In his column this morning, Brian Rudman covers an area we haven’t been paying enough attention to, how the changes to the Land Transport Management Act will affect the governance of transport in Auckland. Rudman starts out by explaining the situation:
By sheer weight of numbers, elections are won and lost in Auckland, so it would seem suicidal for a government to declare war on a third of the population. But that seems to be exactly what the Key Government is doing.
Of course it’s not the first government to see Auckland as “the enemy”. Labour’s finance spokesman, Michael Cullen, once infamously quipped to a Taranaki election audience that “Auckland now sits atop the nation like a great crushing weight”.
But National’s current behaviour has a pattern to it that goes beyond pre-election hyperbole. Having created the Super City less than three years ago, it is acting as though it was all a big mistake and the aim is now to emasculate the monster it created.
In recent times, the mortars have been lobbed across the Bombay Hills from Wellington in a near-continuous barrage. Last week, at a post-Budget meeting with Wellington businessmen, Finance Minister Bill English warned: “We cannot let 20 planners sitting in the Auckland Council offices make decisions that will wreck the macro economy. We cannot let that happen, and we won’t let that happen.”
This was hot on the heels of the charade of the Auckland Housing Accord. This was supposed to signal the working-out of a mutually agreed solution to the city’s housing shortages. Yet a few days later, Housing Minister Nick Smith was threatening to “intervene by establishing special housing areas and issuing consents for developers”.
The idea that the government is lobbing verbal and policy mortars over the bombays seems like quite an apt description. I suspect that there are much more than 20 planners sitting in the council offices, although perhaps Bill is just referring to the senior staff. Rudman continues:
Sailing below the radar is the most concrete example of the Government’s efforts to sabotage Auckland’s local democracy. The tool being used is the boring-sounding Land Transport Management Amendment Bill, which will become law early next month. It will usher in a significant transfer of power in the area of transport planning, from the Auckland Council to the Government.
The new law strips Auckland councillors of their power to decide how the $459.5 million of ratepayers’ money – 33 per cent of total rates income – spent on transport each year is targeted. Instead, the final arbiter will be the unelected board of Auckland Transport, which will have to follow the Government policy statement (GPS) on land transport. The only sanction the Auckland Council will have to control the board of Auckland Transport – a council-controlled organisation – if it goes feral is to sack it. But the new law insists the board’s first loyalty in setting transport priorities must be to the government GPS, so what would a replacement board do differently?
This is quite concerning, the GPS effectively sets out governments funding priorities and ranges. At the moment they have focused almost entirely on the building of new roads and specifically the Roads of National Significance at the expense of other state highway improvements, local roads and of course public transport. Being fair, the current government didn’t set up the GPS as it was brought in by the previous government. This also shows one major flaw when complaining about it, it can be changed by a future government. A change in government could see funding priorities for which we may be thankful should we ever have an anti PT council.
Its also funny how Bill English complains about a handful of planners sitting in Auckland making decisions that could wreck the economy but doesn’t object to probably a similar number sitting in the MoT offices in Wellington making decisions that will wreck the cities future transport network and economy. But it gets worse:
The new act also ignores another statutory document, the Auckland (Spatial) Plan, which sets out Auckland’s direction and policy, including the integrating of land-use with transport.
Speaking to the select committee on behalf of the Auckland Council, transport committee chairman Mike Lee complained of the impending loss of democratic accountability to Auckland ratepayers, pointing out that Auckland would be the only part of New Zealand where elected representatives would not set the local land transport plan.
He said that by law, the principal objective of a council-controlled organisation such as Auckland Transport was to “achieve the objectives of its shareholders, both commercial and non-commercial”. He said the situation “would in effect be creating two local governments in Auckland”.
It was “appropriate in terms of its statutory responsibilities and as owner, major funder and sole shareholder of Auckland Transport, that the Auckland Council continues to set the long-term direction for transport”.
The select committee did the reverse, noting that it had gone out of its way to recommend changes “to ensure that Auckland Transport may not delegate its responsibilities for regional land transport plans and passenger transport plans to the Auckland Council”.
It did this by repealing the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 clause that says the governing body of Auckland Council is responsible and democratically accountable for setting transport objectives for Auckland.
So not only are we being forced to have to follow the governments transport agenda but our elected representatives won’t even have the chance to set the high level strategy any more. This is effectively taxation without representation and is shameful. To me it also suggests that the government are scared of the amount of power the council has. They were expecting a different result 3 years ago but it backfired so now they are trying to back pedal as much as possible to regain control of the city.
In saying all of this, while it is a concern that the council is being shut out of the process for setting policy, I know that there are many very good people at Auckland Transport who are not about to quickly jump on the more roads agenda. Hopefully they will be able to keep things going in the right direction until such time as a future government can resolve this – although it is very rare for a government to give up acquired power so we will just have to wait and see.
If we did start to see some really bad projects being progressed ahead of much needed ones – well more than they are already – I wonder what ability the council will have to withdraw funding for them? If they say that they won’t provide any rates funding unless the projects proposed meet the councils goals then we could end up in a very public power struggle.
Local body elections are now less than 5 months away. It is probably worth saying right from the start that as part of any commentary on the elections, the blog will do its best to remain neutral only judging candidates based on the policies or statements that they have made. Personally I don’t actually have any political preferences and am happy to praise or criticise anyone from any part of the political spectrum.
While Maurice Williamson has clearly been considering his options, so far the only confirmed candidate for mayor from the right of the political spectrum has been John Palino. His main reason for entering the race seems to be due to his opposition to the Unitary Plan. However unlike some of our councillors and local board members who oppose the plan, at least John is suggesting an alternative and that alternative is what I am looking at with this post. This is from his website.
A Solution for Our Mass Growth
There are many ways to manage the massive growth that is happening in Auckland. We shouldn’t believe that there is only one possiblity. We need to listen to the public at what will best fit Auckland and benefit the people living here today.
One plan that does tick all the boxes would be to develop the industrial and commercial area of Manukau City as the new modern most livable city in the world. We have the opportunity to develop the city from ground level. Modern design of apartments, town houses, terrace houses, offices, schools, medical facilities, galleries, museums, sporting fields, new business, industry and importantly, a well designed public transportation system.
Ticking All The Boxes
- A Modern and Smart City Design
- Major Transport Hub
- Long Term Financing
- Small Business Growth
- Job Growth
- Growth in Surrounding Communities
- Leveling the Auckland House Prices
- Reduce Crime and Poverty
- Redirect Traffic Growth
Manukau is the most ideal location for the New Modern Auckland City. It is near the Airport and all major highways and public transit routes. It is in close proximity to Hamilton for future transport development. We can build the most desirable, smart and affordable city in the world, while the existing residential communities of Auckland still grow, but with the involvement of those communities.
Manukau will now create an opportunity for new business, restaurants, cafes, shops, lawyers, accountants, doctors, office complexes, agencies, travel orientated industries and entertainment in a city of smart growth. This not only offers our growing population a place to live, but a place to start up businesses and create jobs. In the current Auckland Plan there is very little room for job growth as it doesn’t allow enough room for business growth amongst its extreme intensification. We need to be very concerned!
From this and his other comments it seems like his plan is to leave the rest of Auckland as it is and simply put all of the intensification and development down south. So let’s look at some of the challenges that would have to be addressed for such a thing to work and I’m primarily going to put aside the issue of housing in this post.
The existing CBD sits fairly nicely in the middle of the urban part of the region. That is of course no coincidence as that is effectively where the city started and from where it spread out from. If the city had of been started in Manukau then it would likely have spread out from there. The primary reason the CBD started where it did was simply because of its access to the harbour. The harbour is also a reason why I can’t see any suggestion of moving the CBD really taking hold. Almost all urban development and regeneration that is occurring around the world is happening in areas with close access to water in the form of rivers or harbours. Manukau simply doesn’t have this and while that alone wouldn’t be enough to stop such a move, other factors would be.
Opponents of projects like the CRL love to quote that the CBD only contains around 12% of jobs. However as we have talked about before, it is really the entire city centre that should be considered, not just the area bounded by the moat of motorways. Doing so pushes the percentage of jobs up to over 20%. Sure it still doesn’t sound a lot but the total number of jobs dwarfs any other area in Auckland as the map below shows.
Employment concentrations in the regions (thousands)
Further there is still a lot of places where growth to occur within the city centre. As a start another 10,000-15,000 jobs are expected to go in just the Wynyard Quarter alone. These numbers also don’t count the tens of thousands of students from the universities and other learning institutions that are located in the centre of the city. By comparison the entire Manukau commercial area has around 25,000 jobs at the moment. The Auckland Plan envisions employment in the region will grow by around 275,000 job over 30 years.
The point is that even if you left the city centre as it is now, for Manukau to even come close to rivalling the city centre for employment it would need to increase in size by well over 500% and it would need to take almost half of all of the regional employment growth over that same time. I’m no expert but that would surely take some fairly strong and potentially draconian measures to implement, especially seeing as the area doesn’t have the physical benefits that places like the existing city centre have. Further the existing city centre has one other massive advantage, it’s central location gives it access to a much wider pool of potential employees. Developing Manukau as the future CBD would have massive impacts for people who currently live in North, West and Central Auckland.
Everyone seems to agree that a city centre flooded by cars is not a good thing but some people will obviously still choose to drive. One advantage that Manukau has it that it isn’t surrounded on three sides by a motorway, but it is on two sides. From the motorway network there are effectively four connections to Manukau – On SH1 there is Te Irirangi Dr and Redoubt Rd/Gt South Rd and on SH20 there is Cavendish Dr and Manukau Station Rd.
Now a motorway lane can handle about 2,000 vehicles per hour so if we are lucky we might be able to get 8,000 vehicles per hour from them. There are also local roads that can be used to access the area but most of them also interact with the motorway ramps at some point so overall road capacity might not be that much more. Let’s be generous though and say that overall road capacity is 15,000 vehicles per hour. Over the two hour peak that would equate to say 30,000 vehicles which is similar to what our existing CBD has. There would of course need to be a hell of a lot of car parking buildings to handle all of these cars but for the purposes of this we will just have to assume they exist somewhere.
That still leaves us needing to get tens of thousands of people into the area by other methods. As we know rail has the most capacity and luckily the rail network has recently been extended to Manukau. But the station is a terminus, just like Britomart however it is worse as it only has two tracks and it doesn’t appear to have been designed in a way that would allow it to be extended in the future. With such a station we would probably be lucky to get 6 trains per hour terminating at the station and assuming each one was full, that is only around 9000 people that could reach the area by rail during the two hour peak. Of course there would also be buses from many places around the region and they would definitely serve to reduce road capacity (so the 15,000 mentioned above would come down).
Either way this is well short of what we would need meaning any serious proposal to make Manukau the main CBD is going to need a lot of transport investment. We would also need a lot of transport investment all around the region if we want to make it practical for people in the North, West and central areas to have decent access. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if sorting out the transport aspects alone ended up costing more than what is proposed as needed for the existing CBD.
In summary I just don’t think that it is practical to make Manukau the main CBD in Auckland. The amount of investment needed from the council, government and private industry is likely to be far greater than what it would cost to fix the issues that exist with the existing CBD. There also isn’t likely to be a great deal of desire from many large firms to shift there over the existing CBD. Manukau is and will continue to be a very important regional centre and is likely to see a lot of growth as more development happens in the south however I can’t see it coming even close to half total size of the existing central city area. A lot of people often site Sydney with Paramatta as an example however even then it is worth remembering that the central city is expected to continue to dominate city wide employment.
Sydney 2031 employment projections
John has also repeated some of his thoughts in an article yesterday in the Manukau Courier.
He says the shift would take some of the pressure off Auckland’s congested roading network.
“If you look on a map, where’s the best place for another city in Auckland? Manukau is perfect.”
Adding more commercial aspects to the south would help foster connections with the industrial sector, Auckland Airport and Hamilton, he says.
“It’s almost impossible not to have traffic. We can’t say ‘let’s keep pushing them in’. We need to move them away. We can do that by building in Manukau.”
The likes of law firms, IT businesses and the courts could stay in the present CBD, he says.
The native New Yorker says the move could provide a new start for South Auckland.
“It does have a large crime rate. This will bring up the values of the properties and all of a sudden people start coming in.”
One major piece of infrastructure Mr Palino would consider is an electric train or monorail connecting Manukau with the airport.
And his plan to fund some of the changes would be through a government bonds issue.
Some intensification around Auckland is needed but not to the extent mayor Len Brown is proposing, he says.
He admits he hasn’t spent much time in the Manukau area but plans to touch base with local business associations to find out more.
“The new city which is Manukau will be a world recognised city.”
Getting rid of “high paying” jobs in the Auckland Council’s back office and moving that funding into frontline services is also a priority for Mr Palino.
Perhaps before John continues it might be worth him actually looking into some of these issues – and John if you read this, we are happy to talk through to you about it.
*** This is a collaborative post by Peter Nunns and Stuart Donovan ***
One criticism of road pricing is that it is merely a regressive method for raising revenue that will widen existing social inequities. That could be true – except that we would suggest road pricing is not in fact a revenue-gathering measure at all, but instead a method for increasing the efficiency of our road system.
In this post we argue that – when implemented for the “right” reasons and in the “right” way – road pricing should not only reduce the costs of congestion – and thereby allow us to avoid the need to expand transport capacity at great expense – but do so in a way that does not necessarily worsen social inequities.
So what is the right reason to introduce road pricing? It’s understandable there is some confusion about this question, which was not helped by the “Keep Auckland Moving” discussion document. That document presented road pricing as a way to raise revenue for costly road projects; its effects on the demand for travel was mentioned only in passing:
Rather than being a measure intended to raise revenues by charging a “captive audience” of road users, we view road pricing as a measure aimed at improving the efficiency of the transport system. When you look at it in this way, it becomes possible to implement road pricing without necessarily widening existing social inequities. In fact it could even, under the right conditions, be relatively progressive.
First, it is worth mentioning that economists, such as ourselves, often try to distinguish between:
- Measures designed to improve the efficiency of the economy, and
- Measures designed to improve the equity and fairness of the economy.
Most people (including us!) aspire for an economy and society that is both productive – in the sense of allowing us to get the maximum aggregate reward for our efforts – and equitable – in the sense of ensuring that people are neither reduced to poverty nor alienated from the rewards of their labour. However, it’s generally possible and often desirable to consider these two issues separately.
People have come to accept this logic in many areas of life.
Food, for example, is a basic necessity of life if there ever was one. Food is currently priced by the market, which means that farmers and retailers charge the highest price they are able to get, even if it means that some people can’t afford the food they’re selling. We accept this state of affairs because it often results in more efficient outcomes compared to alternative approaches, such as food subsidies.
On the other hand, most people generally don’t want their fellow New Zealanders to starve to death.
For this reason New Zealanders have individually voted for a social welfare system that uses progressive taxation and transfer payments as a way of ensuring equitable access to food (and housing and other necessities of life). We allow food to be sold in response to price signals, but then redistribute some of the economic gains that results to ensure everyone has access to food.
We would argue that what’s true for tomatoes is true for transport. In the words of the UK’s Eddington Transport Study:
Similarly, a 2010 study by the Australian Treasury, titled “Australia’s Future Tax System”, recommended the introduction of road pricing – but not primarily to raise revenues. The study was quite clear that the main gains, or economic benefits, arises from reduced congestion and a more efficient transport system:
In fact, this study explicitly recommended that road pricing be revenue-neutral and that all revenue collected should be recycled back into the (public) transport budget:
Hence, in most other places the primary objective of road pricing has clearly not been to raise revenue. Instead, it seeks to improve efficiency, which in turn improves aggregate well-being: Less time wasted in traffic, more productive businesses and workers, and less need for costly public investment in road capacity.
Notwithstanding these benefits, we accept that road pricing is likely to have an adverse impact on some low-income households.
This is largely because transport demand is relatively inelastic in the short run. People have chosen to live in certain places and work in certain jobs, and as a result will need to travel at peak times. As a result, the short run effect of road pricing would be to impose costs on everyone who needs to travel at peak times, regardless of their income, and some low-income households will be adversely affected.
In the long run (say 5+ years), these households are likely to adjust their behaviour in response to road pricing. People would choose to live closer (or further away) from work and school, businesses would adjust work hours, and transport agencies would (hopefully) provide more public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure.
But it takes time to change those patterns – to change jobs and homes, or to create new transport options on given routes. It’s understandable that economists’ halcyon “long run” is little comfort to the people facing unsupportable costs in the here and now. So this brings us to our second question: What is the right way to implement road pricing?
We agree that the distributional effects of road pricing – or any pricing mechanism, for that matter – are an important consideration. However, when confronted with the risk of adversely affecting low income households it seems to us that the most appropriate response is not to persist with an inefficiently managed transport system, but instead to identify supplementary mechanisms that can compensate affected low-income households.
That means using the financial gains from road pricing to offset potential negative impacts on low income households. This could be done in a number of ways. For example, we could:
- Expand public transport services and walking/cycling infrastructure, particularly in low-income areas. This would give people more transport choices and hence increase their ability to respond to road pricing.
- Provide direct financial compensation to households adversely affected by congestion charges, by increasing transfer payments to low-income workers or reducing taxes on lower incomes.
- Reduce the cost of travelling at off-peak times, e.g. lower fuel prices and an off-peak public transport discount. Low income households tend to travel disproportionately more at off-peak times.
These options are only possible if road pricing is not seen primarily as a revenue-gathering exercise, but first and foremost as a way of improving the efficiency and productivity of an urban transport system. Thus, when implemented for the right reasons and in the right way, road pricing might help us to achieve a society that is both more efficient and more equitable.
About the authors: Peter Nunns and Stuart Donovan are friendly bearded economists based in Auckland. They have a passionate interest in transport (past, present, and future), smoked salmon, and beards. The opinions expressed here are our personal views and do not reflect upon the position of any organisation with which we are associated, or constitute professional advice.
There was an excellent op-ed in the Herald yesterday by Auckland Chamber of commerce chairman Michael Barnett related to the Integrated Transport Programme as well as the debate surrounding the issue of funding. The herald piece missed off the last few paragraphs so here it is in full from the Chamber of Commerce website.
If a business plan was signed off by the Board of a listed company knowing that it set out an investment programme that would deliver a negative result, there would be one outcome – they would lose the confidence in their investors.
The just released Integrated Transport Programme predicting worsening congestion in Auckland even if we find the extra $400 million a year needed to finance the Auckland Plan’s transport projects falls into that category. It charts an unacceptable future for Auckland.
The document that was signed off by the Boards of both Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) should concern Aucklanders and have them look at our political masters, who signed off a 30-year Auckland Plan from which the transport programme has been compiled. Isn’t their job to provide the leadership for building a thriving Auckland, and for which transport is set out in the Plan as an enabler?
The one saving grace of the Programme is that it is honest. It plainly states that even with the $25 billion invested to build by 2021 projects like the Central Rail Link in the central City and AMETI and East West Link in south Auckland, within 30 years Auckland’s road congestion will be worse than current levels in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, which already have much larger populations.
But it offers no solutions. At the moment Auckland cannot even fund the transport infrastructure investment programme we have agreed and want to do, let alone the further initiatives needed to head off the worsening congestion long-term.
Auckland needs and deserves the certainty of knowing we have a transport plan for the long game.
As I view our situation, at all levels, the decisions that need to be made right now are business-like leadership decisions – and the ground has never been as well prepared as it is now for a leader to step up to the plate and make the big calls required.
There are four things that need to happen – and fast.
First, while Aucklanders debate how to fill the $400 million a year shortfall needed to finance the immediate Auckland Plan transport projects, Auckland Transport and NZTA – our transport infrastructure and service providers – need to be demanding and seeking a much improved business-like performance from the existing transport system.
Train and bus services must be re-organised to run on time and become reliable; they must lift their game and not leave passengers waiting at stations and stops. Auckland Transport must quickly introduce integrated timetables between train, bus and ferry services, provide secure parking for cars at suburban bus and train stations, and ensure train fares are paid. They must micro manage a much improved performance from the bus and rail systems.
With some trust and certainty that these micro improvements make a real difference, I am confident thousands of Auckland commuters would leave their cars at home – and would be keen to do so.
Second, the funding shortage debate must be brought into the real world.
The debate has quickly revealed a preference for a user pay approach – network tolls or a cordon – rather than increasing rates. There are two parts to the debate – to find revenue to ensure major projects are built within the Plan’s timeline, and to bite the bullet with congestion management scheme by 2021 to head off the predicted worsening gridlock.
However, we are starting this debate without knowing what we are going to invest in or what level of return we will get from making this investment. We are not planning the funding solution in a business-like way.
The business case for the major projects has not yet been done, so there is no informed way to confirm what the measurable benefits of the projects will be.
It is remiss, surely, to promote a debate on options to raise the $400m/yr to invest with no idea of the likely return. It is like going to a banker seeking a loan for a million dollars without disclosing what the money will be used for.
Of course, the first question the bank will ask is: What do you want the money for? And the next question will be to determine whether the return on the investment is sound – does it stack up?
Third, there is no way of knowing what the rate of return to the economy has been from the billions of dollars invested in Auckland transport infrastructure in recent years – either roads or public transport – the work to make this assessment has not been done.
In general, returns on investment will depend on the nature of the projects themselves.
Judging from improved traffic flows where new motorway links have been built, suggests that the investment has been value for money. The Western Ring Route corridor benefits were calculated to be $1.40 for every $1 invested and something in the order of 1500 jobs.
Similarly, shifting Auckland’s main railway station into Britomart has seen a big jump in passengers regularly using rail.
But even though some $1 billion a year has been invested in improving Auckland transport infrastructure since about 1990, there is no firm, quantitative basis for claims about the impact of this investment on Auckland’s economy and growth. We don’t really know what it has done to boost Auckland growth and productivity.
Fourth, we must stop talking about the cost of transport infrastructure and manage it as an investment.
Auckland’s contribution to New Zealand in dollar terms is significant. A 2006 study indicated that some $18 billion in revenue being paid from Auckland against which about $14 billion was returned to Auckland in services and investment.
There is no argument from Auckland about the huge central government investment going towards the Christchurch rebuild. But when you look deeper into the NZ Inc performance, you see that its economic engine room – Auckland – which generates a third of the nation’s GDP and provides a third of its employment, is still performing well below the bottom line.
Next week’s Budget is expected to confirm NZ Inc is on an official track to budget surplus by 2014/15, a stable government (i.e. business-like leadership?), and low-levels of public debt compared to our peers in the Northern Hemisphere.
And if we deduct the cost of the investment NZ Inc is contributing to the Christchurch earthquake recovery, then the country as a whole is doing fairly well.
Assuming the business case for Auckland’s major transport projects show a positive return for the Auckland economy, it is then reasonable to ask why central government shouldn’t underwrite a fair share of the investment – which is what it is, an ‘investment’ in Auckland and New Zealand’s growth-led future.
The scale of the investments required is clearly beyond Auckland Council’s rate payers. A substantial central government input will be required, and that is the call our Mayor and Councillors should be focusing on – encouraging government to do what it is obviously going to have to do.
They have a choice. They can let Auckland’s transport congestion get progressively worse and only act when the problems become intolerable, or they can take a business-like response and plan, invest and advocate for investment in delivering a long-term solution.
We all know the problems. We all know the solutions. We all know what actions are needed. And we know who should be in charge of taking the decisions.
And dare I say it again – it’s urgent!
As Michael kind of notes, the real problem and funding gaps stem from the Auckland Plan. The Auckland Plan is meant to be the vision, the document that lays out the out level outcomes that we want to achieve and rough strategy we need to get there. For the most part it does this very well however when it comes to transport, the politicians couldn’t help but fall out of the sky and start naming individual projects that needed to happen. This left us with a massive wish list and more than a few projects that are likely never to be justifiable and/or that actively work against many of the goals set out in the plan. Because these projects were specified in the Auckland plan, they were then fed into the Integrated Transport Programme unsurprisingly poor results.
Those same projects also created a funding gap of $10-$15 billion. This led to the creation of the consensus building group (CBG) who were tasked with finding the best solutions to bridge that gap however the CBG were unable to question the projects on the Auckland Plan wish list. To me that leaves the entire exercise seeming almost like a waste of time.
As Michael suggests above, we need to actually go back to the start and work out which projects we can build that will lead to a positive outcome. It is likely to mean that many projects on the existing list simply get chopped off or replaced by different ones that provide a better overall outcome. We also need to acknowledge that we simply cannot solve congestion by building more roads. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t improvements to the existing roads that we could make to make them more efficient but it won’t solve the long term issue, as Patrick said yesterday what we feed grows. Only with a proper reassessment of our transport projects can we really then start to have a conversation as to how much extra funding, if any, is needed. At that point the work already done by the CBG will come in handy.
Overall I think it is an excellent piece from Michael and there is only one small part that I don’t agree with him on which is the part about ensuring carparking at train and bus stations, an issue Stu addressed last week.
Prepare To Stop!
Over on the excellent The Conversation website is a post by Melbourne researcher Leigh Glover entitled:
New freeways cure congestion: time to put that myth to bed.
In which he runs through the usual myths about road building and congestion in the Australian context, where of course everything is bigger, more expensive, and more dramatic.
Myth #1: New freeways reduce congestion
“Not only is this not true, but new freeways increase overall road use and contribute to worsening congestion. If you want to reduce road congestion — an understandably popular goal in our car-dependent capital cities — the only viable option is to reduce the demand for road space.
Not only does international research support this fact, local anecdotal experiences reflect it. We are living through an era of urban freeway building, yet congestion is worsening and travel times are lengthening.
Why does this happen? New roads don’t just divert existing traffic but also attract new users and keep on doing so until they reach capacity. In transport planning jargon, this is the effect of “induced traffic”. The more roads you build, the more traffic you have.
There are also associated effects that flow on from building freeways, such as land use decisions that then reinforce car use and car-dependency.”
This is the point that I like to sum up with this observation: What you feed; grows.
We have observed this with the resurgence of bus and train use after investment in Auckland this century, and of course we have seen it for the last 60 years with driving in Auckland. We have fed it and it has grown. And as Matt showed here, we also dismantled and downgraded transit networks at the same time which of course further reinforced this growth.
This problem is especially exacerbated if we now only invest in the one already dominant mode so that there is little effective choice. Congestion is bad in Auckland, despite the city’s small size internationally, because there is largely little option but to partake in it.
Still the mad logic of investing more in something we have too much of to try to solve the problem of this excess is not confined to this country. Both Sydney and Melbourne have huge urban motorway projects on the books that are likely to proceed simply because they will attract Federal money despite being highly questionable at best. This is the same situation that local bodies in NZ are in; enormous practical pressure to support national government agendas even when they are likely to work in direct opposition to agreed local aims because they come with their own funding. The additional Harbour Crossing and the amount of parking at the new Convention Centre are examples of this.
But also there is the uneven economic situation of these two types of projects.
Here is Alan Davies the Melburbanist discussing the recent crazy urban motorway decision in Victoria, where he includes this image of causality:
This pic shows one of the on-going prices of auto-dependancy that never gets included in any benefit cost analysis of urban motorway projects: so much precious building going to house those individual vehicles.
He then goes on to ask why do road projects of poor value get funded over long discussed rail ones, and it is this point that stands out for me:
The advantages of rail over roads are mostly in economic costs i.e. externalities. Many of these costs are diffuse and don’t affect the state budget directly, or if they do it’s often well into the future when “it’s somebody else’s problem”.
This I think is exactly true, the economic costs of road building are huge but external to the projects directly; they fall to property owners having to build so much parking, to people who die and are maimed in crashes, to the city in its loss of value through auto-domination of urban place, to the environment, to or balance of payments through oil dependancy, to individuals having to buy, run, and insure so many expensive vehicles. These are dispersed costs, and therefore easily ignored and glossed over.
And likewise the economic benefits of Transit infrastructure are huge but also easily downplayed and dismissed, as they to do not immediately arrive in an account like a lotto prize, but rather accrue over time in an equally dispersed way. And if the projects are never built then the whole idea of such value can be dismissed as unlikely or only ever happening in other countries where conditions are always different.
But also we have the peculiar situation of the national [and National] government choosing projects in Auckland knowing that these externalities fall largely locally. Both the costs of the mode they favour and the benefits of those that they don’t. We really need to become much more sophisticated in our economic evaluations, or resign ourselves to life in an underperforming and slowly choking city.
The deal between the government and Sky City for a new convention centre has been announced this morning.
Details of the controversial SkyCity convention centre deal with the Government have been announced this morning – and the listed casino operator will pay $402m for the new centre.
The centre is expected to generate $90m of revenue each year. SkyCity will meet the full cost of the centre and be allowed to have 230 extra poker machines. Its exclusive license will be extended to 2048.
It will cost $315 million to build and fit-out, while the land will be worth $87m.
Construction on the centre is expected to begin in 2014 and open in 2017.
Now I’m not going to comment on the moral debate surrounding this agreement, that can be left to other sites. What I am more interested in is looking at are the potential benefits to some of the transport projects that we strongly believe in.
Sky City is surely one of the biggest beneficiaries of the CRL with its properties either right next to the proposed Aotea station which is expected to become the busiest station on the network. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if they have already been considering ways to tap into it and funnel passengers from the station through to their premises. The proposed convention centre is less than 200m from the station meaning that will be very easy to access for locals visiting or working at the site.
However if we believe the claims of Steven Joyce (and I don’t tend to believe them) many of the visitors will come from overseas. Those visitors will need to get from the airport to the city. While a good deal are likely to do so via taxis, another project could change that.
Rail to the Airport
We keep getting told that even with massive investment in new roads, congestion is only going to get worse. Even today getting from the airport to the city can take more than an hour outside of the peak. The rail network can avoid that congestion and deliver reliable journey times. Connecting rail to the airport, combined with the CRL means that visitors could be whisked from the terminal straight to the heart of town in around 35 minutes. Further if they are staying in one of the Sky City hotels then it would be super easy for them to reach straight from the station.
Of course a rail connection to the airport isn’t just about people travelling but actually helps to connect the entire south west of the city.
Hobson and Nelson St
Hobson and Nelson Sts currently seem to just be giant traffic sewers whose sole purpose is to funnel as many vehicles as possible to/from the motorways. This has meant that the area has become a pretty horrid place for anyone not in a car. This blog has long called for this to be addressed with our preferred solution being to once again make these streets two way. We first raised the issue a few years ago and the idea quickly caught on, even making it into the councils City Centre Master Plan however it is something we haven’t heard about for a while. With the announcement of the convention centre perhaps it is time for this idea to float back to the surface.
Not only would it help in making these streets nicer places, I believe it could also assist in improving the flow of traffic as currently Hobson St especially gets clogged up in the afternoons as people end up blocking lanes as they try to get into the get into the lanes for the motorway they want to access.
In saying all of this, SkyCity don’t seem to care about any of this with the herald reporting.
The company said as well as the convention and exhibition space, there will be at least 780 carpark and a new linkway bridge over Hobson St.
This is on top of their almost 2000 carparks. Perhaps they are expecting all of these promised international visitors to drive their cars to New Zealand? Adding so many extra carparks certainly isn’t going to help in the councils aims to reduce the number of vehicles in the CBD or to improve the the quality of our streets for pedestrians. This is further reinforced by the building of an airbridge to keep people away from the area. That doesn’t bode well level of interaction we can expect the building to have with the street meaning we will potentially see more gaping holes dedicated to moving cars into underground parking buildings, like the current casino building does (above).
In this recent post on Auckland’s transport funding gap, Peter Nunns espoused the merits of time-of-use transport pricing as a way of increasing the productivity of the transport system. Peter came up with this analogy to help highlight the merits of time-of-use transport pricing:
Let’s say you’re managing a factory. Your machines are running at 100% utilisation ten percent of the time, and 20% utilisation the rest of the time. This is constraining your ability to produce more, so you ask the chief executive for money to buy more machines. His answer, if he’s got any sense, will be: “Get knotted. You need to manage your workflow better.”
As some of you may know I also support time-of-use transport pricing (articulated in posts here and here). Notwithstanding my general support, I do accept there’s important design and implementation issues to work through. For this reason I’m relatively relaxed about timing and would prefer that – instead of rushing headlong into a particular solution (as the NZCID would have us do) – we instead took the time to have a decent/informed public debate about the concept. I hope that such a debate would end with the majority of people supporting the idea in principle, which would then enable political/technical leaders some space to work out exactly what we should do, how we should do it, and by when.
In this post I simply wanted to reflect on two of the dissenting comments raised in response to Peter’s post. For example, one person commented:
My understanding is that NZTA and the government are principally opposed to a discriminatory tax on assets that have already been paid for.
This statement suggests that time-of-use road pricing is a “tax”. From what I understand, taxes are typically used by governments to fund any number of activities that are largely unrelated to the activity being taxed. Income tax and GST, for example, are used to fund a whole manner of things, such as education and health. In contrast, revenue raised from transport activities (at least in New Zealand) are hypothecated to operating, maintaining, and improving the transport system (the MED website provides a breakdown of the various duties, taxes, and levies that are applied to liquid motor fuels in New Zealand for those are you who are interested).
The second part of the aforementioned comment part inferred that time-of-use transport pricing was wrong because the “assets have already been paid for“. I don’t think this is a credible argument for several reasons.
The first reason is that it presumes new roads do actually pay for themselves, insofar as the fuel duties paid by drivers are adequate to cover the lifetime costs of construction and maintenance. This is patently not true of local roads, where costs are part-funded by rate-payers, not road-users. I suspect it’s also not true of many of the RoNS, which would certainly struggle to cover their costs. Hence, it’s not really the case that new roads are paying for themselves, it’s just that their financial ass is being covered by old roads that have more than paid for themselves. I don’t know when roads actually “break-even” (and suspect it varies a lot from place to place), but suspect that many of our recent improvements don’t come close.
But the more critical issue with the suggestion that the “assets have already been paid for” is that the costs of a road do not end with construction and maintenance.
More specifically, roads incur ongoing congestion costs, which tend to arise at peak times. Now I do understand that congestion is a less tangible economic costs than construction and maintenance costs, which must be funded directly out of the transport budget. In contrast to these costs, congestion is an external, non-monetary cost. When we say “external” we are referring to the fact that the person who chooses to drive in congested conditions does so without having to bear the additional delays they cause to other drivers that are stuck in the queue behind them. Hence congestion is an external cost that arises from our individual decisions to drive. Despite being less tangible, it’s nonetheless real – as any commuter will know!
So rather than being a tax, time-of-use transport pricing is, I think, better seen as a targeted user-charge. One which seeks to place the costs associated with travelling at peak times at the feet of the people who are making those decisions. And given that much of our transport budget is currently being spent on transport projects that are designed to cater for people that are travelling at peak times, then it makes sense to charge more for these trips than for trips that take place at off-peak times.
Having raised those two issues, the same person went onto state:
The charge is a mechanism to force people to change the mode they use to travel. In the case of congestion charging it makes PT more attractive in comparison to driving … In effect you are shifting the equilibrium in favour of the poor using PT and the wealthy driving.
My first issue with this statement is the presumption that the primary benefit of time-of-use road pricing is that it changes existing behaviour. Naturally modal shift from cars and to PT would occur and result in less congestion. Such a benefit can be thought of as a “static efficiency“, in that the benefit arises from improving the efficiency with which people currently travel. In saying that the experience with time-of-use road pricing overseas is that 80% of people keep driving, i.e. the majority of people kept doing what they have always done, and there is very little change in PT use.
So I would argue that the primary economic benefit of time-of-use road pricing lies less with it impacts on people that are currently driving, and more with how it impacts on people’s future decisions about where they live/work/play; it impacts on our future land use and transport decisions.
Benefits from more efficient decisions being made in the future can be thought of as “dynamic efficiencies“. By sending a price signal about the relative scarcity of road space at peak times, time-of-use road pricing will progressively encourage people and businesses to make choices in the future that help them to avoid situations the need to drive at peak times. Thus, the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport pricing will accrue progressively over time, by discouraging people from making decisions that result in inefficient transport and land use outcomes.
I would suggest the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport are more important in a city like Auckland, which is expected to grow rapidly over the coming decades.
As an aside, the potential for time-of-use road pricing to deliver dynamic efficiencies is a major reason why I don’t buy the line that “we need to invest in alternatives first” before we consider implementing a time-of-use transport pricing scheme. The reality is that we already have the primary “alternative”: We simply need people to exercise more discretion about where they live/work/play to ensure they don’t end up driving so much at peak times. And the longer we go without time-of-use transport pricing, then the fewer people who make transport/location decisions in consideration of their true costs and the harder it will be to implement such a scheme in the future.
Consider, example, the Auckland Plan’s proposed greenfields development around Hobsonville and Pukekohe. Do you think such locations would be equally attractive with time-of-use road pricing? And do we think that implementing time-of-use transport pricing will be more or less easy once these suburbs have developed and lots of their residents are now driving elsewhere to work? Personally, I think the answers are “no” and “much less easy” – which is why I suspect the dynamic efficiencies of time-of-use transport pricing would quickly dominate the static efficiencies associated with (relatively small) mode shift.
The second issue that I would like to address is the suggestion that “the equilibrium will shift in favour of the poor using PT and the wealthy driving“. The point that is being made here is that time-of-use transport pricing is likely to result in our transport system being prioritised for high-value travel. And it is true that the latter is positively correlated with income.
In saying this, I think it’s important to consider the following issues:
- Income is not the primary/sole determinant of people’s willingness-to-pay for travel. I would argue that many other factors determine how much someone is willing to pay for transport, e.g. the purpose of a trip is more important than someone’s income. Speaking from personal experience, I know that if am travelling for work purposes then I am more prepared to pay more than if I travelling for recreational purposes. The key point to note here is that willingness to pay varies greatly depending on the reasons why someone is travelling and while income is likely to play a role (if only for framing their perspective on relative costs), it’s not as straight-forward as the comment above makes out.
- It makes presumptions about how a scheme would operate. As mentioned in some of my earlier posts, the degree to which a time-of-use road pricing scheme impacts on low/high income households depends very much on its design and wider policy decisions about how the resulting revenues are used. If the scheme was designed to be revenue neutral, for example, then the additional revenue could be used to lower fuel excise duties and/or improve public transport – in this way resulting in a situation where low income households were much better off (remembering of course that low income households tend to drive less, especially at peak times, and own less efficient cars – hence they pay more fuel tax per kilometre).
Before I wrap up, I should say that I think the whole time-of-use transport pricing debate could be flipped on its head if it was presented as 1) revenue neutral and 2) linked to lower prices for off-peak travel. In fact, what we should actually be discussing is not “higher peak charges”, but higher peak charges that are used to fund lower off-peak charges.
Finally, some of you may have noted my preference for “time-of-use transport pricing” rather than “time-of-use road pricing”. The reason I prefer the former terminology is that it emphasises the general concept, rather than its specific application. Indeed, very similar arguments apply to the use of public transport: Maybe we should consider charging public transport users more to travel at peak times, with the additional revenue in turn helping to fund lower off-peak travel? I think so.
Over the last few weeks there has been a renewed media focus on Auckland’s transport issues. This has been spurred on by two main events the first was the Green Party launching their Reconnect Auckland campaign and the second was the announcement of alternative funding options to help pay for future transport projects. Along with that it has seen a resurgence of an annoying myth that members of the government like to perpetrate. In an effort to try and make their transport policy sound more balanced than it actually is they love to state that the government has invested $1.6 billion into the rail network. Government MPs talk about it on social networks or at meetings, Gerry Brownlee mentioned it in his recent interview on Campbell live and Steven Joyce, repeated it this morning on The Nation (on TV3).
Now $1.6 billion certainly sounds like a lot of money and of course it is. It is also true that it the amount of money that central government has, or will be spend on rail up until the electrification project has been completed. The issue I have is that a decent proportion of the money was approved or spent before the current government even came into office. So let’s look at the figure a bit more closely, the $1.6 billion can be boiled down into three key areas:
- $600 million for Project DART
- $500 million for the electrification infrastructure
- $500 million for the new electric trains
As the government are using the total figure to suggest that they are investing in a more balanced transport system, the question becomes whether the money was invested by the current government or not, so lets have a look.
Amongst other improvements it included double tracking the western line, various station upgrades, the Newmarket Station and changes to the junction, the New Lynn trench and station, reinstating the Onehunga Line, building the Manukau branch line. Kiwirails page on the project also states:
The 2006 Budget included funding of up to $600 million for rail infrastructure improvements to speed development of the Auckland network.
So yes this was paid for by central government but as you can see, funding started before the current government came to power which was late in 2008. Of course not all funding is spent in one year and as Brownlee said the other day, they didn’t cancel it. But even if they wanted to, how much could they have cancelled anyway? Well probably not much.
Interestingly the funding for this project was kept out of the normal transport budget and instead is listed under the finance budget. The government’s budget documents for the 2006/2007 financial year shows that the money was to be spent over a four year period and it was only the fourth year that National had any control over the budget. By then pretty much all of the various aspects to the project were either already completed or well under way meaning it was probably impossible to cancel anyway.
To me there is no way that the current government can claim the $600 million spent on Project DART as their spending or that they had anything to with it.
This includes new signalling, modifying existing infrastructure like bridges and of course the wires themselves. Funding for electrification was initially included in the 2007 budget and was separate to the funding allocated for Project DART.
Now from memory the government intended to pay for the Auckland work via a regional fuel tax which would work in conjunction with one the region would also impose to fund other projects, including new trains. When National came to power they stopped the regional fuel tax and put a hold on the electrification project. They eventually agreed to let it go ahead and paid for it out of the nationwide fuel tax increase. It is however quite clear that funding for the project was initiated in 2007, over a year before National came to power.
There is obviously not much point in paying $500 million for electrification without trains to run under the wires. As mentioned, the original electrification proposal was to see Auckland pay for the trains out of a regional fuel tax imposed by the regional council. The national governments cancelling of that fuel tax took that funding option off the table. When they finally agreed to let the project go ahead it was announced that the trains would be paid for by way of a loan that Auckland would have to pay back (without the extra source of funding). Worse still was that even after paying back the loan the proposal meant that Auckland still wouldn’t own the trains, Kiwirail would, however this has now changed and Auckland will own the trains directly.
Since then there has been some positive news, it was announced that Auckland would end up getting more electric trains that first proposed, that was partly possible due to better than originally expected exchange rates along with the government kicking in an extra $90 million. The NZTA are also going to contribute to the loan payments in the same way they provide money for PT operating costs however oddly it turns out that the government appears to be clipping the ticket on the loan by charging a margin on top of their cost of funding.
The first EMU will be here in a few months time
So when the government states that they have invested $1.6 billion in to rail in Auckland, it is frankly untrue. In fact the only new funding they seem to have provided is the extra $90 million they provided to buy extra EMUs and the 50% share of funding for loan repayments. Other than that all of the funding is the same as what was agreed to before they came to office.
Campbell Live has been running a lot of stories on Auckland issues recently which has been nice to see and has obviously also provided us with a heap of material to talk about. Last night the entire episode was devoted to transport in Auckland. There were three parts to the show, the first was the kind of story done by news organisations from time to time where various staff members try to reach a specific location using various transport methods.The second section was the most interesting as involved Gerry Brownlee actually giving an interview on Auckland transport issues while the third section was about a lady who was having trouble topping up her daughters Snapper Hop (SNOP) card. I’m not going to look at the third section primarily because the SNOP card will hopefully be phased out soon although you can watch it here if you are interested. Here is the first two sections.
The First Section
If you haven’t watched the video, a bunch of staff were tasked with reaching their office in Eden Terrace by 9am using only public transport and it it seems the first mistake they made was by using the Maxx website to plan their journeys. To be fair there isn’t a lot of other options, yes there is Google and some apps but MAXX is what Auckland Transport provide. However the planner seems so woeful and doesn’t seem to ever have improved, AT really needs to put the thing out of its misery and replace it with something more modern. That said the results were not unexpected but also show how vital it is to communicate the benefits of the high frequency new bus network and that a lot of effort is made to make transfers easy. Further not all of the journeys were practical to take by PT, Lachlan Forsyth’s trip for example shows the benefits of commuting by bike and it would be better to encourage more people to do that where appropriate.
The Second Section
This was of course the most interesting and the part where I at times felt like pulling my hair out. To cover this I’m just going to go through bullet point my thoughts.
- At least Brownlee admits that Auckland is growing and that the transport problems will only get worse. It also seems that he has now read the report, something he hadn’t done before ruling out some of the options in the funding proposals a few days ago..
- Brownlee repeats quite a few times that Auckland is getting $1billion in transport spending annually. The emphasis he places on it makes it sound like Auckland is gobbling up the spending but in reality, it is less than 1/3 of the total transport spend in the country. It would have been good for Campbell to ask him how much Auckland provided in fuel taxes annually.
- I actually agree with Brownlee when he questions whether the suite of projects in the Auckland Plan are the appropriate ones and if they are timed right. However I don’t think that we would agree on what projects should be dropped or having their timing changed.
- Brownlee is asked his thoughts on the CRL and he is either trying to be deliberately misleading or has been badly informed. He suggests the project is about a short little loop that goes around in circles. This is exactly the kind of reason why it is so important that Auckland Transport actually publicly state the routing pattern that trains will use so that people can see it is about opening up the entire rail network. To put it another way it will have the same impact on the rail network that the Central Motorway Junction does for the motorway network.
- Brownlee talks about how the cost of the project is $3 billion which of course is an inflated and then rounded up figure. He also repeats the lie that Steven Joyce loved to use, that the government is spending $1.6 billion on the rail network. The reality is $600m was approved and budget for from before this government came into office while half of the remaining amount is a loan that Auckland is having to pay back.
- I’m really glad that Campbell actually asked him where he would spend $3 billion differently, as I pointed out yesterday, it is really important that people who oppose what is being planned actually say what they would do differently (not that Brownlee did). It was almost comical that Brownlee then went on to list a whole suite of road projects the government has already built or is building.
- At first I thought it was really odd the way that Brownlee talked about AMETI and whether that would happen as it is well under way and he has even visited the construction site. Re-watching the video, it then becomes clear that he is talking about a reviving of the eastern motorway. Did Brownlee just let slip that the government is now considering building it? It would certainly fit in with some whispers I have heard.
- Brownlee’s comment that “Aucklanders like roads” really does take the cake. For 60 years this city only ever invested in roads at the expense of almost everything else, it isn’t surprising then that most people drive when that has been made the easiest thing to do. The recent and comparatively modest investment in realistic alternatives has had a big impact and stronger investment in them is likely to see big changes in behaviour. As Stu pointed out yesterday, on a per capita basis people are already driving less.
- Brownlee is correct that we do need to sort out our bus routes and information systems. The good news is that is under way with the new bus network and should be completed by 2016, well before the CRL is suggested to be opened.
- The comments from Simon Lambourne are very rational and in line with what I feel. The big question of course is how many would still chose to drive if some good quality alternatives were in place.
- Brownlee is also correct when he states that the documents released on Monday about funding transport are really just the start of the discussion. This was actually something mentioned quite a few times by the CBG themselves. They suggest that a decision doesn’t actually need to be made on how to fund transport till 2015.
- Once again Gerry sidesteps the question of what the government are actually going to do to improve transport issues in the city.
- After the video from Len Brown, Brownlee goes on to talk about tolling new roads. The reality is that there aren’t that many new roads proposed that could be tolled. We have the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway, Penlink, An additional Harbour Crossing and The East West Link. Effectively every other roading project is an upgrade of an existing road, adding a lane here or there and under the criteria, they couldn’t be tolled.
- Brownlee talks about how they have had to put up fuel excise taxes due to falling revenues and gives a couple of reasons but misses the biggest one that vehicle use is dropping, both in real and per capita terms.
All up most of the comments Gerry made were a bit frustrating but not all that surprising given his previous statements. The more I think about it though, the more it seems as though that he let slip that the government is looking at reviving the Eastern Motorway proposals.
What were your thoughts on the video. Did I miss anything?
Rodney Hide’s opinion piece in the Herald on Sunday highlighted an issue that’s been bugging me for some time – whether those opposing the City Rail Link on the grounds that “buses can do the job fine” are really interested in improving Auckland’s bus system or not. Here’s what he says about his preference for buses:
It’s not obvious to me that a heavy train having to stop and start and be confined to tracks is the best way to ferry people around Auckland. Buses along roads strike me intuitively as a cheaper and more flexible form of public transport.
Many more people live closer to a bus stop than a train station. That’s because buses go along roads that people live on. Buses can also pass one another. Trains can’t do that.
Because of the flexibility and convenience, more people travel into the city centre by bus than train. That will stay true even if Auckland spends billions on trains at the expense of better roads and better bus services.
John Roughan made a similar cry in favour of buses in the Saturday Herald:
The crossing would have to be under water and probably it would be connected to the northern busway that one day conceivably could be converted to a railway, but that, too, is a solution looking for a problem.
The busway, like the bridge, is fine.
The problem lies in roads closer to home. By car it can take as long to get on to the motorway as it takes for the rest of the journey. By bus it takes too long to get to a busway station. Once on the busway, you can be in the city in eight minutes.
In fact, the North Shore is probably better served by the busway than the rest of Auckland is by its railways, which also have to be reached by bus or car from most people’s homes.
The only reason the mayor invokes rail for the Shore is to answer its ratepayers when they ask why they should help pay for a project that isn’t coming their way. It’s a silly answer to a silly question but this is election year.
Russell Brown from Public Address notes the great irony of John Roughan now being a huge fan of the busway when he absolutely hated the idea back in 2007. I guess we chalk that up as someone won over – or should we?
The simple fact is that all these supposed bus fans have done diddly squat to actually encourage the improvement of Auckland’s bus system. I can’t exactly remember Rodney Hide out there campaigning to save the Remuera Road bus lane from turning back into a T3 lane. Or John Roughan supporting the implementation of the HOP Card – he pumped for Snapper back in 2009 and didn’t that end well?
As for the cabal of local councillors, Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and George Wood. They frequently like to grandstand against the CRL claiming it is sucking up all of the money for PT, like in this article from 6 months ago.
Mr Quax said the rail project made little sense because it would gobble up 80 per cent of the public transport capital budget over the next 10 years when much-needed bus lanes and ferry terminals received a “paltry” 20 per cent.
They use this line quite frequently these days, despite their numbers actually being wrong – the PT capex budget for the next decade is ~$4b and the inflated CRL price is $2.86b, or 72% of the budget. Despite this, I haven’t exactly seen George Wood talking much about the stalled progress of extending the Northern Busway to Albany, or Dick Quax wanting to see the AMETI busway’s construction schedule sped up. In fact I don’t think I have seen any one of them suggest where a single metre of bus lane should be added or where they think new ferry services should operate from. Yesterday in response to the alternative funding proposals, they once again made vague comments without giving any detail.
I have a nasty feeling that when rail opponents say they support buses they’re actually not quite telling the truth. They realise it’s not viable for them politically (or practically) to dismiss public transport out of hand anymore – so they pretend to support buses on the spurious grounds of “buses need roads too” – when in actual fact they’re just mainly interested in spending as little as possible on public transport so all the money can go back into roads.
So next time someone plays the “buses are better than trains” card, I suggest asking them “so what have YOU specifically done to try and improve Auckland’s bus system recently?” Or “I look forward to your support for introducing bus lanes along desperately needed routes like Great North Road in Waterview, Manukau Road, Pakuranga Road, Onewa Road (uphill) and in many other places”. Then let’s see how deep their love affair with the bus really is.