally believe that good policy should try to 1) achieve its stated outcomes and 2) to do so in an effective manner. Spending $100 million for what appears to be little gain seems to fall outside of this definition of “good policy”..

The second caveat is to acknowledge that EVs have benefits which extend beyond carbon emissions, and include things like air quality and noise benefits. These benefits should definitely be considered as part of a detailed benefit cost analysis. However the onus for demonstrating these benefits, I would argue, lies with the Government / MoT – not some strawberry-blonde punk blogger like myself. Specifically, the Government should really be doing detailed benefit cost analysis before announcing policies. For this reason I think it’s fair for us to evaluate Government policies in terms of their stated objectives.

Notwithstanding these moderating comments, my conclusion is that the Government’s is spending about 25 times more on EVs than they should.

Personally, I feel like this is a shame because I would love to see New Zealand take some serious steps towards reducing carbon emissions. The EV policies announced by the Government, however, do not qualify as a serious step. I’m left with the distinct impression that these EV subsidies are a superficially attractive way (“greenwash”) designed to distract New Zealanders from what is a very real problem: Our carbon footprint is too damned high.

P1000846

Government Neuter Bus Lanes

The government want to increase the currently dismal uptake of electric vehicles, increasing the numbers on our roads from about 1,200 to 64,000 in just 5 years. To do that yesterday they announced a package to encourage more people to buy an electric car. Most of the initiatives, such as extending the Road User Charges exemption on light vehicles and introducing an exception for heavy vehicles, are probably fine but one of the initiatives is completely nuts – letting electric vehicles us bus lanes and busways.

Northern Busway

Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes

Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.

At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.

The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.

This is madness. The whole point of busways, bus lanes and to a lesser extend transit lanes is to make buses, which are much more spatially efficient, more viable and work better. They can make buses:

  • faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
  • more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
  • more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
  • more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.

The introduction of bus lanes meant that far more people have been able to be moved along many key corridors than they would have otherwise. For example, the Northern Busway carries about 40% of all traffic crossing the Harbour Bridge during the morning peak – five lanes of traffic and 40% of the people are in fewer than 200 vehicles. On other corridors like Dominion Rd more than 50% of people are on the bus yet in both situations the lanes can look empty. But a bus lane that looks empty normally means it’s actually doing its job and allowing buses to flow, uninterrupted by congestion.

Adding electric vehicles to this, which will mostly be carrying only a single occupant, will undo some of the benefits and make buses less efficient. That’s because there’s a greater chance that buses will be held up or miss lights etc. It means a double decker carrying 100 people have the same level of priority as a single person in an electric car. And this isn’t just theoretical, back in 2010 the old Auckland City Council trialled changing the then Tamaki Dr bus lanes to T2. As the results of that showed, it actually had the effect of slowing other road users, especially the general traffic. One of the reasons for this is the T2/3 drivers would push back in to the general traffic queue to get around buses at bus stops..

tamaki-person

table5-1

table5-2

I believe the same situation would apply to electric vehicles allowed in bus lanes.

At this point its worth noting that when the Northern Busway was first designed and approved it was it was done so with the idea that high occupancy vehicles (HOV) could potentially also be allowed to use it. This was because at the time they were worried not enough people would catch a bus and is why for example that there’s a blocked off access at the Constellation Station. Of course as we know not a single HOV has used the busway because it’s performed above expectations.

There are other reasons this is a bad idea too. This includes:

  • Bus lanes are also often considered cycle lanes too. Allowing electric vehicles into those lanes could increase the risk for people on bikes. We also know from the recent Grafton Bridge trial (that has now ended) that many drivers simply don’t follow the rules. This would be no different with electric cars.
  • Getting single occupant vehicles back out of bus lanes in the future will be difficult. It’s also worth noting that other parts of the announcement had sunset clauses on them of either time or a once a percentage vehicles went electric. There was nothing mentioned for access to bus lanes.
  • Enforcement will be much harder as it is difficult to tell which vehicles are electric and which ones aren’t. In addition, many drivers seem to exhibit a bit of a herd mentality and if they see a couple of drivers getting an advantage they’ll start to copy. This would exacerbate the issues of cars in bus lanes.
  • Currently electric vehicles are more expensive than their fossil fuelled counterparts and the biggest buyers of them seem to businesses for fleet cars. It means the benefit of driving in bus lanes will likely be exclusive to a small(ish) group of early adopters.

 

Perhaps to help address this issue, Auckland Transport now more than ever need to fast-track the conversion of key bus routes to Light Rail. Perhaps they should also consider building it where they can with a grassed track.

Light Rail grassed track

In seriousness, a key reason for looking at light rail on the isthmus is about trying to relieve bus congestion on some corridors. Allowing electric vehicles to this mix will likely only mean Light Rail will have to happen sooner.

Overall this is a terrible idea, unless of course you drive an electric car already or are planning on getting one. The busway is owned by the NZTA but most of the other bus lanes let’s hope that Auckland Transport are able to say no to his idea on local roads at least. If they can’t then the government have managed to neuter bus lanes and possibly set them back years.

Things to consider this election

Amalgamating Auckland under a single council was always going to be a big task and the first 5½ years of it have seen the council needing to make some fairly big decisions. Many of these big decisions have helped set Auckland on the path to becoming a great city and I’d argue could not have been achieved without the amalgamation. Examples include:

  • The 30 year vision for the region called The Auckland Plan
  • The still ongoing Unitary Plan which is effectively the rulebook to enable much of the Auckland Plan
  • Agreeing to the City Rail Link with the government
  • A single region wide rating system so that your rates are assessed the same way regardless of whether you live in Henderson, Hillsborough or Howick.
  • The Long Term Plan which included an interim transport levy that was mostly directed to improving public and active transport.

Local body elections are just 6 months away and along with a new mayor, we’re bound to see a lot of tightly contested seats on the council. It would be easy to think that all of the big stuff has happened and the make up of the next council won’t be as important as the two we’ve had so far. That would be a wrong assumption and in fact there are likely to be a number of big issues that will come up during the next term. So as more and more people emerge to stand for council, I thought it would be good to have a look at some of these.

It’s also worth noting that local body politicians have shown time and time again that they don’t tend to conform to the traditional left/right split in politics. Some councillors have frequently voted against the ideology of the side of politics they’re associated with. As such, when it comes time to vote it’s worth thinking about how the individuals will vote on the actual topics rather than what side of the political fence they supposedly sit on.

So here are some of the key decisions the council will likely need to make in its next term.

Light Rail

As I understand it, Auckland Transport’ plan to install light rail on some streets continues to bubble along behind the scenes as they work though all of the technical issues that needs to be done before the idea can move to the next phase. I suspect that during the next council term a decision will need to be made as to whether the council support and more importantly will provide the funding needed to support the project moving forward.

Will candidates support the introduction of light rail to Auckland?

Town Hall LRT_800

Updating the Auckland Plan

The Auckland Plan is the 30 year vision for the city and the intention was always that it would be reviewed after six years which will be in 2018. Undoubtedly the Auckland Plan could be improved – especially around transport – and given almost everything the council does needs to be about working to achieve the goals in the plan it’s crucial we get any changes as part of the update right. Enough councillors opposing it could see the vision for Auckland wound back with more emphasis placed on sprawl and car centric transport polices, winding back some of the gains and improvements made in recent years.

Do candidates support the Auckland Plan and/or what changes would they support?

Unitary Plan environment court appeals,

The Independent Hearings Panel are due to provide their recommendations for the Unitary Plan in July and it will then be up to the current council to accept or reject them. Given the level of discussion that has occurred in recent times and that by the time the council votes, councillors will be deep in electioneering mode I suspect we’ll see many of the most controversial aspects, such as height limits, rejected. Rejecting the IHPs recommendations will open up those aspects of the Unitary Plan to environment court appeals. If that happens the next council will need to decide how they deal with the appeals.

What are candidates views on the Unitary Plan?

 

Transport Funding – there are two elements to this.

Extending the transport levy

During the Long Term Plan discussion last year, the council presented two transport options, a build almost nothing plan or a build everything plan that required significant extra funding. The council also proposed two ways to raise the extra funding needed (fuel taxes or road pricing). As both options needed government support which was not forthcoming, the council in the end agreed to a transport levy of $99 for households and $159 for businesses. Over the three years of the transport levy it is enough to raise over $500 million to be spent on an Interim Transport Programme. Importantly councillors also required that the majority of the additional funding enabled by the transport levy was directed to public and active transport.

interim-programme

In 2018 the transport levy expires and council will once again need to make a decision about how to fund improvements to our transport system. I believe that extending the transport levy will be the easiest way to raise some or even all of any additional funding needed and if done in conjunction with continuing to prioritise good transport projects could lead to very good outcomes for the region.

What are candidates’ views on extending the transport levy and/or how will we pay for future projects?

Road Pricing

As Auckland continues to develop the level of discussion around road pricing is only set to increase. While to date the focus of the road pricing discussion has been on revenue gathering to pay for some of the mega-projects being planned, I think it will shift to being more about being used to manage demand over time. In fact, using it as a demand management tool is something being considered as part of a wider range of options in the ATAP process.

Will candidates be supportive of a proper road pricing discussion and would they support the introduction of proper road pricing?

 

Of course there are bound to be a number of other big decisions over the coming 3-year council term and at the end of the day it comes down to who you trust to vote in a way you agree with one these key issues?

Rodney Hide’s bizarre rail rant

Rail has been on a roll recently, electrification has vastly improved the quality of our trains, patronage has been soaring – sustaining over 20% per year on year growth and as of January was at 15.5 million trips. Added to that the first stage of the City Rail Link is now under way and of course most recently the government got on board with starting the main works in 2018. With so much positive news it can be easy to forget that there are still some fighting very hard (thankfully unsuccessfully) against these changes.

This was highlighted well by former ACT leader Rodney Hide the other day who pulled out some of the most clichéd, bizarre and contradictory arguments for reasons why we shouldn’t be building rail. If you didn’t know he seriously believed what he was saying you’d swear it was comedy. Listen to it yourself below but some of the comments include:

  • Trains are a 19th century technology that are “hopeless at moving people around in cities” and “not suitable, not designed for shifting people” – I look forward to Rodney’s campaign to re-educate so many cities all across the world. Even in the context of Auckland it is clearly not true given the rapid growth as soon as a half decent service was provided.
  • That “since the 70’s “they stopped work on completing the motorway network, so it’s never been completed and the idea there was to congest the roads so that people would be forced on to trains” – perhaps he would like to explain what the $4 billion that’s has been/is being spent the Western Ring Route is all about then.
  • That it’s all an evil scheme by planners to try and control people’s lives rather than letting people choose how they live and travel – because people can obviously choose to live next to train stations and catch trains that don’t exist.
  • He used to catch a train because it was a convenient way to get from Newmarket to the city yet he doesn’t think it makes sense to make it convenient for a greater number of people.
  • Why invest in PT anyway when driverless cars will save us all. Will also be great because will be “privately owned and privately run” – Of course that’s exactly what happened with PT in the early 90’s something we’re only just recovering from now.

Perhaps someone needs to show Rodney what’s been happening with rail patronage which will be close to 16 million a year by now.

2016-01 - Rail Patronage

Interestingly he didn’t make any of these criticisms just a month an a half ago when praising Len Brown and to a lesser extent John Key, for getting the project over the line. One of ironies of course is that without the amalgamation of the councils, for which he was responsible, it’s likely the CRL would never have been signed off.

Mayoral Candidates views on transport

The two current main contenders for the Auckland mayoralty are still yet to release any policy but they are starting to make more noise. At a business association meeting in East Tamaki yesterday they talked transport with both leaving a lot to be desired.

Phil Goff

He repeated his vision for light rail in parts of the city.

“The City Rail Link will double heavy rail capacity, but that only benefits the south and west, while other parts of Auckland don’t get that,” he says.

Goff says he wants to explore public-private partnerships and city bonds as a means to fund large infrastructure projects.

He says rates alone should not be relied on to fund projects, which would mean an opportunity for public-private partnerships and an element of “user pays”.

“There’s no money put aside [for light rail]…but the cost of not doing anything is more,” he says.

He says up to $3 billion in productivity is being lost in the city’s congestion.

On funding, Goff says city bonds would be an option to share the cost over generations.

He’d also ensure the council would be unified and prepared when presenting a plan to Government for support on projects.

The biggest issue with Goff’s statements are his claims about cost of congestion are rising faster than rail patronage, having doubled in the last month or so from the more frequently quoted $1-1.5 billion. But even that isn’t correct as highlighted by this research a few years ago which showed those upper limits of congestion are based on assuming roads should operate in complete free flow conditions 24/7 – which in reality would mean a massive overbuilding of capacity. Using a more relevant metric that focuses on network utilisation results in a cost of just $250 million.

We also know that congestion hasn’t actually got much worse in recent years. The recent ATAP foundation report showed that travel time delay has been fairly stable and has even declined in the AM peak.

ATAP - Travel Time Delay

Victoria Crone

Crone favoured an “aligned” approach to her transport plan – that includes investing in all transport modes across the entire region.

She would follow other international cities in investigating innovations like driverless vehicles.

During her speaking period, Crone questioned why the AMETI project isn’t more of a priority for completion.

She also questioned why more park and ride facilities aren’t in use across the city alongside buses, trains and ferries.

“Without park and rides you’re capping the number of people that will use that service,” she says.

However, Crone says the challenge would be on funding the projects.

She is intent on bringing Auckland Council spending under control, including promising to open the books to shed light on how it is spending money.

“The private partnerships [for transport projects] and the Government – the taxpayer – shouldn’t be putting money into a system that’s wasted,” she says.

Crone hit out at the CBD cycleways being constructed when other areas like Rodney are still waiting on sealed footpaths.

I agree with Crone that AMETI should be a higher priority. AT need to hurry up and get on with it but many of her other comments show a lack of understanding of transport issues and seem more aligned with common over the barbecue type generalisations or contradictions.

AMETI Buslane - Pakuranga Rd

AT need to get on with the AMETI busway

One is the assumption that a lot more park n ride is needed to get more people using PT. Research has shown that adding P&R will often see many existing users change how they get to a station so the actual parking capacity gained much less what is built. It’s also not cheap, even simple P&Rs like the new one at Swanson can cost as much as $18,000 per carpark and if they’re buildings or underground the cost goes up even more. Spending $100 million might add as few as 5,000 carparks and assuming they were all new users it would be equivalent of around 2.5 million trips per year which is around 3% of current patronage. Also if driverless cars do become common soon like she hopes then P&R probably won’t be needed at all.

But it’s the last comment that’s the strangest and shows a lack of understanding of even how transport is funded. Already thousands of people per day are using the new cycleways being built in the city and those are being funded by the council, NZTA and the government through its urban cycleway fund. The NZTA and UCF funding isn’t something that can be diverted to other projects – and if council didn’t put up their share it would go somewhere else. Even if the funding could be diverted likely the last place it would go would be to rural footpaths

 

At the end of the day it might not matter who the mayor is and what their personal transport vision is. The ATAP process currently under way and due to wrap up in August has been about creating alignment in transport between Auckland and the Government – at least at a broad level. This is likely to limit any