The politics of Auckland

Elections last year in other English-speaking countries got me thinking about the urban implications of political geography. The US presidential election and the UK’s Brexit vote both featured large divides in voting patterns between big cities and rural areas and small towns.

As the Economist observed, the US electoral map actually consists of a whole bunch of Democratic-voting urban areas and Republican-voting rural areas, rather than red and blue states. Even in Texas, which votes consistently Republican, Houston voted massively for the Democratic candidate. The red areas in this map are mostly empty:

And as the BBC observed, the vote against Brexit was strongest in London, a few other large cities like Manchester, and Scotland, while smaller towns and rural areas went the other way.

As much as anything, this speaks of a cultural and political divide between urban and non-urban areas. Many people have written tedious articles on this issue, implicitly claiming that this area or that represents “Real America” or “Real Britain”. (My perspective: If you have a definition of “Real America” that excludes large cities, you’re doing it wrong because most Americans live in large cities.)

I don’t want to get into that debate here. Instead, I want to ask: Is the same thing happening in New Zealand? Are our large cities – Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch – diverging from the rest of the country?

Demographically, Auckland is different. It’s faster-growing than the rest of the country, as is Christchurch. It has more young people, and more people who were born overseas. (Many of whom have come to identify as New Zealanders and share New Zealand values.) But is there evidence that Aucklanders think differently than people elsewhere?

Electoral returns provide valuable information on peoples’ preferences and values. Peoples’ votes reflect, to a degree, how they see the world and what they value. Consequently, I’ve analysed data from the last six New Zealand general elections (1999-2014) to understand how big-city New Zealanders compare to the rest.

Over this time, political parties’ fortunes have swung dramatically. The National Party’s share of party votes has been as low as 21% and as high as 47%, while Labour’s has been as low as 25% and as high as 41%. The Greens doubled their vote share over this period, from 5% to 11%, while NZ First came back from a brush with death due to a 4% party vote. Other parties – the Alliance, ACT, United Future – have ceased to exist or survived only as single-MP zombie parties.

Consequently, I’m most interested in changes in party vote shares in different places. That will tell us whether big-city Kiwis are responding to changes in parties’ perceived competence, policies, and the general economic and social environment as rural and small-town Kiwis.

The following chart summarises the share of party votes that National received in Auckland (23 electorates in 2014), Wellington (6 electorates), and Christchurch (5 electorates). I’ve started with National as it got the most party votes in the most recent election. This graph shows that:

  • Auckland tends to vote for National at a similar rate to small-town and rural New Zealand
  • Wellington, on the other hand, has diverged – it has been substantially less National-leaning than non-urban parts of the country since 2005
  • Prior to 2011, Christchurch also seemed to be less National-leaning, but this gap has closed since the earthquakes.

Here’s a similar graph for the Labour Party. This time, Auckland has matched the “Rest of NZ” trend less closely, with the result that it is now somewhat more likely to vote for Labour than non-urban parts of the country. Wellington, again, has usually voted for Labour at substantially higher rates.

The Green Party is where things start to get interesting. Both Wellington and Christchurch give a substantially higher share of their party votes to the Greens than the rest of the country, and this gap has widened in every election since 1999. Auckland, by contrast, continues to vote for the Green Party at a rate that’s similar to small-town and rural New Zealand. This data doesn’t allow us to understand why – it could be due to policy preferences, or simply to the fact that the Green Party hasn’t historically had many Auckland-based MPs to campaign for the vote here.

Finally, New Zealand First. This is the only area where we can observe large divergences between how Aucklanders vote and how small-town and rural New Zealanders vote. Over the last six elections, there has been a consistent gap between the NZF party vote in the three big cities and in rural areas. This is likely to reflect NZF’s political positioning, including its opposition to immigration and advocacy for policies to support small towns rather than big cities.

The broad lesson from this data is that Auckland’s political preferences do not not seem to be diverging from small-town and rural New Zealand. Across the city as a whole, Aucklanders vote much the same as other New Zealanders. This is very different than the trend observed in the UK and US, where recent elections have brought differences in preferences and values into sharp relief. And it’s also different to the trend observed in Wellington, which is substantially more left-leaning than non-urban NZ.

A provocative hypothesis

Without getting into the rights and wrongs of different political parties – Transportblog is a nonpartisan endeavour – I would argue that this data is good news for Auckland and New Zealand. The way we vote suggests that we are less likely to suffer from the same ills as the UK and the US. And, over time, it should mean that we get better urban and transport policy from central government.

First, in spite of the demographic differences between Aucklanders and New Zealanders living outside the big cities, voting data suggests that we broadly share the same values and preferences. On the whole, Aucklanders have responded the same way to parties’ electoral appeals, suggesting that they too are bound by common interests and respond to the same economic and social trends.

This reduces the risk that we end up in a similar place as the US or UK – unable to agree on basic aspects of how our society should operate, with sharp divisions between people in different places.

Second, because Auckland sits in the political centre, political parties must pay attention to its needs if they want to get elected. As the past six elections show, Aucklanders’ votes are available to centre-right parties and centre-left parties, provided that they make a good case for themselves. And, unlike in the US where you can win the presidency while losing New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Seattle, inner Atlanta, etc by 50 percentage points, it’s not possible to lose big in Auckland and win the national election.

This is a very good thing for Auckland, as the city has some unique needs as a result of its rapid population and economic growth. It needs policy support to enable it to build more housing, especially in the existing urban area, and transport investments that are fit for purpose, including greater attention to its rapid transit network and urban cycling. These ideas are broadly popular with Aucklanders:

Local government can address some of this, but central government needs to come to the party as well as it is an important source of funding and policymaking. The politics of Auckland create strong incentives to do that. Over time, this will mean a city that gets more of its problems fixed, and more of its opportunities realised. And New Zealand as a whole will benefit from having a more productive, dynamic city that can, say, pay taxes to fund comfortable retirements in Whakatane and Timaru.

What do you think about the way Aucklanders vote?

2017 – The Year Ahead

In this last post for the year, I want to look at some of the things I think will be big discussion points during the year as Auckland continues to transform into a better city.

City Rail Link

With works now well underway on the first sections of the CRL the project will remain a strong talking point in 2017 as we follow its progress. We start the year with changes at Britomart with the new temporary entrance coming into use. Early in the new year the CRL team are expected to put the rest of the project out to tender.

Well also be focusing a lot on what happens to the streets after construction is finished. The works so far have shown the city can still function well with the significant disruption that’s occurred already and so we believe there’s an opportunity to vastly improve them for pedestrians, not just put them back as they were.

Mass Transit

The government don’t like the idea of Light Rail on Dominion Rd but begrudgingly acknowledge the need for more rapid transit capacity. So in ATAP, they referred to the idea as ‘Mass Transit’ and said the NZTA would be looking at bus alternatives before confirming what would happen in the future. This work is already well underway and I’d expect it to be released early in the new year. We know AT had already put a lot of work in before deciding on the Light Rail option, including analysing many bus alternatives. So to be credible, this new study will have to show how it deals with the issues, like city centre street capacity, that led to AT picking light rail in the first place.

If they ignore those issues, it will put Light Rail on the same track to existence as the CRL did with the government and its agencies producing competing and often incomplete analysis before finally agreeing with the project.

The issue of congestion around the airport is also likely to be a big factor and one I think will only increase pressure on politicians to get this addressed.

Rapid Transit

I expect we will hear more in 2017 about how AT plans to develop the Rapid Transit Network. At the very least the Northwest Busway which was identified in ATAP as needed in the first decade. We know AT have already been doing some work looking at this. I also think we’ll hear more about other RTN projects such as AMETI and how to deal with electric trains to Pukekohe, either extending the wires or using battery powered trains.

New Network Rollout

In 2017 we are will see the roll out of the new bus network in West Auckland in June followed by Central Auckland a few months later.

Parnell Station and new rail timetable

In March the new Parnell Station is finally due to open. The old Newmarket Station building was moved to the site just before Christmas and is being refurbished as part of the station. The opening comes alongside a new rail timetable that AT say will speed up services – although that may be only by a couple of minutes so not the significant improvements that are needed.

Government Elections

Government elections will likely be a strong point of discussion in the coming year, especially in the latter half as voting draws near. It was of course made more interesting by John Key’s sudden resignation a few weeks ago. Transport is not usually a major talking point but we’ll certainly be watching it. Housing is certainly shaping up to be a massive issue though so it will be fascinating to see what impact that has.

Cycleways

We’re expecting to see a lot of progress on cycleways this year we move ever closer to mid-2018 cut off of the Government’s Urban Cycleway Fund. Some of the ones due to start this year include

  • The Nelson St extension from Victoria St to Quay St
  • Quay St extension to The Strand
  • The next sections of the Eastern Path
  • Ian McKinnion Dr
  • Franklin Rd

We’re also hoping to see progress on Skypath this year now that the consent issues are out of the way.

 

Waterview

After around 5 years of construction, in April the Waterview connection is finally due to open. It will be fascinating to see just what impact the project has as there’s a very high chance it will cause significant congestion, especially leading to the city.

SH20a – Kirkbride Rd interchange

The grade separation of Kirkbride Rd and SH20A is also due to be completed in 2017

East-West Link

The hugely expensive East-West link is going to get a lot of attention in 2017 as it moves through the consenting process. The NZTA lodged applications for consent just a few weeks ago and the EPA process needs to be completed within nine months of that. A lot of mainstream media focus will be on the Onehunga area where there is a lot of opposition to what the NZTA have proposed.

Northern Corridor

The Northern Corridor will also be going through the same process as the East-West link but so far there hasn’t been anywhere near the level of opposition to the project, especially seeing as extending the Northern Busway is now a key feature of the project.

Auckland Plan refresh

A big discussion this year will be the refresh of the Auckland Plan, the 30 year strategic plan for Auckland. Since the first Auckland Plan around six years ago, we’ve made significant progress on some issues, such as the CRL and Unitary Plan but we also face a lot of new challenges, especially around the provision of housing. It will be interesting to see how much the vision for Auckland changes.

Auckland Transport

We’ll obviously be following closely what happens with Auckland Transport in 2017. One big thing to watch is that AT will be hunting for a new CEO this year.

All up, 2017 is shaping up to be another huge year and we’re looking forward to seeing what happens. See you next year

2016 – A Year in Review Part 4 – Everything else

This is Part 4 and the final part of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at everything else. You can also see:

Unitary Plan

The completion of the Unitary Plan has been one of the biggest and most important discussions Auckland has had for the last few years. The plan sets the rules by which Auckland can develop and previous planning rules were far too restrictive, especially in relation to allowing for urban development. Since it was first discussed in 2012, council in responding to groups like Auckland 2040 had wound back many aspects of the plan. It was better than what we have but not as good as it should have been.

At the beginning of the year the plan took a blow as Councillors buckled to a small group of vocal residents who had been whipped into a frenzy by incorrect information from the likes of the Herald and voted to withdraw it’s evidence on residential zoning under the false pretense of preserving a process. That crazy act meant the council wasn’t able to be a part of the Independent Hearings Panel (IHP) when discussing this massive and important topic. But the act ultimately proved fruitless as the IHP were the ones controlling the process

In July, the IHP released their recommendations which significantly increased what they called Feasible Enabled Capacity.

In August the council accepted almost all of the recommendations from the IHP. Interestingly the opposition groups seemed to just melt away and not much was heard of them during this time. This was a huge achievement and something that looked unlikely even six months earlier.

The process isn’t fully over yet though, there are still some appeals to be worked through and one of those from the Character Coalition caused a major snag. It was so broad in scope the council couldn’t make the plan operative. The appeal was later reworded to focus on character housing not all residential zoning.

TFUG

A important discussion this year was a project called Transport for Future Urban Growth (TFUG). This was Auckland Transport and the NZTA looking at what big pieces of infrastructure were needed to support all the greenfield growth areas identified in the Unitary Plan. This is mostly a lot of big arterials and expanded state highways but there is some PT in the mix too. All up it is likely to cost at least $10 billion for the infrastructure planned, about $200,000 per new dwelling it enables. The final plan was released just before Christmas and I’ll cover that in the new year.

ATAP

I’ve already covered ATAP a bit in previous posts but in this one I wanted to point out a couple of important parts. One is that the project identified full road pricing, not just tolling a few roads, would likely be needed in coming years to help manage demand. This is important as up to that point the government had been very opposed to the mere suggestion of this. They still aren’t fully supporting it and there is a lot of work that needs to happen before we’ll see anything like road pricing introduced but if feels like the idea is now firmly in the discussion and likely to be a key discussion in coming years.

The second is that ATAP came up with some indicative timings for when projects might happen, this is shown below

ATAP Indicative Interventions

New Council

In October we had local body elections and Len Brown wasn’t standing again meaning we would definitely be getting a new mayor. Phil Goff, who officially announced he was running in late 2015m, had been the front runner for a long time and in the end won by a considerable margin.

In November he released his first rates proposal, something that will be a key discussion in the first half of next year. While capping rates increases at 2.5%, he also sought to look at other ways of funding Auckland’s growth such as introducing visitor levy, a targeted rate on areas to be developed to help pay for the new infrastructure those areas and raising the topic of regional fuel taxes.

Goff campaigned on making the Council Controlled Organisations more accountable and just a few weeks ago we saw the draft letters of expectation to the CCOs. We covered the letter to AT which was fantastic, effectively calling out AT on issues like ignoring the councils City Centre Master Plan with their stupid plans for key streets after the CRL is completed. It also asked AT to focus on some other key areas too, such as “aggressively pursuing strong growth in public transport use and active modes” and improving speeds on the rail network from shorter dwell times. It will be interesting to see how AT respond.

Blog

We’ve had another fantastic year on the blog and it’s great to see many new people starting to read and join in the conversation. Here are couple of stats for you.

Thank you to all who have read the blog and helped support us.

We do have one post left to go for the year, tomorrow I’ll take look at what we might see in 2017

Guest Post: Hamilton Trumps Wellington?

*This is a guest post by regular reader, Mr Plod, who may or may not have worked for Fonterra in Hamilton.

Hamilton now has a reason to be.

Wellington has suffered hugely at the hands of the Kaikoura earthquake. An earthquake that wasn’t even centred on one of the massive fault lines that run through Wellington. “While the precise scope of damages and their ongoing effects are still being assessed, currently it is believed that 16 buildings comprising 11 per cent or 167,300 sq m of Wellington CBD’s total office building stock, have been closed to occupiers – 47 percent of this space is classified by CBRE as prime quality stock,” A report from CBRE said

Using a generous 20 sqm per person (link) this amounts maybe 8,300 workers and some number of residents requiring temporary or permanently rehousing.

And this wasn’t the big one. Just imagine the carnage if it was.

What strategy should we adopt to manage the risk this imposes on New Zealand?

For the most part, Risk Management strategies adopt the following approach:

Once risks have been identified and assessed, all techniques to manage the risk fall into one or more of these four major categories:

  • Avoidance (eliminate, withdraw from or not become involved)
  • Reduction (optimize – mitigate)
  • Sharing (transfer – outsource or insure)
  • Retention (accept and budget)

(source)

All the current approaches are based around RETENTION, SHARING and REDUCTION with all of New Zealand collective underwriting the potential cost directly through our EQC levies and/or our willingness to do whatever is required in the event. I think it is time to move into AVOIDANCE mode.

The time is right to reconsider the role Wellington plays in New Zealand’s future as a centre of Government, Commerce and a place for investment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. My parents grew up there and I harbour many fond memories of long holidays there as a child and popping in and out for work since and passing through on my way to & from the South Island. On a good day Wellington sits majestically at the edge of a wonderful harbour and there’s nowhere better.

However, I’m not thinking of good days, I’m thinking of dark catastrophic days when ‘the big one’ renders large chunks of Wellington to rubble with significant loss of life and with mammoth cost and disruption to the country.

Our civic bodies, engineers and institutions are doing the right thing in forcing property owners to prepare by strengthening their buildings and building new ones to higher standards. This a great strategy but pales compared to the avoidance startegy. This is where Hamilton comes in.

It’s time to move our seat of government out of Wellington and to Hamilton. And do it now before another small fortune gets spent on ‘finishing’ the current Parliament Building complex.

And why Hamilton? Well, it’s not Auckland for starters and don’t underestimate the importance of that to the rest of NZ. It is probably at or soon to be at the population epi-centre of New Zealand. It has a good airport nearby, unlike Dunedin. It is doughnut shaped with an underperforming city centre just ripe to host an exciting new parliamentary precinct to house all our civil servants. It is nearby the residence of the Maori King. It already has an underground rail station (sort of) and this move would provide the impetus for a high speed rail service to Auckland & Tauranga. Its by-passing motorways are nearly complete so for those of us who wish to avoid central government we can cheerily drive on by to Taupo, Ruapehu or points further south. It is within the ‘golden triangle’ of Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, that Robert Jones of Fulton Hogan calls on to invest more capital into.  And government moving there would really turn the fortunes of the long floundering central city around.

I think it’s time to act absolutely positively on this as Wellington is going to wither anyway, and Hamilton is city of the future. I am sure the corporates and those who employ those large numbers of people already displaced will be seriously considering their options. The Directors of those companies are duty bound to do so. I’m equally sure that many will take the easy option and just move to Auckland adding to the housing and infrastructure problems here. Or even skip that option and go straight to the solid rock of Sydney. If those organisations already see a benefit in being close to the seat of power in Wellington won’t Hamilton be just as attractive? So let’s exploit that attraction, avoid the inevitable and keep them out of Auckland by moving our central government to central Hamilton. NOW!

Could the government fund light rail

Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.

The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.

The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.

The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.

The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.

There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):

Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:

a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded

By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.

Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.

Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.

One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.

But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.

The Ideology of Traffic

Sometimes we come across something that is so perfect and so timely that it just needs repeating as it is. This is one of those times. The following post by Charles Marohn is lifted in its entirety from StrongTowns.org

capacity

The Ideology of Traffic by Charles Marohn

The greatest accomplishment of any ideology is to not be considered an ideology; to be a belief system that is not considered a belief system. Millions of Americans went to church yesterday and every one of them knew their experience constituted a belief, that others in the world believe other things. It is when beliefs are not recognized as such that things get scary.

“This approach to design – speed then volume then safety then cost – reflects the ideology of the profession, an internal belief system so foundational that they don’t recognize it as the application of a set of values.”

Last week I was in Washington State speaking to a group of mostly transportation engineers and technical professionals. My presentation was all about questioning the core beliefs of the profession, of helping the people in attendance recognize that many of their core truths are actually beliefs, and that there are competing beliefs that they should consider.

For example, when engineers design a street, they begin with the design speed. They then determine the projected traffic volume. Given speed and volume, they then look to a design manual to determine the safe street section and then, once a cross section is selected, determine the cost. This approach to design – speed then volume then safety then cost – reflects the ideology of the profession, an internal belief system so foundational that they don’t recognize it as the application of a set of values.

Of course, when presented with these values discretely and not as part of a design process – not as part of the ritual practice of their belief system – they collectively identified a different set of values. I actually had them shout out their values in order and, like the thousands of people I’ve asked to do the same, theirs came back: safety first, then cost then volume and, last, speed. Their actual values are nearly a perfect inversion of those they apply to their design ritual.

This weekend, there was an article that appeared in the NY Post titled The Real Reason for New York City’s Traffic Nightmare. I know the Post is tabloidy; the story contained all anonymous sources and lacked even a rudimentary level of fact checking that you’d find in an actual news story. Still, it fits the ideology of the traffic engineering profession and I saw the piece widely distributed. Here’s a quote:

“The traffic is being engineered,” a former top NYPD official told The Post, explaining a long-term plan that began under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and hasn’t slowed with Mayor de Blasio.

“The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion, to slow traffic down, to favor bikers and pedestrians,” the former official said.

“There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.”

Let’s apply a contrasting value system to this quote, not one based on moving traffic but one based on building wealth. Here’s how each of these statements could be rewritten:

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to make property more valuable, encourage investment and improve the city’s tax base while reducing its overall costs.

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to slow traffic.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to improve the quality of the space for the people who live, work and own property there.

Ideology of Traffic: The city streets are being engineered to favor bikers and pedestrians.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: The city streets are being engineered to favor the access of high volumes of people over the movement of comparatively small volumes of automobiles.

Ideology of Traffic: There’s a reduction in capacity through the introduction of bike lanes and streets and lanes being closed down.
Ideology of Wealth Creation: There’s an improvement in the quality of the place and it’s corresponding value through the introduction of bike lanes and the closing of some streets and lanes.

Before the Suburban Experiment, cities were built with an ideology of wealth creation. That ideology was shared across the culture and, while some benefitted more than others, it provided opportunity for nearly everyone to get ahead. To understand why our cities are going broke, why they are struggling in a growing economy just to do basic things, one only needs to consider the dramatics of this ideological shift. We’ll bankrupt ourselves moving traffic and we don’t even understand why.

Time to adopt a Strong Towns mindset.

A Key influence on transport

So, John Key announced he was resigning as Prime Minister yesterday. I’m sure that over the coming days and weeks there will probably be a nauseating amount of coverage about him, his decision and whoever his replacement ends up being. Below are a few thoughts on the role Key has played in the discussion of urban transport in Auckland

Perhaps Key’s biggest influence on urban issues has been in relation to the City Rail Link. If you cast your mind back, in 2008 he first appointed Stephen Joyce as Minister of Transport and then in 2011 he appointed Gerry Brownlee. Both men, and obviously with the backing of Cabinet, were extremely critical of the project, primarily by appearing to completely misunderstand and misrepresent its purpose and the impact it would have. For example, Joyce once said of the project “that is not smart transport; that is pouring money down a hole”, while Brownlee was perhaps even more opposed, at one point in late 2012 saying “I take big issue with the suggestion that the city rail link is useful or popular”. Even in May 2013 Brownlee was downplaying the project and suggesting it was unimportant.

But everything changed just a month later in June 2013 when Key overrode his ministers and announced for the first time that the government would support the project – albeit not till 2020 and with uncertainty around the exact level of funding from the government. At the beginning of this year Key again weighed in on decisions about the project by announcing the government would support the project starting sooner than 2020. In both cases the business community had a strong part to play in changing the government’s position.

Emmerson CRL John Key 2016.01.27

Even though it took a lot longer than hoped, I suspect we could still be hoping for the project now if the likes of Joyce or Brownlee were in charge.

The second big transport area Key has played a important role has been with cycling. He was instrumental in creating the Urban Cycleway Fund (UCF), which has resulted in unprecedented levels of spending on cycling after decades of almost no investment in bike infrastructure.

John Key on Bike 1

John Key while on a visit to the Netherlands

But it wasn’t just his support for the CRL and cycling projects that was positive, he turned up to a lot of transport events, from cycleway celebrations, to business lunches and even to celebrate the arrival of the final electric train, and speaking about urban transport incredibly well, often making comments that are not too dissimilar to what you might find here on the blog. As one example, here’s one part of what he said at the EMU celebration last year.

When it comes to public transport, there’s nothing unique about New Zealanders or Aucklanders. You know this sort of thing that’s put out there that the average Aucklander isn’t going to get on an electric train or bus or whatever. It’s not true because those very same Aucklanders when they go to London and live there for the big two years on the OE the first thing they do is get on the tube. So what’s the difference, well the answer is sheer convenience and reliability and in the end people will get on trains alright provided they turn up when they want them, they’re there and working, and they’re clean and tidy, and that’s exactly what you’ve got going on here.

He may not have been perfect but at least he seemed to understand urban transport issues when he wanted to, although perhaps it’s just the mark of a good politician to say the right things to the right audience.

It’s also worth noting that his government is currently trying to stop Light Rail from being an option on Dominion Rd with a remarkably similar approach/feel to it as the opposition to the CRL prior to 2013.

With Key going, of course now focus is going to shift to who the next leader will be, and the likely Cabinet lineup. Here are a few things to think about.

  • At this early stage, Bill English is widely tipped to become the new leader. As I understand it, he’s been quite important behind the scenes in understanding the urban economy argument which has helped in getting the government to support some of the investment mentioned above as well as things like the Unitary Plan. If he becomes the PM a lot of people are picking Stephen Joyce to be the next finance minister. Given his stances he’s taken in the past on many of the issues we advocate for I can’t see this being a good thing.
  • With a new leader, and election a year away, it’s highly likely we’ll also see a cabinet reshuffle. I actually think Simon Bridges has done a relatively good job in the role over the last few years and I’m not sure if there is a better person for the job within the government at the moment, especially at that Cabinet level.
  • There always seems to be a resentment towards Auckland from the rest of the country as to how much is spent here by the Government. Across all areas combined, Auckland typically gets a smaller share of government spending than its share of population or GDP. Key was possibly one of Auckland’s biggest allies in the government so with his departure does it mean we could see the National Party shift focus and spending away from Auckland in a ‘play for the regions’?
  • On some more specific questions,
    • Will the government still share the costs of the CRL 50:50?
    • Will we see a repeat of the Urban Cycleway Fund after the next election?
    • Will we see light rail down Dominion Rd?

What are your thoughts on John Key’s resignation? (as they relate to transport and urban issues).

Tweet of the Day: 21st Century City

21st Century City

Not sufficient, but essential: The provision of a high quality spatially efficient Rapid Transit Network in a city may not guarantee city quality and a flourishing urban economy, but neither are likely without one. In this century.

Why we do this

Here is a great 15 minute look back at the work of Streetsblog and Streetsfilms from New York, that articulates the motivation behind what we do here at Transportblog. However modestly compared to their output. This is a worldwide movement; the profound improvement of lives, one street at a time. It is also, I believe, unstoppable, simply because it is so effective, so overdue, and therefore so powerful.

And it is, ultimately, about ending the dominance of our streets by traffic, about returning balance to this easily overlooked but vital slice of public space. Everything is interconnected in this increasingly urban age, and the street is really were it all comes together in the city. Get the streets right and so much else will follow; from human wellbeing to wealth creation and equity, from public health to personal freedom and opportunity, from environmental sustainability to social resilience and security.

A great thing in the film is also something we are seeing here; the mainstreaming of these ideas into our institutions. This does sometimes lead to confusion for some people, as when the Council, Auckland Transport, or NZTA do something we agree with we do of course praise them, yet some people think we should only ever be critical and never supportive. This is naive and would be counter-productive. Rather we would love to be made unnecessary; we believe our views are rational and supported by evidence and deserve to be the official ones. Here’s to the next decade and more of constant improvement and reasoned and evidenced activism. And thanks for reading.

Funding Strategic Transport

With the release of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) it once again got me thinking about a funding anomaly in our transport system, the Rapid Transit Network (RTN), or the Proposed Future Strategic Public Transport Network as ATAP calls it.

atap-future-strategic-pt-network

The general way in which we fund transport in New Zealand hasn’t changed for decades, if not close to a century. State Highways are fully funded by central government while local roads and public transport (except rail infrastructure) are funded roughly 50% by central government with the other half coming from local governments (by way of rates) – there are a few exceptions that sit outside of this but by in large it hasn’t changed.

One of the reasons for State highways being fully funded is that they are considered a strategic network. They’re the key roads linking regions, cities and towns together throughout the country. Within cities like Auckland they, primarily in the form of the motorways, do the same thing but also link disparate parts of the city. Here’s what the NZTA say about them:

The state highway network provides a strategic roading link between districts and regions. State highways help to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods throughout the entire length and breadth of the country. They link main centres of population to industrial hubs and tourism destinations. State highways also play an important role in delivering public transport solutions. In our planning, we work to build connections with local networks and maintain the functioning of the state highway.

As mentioned above, ATAP has described future strategic PT network to go along with a strategic road network. This is important as it’s a recognition that high quality PT has a key role to play in Auckland’s future. Here’s what ATAP says about them both:

Auckland’s strategic road, rail and public transport networks are the most critical elements of the city’s transport system. It is essential to maintain and develop strong, safe and resilient strategic networks that can cope with increased demand.

Further information in ATAP describes these strategic networks as the “Backbone”, linking major locations and providing for highest volumes of movement. Here is the proposed future strategic road network. Most of the Tier 1 routes are already state highways or proposed to be them (East West Link) with the biggest exception being Te Irirangi Dr and Ti Rakau Dr.

atap-future-strategic-road-network

According to the NZTA as of 2015, across the country state highways make up just 11.5% of all roads (12.7% by the number of lane km) but in Auckland this is just 3.9% of roads (6.6% by lane km). Yet these roads are responsible for a large portion of traffic with as much as 48.5% of all vehicle km travelled estimated to be on state highways. These figures are shown below.

2014-road-lengths

Because of their strategic status, state highways also get a lot of funding. In the current 3-year National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), across New Zealand state highways are allocated $4.2 billion for improvements and another $1.7 billion for maintenance. By comparison just $465 million is allocated for improving local roads, $1.7b for maintenance of local roads while public transport gets $1 billion, mainly for services – and around half of these figures are paid for by local rates.

A big question going forward is how we’re going to pay to develop that strategic PT network. One fear I have is that the deal for City Rail Link, where the council and government share the costs 50:50, has set a precedent in how we fund the rest of the PT network. Auckland needing to fund 50% of all PT, regardless of how important or valuable it is, while even every minor state highway project gets 100% funding will continue to lead to even more perverse outcomes than we already have.

So, given both the strategic road and PT networks are serving essentially the same purpose, why shouldn’t they be funding the same? Why should it matter what mode is being built if it’s considered a strategic network?

I feel this is going to become a greater and greater issue, especially with the upcoming completion of the Western Ring Route. Once Waterview early next year is completed we will have all the key inter-regional links in place. From that point out any motorway projects within the urban area are just about increasing capacity for local movements.

Ultimately, I think a wider funding discussion is needed. ATAP doesn’t break down the costs of developing transport too much but does suggest that over all modes there is a funding gap of up to $400 million annually. There will obviously be a lot of future discussion about how to close that gap and those discussions could go on for many, many years. In the interim perhaps it’s time for the government and council to rethink how funding is structured. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • The strategic PT network is treated the same as the strategic road network and funded 100% from the NZTA out of the NLTP, this includes rail infrastructure which is funded directly by the government.
  • Perhaps combined with 100% funding, the development of the strategic PT network is handed over to the NZTA
  • Another option could be that Auckland is given bulk funding for transport and Auckland Transport’s role expanded to including the development and maintenance of the local state highway network and local rail network. This would allow all transport projects in the region to be assessed, prioritised and funded under the same conditions.

What do you think, should strategic PT corridors be funded the same as their corresponding road networks and how would you do it?